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US Empire or Multi-Polar World

“We’re an empire now and
when we act, we create our own
reality and while you’re studying
that reality – judiciously, as
you will – we’ll act again, creating
other new realities, which
you will study too, and that’s
how things will sort out,” said a
cheer leader for the Project for
a New American Century.


Recent events suggest that’s not quite how the world works. It’s true that there is only one global superpower but there are a number of others states whose reach, though not global, mean they are important regional powers. Within their own sphere of influence, as was graphically and bloodily displayed by Russia in Georgia, they can ignore the superpower. Moreover, when these states decide to act in concert they can constrain, or attempt to constrain, the superpower, as has occurred on a number of occasions in recent years within the UN. All of this means that international relations are not reverting to the bipolar model of the Cold War, despite what some institutions and some individuals who have an interest in promoting the spectre say. The international order is over where the US strode the world stage with impunity. Russia has re-established itself as a regional power, not a superpower. Its forays to Cuba and Venezuela in recent weeks are symbolic, with no substantial military capability underpinning them. On the other hand the Georgian intervention is classic eighteenth and nineteenth century Russian behaviour but undertaken as much in response to NATO expansion as a wish to recreate the political landmass ruled by the Romanovs. China’s development is also a resurgence rather than a completely new intervention, though the timescale of this re-emergence has been a very long one. From the Chinese perspective this is a reassertion of its great power status which it last enjoyed some centuries ago. However, in a reflection of past imperial Chinese history, China’s priorities are primarily domestic; the sheer scale of China’s population is, once again, the principal preoccupation of China’s government. The economic growth of China in recent years is remarkable; indeed, projected continued growth despite fears of recession in the West only highlights this. However, the Chinese government faces real and fairly immediate challenges. For instance, that of internal unrest when it removes or reduces subsidies, particularly in the fi eld of energy costs to Chinese consumers. On the other hand we do see the emergence of entirely new signifi cant international “players”, notably India and Brazil who are increasingly making their presence felt economically and therefore geopolitically. Brazil’s development as the dominant power in South America seems inexorable. Its recent economic growth has been sectorally quite broad and, as a consequence, steady. However, the South American continent is some distance from the world’s geopolitical hot spots so Brazil’s role in terms of potential should remain peripheral and therefore potentially positive. The implications of India’s imminent arrival to great power status are, in terms of the global security map, much more significant. Not only because it is a nuclear state and a non signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear test Ban Treaties but also because it has been involved in a regional cold war with its nuclear neighbour, Pakistan, for decades. This is a factor that is often overlooked in western media coverage of Pakistan’s own security concerns, particularly in its relationship with Afghanistan. (Afghanistan has frequently been used by India in the way Ireland was used by France and


‘All of this means
that international
relations are not
reverting to the
bi-polar model of
the Cold War’


Spain in their geopolitical relationship with an emergent England, then UK, from the Middle Ages until the modern era).  Some commentators, most recently Professor Niall Ferguson, portray Russia and China’s relationship as some sort of unholy alliance, with the clear implication that they have to be countered, if not stopped, before it’s too late. Although reassuringly simple and even vaguely familiar, it is not a description of the geopolitical reality. We should not forget that both China and Russia are chasing after the same Turkmen, Kazak and Uzbek gas supplies. They will cooperate from time to time on the Security Council. Russia may even float the notion of expanding the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to include the likes of India and Iran but China will keep at a respectful distance, mindful of its trading links with the USA. On the other hand it may already be too late, but not in the way Professor Ferguson suggests. Perhaps we should all be paying more attention to the impact of global warming and the horrendous potential for conflict that it throws up?


Bill Ramsay