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7 - The World after 1989: ‘Unipolarity’, Globalisation and the Rise of the Rest

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The Unipolar Moment Revisited | The National Interest

Please enter a valid email address. Walmart Services. It might, however, be more correct to say that the need for security protection declines and that there are new variations across regions in the security needs of other states. Some states will still need and want American security protection and others will not.

At the same time, because the United States itself also does not confront a bipolar or multipolar rival s , it too will be less willing to provide public goods of security protection and security-driven economic cooperation. And indeed, American unipolar power today is experiencing a legitimacy problem.

Unipolarity and the Evolution of America's Cold War Alliances

In a bipolar or multipolar world, the legitimacy of state power is easier to achieve. During the bipolar Cold War struggle, American power was seen as legitimate by other states within its orbit because that power was embedded in mutual security pacts and put at the service of the common defense against Soviet communism.


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America was primus inter pares within a Free World partnership. But unipolar or hierarchical orders do not legitimate power as readily. It is easier for other states and peoples to ask basic questions about the rectitude and legitimacy of American power: Why should the United States rule the system? What gives it the right to decide right and wrong, good and evil, or make and enforce rules? US power was aligned with the progressive forces of capitalism and democracy. The Asian financial crisis and the anti-globalization movement have tarnished this legitimating cover for American power.

The Bush administration has elevated the war on terrorism as the cutting edge of American foreign policy and master principle of international order. But fear of terrorism is not a sufficient legitimating cover for American power.

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See Anderson ; Kagan ; Brzezinski Second, unipolarity also appears to have created problems in how the world sees the American provision of public goods. The public goods provision tended to make it worthwhile for these states to endure the day-to-day irritations of American foreign policy.

But the trade-off seems to be shifting. Today, the United States appears to be providing fewer global public goods while at the same time the irritations associated with American dominance appear to be growing.

America's liberal hegemonic role is manifest when it champions the WTO, engages in international rule or regime creation, or reaffirms its commitment to cooperative security in Asia and Europe. When it acts as a liberal hegemon, it is seeking to lead or manage the global system of rules and institutions; when it is acting as a nationalist great power, it is seeking to advance domestic interests and its relative power position.

One strategy is the multilateral rule-based strategy of the postwar era, manifested most fully in America's relations with Western Europe. This is a strategy that has been pursued in important respects in America's postwar relations with East Asia. The countries arrayed around a unipolar America have an interest in a rule-based multilateral order. In such a system, power is exercised through agreed-upon institutions.

But the question is how the United States will calculate its interests. To understand the two competing logics of unipolar governance, it is useful to remember the contrasting American postwar experiences in Europe and East Asia.

The United States agreed to a multilateral order with Europe because it determined that the restraints on its power through NATO and other multilateral institutions were worth what it got in return. Britain, France, and other major states were willing to accept multilateral agreements to the extent that they also constrained and regularized US economic and security actions. American agreement to operate within a multilateral economic order and make an alliance-based security commitment to Europe was worth the price: it ensured that Germany and the rest of Western Europe would be integrated into a wider, American-centered international order.

At the same time, the actual restraints on American policy were minimal. But it did agree to operate within loose multilateral arrangements, and this ensured that Western Europe would be anchored in an Atlantic and global political order that advanced America's long-term national interest. In East Asia, security relations quickly became bilateral.

One difference was that conditions did not favor multilateralism. Europe had a set of roughly equal-sized states that could be brought together in a multilateral pact, whereas nothing like this existed in East Asia. In Europe, the United States had an elaborate agenda of uniting Europe, creating an institutional bulwark against communism, and supporting centrist democratic governments.

These ambitious goals could not be realized simply by exercising brute power. To get what it wanted, the United States had to bargain with the Europeans, and this meant agreeing to institutionally restrain and commit its power. In East Asia, the building of order around bilateral pacts was more desirable because multilateralism would have entailed more restraints on American policy autonomy.

Extreme hegemony in East Asia led to free-riding by the weak postwar states in the region, while the United States could exercise control without multilateral restraints on its freedom of action. The point here is that the United States did not want as much from these East Asian countries and therefore it was less willing to bind itself — i.

The bilateral—multilateral difference is less important than the degree of institutional binding. After all, a bilateral relationship can entail extensive rule-based commitments albeit with only two countries and a multilateral agreement can be very loose, informal, and non-binding. For explanations for differences in postwar Atlantic and Pacific security relations, see Grieco ; Press-Barnathan In some ways, unipolarity today presents this same logic for the United States on a global scale.

Countries that cooperate with the United States and accept its leadership receive special bilateral security and economic favors. For example, Singapore supported the Bush administration's war on terrorism and so it gets a bilateral free trade agreement.

Thalakada, Nigel R.

At the same time, the United States can deal directly with important states so as to circumvent global multilateral commitments. For example, the Bush administration is seeking to get around the constraints of the International Criminal Court by negotiating bilateral deals with dozens of countries. The United States has massive power advantages. It finds it easier to accept nonagreement, so its bargaining leverage is great.

It does not need as much from countries. But to investigate whether this is a logic that will be manifest selectively or become the basic organizing logic of unipolar order requires looking at the incentives the United States might still have for exercising its power through multilateral and rule-based arrangements. These sources of multilateralism stem from the functional demands of interdependence, the long-term power calculations of power management, and American political tradition and identity.

The more economically interconnected states become, the more dependent they are for the realization of their objectives on the actions of other states. Rising economic interdependence is one of the great hallmarks of the contemporary international system. If this remains true in the years ahead, it is easy to predict that the demands for multilateral agreements — even and perhaps especially by the United States — will increase and not decrease. Bilateralism requires the United States to bargain for favorable outcomes.

It will win in most instances — given its power advantages — but bargaining also entails transaction costs. Order organized around diffuse reciprocity will allow the United States to achieve most of its foreign policy goals without the day-to-day costs. The ongoing war in Iraq is a case in point. The United States is relying on bilateral bargains with other states to gain support for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq rather than operating through formal alliance agreements.

A system of multilateral rules establishes pre-existing sets of obligations and commitments that facilitate cooperation. Second, American support for multilateralism will also stem from a grand strategic interest in preserving power and creating a stable and legitimate international order. The support for multilateralism is a way to signal restraint and commitment to other states, thereby encouraging the acquiescence and cooperation of weaker states. This has been a strategy that the United States has pursued to a greater or less degree across the twentieth century, and it explains the remarkably durable and legitimate character of the existing international order.

From this perspective, multilateralism — and the search for rule-based agreements — should increase rather than decrease with the rise of American unipolarity. This insight suggests that the current administration should respond to general power management incentives and limit its tilt toward unilateralism.

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The coming rise of China, India, and other middle-tier states also creates incentives for the United States to reinforce rather than undermine regional and global rules and institutions. There are two ways that the creation and strengthening of regional multilateral institutional order in East Asia might serve America's long-term hegemonic interests.

One is simply to create regional institutional structures that will shape and constrain China's rising power. Chinese power will be rendered more predictable as it is embedded in wider regional institutions. As American relative power declines, its capacity to run the global system or even secure its interests will decrease.

Only if American officials think that unipolarity will last forever will the United States have an incentive to reduce its commitments to a mutually agreeable, loosely multilateral international order. A final source of American multilateralism emerges from the polity itself.