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Confusing the Political Compass:

Shifting From Uni-Polarity to Uni-

Multipolarity in the International System
Joshua A. Harmon

The world stands upon a precipice, poised a world in which the US maintains dominant
at the climax of a twenty-year hegemony. influence yet is rivaled by the countries just
Since the demise of the Soviet Union and the below it in a new balance of power.
bipolar international system it helped com- The story of why the United States enjoys
prise, the United States of America has en- sole power is important to understand if one
joyed essentially unchallenged power at the is to analyze the future of the international
top of the current global political order system. Why has no other country replaced
(Huntington 36, Tulchin 33). It has domi- the Soviet Union as a major contender in the
nated every sphere of influence -"economic, past twenty years? The answer lies in many
military, diplomatic, ideological, technologi- places, yet can be boiled down to two basic
cal, and cultural"- even possessing the global variables, both of which the US can fuel more
reach to promote its interests in every corner money to than anyone else: guns and butter.
of the earth (Huntington 36). It has gone far-
ther than any power in recorded history in France, the third largest possessor of nu-
terms of international influence, and has fi- clear weapons, has 9,100 fewer warheads
nally reached its lofty peak. By its own hand, than the United States. What's more, the
the United States is gradually demoting itself Nonproliferation Treaty dissuades other na-
in a case of curious irony; the stable political tions from developing such power in an at-
and economic environment it fostered during tempt to rival the US, while those that do
its years of paternity has enabled weaker have them are reducing their stockpiles,
states to flourish to the extent that they are slowly, to "safe levels" (FAS). As if that were
now chipping away at US power while simul- not enough, the United States also spends
taneously bolstering their own (Zakaria 4). more on its military than any other nation in
The current international system is in the last the world, in 2009 nearly matching every
throes of unipolarity; one can expect instead other country's defense expenditures com-
uni-multipolarity twenty-five years from now, bined. China, the threat many Americans are

concerned will steal the crown from the US, actor for some time, one can expect a uni-
spent nine times less on its military (in US multipolar system by 2035 in which China,
dollars) than did the superpower in that same Japan, India, and many European Union
year (Shah). (EU) states have substantial influence.
The immense Gross Domestic Product The countries that comprise the European
(GDP) of the US allows it to dominate the Union will play a different role in the shifting
world economically in addition to militarily. of power than that of their Asian contempo-
In 2005, for instance, the GDP of the US - raries. Germany accounted for 4.6 percent of
even factoring in Purchasing Power Parity the world's GDP in 2005, the UK for 3.5 per-
(PPP)- was 22.5 percent of the world GDP. cent, and France for 3.4 percent, while other
China, the second place country, came in less nations made up smaller, yet still sizable con-
than half of the US at 9.7 percent, and which tributions (World Bank). Individually, these
must be shared by 1.3 billion people. Indeed, numbers will not shake the international sys-
while the average income in the US is tem, especially when populations are decreas-
$46,300, the sheer number of people in ing and annual GDP growth is around 1 per-
China holds theirs much lower, at $6,500 cent for most EU countries (World Bank,
(World Bank, CIA) The vast amount of wealth CIA). Instead, it is the EU itself that will be-
in the United States allows it to influence the come an influential player through combining
economy in ways that other countries cannot. the strengths of all its parts. It is the largest
Even the fear that China will demand the debt trading bloc in the world, and similar issues
we owe it as a way to gain power is very unite the EU's members in ways that the UN
unlikely because it relies on the American will never be able to achieve (Zakaria 4). Thus
market for its exports. Europe, while not progressing at the rate of
China or India, will continue to have a major
Guns and butter, when combined, have an
say in international politics through collu-
instrumental effect on the level of power a
sion. However, it is important to note that the
country has in the international system. Thus,
EU cannot replace the US because its mem-
it is simple to see why the US has enjoyed he-
ber states still maintain sovereignty, and
gemony since the collapse of the USSR. How-
therefore it will not be able to consistently act
ever, many nations have been progressing
uniformly in politics or, given that it has no
rapidly during this time of relative world
standing army, in military matters.
peace, and are now beginning to undermine
the superiority of the US in virtually every- Japan, accounting for 7.0 percent of the
thing except politico-military power, ushering world's GDP in 2005, is remarkably powerful
in what some call a "post-American given its size and continues to be a major
world" (Zakaria 4-5). Though the United source of technological innovation (World
States will remain the single most powerful Bank, CIA). However, it is still trying to re-

cover from a long bear market throughout the of poverty, empowering them to get an educa-
1990's, as well as the lingering recent global tion and further fuel China's economic en-
recession. A very poor market, coupled with gine. The proportion of population below $1
an declining population will continue to hin- (PPP) per day has dropped from 60.2 percent
der Japan, though it will no doubt continue to in 1990 to 15.9 percent just fifteen years later.
be an influential actor in the future interna- Even in social issues, such as the Gender Par-
tional system (World Bank). ity Index in tertiary level enrollment, it has
made great progress, moving from .53 in 1991
India, on the contrary, is preparing to en-
to 1.01 in 2007 (CIA). With all of these num-
ter the international stage with pomp and cir-
bers pointing blatantly towards Chinese in-
cumstance, boasting not only a 4.3 percent
ternational dominance, why would it not re-
share of the world GDP, but a seven percent
place the more stagnant US, whose annual
annual growth rate, as of 2005. What is most
GDP growth rate is a mere one percent by
remarkable, however, is India's vast increase
in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). $3.6 bil-
lion was invested in the year 2000, and just While there are many things going very
seven years later that number had swelled well for China, it is a country that also has
over 600 percent to 22.9 billion dollars, put- many problems, and these problems will keep
ting India's economy on the fast track to de- it from replacing the US by 2035. First of all,
velopment (World Bank). India too will take it is still developing its massive economy and
time to reach its potential, however, and will infrastructure, not to mention in a way,
not be nearly as powerful as the US by 2035, (primarily coal as energy), that is highly detri-
especially because the country is still develop- mental to the environment. Eleven cities in
ing its infrastructure and society. China have three times the air pollution as
Los Angeles, and highway traffic is increasing
All of these nations will play important
26 percent per year (CIA). It will have to re-
roles in the coming uni-multipolar system,
think its development paths if it wishes for its
though perhaps none as integral as China. Ac-
cities to be healthy. Also, the one child policy
counting for 9.7 percent of the world GDP in
has led to both the birth of more boys than
2005, China has the second-largest economy
girls, and to what will soon become an aging
in the world, and its blistering annual growth
population. The median age was twenty in
rate, at over 9 percent for nearly thirty years,
1970 and will be nearly forty-five in 2035,
is the fastest for any major economy in re-
putting immense stress on the government to
corded history (Zakaria 89). It exports more
provide healthcare services while far fewer
in a single day now than it did during the en-
people are paying into the system (CIA). Fi-
tire year of 1978 (89). Correspondingly, the
nally, if historical trends persist, China's peo-
average person's income has increased seven-
ple will eventually call for democracy, and the
fold, allowing 400 million people to move out
transition may be difficult for the nation to

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