Unipolar and Multipolar World Orders Are Unworkable

Nearly fifteen years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union (on December 26, 1991) and the end of US-USSR bipolar world order. Since then, we have had a unipolar world order.

In a speech given in November 1999 in Paris, current French President Jacques Chirac outlined a vision of a multipolar world order. According to Chirac, the unipolar world is essentially unbalanced and the world must be re-balanced by a multipolar world order where a variety of powers balance or offset the power of the US.

On the other hand, in “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America Report” of September 17, 2002, the US argues that unipolarity is a good thing and should be maintained for a long time, if not forever.

The unipolar versus multipolar debate has raged all over the world. The US and some of its minor allies, like Britain, argue in favor of a unipolar world, with the US as the world’s lone super-power in charge of the global order. Opposed to them stands almost the whole array of the rest of the world arguing in favor of multi-polarity. Led by Chirac, the multipolar concept has been embraced by Russia, China, India, Brazil, and a host of lesser powers all convinced that the unipolar concept is either in fact or in theory unrealistic and unworkable. Even Charles Krauthammer, the head cheerleader for the unipolar concept, says that "No doubt, multipolarity will come in time.” (“An American Foreign Policy for a Unipolar World” By Charles Krauthammer, February 12, 2004).

Should there be a unipolar world order? If peace, security and a measure of prosperity are the aims of a world order, then a unipolar world order can work if the world ruler is just, impartial, and fair. But if the world ruler is concerned only with his own self-interest, then such a world order is inherently unstable and unjust.

On a more theoretical level, the constitutional foundation of the USA, and the many months and years of discussion by its founders over two hundred years ago leading up to the formation of the new country, was based on the realization that absolute power is abusive and, if unchecked and unbalanced, can lead to gross corruption. One only has to look at the current occupant of the White House to see the wisdom of that observation, for today, intoxicated by an illusion of absolute power, Bush, strutting and stuttering, has exercised his power as absolutely and ruthlessly as any tyrant, past or present. “L’etat c’est moi…I am the ultimate arbiter of innocence or guilt; I am the final court of appeal for whomever I decide, American citizen or not, should be incarcerated, without bail or trial or accusation, for as long as I decide. I decide who should live or die. No law constrains me. No International Treaty limits me, in fact nothing constrains me to do as I please, certainly not a rubber-stamp Congress and a weak and compliant citizenry.”

Unipolarity is in fact a narcissism, a collective personality disorder. Narcissists are self-centered and make their needs and interests paramount over all others. They are insensitive to others, rationalize everything they do, and have a pathological need to control. It is quite evident that the US is in the grips of a collective narcissistic disorder, led by a man with malignant narcissism – grandiose in claims, manipulating others for its own purposes, and believing its own press releases. Listen to Krauthammer, the leading apologist for the unipolar world:

This is now, he says, “a unipolar world dominated by a single superpower unchecked by any rival and with decisive reach in every corner of the globe…This is a staggering new development in history, not seen since the fall of Rome…Even Rome is no model for what America is today,…because we do not have the imperial culture of Rome. We are an Athenian republic, even more republican and infinitely more democratic than Athens….[W]e are unlike Rome, unlike Britain and France and Spain and the other classical empires of modern times, in that we do not hunger for territory…We’ve got everything. And if that’s not enough, we’ve got Vegas – which is a facsimile of everything. What could we possibly need anywhere else? That’s because we are not an imperial power. We are a commercial republic. We don’t take food; we trade for it. Which makes us something unique in history, an anomaly, a hybrid: a commercial republic with overwhelming global power. A commercial republic that, by pure accident of history, has been designated custodian of the international system.”

Krauthammer looks in the mirror and likes what he sees, and sees no other.

In reality, are there any powers that could today or in the near future match the US? If we exclude the rhetoric and the illusions, we find that there are no powers, save one, in the current world order that have even an arguable basis for parity or equity with the US. Marcel H. van Herpen argues that Chirac’s argument in favor of multi-polarity, for example, is based the assumption that France is a great power, but not as great as the US so can only exercise that power in a multipolar world. France as a great power? That is surely but an opium smoker’s dream. By accident of history, France has nuclear weapons and thus is, like North Korea, Pakistan, and India, a power to be reckoned with, but as an equal to the US in a multipolar world? Surely you’re joking, Mr. Chirac. Not even a seat as a permanent member of the Security Council makes it an equal. France is but a small country of sixty million people and a GDP of 1.6 trillion dollars (CIA Factbook). France does not have the population or the acreage to be considered a world power.

Others could argue in favor of Russia (or Eurasia) as a viable pole in a multipolar world. Yet this, too, is an illusion. With a declining population of 143 million people and a GDP of 1.3 trillion, Russia is inferior even to France like whom it has nuclear weapons and accidentally occupies a seat on the Security Council. In fact, Russia is far too large in area and too small in population to be a great power. Were Russia to allow Siberia to secede and form a separate country, it might have a chance to develop into one of the lesser great powers. But today? Surely you’re joking, Mr. Putin.

Perhaps, then, we may speak of India or Brazil or Nigeria or the Islamic States, over one billion strong, or Europe as poles in a multipolar world order? With at least three times the population and a 3 trillion dollar economy India is not even close to competing on a level playing field with the US. Brazil with 184 million people and a 1.4 trillion economy? I don't think so. Then what about Nigeria, with a population equal to Russia's but an economy less than Honk Kong's, with 7 million people? Get real. Then what about the Islamic States, with a combined population of over a billion, and an economy based on Jihad, sand, and oil? Surely you’re joking. Well, there's Japan. Yes, with 127 million, a bit less than Russia, and a 3.5 trillion dollar economy. A US puppet with no international power base?

What of Europe, then, with 456 million people and an equivalent GDP of 11 trillion dollars? This is a Europe without England, the forthcoming 51st State or a commonwealth like Puerto Rico, and without Switzerland? This is a Europe with something like a free trade agreement, a hybrid English-like language as lingua franca, and 25 current states at many different levels of development. It took the European nations a thousand years to emerge from warring tribes; it will probably take another thousand years to shake off the egocentricisms of the French and Germans and develop a truly unified Union. If we add Turkey into the mix, there is even less likelihood that a unified nation state will emerge from a merging of a secular Westernism and Islam. No, I don’t think Europe will at any time soon develop as a pole in a multipolar world.

So, where does that leave us? Are we stuck with an unbalanced unipolar world, with a lone superpower bullying “democracy” down the throats of a multiplicity of far lesser mortals? Maybe the US will self-destruct and the world will be left with just an anarchy of lesser states plying their interests in limited regional domains?

Between the Scylla of multipolarity and the Charybdis of unipolarity, there is another option that has not yet been considered. For half a century, we had a cold war where two major powers, mutually assured of complete destruction, competed with each other. At least the war was cold, not hot like the many wars going on today. At least there was stability. Bipolarity has its attractions. But not a bipolarity as in the old days, maybe a new bipolarity based on Mutually Assured Competition, MAC instead of MAD, between the US and China.

Yes, the US continues to believe that it is head and shoulders above any possible competitor. Yes, China with its long tradition of modesty and contempt for insufferable braggarts proclaims that it is only a “developing” county. But if we look at the facts, we see a different picture. Yes, the US has a 10 trillion dollar economy and close to 300 million people, while China has a 7.199 trillion dollar economy (including Taiwan and the autonomous regions), with more than four times the population. But those 7 trillion dollars can buy 70 trillion dollars worth of goods in China – where one dollar can buy what 10 or more dollars can buy in the West – and many other places in the world outside of the so-called “developed” countries in the West. Yes, if we compare the economies in terms of US dollars, China seems weak. But if we compare them in terms of buying power and productivity, China has many times the economy, and power, of the US. China may even be superior to the US in other ways. Recently, it surpassed the US as the world’s leading consumer nation. Even the US expects its navy to be equivalent to or larger than the US Navy in 10 years; and certainly its army is far larger already.

Think about it. A bipolar world with China and the US in head-to-head competition on the economic front – not in hot war, but in cold or cool wars. MAC (mutually assured competition) instead of MAD (mutually assured destruction). China against the US in software. China against the US in space. China against the US in sustainable agriculture. China against the US in renewable fuels. China against the US in Internet usage. China against the US in mobile phone ownership. China against the US in social justice, medical care, fast food, and joie de vivre. Let the US and Europe (and Japan) share one pole, and China and India and Brazil share another pole…and let them compete.

Or, is America afraid of competition? Is America afraid to pit its state-managed, excessively bureaucratic capitalism against the free, entrepreneurial capitalism of China? Does America prefer its narcissistic paranoia to a mutually beneficial and healthy competition on the world stage? Does America prefer to always be looking over its shoulder to see if anyone is sneaking up behind it, or does it prefer to run flat-out, eyes ahead, the way true champions do? If I were a betting man, I would say that today's US, fat, bloated, boastful, paranoid, excessively overweight and massively indebted to the rest of the world, hasn't a chance of a snow-flake in hell of winning this race…But if it returned to being the innovative, future-oriented, optimistic, supportive partner on the international stage, if it returned to its potential and promise? Ah, in that case, China would get a run for its money. And the whole world would be better off.

May 21, 2005