Unipolarity in international system

Unique unipolarity

General IR-theories such as neorealism provide a general framework for explanation and understanding the international system and its functioning. Specific models for unipolarity (like those formulated by Hansen or Monteiro) explain special features of the present state of unipolarity, where the United States has a preponderance of power but still faces hindrances when acting internationally. States are still the important actors and security problems still exist, even though the focus is on a somewhat different type of security than was in the case during the Cold War and in the absence of wars between great powers.

The post-Cold War era has been more or less “confusing” to researchers and scholars of the discipline. Neorealism approaches fundamental international dynamics and focuses on security conditions but according to Hansen (2011), particularly three interrelated problems necessitate the development of a neorealist theoretical model for unipolarity.

First, Kenneth Waltz did not include a model for unipolarity in his main work (Waltz 1979).

Second, the post-Cold War unipolarity has lasted some twentyfive years thus far. Majority of researchers still think that unipolarity has not yet come to an end and will last for some undefined time ahead.

Third, unipolarity has been regarded merely as a “state of transition”. In line with structural dynamics, the main prediction has been that the single superpower would be counterbalanced by other states and a new system would occur.

The new world order, since 1990, with only one superpower, is historically quite unique and demands special treatment, in both an academic and political strategic sense. One of the basic assumptions is that the states seek security, a survival as a minimum and, if possible, the improvement of their international position. They also do so in the case of unipolarity, however, there is only one great power. This affects the alignment options, the risk of great power warfare and the transparency of the system.

The starting point consists of Waltz’s neorealism, including its emphasis on polarity. Polarity is the structural doctrine accounting for the variation in the patterns of anarchically organized context. Balancing of power among great powers is usually considered the basic dynamic in an international anarchic system.  In the case of unipolarity, the balancing dynamic becomes different. However, the states must still relate to one another and care for their security within an anarchical context. According to many scholars, in the unipolarity, great power balancing of power as the main dynamic has been partly replaced by the other ideas.

Since the collapse of Soviet Union 1990, the international system became unipolar. A quarter-century later there still is no clear-cut theory of unipolarity, although existing literature on unipolarity is large and manifold. Monteiro’s book (Theory of Unipolar Politics, 2014) was among the first theoretical overall discourse on the unipolarity addressing on three important questions of its durability, its peacefulness and the best grand strategy of a unipolar power.