The academic debate and the multipolar world

456x272_WHO-article-Revive-multilateralism-or-fail-global-developmentAfter the breakdown of the Soviet Union, no country in the globe could counterbalance the US in military, economically and cultural terms. But for how long America’s predominance would last, is rather a debatable issue. The new millennium after the terrorist atrocities, however, came to challenge in the first base Washington’s primary soft power status. According to Joseph Nye power is not only measured militarily and economically (hard power) , but “a country may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries  want to follow it, admiring its values, emulating its example, aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness [soft power]” (Nye, 2002, p. 8).

Responding to the attacks the US became an opponent of what it had built during the 20th century (Buzan, 2008, p. 556). Its devotion to multilateralism was out of date, and its rejection of many intergovernmental organizations, in their creation of which it played a significant role, was noticeable. The Iraq crisis denoted that the international position of the US had deteriorated, with fewer genuine followers, former allies detaching from its hegemony and an increasing bitterness by their enemies (Cox, 2007, p. 650). America’s prestige was also diminishing as the military victory of the US in the Iraq War was not accompanied by a political victory- by the necessary reforms within the region (Halper & Clarke, 2004, p. 81).

Decline, though, does not just take place because a foremost sovereign state “looses” a regional war (Cox, 2007, p. 651). It has also started to occur because America’s competences began to reduce whilst those of others were increasing (Quinn, 2011, p. 805-806). Firstly, the reemergence of China – reemergence and not rise because in history The Middle Kingdom was a key power in East Asia (Nye, 2002, p. 19) – has challenged America’s hegemony. China seems to be able to play two important roles, as it can be the greatest partner to the US as well the best competitor to the latter. Although China cooperates withthe US to the global war on terror, is a severe partner in the management of the world economy, and a remarkable regional power, it is perceptibly reemerging by changing the manner in which international relations are now evolving (Cox, 2007, p. 651). That means that China plays a noteworthy economic role in Africa and Latin America and in the US as well, “where its enormous purchases in the American bond market are probably keeping US interest rates at least 2 percentage points lower than they might otherwise be” (Cox, 2007, p. 651).

At the beginning of 2007 the debate of US unilateralism started to change content. Important as they were questions already asked on Washington’s hegemony were undermined in favor of a new critical development. This was the impact of the financial crisis on the US and specifically on its relation to China. China was buying significant parts of American debt implying that Washington was largely depended on Beijing. Until this crisis, issues such as the countries indebtedness and its continuing deficits had been almost ignored (Jacques, 2012, p. 625). All this changed with the bubble of subprime loans and the subsequent collapse of Lehman Brothers. Washington faces the challenge of reducing its budget and current accounts including cuts in the military budget.

The White House did recently order the Pentagon to design cuts of $78 billion from its military budget in the following five years (Hodge & Barnes, 2011). This policy was largely evident during the crisis in Libya and US reservation to play a central role.  According to Quinn, Barack Obama has already started to take the burden of Washington’s polite decline. This can be outlined by US President’s words, “That America’s role would be limited; that we would not put ground troops into Libya; that we would focus our unique capabilities on the front end of the operation and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners” (Quinn, 2011, p. 821).

Theano-Damiana Agaloglou