James Johnson
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Does the United States face a multipolar future?
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This chapter analyses the state of debate about relative US decline and the ‘rise of the rest’ from the point of view of the United States. It frames this around three categories of actors involved in creating and shaping the discourse on multipolarity in the United States: ‘denialists’, ‘accepters’, and ‘resisters’. Denialists argue that unipolarity is in fact durable and that serious US decline is a myth, accepters advocate for retrenchment or strategies of ‘offshore balancing’ to navigate the inevitable arrival of a multipolar order, and resisters are concerned about the rise of peer competitors but believe that Washington can still see down the challenge and maintain its hegemonic position. This typology is then used to frame a more specific discussion of how this is currently playing out via the lens of debates over power and high-end technological superiority. The chapter sets up the debate over the rapid diffusion and proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities through an exploration of those that view harnessing these capabilities as a key aspect of efforts to maintain Washington’s unipolar dominance. It uncovers a key strand to this which, while often shrouded in the language of multipolarity, is actually based on perceptions of a bipolar order based around a new competitive struggle between Beijing and Washington. The chapter analyses calls from within the US to take action to sustain its primacy in the emerging global AI race in the context of predictions of a shift to a multipolar order.

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