This chapter explores the use of the concept of multipolarity in the Brazilian foreign policy debate, with an emphasis on the period associated with Brazil’s rise to great power status from 2000 onwards. It analyses documents from Brazilian governmental agencies in order to reconstruct how polarity was thought of and what impact this had on actual policy. It also draws on a series of in-depth interviews conducted in June 2017 with academics and Brazilian public officials to help unravel their understanding of the term and the interests of different actors. This is complemented by a review of the public speeches of politicians and diplomats in forums such as the Brazilian Congress and the United Nations General Assembly as well as academic articles that discuss the role of Brazil in a scenario of multipolarity, published in the two major Brazilian IR journals and a number of non-Brazilian IR journals. The chapter argues that the concept of the global order becoming increasingly multipolar – and Brazil playing a key role in the process and outcome – has been emotionally potent and ‘sticky’ over this time period, despite clear empirical evidence to the contrary. After providing a map of the interests involved and a raw measure of conceptual stretching, the chapter outlines a typology of typical ways that the concept has been moulded to suit various causes within Brazil. In addition, it identifies common themes across actors and uncovers the implicit theoretical framework they use to reinterpret the concept.
Debating the distribution of power and status in the early twenty first century
The concluding chapter reflects on the implications for both scholarship and policymaking of the contested nature of the multipolar narratives analysed in the previous chapters. It brings together a set of recurring themes and topics from across the case studies and draws out some of the general and longer-term implications that emerge from the individual national contexts. For scholars, it discusses the theoretical and empirical challenge of distinguishing between regional and great (global-level) powers as well as making the case for a more fine-grained focus on the perceptual components of polarity analysis. For policymakers, it highlights the need to be able to deal effectively with ambiguity and subjectivity in net assessments and strategic analysis relating to power transitions. It also discusses the likely policy impacts of the continued salience of narratives of imminent multipolarity on issues such as alliance management.
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.
This chapter argues that India has long sought a multipolar international order, and that the majority view within its foreign and security policymaking elite is that such an order would be more conducive to India’s interests and values than the orders that have prevailed since the country gained independence in 1947. The chapter makes the case for understanding Indian ideas about multipolarity as being intrinsically bound up with a particular foreign policy strategy of ‘multialignment’ – an approach aimed at mitigating the risks inherent in a disordered, multipolar world in which the US cannot or will not play a stabilising role and in which other rising or resurgent states are pursuing strategies that aim at regional hegemony. The chapter develops the argument that this understanding of multipolarity is relatively new, having emerged in India’s strategic elite only in the past decade, but it draws on key strands of thought that have evolved since Indian nationalists began to think, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, about possible foreign policies for a postcolonial India. It examines the responses of India’s foreign policymaking elite to the brief moment of post-Cold War unipolarity, and the anxieties that underlay them. The last section of the chapter explores the emergence of a more confident narrative about multipolarity in India since the early 2000s, and how this has shaped India’s approaches to securing and extending its interests and preferences in contemporary international relations.
The introductory chapter outlines the rationale for the book and places the current debates about multipolarity in the wider context of the existing scholarly literature on polarity. The chapter discusses the continued utility of polarity analysis as well as what should be considered the limits of this concept. As part of making the case for the utility of the concept, the chapter argues in favour of distinguishing between polarity as an analytical tool deployed by scholars engaging in system-level theorising on the one hand, and an ‘ordering concept’ used by practitioners on the other. The chapter also discusses the limits of polarity analysis, identifying a number of major deficiencies and blind spots in the existing literature. This includes scholarship that explores the polarity debates in both the scholarly and practitioner realms with a view to developing conclusions about its substance, efficacy, and utility in national policy debates. The chapter then links this to the individual case study chapters that follow, highlighting the ways in which they not only shed light on the state of the debate in the individual states themselves, but also contribute valuable insights for polarity analysis in International Relations more generally. The broad methodological approach of the volume is outlined alongside setting out the guiding questions used to frame the empirical analysis in each of the case study chapters. The chapter ends with a brief description of the structure of the book and the key findings of each chapter.
This chapter investigates the reception of narratives about the rise of a multipolar order in Japan, a state once touted as a potential pole of power in a post-Cold War multipolar order in its own right. Instead, the chapter argues that the central framing of debates over multipolarity today in Tokyo is one of fear – fear of the end of unipolarity and the rise of multipolarity signalling an end to the assured peacefulness and prosperity of Northeast Asia, Japan’s immediate neighbourhood. It argues that there is a complex and important interaction between the explanatory and normative sides of the Japanese discourse on multipolarity. How the global distribution of power does and should manifest itself in polarity terms is often difficult to disentangle. Significantly, the chapter highlights the larger debates about order – in particular a specific conception of a liberal rules-based order – that Japanese decision-makers and analysts bring to bear on debates about a future multipolar distribution of power. This implies that the unipolar, US-led order is itself defined by a liberal outlook that needs to be preserved as the global order becomes increasingly multipolar. This chapter highlights the difficulties for Tokyo in holding on to this narrative through the Trump administration’s decidedly illiberal path in its foreign policy and its aftermath.
China and the concept of multipolarity in the post Cold War era
Nicholas Khoo and Zhang Qingmin
This chapter investigates the Chinese discourse on multipolarity and the related concept of multipolarisation. Nicholas Khoo and Zhang Qingmin provide an overview of the history of the use and abuse of the concept in both official Chinese discourse and academic scholarship, with an emphasis on the 1970s onwards. They focus on the notion of ‘multipolarisation’ – a dynamic, and potentially long and complicated process through which a multipolar order will emerge – in Chinese discourse and its role in discussions over Chinese foreign policy and grand strategy. Khoo and Zhang distinguish between the state’s view of this concept and the views of scholars, highlighting key differences around the respective Marxist and realist interpretations of this structural phenomenon that have emerged over the years. In the scholarly discourse, the authors also highlight the role of critics of the consensus on both the analytical and normative arguments about the prospect of a multipolar order. This section of the chapter focuses principally on the views of two very prominent academics, Ye Zicheng of Peking University and Yan Xuetong of Tsinghua University. Ye has challenged the mainstream Chinese consensus by offering a more nuanced perspective on the process of multipolarisation itself, while Yan has argued that the view that international structure is moving towards multipolarisation fails to reflect reality, and that bipolarity rather than multipolarity is taking shape.
This chapter investigates both Russia’s role in cultivating a global debate about the shift to a multipolar order, including the desirability of a more diffuse global order, as well as the use of the concept within Russia. The chapter begins by placing Russian discourse on multipolarity within the wider context of Russian thinking on issues of global order, state power, and modernity. It uses this background to highlight the discrepancies between the more theoretical/philosophical approaches to global order in Russian discourse on the one hand, and the more immediate, policy-focused arguments about the ‘need’ for a multipolar order on the other. The chapter identifies four central themes that emerge from both official and scholarly Russian arguments about multipolarity: debates around the notion of ideological-cultural distinctiveness (and specifically a rejection of Western-led ideological universalism), normative arguments in favour of a more equitable redistribution of power among rising and re-emerging powers, a reassertion of Russian nationalism, and the regionalisation of world politics. The chapter also examines specific Russian foreign policy initiatives in recent years and their relationship with normative arguments in favour of constructing a multipolar order. This includes Russian approaches to multilateral groupings including the BRICS, the Eurasian Economic Union, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The discussion argues that Russia’s views on multipolarity tend to fall between the ideas of ‘multiregionalism’ and more traditional notions of great power management, both of which rest on traditional assumptions about the role of the nation state and state sovereignty in world politics.
With the rise of new powers and the decline of seemingly unchallenged US dominance, a conventional wisdom is gaining ground in contemporary discourse about world politics that a new multipolar order is taking shape. Yet ‘multipolarity’ – an order with multiple centres of power – is variously used as a description of the current distribution of power, of the likely shape of a future global order, or even as a prescription for how power ‘should’ be distributed in the international system. This book explores how the concept of a multipolar order is being used for different purposes in different national contexts. From rising powers to established powers, contemporary policy debates are analysed by a set of leading scholars in order to provide an in-depth insight into the use and abuse of a widely used but rarely explored concept.
This chapter presents the discourse around multipolarity in the United Kingdom as perhaps the ultimate symptom of the contested and often contradictory arguments about power and status that define the current global power transition. Reflecting what is described as ‘the country’s own tortured concerns with power and status’, the chapter pitches discussion around the emergence of a new multipolar order as being a debate about the nature of ‘greatness’ in international relations itself. This chapter examines London’s now decades-long history of attempting to project an image of itself as a pole of power long after the material bases of its formerly unambiguous global status have atrophied. Ultimately, it argues that the United Kingdom’s dogged persistence in attempting to cultivate and maintain a role as one of the great powers at the global level has hampered its ability to pursue more narrowly defined economic and security interests. In particular, it outlines a set of vital interests that can be secured in a post-unipolar era as long as London can become less fixated on a performative identity divorced from material realities.