Foreign Policy Blogs

A New World Order?

The end of the Cold War left the United States as the world’s sole superpower. The US enjoyed dominance in international affairs and theorists debated the future after the Soviet Union’s dissolution. Francis Fukuyama’s End of History differed from the Clash of Civilizations anticipated by Samuel Huntington.

The 21st century could be the dawn of a new world order – the transformation from a unipolar to multipolar world. There is a perceived decline in US influence abroad due to the country’s economic woes and supposed vulnerability and ineffectiveness in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps more importantly, burgeoning economies and resurgent nations are increasingly challenging international order. Is this the end of US preeminence? Will emerging powers alter the global balance of power?

The possible US fall and rise of others continue to be questioned by international thinkers. What comes next? Robert Kagan asserts that while the world is still unipolar, rivalries between nations and competition amongst states raise the possibility of conflict. Parag Khanna argues that America is Waving Goodbye to Hegemony and the big three – the US, Europe and China – create their own rules, but contend in a geopolitical marketplace and vie for the loyalty of second world nations.  Other prominent thought leaders discussing this issue include Fareed Zakaria (The Post American World), Zbigniew Brzezinski (Second Chance) and Michael Klare (Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet) to name a few.

Who are the world’s rising powers and what are the implications? The most frequently mentioned rising powers include:

•    Brazil – Abundant in natural resources and a growing regional force, Brazil is becoming increasingly influential in international issues, including world trade and climate change. The country’s potential, however, is limited by crime, poverty, inequality and possibly volatile governance.

•    China – Thirty years ago China began its gradual economic opening and years of consistent and unprecedented economic development have made China conceivably the most obvious emerging force. Economic growth clearly translated into geopolitical clout and military muscle. Still, economic liberalization did not lead to political reform and there is fear of social upheaval.

•    European Union – How can the home of Britain, France and Germany be referred to as a “rising power?” The EU and its members are visibly active in some of the world’s most critical issues. The soft pull of EU membership allows the union to wield influence over its neighbors but Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty signifies the bloc’s imperfect unity.

•    India – India’s growing population and expanding economy countered China’s rise in Asia. The country lies in a geopolitical hotspot, but India is plagued by poverty, inequality, a lack of infrastructure and insecurity.

•    Russia – Russia’s resurgence has been on clear display during the military conflict in Georgia and oil dispute with Ukraine. The more aggressive foreign policy perhaps demonstrates its building confidence and leftover military power. Despite the country’s activity in its so-called “sphere of influence,” Russia remains straddled with a shrinking population, corruption and economic constraints that could curtail its reawakening.

Other possible rising players include Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.  Non-state and multi-state actors could be considered as well.

A good source of information on the issues is an interactive website developed by the Stanley Foundation.



David Kampf

David Kampf is a writer and researcher based in Washington, DC. He is also a columnist for Asia Chronicle. He analyzes international politics, foreign policy and economic development, and his pieces have appeared in various publications, including China Rights Forum, African Security Review and World Politics Review. Recently, he directed communications for the U.S. Agency for International Development and President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in Rwanda. Prior to living in East Africa, he worked in China and studied in Brazil, India and South Africa.

Area of Focus
International Politics; Foreign Affairs; Economic Development