What Happens When You Do Primacy in a Multipolar World?
What do Larry Summers, Emmanuel Macron, Lula da Silva, Christine Laguarde, Penny Wong, and Foreign Affairs magazine all have in common with me? They seem to answer the following questions the same way.
Is the world multipolar? Yes. Does the United States seek primacy? Yes. Can you do primacy under multipolarity? No. Not unless you want to burn down the world and start over.
Outside Washington, it seems like people are waking up to the reality (and, for some, the desirability) of a multipolar world. The term “multipolarity” gets wielded in cavalier ways at times, but what we’re talking about is global and regional distributions of power. Yes, the United States has an extreme concentration of military and economic power, but the world is no longer unipolar in any meaningful sense.
The world—and Asia—has alternative power centers. We have multiple countries with nukes. We have multiple “great powers,” whatever that means. Military technology is such that multiple countries are able to project power far from their own shores, and those technologies are getting easier to acquire. And by certain economic measures, the United States is not the preeminent power anymore.
Almost any way you try to think about the polarity of the international system leads to the same conclusion: The world is multipolar. The unipolar moment has passed.