Multipolar World Order: Old Myths and New Realities

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The concept of multipolarity has come a long way from its categorical rejection by Western politicians and scholars to the strong necessity of taking into account the realities of a multipolar world even by US closest allies. The article is devoted to the analysis of the official discourse, normative and positive concepts of the study of polarity, including system models of international relations, an empirical assessment of the current distribution of power in the world, as well as forecasting the further development of world dynamics. An analysis of the political discourse on polarity over the past 25 years is made and the most significant political figures are highlighted - defenders of multipolarity (BRICS and EU countries) as well as adherents of the unipolar world (NATO countries). The basic theories (mainly of a normative nature) that conceptualize both unipolar discourse (hegemonic stability theory) and multipolar one (theory of multipolar world) are shown. The intellectual segregation between two main approaches to the study of international systems is provided - abstract verbal models of systems vs empirical (quantitative) system research. Particular attention is paid to the analysis of the real distribution of power in the international arena. The main approaches and related methodological challenges are considered. Analysis of the relative shares of USA, Russia (USSR) and China in world power based on Composite Index of National Capability (CINC) is provided. The assessment of material potential is complemented by a multifactor (more than 30 parameters) comprehensive study of both “hard” and “soft” power of three countries. The main theoretical approaches to the concept of multipolarity are clarified. The empirical analysis revealed the formation of a “new bipolarity” (USA and China) while maintaining the leading role of the Russian Federation in the field of high politics and global security. It is predicted that China is gradually “trying on” the role of a new hegemon and is already less interested in a radical revision of the current world order. The strategic adaptation of the closest US allies to the realities of a multipolar world is shown.

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The history of international relations reflects the sequence of different world order models with different types of hierarchy and balance of power. Westphalian order of young European nation-states (1648-1815) was mostly hegemonic (with France as dominating power), post-Napoleonic Vienna system (1815-1918), also referred as “Concert of Great Powers”, and Versailles-Washington (1919-1945) system were based on multipolar principle (when the potentials of great powers were approximately equal), Yalta-Potsdam system (1945-1991) reflected simple bipolarity (with USSR and USA as two super powers balancing each other), USA hegemony and unipolar system (1991-2001) centered on the interests of the only one dominant power, and finally the current world order with some elements of multipolarity. In all the cases, the international relations system witnessed the rise and fall of great powers and new claims for leadership. Appealing to the past, International Relations (IR) scholars argue about the desired future. As a sphere of professional activity and academic discipline international relations are far from being neutral. Like any other social activities, IR are also a subject to significant ideological influence. This also applies to basic concepts, including multipolarity. The article covers the main approaches to multipolarity that have been developed in the political discourse, as well as in the framework of both normative and positive science of international relations, presents an empirical analysis of the actual power concentration and draw conclusions about the current international moment. Polarity as a Political Discourse and an Ideology: “Normative Radicalism” One of the most politicized and debated issues in the current international relations agenda is the type of world order - unipolar or multipolar [Keersmaeker 2015]. American scholars in their majority conclude that the world is unipolar and will remain so for a long time, presenting this world order formula as an unconditional good for the whole humanity [Tsygankov, Grachikov 2015: 22]. Expert’s community and political establishment of Russia, China and other BRICS countries, and even a number of EU member-states opt for the establishment of a more balanced multipolar world (see Table 1). Unipolar VS multipolar world in official and academic discourse Table 1 Polarity approach Unipolar world Multipolar world Major partisan countries USA and Euro-Atlantic allies Russia and other BRICS countries Major political discourse M. Albright(1), C. Rice(2), T. Blair(3), H. Clinton(4) E. Primakov(5), J. Chirac(6), V. Putin (“Munich Speech”(7)), J. Barroso(8), Xi Jinping(9), N. Modi(10) Documents - Joint Declaration of PRC-RF on multi-polar world (1997)(11); Foreign policy concepts of RF(12) Conceptualization Hegemonic stability theory - Kindleberger Ch. P. [1973]; Gilpin R. [1981]; Keohane R. [1984]; Goldstein J. [1988] Theory of multipolar world - A.G. Dugin [2013] (1) “I think that the reason that we are the superpower in the world is that the other superpower got defeated and fell apart”. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. Remarks at Tennessee State University. Nashville, Tennessee, February 19, 1998. URL: (accessed: 24.06.2019). (2) “The reality is that ‘multi-polarity’ was never a unifying idea, or a vision. It was a necessary evil that sustained the absence of war but it did not promote the triumph of peace. Multi-polarity is a theory of rivalry; of competing interests - and at its worst - competing values”. Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. Remarks at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, International Institute for Strategic Studies. London, June 26, 2003. URL: (accessed: 24.06.2019). (3) U.S./Europe: Blair Warns Against French “Multipolar” Vision. Radio Free Europe, 29 April 2003. URL: 1103074.html (accessed: 24.06.2019). (4) “We will lead by inducing greater cooperation among a greater number of actors and reducing competition, tilting the balance away from a multipolar world and toward a multipartner world”. A Conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Council of Foreign Relations, 15 July 2009. URL: (accessed: 24.06.2019). (5) “A multipolar world structure in itself in the context of globalization does not lead to conflict situations, military clashes, but it does not exclude a very difficult situation in which the transition to such a system is carried out” [Primakov 2011: 159-160]. (6) “Against the political chaos that would result from the blind play of international rivalries, France is working to build a multipolar world». Discours du Président de la République lors de la présentation des voeux du Corps diplomatique, Palais de l’Elysée, le mardi 7 janvier 2003. URL: fi001856.html (accessed: 24.06.2019). (7) “I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world”. Speech of V. Putin and the Following Discussion at the Munich Conference on Security Policy. Munich, 10 February 2007. URL: transcripts/24034 (accessed: 24.06.2019). (8) “There are, clearly, some virtues in a multipolar international society. It limits ‘hegemonic power’, which can often be a source of instability”. José Manuel Durão Barroso, President of the European Commission. Florence, 18 June 2010. URL: commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_10_322 (accessed: 24.06.2019). (9) “The trends of global multi-polarity, economic globalization, IT application, and cultural diversity are surging forward; changes in the global governance system and the international order are speeding up; countries are becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent; relative international forces are becoming more balanced”. Full text of Xi Jinping’s report at 19th CPC National Congress. Bejing, 18 October 2017. URL:’s_report_at_19th_CPC_National_Congress.pdf (accessed: 24.06.2019). (10) “The need of the hour is to strengthen a multi-polar order. Each and every nation is important today. We need to strengthen a multipolar world despite conflicting ideologies”. “Strengthening Multipolar World Need Of The Hour”, Says PM Modi At FII. Republic, 29 October 2019. URL: (accessed: 24.06.2019). (11) Joint Statement of the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on A Multi-polar World and the Establishment of A New International Order. 23 April 1997. URL: (accessed: 24.06.2019). (12) Including the actual one - Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation. Approved by President V. Putin on November 30, 2016. URL: (accessed: 24.06.2019). Fig. 1. Hegemonic Control and System Satisfaction [Organski 1958: 331] First of all, the political discourse, including speeches of key decision-makers - presidents and foreign ministers of great and emerging powers, is of primer interest for understanding multipolarity. The most distinctive in this regard is the “Munich speech” of V. Putin in 2007, calling for the review of the excesses of the unipolar world. Taking an earlier period, it’s worth noting the declarations made by E.M. Primakov and J. Chirac. Insisting that multipolarity is stable, but recognizing that the transition to multipolarity might be accompanied with conflicts, E.M. Primakov entered somehow into a correspondence dialogue with C. Rice. She blamed multipolarity for being destructive, and strongly insisted on the “unipolar moment” as the best structure for IR, based on the universal for the West values. Leaders of BRICS states traditionally advocate multipolarity, although in recent years N. Modi and Xi Jinping have emphasized the most appealing effect of multipolarity - interdependence and interconnectedness. The multipolarity formation and multilateralism were the key points of the speech of J. Barroso in 2010, President of the European Commission (2004-2014). He assessed both trends as positive phenomena in world politics. In its dialogue with the EU, the PRC consistently promotes the concept of multipolarity, declaring that the European Union and China “share important strategic consensus on building a multi-polar world”1, but this rhetoric does not always meet the support of the European side, which mainly prefers the “multilateralism” discourse [Scott 2013]. 1 China’s Policy Paper on the EU: Deepen the ChinaEU Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for Mutual Benefit and Win-win Cooperation. 2 April 2014. URL: t1143406.shtml (accessed: 24.06.2019). The concept of multipolarity has moved from political discourse to a whole series of official documents. A joint Sino-Russian Declaration of 1997 in this regard is the central document. Its title speaks for itself - Joint Statement of the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on a Multi-Polar World and the Establishment of a New International Order. Russian Foreign policy doctrines and National Security Strategy mention multipolarity or polycentric model as well. The US doctrinal documents, for obvious reasons, do not directly address the unipolar world concept, but use euphemism associated with American global leadership. International academic community also actively debates about the preferred world order structure [Degterev, Timashev 2019]. The point is to assess which model is more stable and leads to fewer wars. Often the discussion goes into a purely “normative” way, which is strictly speaking far from academic science. Proponents of unipolarity rely primarily on the theory of hegemonic stability, which was originally developed by J. Kindleberger in relation to his desired mechanism of governing world economy during the Great Depression period [Kindleberger 1973] and was further developed in the publications on international political economy of R. Gilpin, R. Keohane, and J. Goldstein. They all argue that the presence of hegemon contributes to stabilizing the international system and in this sense is an absolute good. In their arguments, they make a reference to the power transition theory, which was developed by A. Organski in the 1950s [Organski 1958]. He emphasized the hierarchical nature of the international system, with superpower at the top, followed by several “great powers”, then “middle powers”, finally small countries and colonies (see Fig. 1). Concentration 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2 0 -0.2 -0.4 1490 1540 1590 1640 1690 1740 1790 1840 1890 1940 1995 Years Concentration Gap Global War Fig. 2. Global-Regional Concentration Gap and Global War Source: [Rasler, Thompson 1994: 68] However, the least satisfied with the status quo states cannot challenge the hegemon, as they must get the approval and support of the “middle” and great powers. In its turn, the hegemon never forgets to “cool the ardor” of the revisionists. The US strategy of maintaining the status quo included the Memorandum 200, drawn up at the initiative of H. Kissinger in 1975, and adopted as the official policy of the United States2. He identified 13 states with the fastest growing population (Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey, the Philippines, Ethiopia) as posing a special threat to US national security, including the issue of providing the US economy with raw resources (middle powers pretending to the status of great powers). While the global positions of the hegemon are weakening, one of the great powers would challenge it. And in such conditions peaceful transformation of the international system is unlikely [Tsygankov 2019]. Russian expert community in its majority is unfamiliar with the theory of hegemonic stability, mostly referring to the balance of power concept. Since the “bipolar” world order, the prevailing opinion and discourse (rooted and grown up by the spirit of Russian fairy tales, in which good always triumphs over evil) is centered around the conviction 2 National Security Study Memorandum 200: Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests. December 10, 1974. URL: (accessed: 24.06.2019. that “forces of good” would emerge and will necessarily punish the “evil hegemon”. In this case, the balance of power will be restored, almost on the metaphysical level. But advancing this type of reflection, one shouldn’t forget that the current potential of the Russian Federation is significantly lower than the potential of the USSR (see below), and in the era of the “European concert” the balance of power was not established automatically, like the physical law of nature. Great Britain was performing the functions of the main balancer of Europe “in manual way”, by pushing together the continental European powers [Davydov 2002: 144-145]. Proponents of unipolarity also rely on empirical studies of the concentration of marine power concept of G. Modelski [1988], and subsequent studies of K. Rasler and W. Thompson [1994]. They demonstrate that the largest wars in world history occurred when the hegemon possessed minimum share of total power (see Fig. 2). Despite the widespread use of multipolar discourse in political declarations and official documents, the academic discourse in Russia was underrepresented. Surely, in 1990s there were some humble attempts by a number of Russian researchers (in particular S.M. Rogov, K.E. Sorokin) in tune with the official position of Russia under the Minister of Foreign Affairs E.M. Primakov to develop the theoretical basis of multipolar world, clarifying the concepts of polarity à la russe. According to A.D. Bogaturov, scholars of this group missed the study of the real situation, in return offering a certain Fig. 3. Strategy of Building Multipolar World Source: [Dugin 2013: 210] image of the “required future” [Bogaturov 2003: 11]. The empirical part of the present article is intended, at least partly, to fill this gap. It’s not surprising, that in the absence of a firm political will, in the unipolar world conditions of the 1990s, especially in Russia (the pole that was defeated in the Cold War), within the “conventional” academic environment, no “revisionist” concept of polarity could ever appear. It arose beyond the limits of “conventionality” - so called theory of multipolar world of A.G. Dugin, rather political activist of the Eurasian movement, than classical scholar (a short period of 2009-2014 of his academic career in Moscow State University is rule exception). Despite the fact that A.G. Dugin is widely known in Russia and abroad, one can agree with I.A. Istomin’s statement about the dominance of the normative component in his concept [Istomin 2016: 24]. This approach offers a generally understandable image of the “desired future” for the Russian Federation (see Fig. 3) - Russia as the main “balancer” of multipolar world order, while the “Global South” and the PRC, and perhaps the EU and Japan in future, would break away from the hegemon. But this raises the challenging issue of practical implementation of the concept, taken into account the significant superiority of cumulative power of the “Global North” (see below), as well as the strong cohesion of the Euro-Atlantic community. No doubts, that China and India are pivotal states in the “zone of maximum concentration of antiglobalist energy”, but there are practically no other non-western countries that could approach the level of traditional great powers. With the significant economic growth of these Asian giants, they both still need new high technologies, and this sector is leaded by the United States. Many scientists are not ready to align with one of the theories described above, preferring more balanced and flexible approaches. Thus, A.D. Bogaturov in the 1990s explained the world order though “pluralistic unipolarity” [Bogaturov 1996]. A. Acharya supports the strengthening of the “Global South” and advances a “multiplex world”, mostly based on the civilizational features [Acharya 2018]. A similar position is taken by F. Petito [2016]. However according to A.G. Dugin, all of them are qualified as supporting the unipolar model, including advocates of radical American imperialism (“rigid unipolarity”), of “multilateralism” (“soft unipolarity”) and even of alter-globalization, postmodernism and neo-Marxism (“critical unipolarity”) [Dugin 2013: 207-209]. One of his followers, 1. Bovdunov, goes even further and states that most Russian experts in IR just follow the American ideology of unipolarity either in the context of liberal globalism, or in the framework of “peripheral realism in Russian”3. Such radical approaches obviously hamper the whole perception of Dugin’s version of multipolarity. Two Traditions of Systemic Research and Intellectual Segregation Moving away from normative approaches to the classical international studies, it is worth noting two traditions (schools) of systematic modeling of IR. A number of representatives of the natural sciences familiar with the general theory of systems tried to identify the isomorphisms between the system of international relations and biological/physical systems, as well as between the individual processes occurring in these systems. The second approach to system modeling is linked with “System and process in international relations” by M. Kaplan, strong supporter of modernism [Kaplan 2008], “Gulliver’s Troubles: Or, the Setting of American Foreign Policy” by S. Hoffman [1968] and, in particular, the dissertation of K. Waltz “Man, State, and War” [Waltz 2001]. The second approach also includes K. Knorr and S. Verba, Ch. McClelland, R. Rosecrance, R. Keohane [1984], B. Buzan and A. Wendt, who used the conceptual apparatus corresponding with the system approach. At the same time, they operated on non-mathematical concepts, and relied mainly on sociological and historical approaches, including structural and functional analysis of T. Parsons. 1. Waltz and his followers practically do not refer to the first approach of system modeling with wider and typical use of empirical, including quantitative analysis and formal modeling. His book is more related to a structural than a system model, since K. Waltz describes the structure of the system of international relations (as an independent variable), but does not formally define the nature of the relation- 3 Bovdunov A. The influence of American ideology on the Russian community of international affairs (In Russian). Katehon, 24.02.2016. URL: article/vliyanie-amerikanskoy-ideologii-na-rossiyskoesoobshchestvo-mezhdunarodnikov (accessed: 24.06.2019). ship between the actions of actors and the system. In fact, some kind of “intellectual segregation” of two traditions of systemic modeling of international relations is emerging [Braumoeller 2013: 15]. M. Kaplan was one of the first to present verbal models of the system of international relations [Kaplan 2008]. He proposed six macro-models of world politics, including two real - “balance of power system” (European concert system) and “loose bipolar system” (Cold War period), and four abstract - “tight bipolar system”, “universal international system” of a federal type, “hierarchical system” with the dominance of one pole, multipolar system with the “veto” among nuclear powers. Both proponents of the traditional approach (H. Bull) and advocates of general theory of systems (K. Boulding) sharply criticized M. Kaplan’s approach for not being a rigorous scientific theory, but rather a case of “soft system thinking”, close to the tradition of constructing verbal models. International systems are also described by S. Hoffman [1968], who distinguished two ideal types of international systems - moderate and revolutionary, and he referred to the latter as a bipolar system. The moderate system was described by the “balance of power”. Measuring Power Distribution: Challenges of Empirical Analysis In order to present a comprehensive analysis of multipolarity key approaches to the empirical analysis should be presented. The formal criteria for measuring the number of poles are the following: § unipolar system: one state controls 50 % or more of the total world power (potential), § near-unipolar world (or pluralistic unipolarity): one state controls 45-50 % of the power, while no other state controls more than 25 %, § bipolar system: each dominant actor controls more than 25 % of the total power. To assess the level and quality of multipolarity, a special analysis of balance of power is needed, as it is one of the most debated and contradictory concepts in international political science. What do we mean by balance of power: the real balancing, or some ideal situation when the potentials of powers (poles, coalitions) could be described as equal? Fig. 4. Capacity Development Performance Indicators Source: [OECD Handbook 2012: 15]. Balance of power concept is rooted in the term “power”, which encompasses different meanings: resources, potential, strategies, influence, and final outcome. R. Dahl’s formal definition of power is the most cited: “A has power over B to the extent that it can force B to do something that B would not otherwise do” [Dahl 1957: 202-203]. According to A. Organsky, wealth, resources, labor and weapons could bring power, but only if they are used to influence the behavior of others. Rather, they are instruments of power, and an instrument that is not used is worthless [Organsky 1958: 98]. Therefore, the highest degree of power manifestation is the ability to control the outcome of events, which obviously depends on other actors. Since interstate interactions are principal, the power is not absolute, but rather relative. It is quite difficult to clearly operationalize “the ability to force others to do things that they would not otherwise do”. Therefore, there are some methodological problems in the operationalization of the basic concepts related to the balance of power and multipolarity. The traditional “resource-oriented” or attributive approach to assessing the balance of power reflects the realist view of international politics, and is heavily criticized by the so called “context-oriented” or relativistic approach [Yudin 2015]. According to the latter, it is important to transform the national potential (national power or resource) into a power that could be used in a specific situation of interaction. It is quite difficult to assess the total power for the simple reason - the enemy can impose a type of conflict that would be favorable mostly to him, and try to maximize the advantages precisely for the preferred weapon (for example, aviation or cyber weapons) or resource. Criticism of relativists can be overcome by using several analytical approaches. Firstly, it is necessary to take into account not only indicators characterizing the availability and accumulation of resources, but also readiness and effectiveness of their use. Conventionally, the indicators could be divided into three groups: readiness, intensity, and impact (see Fig. 4). Thus, evaluating the scientific potential of the state, one can appeal to such readiness indicators as research and development expenditures. The intermediate indicator of the R&D intensity is the number of researchers and engineers, scientific articles and patents. But the most accurate assessment of the effectiveness of the existing (real) scientific potential could be done through using the so called impact indicators, including the country’s share in world high-tech exports, the contribution of R&D to GDP growth, etc. Indicators of diplomatic readiness can be assessed by the volume of MFA or development cooperation budget. The intensity indicator would be the number of embassies, as well as the membership and number of permanent missions at international organizations. In this case, an indicator of impact could be measured through the coincidence in the voting of allied countries in international organizations on the draft resolutions which are of great importance for the country. Secondly, multiplicative indices of aggregate potential (for example, R. S. Cline’s Perceived Power Index) are primarily based on the indicators of the quality of strategic or public administration, “national will”, witnessing the willingness to use the available resource potential in case of crisis situations. Thirdly, the CINC (see below) and other indices use only relative, not absolute power. The share of individual states from world indicators is in this regard of most interest. Fourthly, due to the turbulent character of international relations it is highly difficult to foresee the specific threats the state will have to face in the future. However, the presence of minimum (threshold) values for a whole range of indicators will allow to neutralize most of the challenges. In this regard, there should be considered not only the aggregate power potential, but also the dynamics in achieving the threshold level for various types of potential (military, economic, scientific, technical, soft power, etc.). This would be helpful in eliminating “weaknesses” in advance. In this regard, ensuring the international security of the state resembles the introduction of a Balanced Scorecard System in a corporation4. A separate methodological difficulty is associated with finding a balance between the elements of “hard” and “soft” power in assessing the total potential. The material indicators of political and structural realism (GDP, population, military spending, and others) are being added or even replaced by indicators of social interaction typical for liberalism (volume of mutual trade, joint membership in international organizations, joint signing of economic and military agreements), reflecting the level of interdependence. Measuring Material Power Today the most developed and thus used is the additive method of calculating the Composite Index of National Capability (CINC), developed in 1963 by the leading American scholar D. Singer for the Correlates of War project: of the earth, UPR (Urban Population Rate) is the share of the urban population of the country (a city with a population of over 20 thousand people) from the total urban population of the earth, ISPR (Iron and Steel Production Rate) - the share of pig iron produced by this country (before 1895) and steel (since 1896) from world production, ECR (Energy Consumption Rate) - the share of primary energy consumed by the country; MER (Military Expenditure Rate) - the share of national military expenditures from global ones; MPR (Military Personnel ratio) - the ratio of the national army personnel to all armies personnel. For more than 50 years, the methodology for calculating the index has not changed, small adjustments were only made to the list of sources used5. Table 2 presents the results of the Index for 2012, the last available year after updating the database in 2017. In contrast to the traditional perception of power with focus on the leading role of the USA trying to consolidate the unipolar model, which still dominates public discourse, the PRC leadership stands out, and the position of Russia is getting quite high, which in recent years has increased even more as its military spending grew. Power dynamics of the USA, China, and Russia (USSR) in the 20th-21st century (see Fig. 5) demonstrates a sharp increase in the total power of the USA during the First and Second World Wars (up to almost 40 % in the early 1940s), as well as global leadership of the USSR in the 1970-1980s. Since the mid-1990s China’s leadership has been growing. The index is often criticized for over-focusing and over-estimating of the material dimension of potential, which was mainly true for the industrialization period rather than for modern post-industrial societies [Tellis et al. 2010]. Nevertheless, the undoubted advantages of this methodology include the possibility of an objective calculation of all six indicators, as well as comparing the national potential over the past few centuries (since 1816), including a comparison of to- CINC = TPR + UPR + ISPR + ECR + MER + MPR , 6 (1) day’s indicators with the data of the XIX century. where TPR (Total Population Rate) is the share of the population of a given country from the total population 4 Balance Scorecard Basics. Balance ScoreCard Institute. URL: (accessed: 24.06.2019). 5 See: Greig M., Enterline A. Correlates of War Project. National Material Capabilities (NMC) Data Documentation. Version 5.0. Department of Political Science, University of North Texas, 2017. - national-material-capabilities/nmc-codebook-v5-1 (accessed: 24.06.2019). Top-10 countries by the Composite Index of National Capability (CINC) Table 2 № Country Military expenses, in thousand USD The size of the army, thousand people Iron and steel smelting, thousand tons Primary energy consumption, thousand tons of conventional fuel Population, mln. Urban population, thousand people Share of world power, % 1 PRC 102,64 2 285 731 040 5 333 707 1 377 440 254 21,8 2 USA 655,39 1 569 88 695 3 159 873 318 183 712 13,9 3 India 33,40 1 325 77 264 1 385 461 1 237 223 768 8,1 4 Russian Federation 58,77 956 70 209 1 356 742 143 53 585 4,0 5 Japan 59,08 248 107 232 737 482 127 86 437 3,6 6 Brazil 35,27 318 34 524 345 842 199 94 199 2,5 7 Republic of Korea 29,26 655 69 073 444 461 49 32 959 2,3 8 FRG 40,99 251 42 661 468 740 83 15 605 1,8 9 Iran 25,25 523 14 463 397 332 76 28 265 1,6 10 UK 61,27 174 9 579 315 502 63 28 933 1,5 Source: National Material Capabilities (v5.0) // The Correlates of War Project. URL: (accessed: 24.06.2019). Fig. 5. Dynamics of the national potential of USA, RF (USSR) and PRC (in % of the global potential) Source: National Material Capabilities (v5.0), The Correlates of War Project. URL: (accessed: 24.06.2019). Complex Assessment of Great Power’s Positions The material power analysis should be supplemented with a more complete study of several dozens of indicators of both “hard” and “soft” power in dynamics (2010-2018), i.e. during the formation of a multipolar world [Degterev 2020]. Comparing the individual results of Russia, the US and China for all considered indicators (see Table 3) draws the following assumptions. Absolute leadership is considered to be getting into the top 3 (white indication), the level of “great power” - 4-10 place (grey indication), finally - the darkest indication will point the 11th position and lower place in the world ranking. Positions of Russia, USA and China according to key indicators Table 3 Indicator group Indicator Russia USA China 1990 2000 2010 Present 2010 Present 2010 Present Demographic potential Economic potential Financial potential Infrastructure potential Scientific and technical potential Political and military potential Diplomatic potential Soft Power Potential Population size Human development index* GDP by PPP National wealth Accumulated capital Share in world trade Value added in industry FDI inflow Outgoing FDI Gold reserves Production of primary energy Merchant fleet (ships) Air volume Number of Internet users Share of mobile users R&D expenses by PPP Number of researchers High tech export Defense spending by PPP Number of armed forces Participation in militarypolitical blocs Military bases abroad Participation in peacekeeping operations Financing of the UN peacekeeping operations Participation in military operations abroad Participation in the interstate armed disputes Number of diplomatic missions abroad Number of accredited foreign diplomatic missions Development cooperation Presence of global media Organization of international events Number of foreign students Note: For the 1990s, indicators of the USSR are given. Everywhere except (*) color indicators have the following meanings: § according to this indicator, the country takes 1-3 place in the world § according to this indicator, the country takes 4-10 place in the world § according to this indicator in the world the country is not in the top 10 As can be seen from the Table 3, the US leadership is almost absolute. The exception is the volume of gold and foreign exchange reserves (offset by the status of the dollar as a reserve currency), the number of armed forces (offset by their quality and technological equipment), as well as the number of ships and the deadweight of the merchant fleet (other jurisdictions are often used for registration). The PRC has reached a leading position in almost all the indicators considered, except: § human development index (currently the country is in the group with high human development, not “very high” as for USA or Russia); § participation in military-political blocs (only the SCO) and peacekeeping missions (2nd place in the financing of UN peacekeeping operations, but a low place in terms of the number of operations and the number of contingent); § the availability of global media (despite the presence of a powerful CCTV channel, Baidu search engine, and Tencent’s QQ, WeChat and QZone ICT services); § organization of international events (the country takes 5th position on the number of events held since 1991, in 2022, China will welcome the Winter Olympic Games); § the number of foreign students (so far 7th place, despite the fact that about 0.5 million Chinese are sent to study in the USA, UK and Australia every year). Obviously, eliminating these shortcomings is feasible in the medium term. In this case world order could get again the bipolar dimension, but in a more “soft” manner. In the Russian political landscape appeals for the restoration of multipolarity, combined with academic and scientific researches, express the fundamental efforts, which have been undertaken since 1996, to restore a greater role for the Russian Federation in global politics. By 2019 the leading role is clearly manifested in almost all security dimensions, corresponding to the great power status: participation in shaping strategic stability, nuclear weapons, second place in overall military strength (according to Global FirePower Index6), successful regional conflict management [Khudaykulova 2016], impact on global agenda, etc. Obviously, the economic di- 6 2019 Global Strength Ranking. Global FirePower URL: (accessed: 24.06.2019). mension of Russia’s cumulative power differs from its political and security weight, baring the disparity and thus providing the semi-normative character of the multipolarity. Chinese Quest for Multipolarity: The Hegemon is Dead, Long Live the Hegemon? Since 1992 multipolarity has been an important element of China’s foreign policy, getting more importance due to the conflict in former Yugoslavia and the death of a Chinese pilot after a collision with an American [Portyakov 2013: 86-87]. A.D. Bogaturov even claims that Russian approaches to multipolarity were largely shaped by the already mentioned 1997 Russian-Chinese joint declaration, drawn up mainly in the spirit of the Chinese tradition [Bogaturov 2003: 11]. However, already in the 2000s, after China joining the WTO and launching the concept of a harmonious peace of Hu Jintao, propaganda of a multipolar world in the PRC was “muffled” and somehow became more “ritual” [Portyakov 2013: 87]. In the context of a “new” bipolarity formation and the emergence of the PRC as prospective hegemonic power, the question arises of whether China is really a “revisionist” power (together with Russia), as it is qualified in American doctrinal documents, for example, in the 2018 US National Defense Strategy7. In 2001-2015, together with the Russian Federation, the PRC played a key role in forming an alternative architecture of global governance, including efforts in strengthening the BRICS (the New Development Bank, Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) of the BRICS countries), as well as the SCO. But since 2013, China launched a very ambitious initiative “One Belt, One Road” [Cheng et al. 2019], mostly on the bilateral (de facto unilateral) basis. China established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which included not only the majority of Asian countries as regional members, but also 17 out of 29 (!) NATO member-states as non-regional ones. This clearly confirms the undermining of the influence of the traditional hegemon. The 7 Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America. Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge. URL: Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-StrategySummary.pdf (accessed: 24.06.2019). global promotion of the Chinese concept of the “Сommunity of shared future for mankind” has started [Semenov, Tsvyk 2019]. At the same time, China is gradually moving away from a radical revision of the existing world order and obviously seeks to replace the former hegemon. It seems that it is generally satisfied with the international economic governance architecture, which should be replaced by new financial institutions, though dominated by China, as in the case of AIIB (voting power of China is 26,5 %, share in total subscriptions is 30,8 %8). Unsurprisingly, as the strongest world trade power China became the major defender of the “open world economy” - it was the key point of Xi Jinping’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2017 (in the absence of just then elected isolationist D. Trump)9. In these new international conditions, we are witnessing the radical change of roles - USA becomes a kind of major alter-globalist power while China promotes open markets and free access abroad for its powerful corporations [Bond 2018]. A.V. Vinogradov, one of the leading Russian experts on China, points out that the report of the 19th National Congress of Central Committee of the Communist Party lacks any mentioning of the BRICS and the SCO, in contrast to the previous Congress documents [Borokh et al. 2018: 155]. It seems that today China is making the main bet on its traditional “soft power” - profitable investment and infrastructure projects, and moving away from the confrontational “bloc” rhetoric. For Beijing it is not enough to play a leading role among the SCO members-states, it mostly seeks global leadership. According to A.Т. Gabuev, the very fact that Beijing agreed to include India in the SCO, after many years of resistance, indicates that cooperation within the framework of this organization has ceased to be a top priority for the PRC10. Multipolarity as a Strategic Concern For a long time Western countries did not pay enough attention to a multipolar non-western discourse. The stage of “acceptance” of the inevitable started approximately in 2007-2009. Thus, the New York Times editorial called “the New Consensus - a Multipolar World” (2007) describes the emergence of a new reality, with China taking “a parallel place at the table along with other centers of power, like Brussels or Tokyo”11. In November 2008 the US National Intelligence Council issued the Global Trends 2025 report, which stated the advent of a “global multipolar system” as one of the world’s “relative certainties” within two decades12. In the past few years, especially against the background of a new approach of Trump administration delegating more authority to allies and the concept of “leading from behind” (proposed by 2. Hill)13, the US allies consider multipolarity as a very serious strategic challenge, which needs to be addressed. Thus, Australia, balancing between the United States and China, in the context of increasing multipolarity is in favor of abandoning the unconditional alignment to Washington, including the military sphere, and demonstrates softer adherence to international law and institutions [Raymond 2018]. British experts also suggest conducting preparatory activities for a more “soft” adaptation of the UK to multipolar conditions [Blagden 2019]. *** The analysis of multipolarity in the academic and political discourse made it possible to clarify the existing approaches. The empirical analysis, both based on the material power assessment, and through a comprehensive analysis of several dozen indicators of both hard and soft power, allows us to conclude that the world is on the verge of a “new” bipolarity, with the United States and China as leading poles. 8 Members and Prospective Members of the Bank. Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. URL: about-aiib/governance/members-of-bank/index.html (accessed: 24.06.2019). 9 Full Text of Xi Jinping keynote at the World Economic Forum. Davos, 17 January 2017. URL: 2017/01/17/full-text-of-xi-jinping-keynote-at-the-worldeconomic-forum (accessed: 24.06.2019). 10 Gabuev A. Bigger, Not Better: Russia Makes the SCO a Useless Club. Carnegie Moscow Center, 23 June 2017. URL: (accessed: 09.11.2019). 11 ViewPoint: The New Consensus - a Multipolar World. NY Times, January 26, 2007. URL: 2007/01/26/business/worldbusiness/26iht-wbview27.html?mtrref (accessed: 24.06.2019). 12 Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World. URL: 2025.pdf (accessed: 24.06.2019). 13 Hill L. Leading from Behind. Harvard Business Review, 05.05.2010. URL: (accessed: 24.06.2019). China is gradually trying on the status of a “second superpower”, abandoning the role of “subverter” of the unipolar world foundations. Apparently, Beijing is more focused on replacing the former hegemon. In this context, a number of closest US allies would start thinking about strategic adaptation to new international realities.

About the authors

Denis Andreevich Degterev

RUDN University

Author for correspondence.
Moscow, Russian Federation

PhD (World Economy), Head of Department of Theory and History of International Relations


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