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To say that the world is no longer unipolar is to acknowledge the geopolitical realities from February 22, 2022, when the global balance of power shifted for the first time after the end of the Cold War. Such findings, however, do not help clarify what will inherit the Pax Americana. One of the most common misconceptions is that a potentially multipolar world would be much more stable and predictable because it would allow more actors to dictate the agenda of world politics. History shows the opposite – multi-polar models generate permanent conflicts due to the inability of the poles to achieve a complete balance between their interests.

In the nuclear age, conflicts would be unlikely to be fought between states, as in the days of European colonial empires, but would instead result in an increasing number of regional clashes that would inevitably lead to new global conflict. Alas, the U.S.-dominated unipolar world order has also proved unsustainable because, while more stable than the multipolar model, it has failed to achieve lasting peace in global politics for two reasons. First, the cultural, political, and economic overextension of the United States has depleted its resources and opened the door for new contenders for global leadership to claim the role of poles in the system of international relations. Second, the idea of leadership and the export of democracy was transformed into a model that instead implied hegemony and imposition of liberal values in regions whose political culture could not integrate liberal democracy as a political formula of power.

These processes intensified with severity after September 11, 2001, when it became clear that America had reached the limits of its global power. And they consisted of this – Washington could change regimes and remove dictators, but it could not rebuild these states because it did not recognize democracy as an alternative to authoritarianism. This transition period lasted until 22 February 2022, when Russia attacked Ukraine. Many analysts then asked the question that is the central dilemma of this article – what is the future of the New World?

Realpolitik vs Liberalism

History shows that U.S. foreign policy primarily embodies the spirit of Britain, which dominated the world’s oceans for centuries thanks to its Imperial Navy. It was in this spirit that Admiral Alfred Mahan, a hero of the Spanish-American War in 1899, shaped his doctrine, which states that whoever rules the Ocean also rules world politics. To his thought, however, Mahan offered an essential condition forming part of his vision – that America should achieve supremacy over Britain and its navy, thus becoming a great power that another empire could never dethrone. Therefore, the Mahan doctrine gave birth to the idea of Pax Americana.

The debate about whether the American Century would break the Hegelian spiral began during the Cold War, when, due to the declining Soviet economy, many Western analysts predicted that a U.S. victory over the USSR was inevitable. The Neorealist camp, led by Kenneth Waltz and Robert Jervis, has a firm grasp of what would happen if America stood at the head of the world. Waltz presents several arguments for how a unipolar model would signify the American victory, but at the same time, it would be a temporal reality that cannot be contained for more than a decade. The most significant is that the battle to preserve unipolarity would drain Washington’s resources to the limit and lead to the model’s collapse. Added to this are the consequences of these developments, which include: a crisis in the system of alliances that guaranteed U.S. global leadership after the end of World War II and Washington’s inability to devote resources to defend its territory. According to structural realism, the ultimate remedy lies in the bipolar model. This is why, in his lifetime, Waltz and his supporters proposed returning the international system to the Cold War bipolar model, arguing that these models were more sustainable than unipolar and multipolar models and that a stable coordination between the two superpowers would prevent World War III.

Robert Jervis was more generous in his verdict towards the unipolar world, as the starting point for his claims was the argument that despite the many works devoted to global leadership, there is a lack of empirical research that explains what exactly would constitute a world of hegemony. In most cases, Francis Fukuyama’s seminal work, The End of History and the Last Man was cited as the primary source, but it lacked empirical proof of how we might explain unipolarity as a phenomenon. Jervis argued that the American Century, itself, held the potential for both its preservation and its destruction. Jеrvis saw the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as a turning point in this model, arguing that they permanently altered America’s image in global politics and, on the other hand, brought the dilemma of using nuclear weapons back into global politics.

This was also the line of thinking of Christopher Layne, who pointed to the unipolar model as the root cause of the end of the American century. For Layne, the American quest for global dominance was not just draining its resources, the game was decided when it became clear that this model could not be sustained. The realist wing saw this as a turning point that would inevitably lead to the sunset of the United States and prove that bipolarity was far more sustainable than the unipolar world order that succeeded it. The same logic applies to the statements of scholars such as Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, who often criticized and mistakenly targeted for their positions on the war in Ukraine.

Neoliberalism had a different idea of the American role in world affairs. Fukuyama argued that the unipolar model was the end of history, trying to rebuild Hegel’s dialectic by claiming that the world no longer knew an alternative to liberal democracy. Scholars such as Scott Sagan saw this argument as entirely reasonable, adding that if a system of agreements limited nuclear weapons, it could lead to a lasting peace similar to the one Kant described in his philosophical writings. Fukuyama’s and Sagan’s concepts created the Stanford School, which was the primary theoretical opponent of the realists.

The Harvard School, headed by Professors Joseph Nye and Robert Keohane, took a somewhat more moderate approach, acknowledging Waltz’s achievements but defining his arguments for a unipolar world as insufficient. For Nye, sources of power were not limited to tanks, planes, and nuclear weapons. The scientist created the so-called soft power concept, which implied the use of culture to preserve the unipolar model – McDonald’s, the film industry, and diplomacy were an important part of these resources. Added to this was his thesis that the interconnectedness between America and other countries would not allow new conflicts to break out but would become a major pillar of the unipolar model, encouraging other nations to embrace the American ideal. The American national interest, it was assumed, would thus become universal.

Despite the advantages and disadvantages of both schools, the fundamental question of the future of the international system has remained a subject of much debate to this day. The ideological clash between realists and neoliberals was central to the post-Cold War years, as we could hardly paint it as black and white. The arguments of Waltz, Jervis, and Layne were outdated, and their examples of the USSR sounded somewhat irrelevant against the backdrop of power like China, whose foreign policy differed significantly from the Soviet one. However, the logic of the realists was correct as it could foresee the exhaustion of the U.S. from its global commitments and the sunset of its hegemony. Liberals could draw out the pulling power of American culture and convince many nations of Churchill’s thought that democracy is not perfect governance, but a better one has not been invented. Yet, liberal democracy has not worked everywhere, necessitating a return to hard power, as has happened in the Middle East and, more recently, in Eastern Europe.

What lies on the exit from Pax Americana?

Although the end of Pax Americana began after the September 11 terrorist attacks, it became even more tangible when the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine a year ago. Despite the academic community remains divided today over the causes that led to the war, there is unanimity that the unipolar model cannot function under the probability of the nuclear option. Furthermore, despite the U.S. expectations that the international community would unanimously support action against Russia, actors such as India, China, and most African states have refrained from action. The war, in other words, has unleashed several post-Cold War processes that have led to the following consequences.

First, the fear of nuclear war and a new world conflict has returned after the younger generations had become accustomed to living with the promise of hard power being just a relic of the past. The West stood behind the U.S., but Washington failed to consolidate the international community behind itself. The security dilemma in Eastern Europe continued to escalate after Moscow deployed tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus and Poland promised Ukraine its old Soviet aircraft. Given that China will not support him in this venture, whether Putin will take the risk of using weapons of mass destruction is yet to be seen. The biggest problem is that even the United Nations, which for many years could influence such processes, has little leverage over Putin since, ironically, the Security Council is currently chaired by Russia itself.

The second problem stems from the inability of the U.S. to contain China technologically. If we look at its military-strategic indicators, we can see that America remains the strongest country globally because it has the most significant military budget and the best-prepared army. However, these advantages are balanced by China’s technological advances, which have made their rise unnoticed while America and Europe have invested in cheap labor in Asia. The effect was like the blow the USSR suffered under Gorbachev in many respects. The Soviet Union was forced to disarm, and although it had enormous resources, it could not use them adequately as the Reagan administration had the best technology and could counter Soviet actions even at the planning level.

Finally, a process of de-dollarization began that threatened the dominance of the U.S. dollar. One of the reasons America could afford costly military campaigns was the steady flow of financial resources from the Federal Reserve to the U.S. Government. You can maintain the most robust economy and the best technologically equipped military when you have the strongest currency with almost half the gold reserves. In recent months, however, three of the global economic centers – Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and the Southeast Asian countries united in ASEAN – have reached an agreement with China to trade in renminbi. This does not mean an end to American economic hegemony, but it creates several preconditions for the weakening of the dollar diplomacy, which will now enjoy unquestioning support only in Europe and Canada.

The most serious question is what awaits us at the exit of the American century. Will we witness World War III, or will the global actors agree to share the world peacefully? History rarely knows instances where essential resources, such as global dominance, have been shared peacefully. But the alternative is frightening because a potential nuclear conflict would end our civilization. Therefore, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

What lies beyond America?

In many ways, the world is on the cusp of those 20th-century shifts in the balance of power when the Great Powers solved their problems with wars. The problem is that we do not have a balance of power in a unipolar model. Several critical strategic points will decide how the unipolar model evolves and the consequences of its transformation.


The West’s consolidation after Russia’s war in Ukraine has shifted essential geopolitical layers from Europe to Asia. China is identified as America’s primary challenge in the new U.S. National Defense Strategy. The factors for this are many, but primarily due to the Asian giant’s rapid technological and economic rise. In many of his speeches, the U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has noted that China is the only country with the potential to compete economically, technologically, and culturally with Washington. If China succeeds in carving out its sphere of influence in this part of the world, it will lead to a shared region between Beijing and Washington. That is why the U.S. quickly concluded the AUKUS military pact, in which it guaranteed its long-standing ally Australia that it would receive nuclear submarines with which to contain Chinese influence.

However, the most sensitive issue remains the Taiwan issue and the possibility of destabilizing the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. Despite the apparent lack of parity between the United States and China, Washington has few options if Beijing decides to move towards unification with the island because that means either going to war with the Chinese or allowing them direct access to its West Coast. China, for its part, will not react passively if the U.S. decides to deploy troops in Taiwan, as this would be a firm violation of the One China policy. Japan is the only country that could effectively contain Beijing, but only if the U.S. allows its rearmament. However, the extent to these such steps would be welcome in Japanese society is quite debatable.

A potential conflict between the two Koreas is not ruled out either, and it would be the most direct path to a confrontation between the U.S. and China since if South Korea were attacked, America would be obliged to intervene. Seoul is under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, which is not irrelevant to the American strategic doctrines. The situation is complicated by the fact that Pyongyang has already acquired nuclear weapons, and in such cases, containment remains the best strategy. The policy of nuclear blackmail is the best weapon in the hands of the Kim dynasty, and there is no prospect of this changing.


Given the war in Ukraine, the old continent looks far from calm, but the chances of Russia prevailing in this conflict seem unrealistic. NATO’s forces outnumber Moscow’s, and nuclear weapons are the only card left in the hands of the Russian leadership. It is challenging to say the possible scenarios of the Ukrainian crisis, but they generally boil down to three. The first is for the war to escalate into a frozen conflict involving constant clashes between Chechen guerrilla movements and Ukrainian troops. In this scenario, the war could drag on for years and eventually become a second Afghanistan. The second scenario is nuclear escalation, which could lead to Moscow’s use of weapons of mass destruction. If Putin decides to risk using tactical nuclear weapons, this would have catastrophic consequences for Russia because, under U.S. Defense Strategies, America will stimulate a conventional response just as devastating as a pre-emptive nuclear strike would be. The problem is that the concept of limited nuclear war is always clouded by the prospect of nuclear war going global. And the third scenario is conflict resolution through negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. At this stage, the leaderships of both countries categorically reject such a development. However, whether it will remain so depends mainly on the U.S. and NATO.

The second big problem facing Europe is unity. Since the beginning of the war, Europe has been deeply divided over Ukraine. So has NATO. While there is consensus that support for Kyiv must continue, countries are still wavering on how and what weapons should be supplied to the Ukrainians. Poland and the Baltics are the blocs pushing for the most serious aid package in technology, aircraft, and financial support. The U.S. and Britain are more moderate as they believe supplying Ukraine with advanced U.S. technology could lead to nuclear escalation. France and Germany take a similar view, arguing that they need weapons to defend their territory. Unfortunately, the latter group of countries, including Bulgaria and Hungary, are the least likely to take a rational approach because they lack the political will to do so.

The third problem concerns the sunset of the European social model and the gradual attempts to introduce market self-regulation into the European Union, which will eliminate the middle class and could end social benefits such as free healthcare and pensions. Such a scenario is possible if Europe decides to Americanise or the Europeans revive their armies. It will be up to European politicians to determine whether they want to build up their armed forces or prefer to remain in the shadow of the U.S. once again. In any case, European citizens will pay the price and will either lose their gains or must increase their support for Ukraine to meet NATO’s growing needs.

The Middle East

Until recently, it was believed that the status quo in the Middle East could not change because America’s strongest ally, Israel, was ruled by progressive forces that shared power in concert with America’s liberal wing. After Benjamin Netanyahu won the election and his coalition with ultraconservative politicians, things changed in two directions. Israel no longer wanted to tolerate Iran’s attempts to acquire nuclear weapons as this would threaten the balance of power in the entire region. On the other hand, Netanyahu had to be very balanced in his policy towards Ukraine because of the sizeable Russian-speaking majority in Israel. The moment the interests of the American liberals and Netanyahu began to diverge, massive protests broke out in the capital, demanding the ouster of the prime minister and his government, resulting in further turbulence in Israel’s political system, which led it to draw closer to Saudi Arabia, an avowed opponent of Iran. It remains an open question whether Netanyahu’s government will be willing to compromise with American influence in the region or seek its own development path.

Riyadh’s inclusion in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was the most significant blow to U.S. influence in the region as it ensured a stable Chinese presence in the oil markets. Yet, the extent to which Beijing will become the new America for the Arabs is quite debatable. The Saudi Kingdom has traditional interests in trading with Washington, but its unconditional loyalty to the government in Washington ended long ago. The main reason for this is the constant rhetoric from the liberal wing about Saudi Arabia’s lack of respect for human rights. Chinese diplomacy, however, is betting otherwise. This diplomacy has proved much more enticing to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and ultimately more beneficial to the oil lords, who have been forced to explain their country’s human rights record to the U.S. for years. For Beijing, the political formula of its partners matters less, if any.

Iran, for its part, is interested in developing as a nuclear power, but its alliance with Russia puts it at a considerable disadvantage. In these circumstances, China would be much more careful in its contacts with the Shia state and, as we have seen, would instead serve as a mediator in its disputes with the Sunnis. However, the extent to which the Iranian nuclear appetites can be satisfied is another matter. For the ayatollahs, having this resource is linked to containing the United States and other nuclear powers and accepting Iran into this prestigious family. At this stage, this prospect seems unproblematic unless Israel decides to wage war on Tehran.


In summary, we can say that the end of the Pax Americana has led to many more problems than it resolved. Russia’s long-held aspirations for America to finally bear the consequences of the collapse of the USSR may become a geopolitical reality, but it will hardly help Russia, which faces the dilemma of starting a nuclear war or surrendering. In fact, the big winner from this outcome is China, and it is primarily up to it to decide what the puzzle of the international system will look like in the decades to come. At this stage, the idea of a new bipolar model seems the most rational as this system has proven to be the most stable. However, the revival of the bipolar model does not mean a new Cold War between the United States and China. It could be a century of cooperation in which the two nuclear powers focus not on confrontation and competition but on collaboration and social harmony in which any conflict is resolved as a matter of consensus between Washington and Beijing. Whether this happens, however, depends on the New World.

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