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date: 25 September 2020

Summary and Keywords

Since the Cold War’s end, academics and policy analysts alike have described the international system as unipolar. The term’s use appears well grounded. The United States possesses exceptional relative capabilities by historical standards, with capabilities—including control of the skies—that were unimaginable under British, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese hegemony. The system seems unipolar then when assessed using a common method for discerning polarity: counting the number of unusually powerful countries in the system. But the numerical case for U.S. preeminence is far easier to make than a logical argument for judging the number of poles in the system. Logic actually suffers considerably when analysts base their thinking about unipolarity on the common assumptions that (a) the Cold War-era international system was bipolar, (b) the current system is unipolar, (c) polarity is discernable from aggregate capabilities, and (d) polarity is detectable in interstate behavior.

Keywords: unipolarity, empirical international relations theory, Cold War, multipolar

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