The Syrian civil war and now Ukraine. These are only two examples of crises over which the United States and Russia have bumped heads recently. Some might be tempted to call this a “new Cold War,” but it’s really not. Yes, the geopolitical competition and power struggle might be obvious and similar. And even the race for maximizing the spheres of influence. But the ideological context is different and therefore there is no clash of politico-economic systems, not to mention that calling the current international system “bipolar” is simplistic, to say the least. What we have now is a primarily intra-systemic, capitalist, geo-economic competition fueled and exacerbated by identity politics, history and national security considerations.
This reality calls for a reevaluation of the nature of the contemporary international system and the role of nation-states within it. Starting with the former, there is an on-going debate about whether we live in a unipolar, a multipolar, a non-polar, or a uni-multipolar international system. Each of these characterizations expresses how much power and influence the US has in relation to other great powers. In the 1990s, right after the end of the Cold War, the international system was indisputably unipolar, with the US being not only the dominant but also the only superpower with unmatched material and ideological capabilities. Things today might appear to be the same, but they are not. The change lays not so much in the capabilities of the US but in their relation to the capabilities of the rest of the world. Continue reading