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Rahul Dubey asked: As the world is moving towards multipolarity, what are the benefits of the multipolar world?

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  • Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: A multipolar world is one where power is distributed among several states rather than being dominated by one or two states. During the Cold War, the world was divided into two major power blocs, leading analysts to call it a ‘bipolar’ world. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, the world witnessed a brief unipolar Pax-Americana moment, when analysts believed that the United States of America (USA) had emerged as the sole dominant power at the global level. However, with the emergence of China, Japan, Germany, India, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, etc., as alternate power centres in different continents of the world, ‘multipolarity’, as a concept, received wider scholarly attention. Today's world is thus conceived as multipolar, multi-civilizational and multiplex, where no single country has the wherewithal to dominate the affairs of the world to the disadvantage of others. 

    As power is not concentrated in any single state, and is distributed at the global level, ‘multipolar world’ opens up the foreign policy and security choices for all countries. Theoretically, the transition from a bipolar (through a short unipolar moment) to a multipolar world throws open the windows of opportunity for weaker states to exercise their strategic autonomy and multi-align themselves with multiple powerful states, in pursuit of their developmental and security interests. It also augments their choices in the face of possible competition among powerful states for expansion of their influence. It enlarges the scope for bargaining in the global discourse/effort for resetting international norms and re-configuring international institutions. In reality, however, the transition, if it is long and fuzzy, may lead powerful states both to manipulate global norms and institutions to their advantage, and to flout them at will to the disadvantage of weaker states in the sense that they may be forced to take decisions that constrain their sovereign authority to make independent choices.

    Ultimately, whether the states can make good use of multipolarity would depend on their relative power potential, geo-strategic location, demography and people power, resource base and, above all, the quality of leadership available with them to forge these elements into their foreign policy to sustain their relative autonomy. Multipolarity is what the states make of it. 

    Posted on April 01, 2020   

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.