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Multipolarity in International System

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Multipolarity is a very important phenomenon in the international system. There is a concept of power attached with it for the smooth lineup. In terms of population size, territory, resources, economic potential, military might, political stability, and other factors, the power of the state is something that stands out. These talents were referred to as “superpowers” in various eras and were possessed by various states. Thus, based on the number of states that attain these power capabilities. Three categories of power exist in the global system.

  • Unipolar system
  • Bipolar system
  • Multipolar system

When power is concentrated in just one state, the system is said to be unipolar. Like after the cold war, the whole power integrated only in a single state, America.

When power is split between two states, the system is referred to as bipolar. For instance, during the Cold War, the United States of America and the Soviet Union shared power.

Multipolar System

Our main concern is multipolarity. As defined in the book Essentials of the International System, “a multipolar system is a system in which the distribution of the power to conquer is concentrated in more than two states.” “The system preceding World War I was compromised by five great states: Great Britain, Prussia, France, and Austria-Hungary” (MINGST, 2017, p. 110).

It means that if more than two countries attain the most power, the international system will become a multipolar system. Because there will be a powerful state on each pole of the world and thus the system has divided power on each pole.

History of Multipolarity

As we see, the concept of multipolarity dates back to ancient times. In the times of empires, most of the time, different empires seized power at the same time. For example, the Persian empire, the Byzantine empire, the Spanish empire, the Roman empire, and the Islamic empire. Now, most of the time, these different powers fight with each other. With the passage of time, these powers weakened, and new powers arose. And the global power structure underwent a complete transformation at the turn of the 20th century.

The new power on the map was Britain, French, Germany, Russia, America, the ottoman, and the Austria-Hungary empire. And similarly, at the time of world war 2, the world was multipolar, but later the equation changed. For example, at that time now, America, Britain, French, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia have seized power. But after world war two, the multipolariy died. It lead to a bipolar system of America and Russia which became the center of power for the next 40 years. And then, after collapsing of U.S.S.R, the whole power was integrated into America (HIRO, 2010, p.1_319).

Balance of Power in Multipolar System

One of the most critical questions regarding the polar system is that what will be the system of power in that system. And another question is which system is most stable among the unipolar, bipolar, and multipolar systems. There are two views on the balance of power in a multipolar system. One theory holds that the multipolar system is the most stable since the power is distributed equally. There is an equal chance for the small states to join these powerful states and quickly gain their interests.

But the most important thing here is the interest of these mighty nations. In the international system, there is anarchy, and every state looks towards its own advantages. In a unipolar system, there is a chance for a single powerful state to take advantage of its neighboring states. But in a multipolar world, the chance for this type of advantage decreases (sun, 2014).

Multipolar system as an unstable system

On the other hand, the multipolar system can be the most unstable system. The two world wars happened because of this multipolar international system. In the time of the First World War there were five superpowers on the earth: British, French, America, Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary. The war started between Austria and Serbia; these powerful states joined it because of their alliances, which led to the worst war in history.

Similarly, at the time of the Second World War once again the world was multipolar. The alliances existed between these powerful nations like Britain, French, and America; Russia also joined this alliance. While on the other side, Germany, Japan, and Italy had their alliance. Thus the alliances between these powerful states when the war started led to the world war. So from the above justifications, we can easily conclude that a multipolar world also has the tendency that leads to world wars (McCormick, 2015).

A quadruple alliance of powerful states emerged in Europe in the form of Great Britain, France, Russia. It is believed that this was one of Europe’s most stable periods. According to the journal, “the concert of Europe was one of the few historical examples of a stable multipolar system; the regular meeting of the great powers assured decades of peace and stability on the continent” (Varisco, 2013, p.3).

If cooperation is established, we can anticipate that multipolarity will emerge as the most stable system in the international sphere. But at the same time, most of the conflicts that arose were also in the multipolar world. The two world wars are the best examples.

Does Multipolarity lead to Imperialism?

The multipolar international system is linked to another important idea. Every powerful state in a multipolar system is thought to be fighting to hold onto its power. For this purpose, every state spreads its area of influence both in economic resources and in finding new markets. This is the same circumstance that we saw during the multipolar era of the colonization of the globe. These strong states split apart the colonies, completely subordinating the weak states as a result.

Is our World Leading towards Multipolarity?

One of the most mind-catching questions that have arisen this time in international politics is that “is the world leading towards multipolarity again?”

Here I will try to answer this question with some discussions. Starting with this statement “The recent rise of the new powers such is called BRIC countries brazil, Russia, India and China could soon result in the return to a multipolar international system” (Varisco, 2013). In the contemporary world, any country to become a superpower must have a large territory, expanded military strength, a robust economic system, a compatible population, technological advancement, soft power, and intense diplomacy.

Now, if we examine all the above countries, they have all these capabilities. They are ready to adopt the multipolar system in the international society. In the modern world, the primary goal of any state is to attain the most advanced technological and economic system. These powerful states mentioned above are in competition for technological advancement and on the other hand, they are in warfare on the economic field. The first BRIC summit in June 2009 also expressed a motive for this purpose.

Former American state secretary Hillary Clinton stated on an official visit to New Zealand in 2010, “We see a shifting of power to a more multipolar world as opposed to the cold war model of a bipolar world” (angular, 2007).

Similarly, the statement of the Russian foreign minister at the Russia-china conference in 2016 declared, “International relation have entered into a conceptually new historically stage that consist in the emergence of multipolar world order” (Auguiar, 2007).


We can easily conclude that the polarity of power changes with time and depends on certain factors. In each era, the states that attain these factors become powerful. A multipolar system develops if more than two states meet these criteria. A multipolar system has many advantages, but in the same way, it has a lot of disadvantages. The failure of the multipolarity also bounds the two great wars. And now, the world is again moving towards a multipolar system. At the end, I leave a question for readers: what will be the future of the new multipolar world?

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The Author is a student of International Relations at Quaid e Azam University, Islamabad.

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