From Unipolarism to Multipolarism: Promise of Justice, Menace of War

Interview to Daniele Scalea by Natella Speranskaya and Alexander Bovdunov


Within the framework of an international conference on the “Theory of Multipolar World” which is to be held at Moscow State University on 25th and 26th April, Natella Speranskaya and Alexander Bovdunov have interviewed the Italian analyst Daniele Scalea (IsAG), co-editor-in-chief of the journal “Geopolitica” (see below for his complete profile).


  1. 1.      What is your view of the modern world order/international system?  Do you consider the current world order to be ‘just’? If yes, then why? If no, how do you think it might be changed? Is it already changing?

The current international system is characterized by some prominent features:

–        a closed world circuit: since 15th century geographical explorations and improvement in transport and communication technologies have de facto realized a “one world”. What happens in any country of the world echoes all over the globe. Who acquires a sufficient supremacy of power could aspire to world empire;

–        a mono-polarization of power: the process of globalization begun in the 15th century was coupled, until recent times, to a progressive concentration of power towards the West and, ultimately, to a one-nation world hegemony by US;

–        a more recent and opposite tendency to multi-polarization: recently the US hegemony has begun to deteriorate and the unipolar order appears limping. After some centuries of mono-polarization towards the West, and then especially North America, new powers scattered all over the world are now emerging.

Thus the current world order is now changing. We are, as the Italian geopolitician, Tiberio Graziani, put it, “in a uni-multipolar transition phase” which is an intermediate moment between the falling unipolarism and the emerging multipolarism. The unipolar order is certainly stable but profoundly unfair: a sole superpower decides on the future of all of us. The multipolar order will be more unstable, but in exchange fairer because the arrogance of one will be contain by actions of other great powers.


  1. 2.      Is it a blessing in disguise or a curse for the people of our planet? What, in your opinion, is the primary characteristic of this Hegemony/dominance: military, cultural, economic, or some other factor or combination of factors?

US established its hegemony upon an economic dominance. After the Second World War US economic dominance has dwindled, but Washington was able to substitute it with a financial hegemony (based on the oil-dollar link): that is quite similar to what Great Britain did in the second part of 18th century in front of its relative industrial decline. Moreover, US established an increasingly powerful “cultural industry” which has developed and is still developing its soft power. In some respects this soft power is so little “soft” and so much “powerful” that it resembles an out-and-out “cultural colonization”. Nonetheless, nowadays US hegemony is mainly military. US spends more of all its rival put together for “defense budget”, i.e. wars and military presence in a score of countries. In particular, US has a military power projection absolutely unrivaled in these days.


  1. 3.      What countries, groups of countries, or social and political forces might be able to challenge American Hegemony and how?

We may describe two class of “challengers” of US hegemony. The first class is that of the so-called “axis of evil” or “axis of resistance”: countries like Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, Belarus and so on. These countries are opposed to US mainly for ideological reasons, and that’s why their “antagonism” is crystalline, strong and explicit. But that’s also why a regime change in this countries could be a real “game changer”, turning them from an overt opposition to a tamed alignment to the Hegemon. Then there is a second class of challengers, that of emergent, re-emergent or re-emersed powers as Russia, China, Brazil etc. These countries are not so strongly ideologically opposed to US, but their ascent naturally clashes with its hegemony. A regime change in these countries could bring to disorder and destabilization but not to alignment, because their “antagonism” is a fate and not a choose. In many cases is also a geopolitical fate. Russia and China are the two great continental powers of Eurasia, land-power opponents to sea-power represented by US. Brazil is the Southern equivalent to US in Northern America, even if it was not able to reach the Pacific coast and so has remained a mono-oceanical country, whereas US is a bi-oceanical power.

For what concerns political and social forces, I can speak with full knowledge of the facts of Italian situation. I have noted that, after decades of “Atlanticist orthodoxy”, is emerging in the same elite of the country an increasingly awareness of contrasting interests between US and Italy. Until recent times only far-rightist and far-leftist small cliques in Italy dare to overtly challenge the Atlanticist orthodoxy. Now themes like the necessity to adapt ourselves to emerging multipolarism, or the benefit which would derived to Italy from a strategic alliance with Russia, are becoming admitted in the “official discourse” among Italian elites, and that also thanks to the work done in last ten years by Tiberio Graziani’s geopolitical school (of which I’m proudly a member). Paradoxically, nowadays the worst enermies of this new “multipolarist” attitude in Italy are just the above-mentioned Italian “extremists”, who exploit that topics as political slogans and mixed them with execrable anti-semitic tones and other very radically agendas. So doing, they’re discrediting topics as the opportunity of a Russo-Italian alliance. In fact, they’re instrumental to Atlanticist agenda which aims to demonize who in the West looks at Moscow with friendly sentiments. I wouldn’t be wonder if it will discovered that they are agents provocateur.


  1. 4.      What do you think about the ideas of Globalism (i.e., a ‘One World’ world government) and/or global governance? Is such either possible or desirable?

A world government is theorically possible in our globalized era but practically very difficult, for the problem of over-stretching. Certainly, from my point of view, is not desirable because:

a) if only one rules, individuals and peoples will be less free;

b) if there is only a power in the world, that power it is unchecked and unrestrained, and nothing could stop it when it turn evil;

c) if there is only a State in the world, every conflict turns out as a civil war, which is usually more bitter than an inter-national war.

For that reasons, I think that the “world government” prospective is more a nightmare than a dream.


  1. 5.      Is a multipolar world order possible? What might a multipolar world order in the modern era look like? Would a multipolar world order be preferable to a unipolar or bipolar world order? Why or why not?

Certainly a multipolar world is emerging. And before 1945 it was the rule. Multipolarism is a dynamical order: each great powers check and balance all the others. In this sense, multipolar order is profoundly democratical, whereas bipolar order is oligarchical and unipolar order is tyrannical. (And is a paradox that US, who uses democratic values as its national ideology, in international relations is essentially anti-democratic). Obviously a multipolar order is also more unstable, but in return fairer.

Multipolarism, as we said, was the norm in the past. As we are today in an epoch of globalization, improved communications and inter-twined structures, a new multipolar order will be characterized by regionalization: every emerging pole is already trying to build an own “sphere of influence” in its neighbourhood, a sphere which has the aspect not of an empire or a brutal dominance, but of mutually beneficial multilateral integration. That’s happening in Eurasia gathering around Russia, or South America around Brazil. To Beijing this task seems harder, because around China there are not smaller countries but other great powers: Russia on the north, Japan on the east, India on the south. And on the west, Central Asia is an highly contended area. US is exploting that geopolitical tensions to maintain its hegemony, according to the old strategy of divide et impera. It is essentially that emerging poles, especially in Eurasia, cooperate among them.


  1. 6.      What defines a ‘pole’ in international relations theory? How do you correlate the concept of a ‘pole’ with other structural concepts of international relations analysis such as ‘the sovereign state’, ‘Empire’ and, ‘Civilization(s)’? Is sovereignty, as a concept, being challenged by globalization and global governance? Is ‘Civilizational Theory’ valid as a conceptual tool in the study of international relations?

A pole is a center of power which attracts other countries, especially the ones in its near abroad. Not all the sovereign states are poles, but every pole must be a sovereign state. “Empire” properly is a State in which a group of different peoples live together under a common authority. In such sense, the concept of empire get close to that of great space, which in a Schmittian terminology could  define the result of aggregation around a pole. The novelty in forthcoming multipolar world may be that, instead of an aggregation by force, we’ll see an integration by free will and peaceful cooperation.

Naturally countries and peoples search for integration not only on the base of geographical factors, but also of cultural ones. They preferably integrate with geographically close countries and with culturally close countries, i.e. countries of the same civilization. So, “Civilizational Theory” is quite valid, in my view, but I prefer a positive than a negative interpretation, that is that peoples lean to integrate with others that shares their cultural background, and not that they are prone to fight against other civilizations. Since I am member of a Mediterranean people, I know very well how peoples of different civilizations could and should collaborate.


  1. 7.      How do you see the role of your country in a possible multipolar system?

Italy is no more a great power, because in our epoch you must be big to be great. Nonetheless, Italy is still one of the greater economies, member of G-8 and G-20, and most of all it has an highly strategical position, in the middle of Mediterranean and in the middle of Europe. If we will able to contain our crisis, which is not only economical but also political and moral, Italy could be an important pivot for integration in Europe and/or in the Mediterranean.


  1. 8.      Which tendencies of modern world development do you consider to be positive and which negative? What, in your opinion, could be done to alleviate the negative or enhance the positive?

Modern world is growing richer from a technological point of view, but poorer if we look to culture and spirituality. More and more cultures are substantially erased by an homogenizing trend which is  cause by the predominance of US soft power. US cultural industry is spreading all over the world the so-called “American way of life”. We should understand that cultural variety is a wealth for humanity. Worst of all, this American way of life is, in actuality, a post-modernist and recent way, profoundly unethical. Relativism and emancipation have been great conquests for human mind, but post-modern world is going further to nihilism, and that’s not good. It should be not taken as a sin or a crime to defend ethics in society, even if that slightly corrode the individualist credo.


  1. 9.      Is there a realistic threat of a Third World War? What would this entail?

Every systemic economical crisis of the past caused an earthquake in international politics, destabilizing the status quo: 1873 crisis ended in the First World War, 1929 crisis ended in the Second World War. That suggest us that a Third World War is a possible outcome of 2008 crisis. This crisis has accelerated US relative decline. US has the temptation to use force to maintain its supremacy. Wasn’t that what already happened in last decade, even before the systemic economical crisis? Since US is losing position in economy and under other aspects, Washington is trying to enhance the field in which their superiority is more evident: military. Since 2001 we could notice a militarization of international relations by US. As now Washington has attacked Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. Now it’s setting its sight to Syria and Iran. What about if it turns to “big fish” as China and Russia? US has worked for decades to an ABM shield which could give it the nuclear supremacy, i.e. capacity to win a nuclear war against a great power without being subjected to mutual assured destruction.


Daniele Scalea is co-editor-in-chief of the Italian journal Geopolitica and scientific secretary of the Rome Institute of Advanced Studies in Geopolitics and Auxiliary Sciences (IsAG). He is member of the Academic Council of the Argentinian monthly “Contexto Mundial” and associate researcher of the Centre for Studies on Interventionism. He authored two books: La sfida totale. Equilibri e strategie nel grande gioco delle potenze mondiali (The Total Challenge: Balances and Strategies in the Great Game among World Powers, 2010) and (with Pietro Longo) Capire le rivolte arabe. Alle origini del fenomeno rivoluzionario (Understanding the Arab Revolts: To the Roots of the Revolutionary Phenomenon, 2011). Currently he is completing a book on the work and thought of H.J. Mackinder.

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