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Will The U.S. Maintain Unipolarity In The Next 25-50 Years?

Updated on December 30, 2014

U.S. President


U.S. Overextension & Hegemonic Burdens

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has assumed the role of the world’s only superpower, balancing economic growth internally, externally and maintaining its international security commitments in an effort to maintain peace and security on a global scale. Due to the United States’ extended security commitments over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan and the mounting fiscal deficits from the war on terror, the United States is struggling to maintain its dominance within the financial realm of national power (Beckley 2011/2012, 1,2). The United States bears the costly burden as the world’s only hegemonic power.

These economic setbacks combined with overwhelming “hegemonic burdens” has spurred considerable debate regarding the eventual decline of U.S. economic power and the potential future rise of China as a contender for superpower status (Beckley 2011/12). According to Beckley (2011/12), the United States and China need to be compared and contrasted in terms of national relative power to determine the future hegemonic power (43). In terms of national relative power, Beckley analyzes the economic and technological factors as well as military power to help determine if the U.S is actually declining and if China will surpass the United States.

Chinese President


Southeast Asia


Alternative Perspective

According to Nowak (2008), who argues a different perspective suggests that the world is not unipolar and that every country is subjected to security challenges such as climate change, transnational threats, economic strife and weapon’s proliferation, which requires not one country to take the lead, but all countries to “devise solutions” for facing international security threats (Nowak 2008). He discusses that in this multipolar environment the major players such as the U.S., China, Europe, and Russia have faced the economic pitfalls of globalization and in turn has brought these countries closer together (Nowak 2008). To address the emerging security challenges, Nowak (2008) recommends establishing “new forms of international governance,” requiring the international community to seek long-term goals, while balancing national interests to stabilize the international security environment.

Whether Beckley or Nowak is correct in their interpretation of the world order, the United States and China continue to compete for advantages in all aspects of national relative power. It is true that the United States’ “hegemonic burdens have expanded,” but the United States remains wealthier, technologically more advanced and has more military might than China since 1991 (Beckley 2011/12, 43). China has improved upon its GDP and technological advancements, but lacks “qualitative advantage in innovation” (Beckley 2011/12, 43). The United States and China are comparatively suffering from different economic setbacks. Although the United States has a large deficit, China is starting from a lower economic vantage point (Beckley 2011,12, 43). China appears to be rising by leaps and bounds, but in reality China’s rise does not compare to that of the United States and is not close to “catching up,” at least not yet (Beckley 2011,12, 44).

Will China surpass the US in terms of national power?

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Current Balance of Power

The current world order is led by the United States and the U.S. will likely remain the dominant pole for the foreseeable future. Balance of power theory suggests that the unipolar state must preserve its relative power in all categories and surpass other nations capabilities to maintain superpower status (Morgenthhau 1997, 314). Currently, the United States enjoys unparalleled hegemony in all categories of relative power such as military might, technological advancements, and economic and diplomatic superiority, along with geographic placement (1997, 315). As the United States continues to ascend in all realms of relative power, other nations will likely attempt to balance against the United States such as China, India Russia, Japan, and Germany. As these nations attempt to rise, the world order and balance of power would become threatened as nations compete for economic and military superiority.

The United States has far surpassed any other nation in terms of relative power and will hold its unipolar status for the next 25-50 years, although, rising nations such as China, India, Russia, Japan, and Germany will attempt to balance against the United States in terms of military and economic power. The United States is the most influential nation throughout the international arena. In regards to military prowess, the United States has unmatched armed forces capabilities and is at the forefront when it comes to technological and communication advancements (Brooks 2002, 22). The U.S.’s defense spending grossly exceeds any other power’s military budget (2002, 22). The United States leads the way in all forms of relative power and remarkably at the same time. In the past, nations have had success in one or two categories of relative power, but not in every single component at the same time (Brooks 2002, 23). Currently, the other rising nations are at a disadvantage when it comes to expanding their military assets. If one nation strengthens its military force, the surrounding nations would view it as a threat and attempt to balance against it (Brooks 2002, 24). The balance of power may shift slightly as the other rising powers try to balance against the U.S., however, their reluctance to take on the emerging security challenges of the 21st century such as security, transnational crime and proliferation of WMD’s will keep such rising powers at bay.


In the next 25-50 years, the United States will remain preeminent in international affairs, but China will become a strong contender against U.S. supremacy. China’s involvement in world affairs has flourished throughout the years. China attempts to balance against the United States by investing in its economy and exerting influence within the region as a dominant security force (Wei 2008, 4-5). Over the years China has become one of the world’s largest economies and is expected to double within the next decade (Geeraerts 2011, 58). For now, China is following a soft balancing approach that emphasizes economic growth and military superiority, which is designed to restrain U.S. involvement without spurring U.S. tension (Wang 2005/2006, 1). Once China achieves economic and military power comparable to that of the U.S., China will “likely shift to a more assertive stance in foreign affairs” (2005/2006, 1).

If the balance of power starts to shift, the U.S. and its contender, likely China, the democratic institutions and security environment would drastically change to China-centric values and institutions. Furthermore, the U.S. and other potential rising powers would change the way they do business such as buy goods and services and direct investments may go else where. The dynamics of the global economy would change not only would investments and the flow of goods and services be modified, but globalization and the access to goods and capital could diminish if the balance of power shifted to an anti-globalized nation. As the balance of power shifted, security would also shift throughout the international community. For instance, if China augmented its military assets and nuclear capabilities, the neighboring countries would balance against China and potentially set off a regional arms race (Brooks 2002, 23).

Conclusive Remarks

The current balance of power is led by the United States and the U.S. will uphold its unipolar status for the next 25-50 years. The United States demonstrates unprecedented relative power compared to any other nation across the globe. The United States surpasses any other nations components of relative power by providing extended security commitments throughout the world and leading the way in economic, technological and diplomatic superiority. In the next 25-50 years, nations such as China, India, Russia, Japan and Germany will likely attempt to balance against U.S. supremacy. As other potential rising nations attempt to contend for U.S. hegemonic power, the economic and security environment would become threatened as nations vie for control and superiority.


Brooks, Stephen. American Primacy in Perspective. Foreign Affairs 81, no. 4 (2002) 22.

Geeraerts, Gustaaf. China, the EU, and the New Multipolarity. European Review 19, no.1 (2011); 57-67.,%20the%20EU%20and%20Multipolarity-2.pdf.

Mastunduno, Michael. Preserving the Unipolar Moment|Realist Theories and U.S. Grand Strategy after the Cold War. The MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997.

Wang, Yuan-Kang. “China’s Grand Strategy and U.S. Primacy: Is China Balancing

American Power?” Northeast Asia Policy Studies. Brookings Institution (July 2006): 1-31.

Wei, Shen. “In the Mood for Multilateralism? China’s Evolving Global View.” Cetnre Asie

Ifri. (July 2008): 1-10.

Beckley, Michael. “China’s Century: Why America’s Edge Will Endure,” International Security, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Winter 2011/12), pp. 41-78.

Nowak, Wolfgang. “Rise of the Rest: The Challenges of the New World Order,” Spiegel Online, October 3, 2008. (


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    • pramodgokhale profile image


      4 years ago from Pune( India)


      i like your topics. After fall of USSR George Bush became Emperor and Uni polar came into being.

      Yes west and US has had some killing applications as written by Neial Ferguson in his book " West and the rest."

      If US shoulders her global responsibilities then we people from emerging nations look forward to cooperate and hand in hand development.

      Putin signed agreement with Modi during his India visit last month, it is difficult to get materialized as expected because Russian economy and her ills and Ukraine crisis.

      India has been dependent on US for many things like advanced technologies, manufacturing , education but big brotherly attitude of US

      is always contentious issue , but we can close that also.

      If America's arms industry goes little towards civilian cum innovative then it will be boon for global peace and economy.



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