PIED 2558 Security Studies
“Power, Polarity and Security in the International System”
Word Count: 2997
Seminar Tutor: Dr Cristina Stefan
- University of Leeds -
How useful is the concept of polarity in helping us to understand security issues? Why?
It is universally acknowledge that the balance of power has been shifting in the world. Hence, it is important to know how this concept takes part in the international system. This essay will analyse how useful is the idea of polarity in helping us to understand security issues and why it is important. First of all, we are going to define the key concepts (state, balance of power and polarity) in order to identify their significance for the theories of International Relations and for Security Studies. Secondly, we will describe the international context (briefly) from the XIX century to our days to see how the balance of power, and therefore the concept of polarity, has been changing over time. Then, we are going to focus on how the shift from the Cold War bipolar system to the current American-centred unipolar system maters for the behaviour of states and the character of international rule and order. Finally, we will discuss if the United States power could be threatened by the incredible growth of China in the international arena.
Allan Collins (2007) said that the state is the referent object of Security Studies; this means that, traditionally, the state has been the thing to be secure. Therefore, we need to understand what does state mean? “A state is a territorially based entity with a government to rule over its territory and recognized as a state by other states.” (Morgan 2007, p. 14). States have been of great importance for the international relations thinking because they have been the central actors in international affairs and because security has been considered their most important concern (Morgan 2007). It is important to point out that “international relations theory and analysis has long sought to explain the core elements of security relations among states.“ (Morgan 2007, p. 14). It seems reasonable to assume that the most powerful international actors are the states and they remain central to international politics economically, politically, militarily, and psychologically (Morgan 2007). Also, it is important to emphasize that “interstate security relations shape assessments of international systems as secure or insecure.” (Morgan 2007, p. 14). In other words, states are the main actors in the international arena and the relations between them qualified the system as safe or unsafe.
In the field of international relations, the balance of power can be defined as the status or condition of equilibrium (systemic or sub-systemic) among key states, with the aim of preventing the rise of a hegemonic power. As it was mentioned before, the balance of power has been changing and it is very important for our understanding of the concept of polarity. Ikenberry, Mastanduno and Wohlforth said that “to determine polarity, one has to examine the distribution of capabilities and identify the states whose shares of overall resources obviously place them into their own class.” (2011, p. 6). So, several scholars agree that there were four or more states that qualified as poles before 1945; that by 1950 or so there were two; and that by the 90s one of these two poles was gone (Ikenberry, Mastanduno & Wohlforth 2011). In addition, academics largely agree “that no other power –not Japan, China, India or Russia, nor any European country, nor the EU- has increased its overall portfolio of capabilities sufficiently to transform their standing. This leaves a single pole.” (Ikenberry, Mastanduno & Wohlforth 2011, p. 7).
The most influential theoretical and prescriptive approaches on security in international politics have been the Realist, Liberal, and Marxist. But we are going to focus on the main ideas of the first two theories. On the one