The Sole Superpower in Decline: The Rise of a Multipolar World

By Hiro, Shri Dilip | Military Review, June 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Sole Superpower in Decline: The Rise of a Multipolar World


Hiro, Shri Dilip, Military Review


INSIGHTS

WITH THE COLLAPSE of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States , stood tall-militarily invincible, economically unrivalled, diplo- 1 matically uncontestable, and the dominating force on information channels worldwide. The next century was to be the true "American century," with the rest of the world moulding itself in the image of the sole superpower.

Yet, with not even a decade of this century behind us, we are already witnessing the rise of a multipolar world in which new powers are challenging different aspects of American supremacy-Russia and China in the forefront, with regional powers Venezuela and Iran forming the second rank. These emergent powers are primed to erode American hegemony, not confront it singly or jointly.

How and why has the world evolved in this way so soon? The Bush administration's debacle in Iraq is certainly a major factor in this transformation, a classic example of an imperialist power, brimming with hubris, over-extending itself. To the relief of many-in the U.S. and elsewhere-the Iraq fiasco has demonstrated the striking limitations of power for the globe's highest-tech, most destructive military machine. Regarding Iraq, Brent Scowcroft, National security Adviser to two U.S. Presidents, concedes in a recent op-ed, "We are being wrestled to a draw by opponents who are not even an organized state adversary."

The invasion and subsequent disastrous occupation of Iraq and the mismanaged military campaign in Afghanistan have crippled the credibility of the United States. The scandals at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo in Cuba, along with the widely publicized murders of Iraqi civilians in Haditha, have badly tarnished America's moral self-image. In the latest opinion poll, even in a secular state, and member of NATO like Turkey, only 9 percent of Turks have a "favorable view" of the U.S. (down from 52 percent just five years ago).

Yet there are other explanations-unrelated to Washington's glaring misadventures-for the current transformation in international affairs. These include, above all, the tightening market in oil and natural gas, which has enhanced the power of hydrocarbon-rich nations as never before; the rapid economic expansion of the mega-nations China and India; the transformation of China into the globe's leading manufacturing base; and the end of the Anglo-American duopoly in international television news.

Many Channels, Diverse Perceptions

During the 1991 Gulf War, only CNN and the BBC had correspondents in Baghdad. So the international TV audience, irrespective of its location, saw the conflict through their lenses. Twelve years later, when the Bush administration, backed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, invaded Iraq, Al Jazeera Arabic broke this duopoly. It relayed images-and facts-that contradicted the Pentagon's presentation. For the first time in history, the world witnessed two versions of an ongoing war in real time. So credible was the Al Jazeera Arabic version that many television companies outside the Arabic-speaking world-in Europe, Asia and Latin America-showed its clips.

Though, in theory, the growth of cable television worldwide raised the prospect of ending the AngloAmerican duopoly in 24-hour TV news, not much had happened due to the exorbitant cost of gathering and editing TV news. It was only the arrival of Al Jazeera English, funded by the hydrocarbonrich emirate of Qatar-with its declared policy of offering a global perspective from an Arab and Muslim angle-that, in 2006, finally broke the long-established mould.

Soon France 24 came on the air, broadcasting in English and French from a French viewpoint, followed in mid-2007 by the English-language Press TV, which aimed to provide an Iranian perspective. Russia was next in line for 24-hour TV news in English for the global audience. Meanwhile, spurred by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Telesur, a pan-Latin-American TV channel based in Caracas, began competing with CNN in Spanish for a mass audience.

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