Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, foreign policy experts have been predicting that the United States' days as global hegemon are coming to a close. But rather than asking themselves which country is most likely to replace the United States, they ought to be asking themselves whether the concept of global hegemony still applies in our era.
It increasingly seems that the world will no longer have a single superpower, or group of superpowers, that brings order to international politics. Instead, it will have a variety of powers -- including nations, multinational corporations, ideological movements, global crime and terror groups, and human rights organizations -- jockeying with each other, mostly unsuccessfully, to achieve their goals. International politics is transforming from a system anchored in predictable, and relatively constant, principles to a system that is, if not inherently unknowable, far more erratic, unsettled, and devoid of behavioral regularities. In terms of geopolitics, we have moved from an age of order to an age of entropy.
Entropy is a scientific concept that measures disorder: the higher the entropy, the higher the disorder. And disorder is precisely what will characterize the future of international politics. In this leaderless world, threats are much more likely to be cold than hot; danger will come less frequently in the form of shooting wars among great powers than diffuse disagreements over geopolitical, monetary, trade, and environmental issues. Problems and crises will arise more frequently and, when they do, will be resolved less cooperatively.
How did we get here? The shift began in the twentieth century, with the advent of nuclear weapons and the spread of economic globalization, which together have made war among the great powers unthinkable. As many scholars have pointed out, the world has enjoyed the longest period of relative peace in recorded history. The absence of cataclysmic wars among great powers has obviously been a great boon. But it has also come at a real cost. For the past several centuries, wars
- Full website and iPad access
- Magazine issues
- New! Books from the Foreign Affairs Anthology Series