The Return of Bipolarity in World Politics: China, the United States, and Geostructural Realism

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The Return of Bipolarity in World Politics: China, the United States, and Geostructural Realism
By Oystein Tunsjo
Columbia University Press, 2018
288 pp.
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Tunsjo challenges the prevailing view of U.S.-Chinese relations, arguing that even though China is not the military or economic equal of the United States, it is powerful enough to serve as what theorists call a second “pole” in the international system. That makes today’s international system not multipolar, as most analysts believe, but bipolar. But he argues that today’s bipolar system differs from that of the Cold War because of geographic differences between Europe and Asia. Chinese and U.S. forces do not face each other on land, the way that Soviet and U.S. forces did, so Tunsjo considers a direct superpower confrontation less likely than it was during the Cold War. Proxy wars are also less likely, because China’s security concerns are primarily regional rather than global. But he sees a high risk of conflict in maritime East Asia, where today’s superpowers both have vital interests. His views provide valuable nuance for the growing number of analysts who are worried about the strategic implications of China’s rise.

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