Thursday 01 May 2014

One of the fundamental roles of a strategic leader is to refine and fulfill the future vision for the state. One fundamental aspect of such a vision requires strategic leaders to envision the geopolitical circumstances of the future and determine a best course for the nation to achieve its national interests. To do that, leaders must understand the various ways in which power may be distributed within the future international system. Policymakers generally distinguish three types of such systems: unipolar, bipolar, and multipolar, each being dependent on the distribution of power and influence of states, regionally and globally.

Unipolarity is a distribution of power in which one nation exercises most of the cultural, economic, and military influence. Unipolarity is peaceful because the leading state’s dominance inhibits rivalry and reduces the security competition among nations. Unipolarity generates few incentives for security and prestige competition among great powers. Most analysts believe today’s post-Cold War international system is unipolar since the United States commands the global commons and dominates the world in military power, defense research and development, and global power-projection. But that situation may change. The key question for leaders is how long this unipolar period will endure.

Bipolarity is a distribution of power in which two states have the majority of economic, military, and cultural influence, frequently based around spheres of influence. For example, in the Cold War, most Western states aligned with the US, while most Communist states feel under the influence of the USSR, and those two powers constantly maneuvered over the unclaimed areas. Examples of bipolarity include: Sparta and Athens in the Classical Greek era, the Roman Empire and the Sassanid Empire for much of later Roman history, and the United States and the Soviet Union from 1947 to 1990.

Multipolarity is a distribution of global power where more than two nations have similar levels of influence. Multipolarity may be more stable than bipolarity, as great powers can gain power through alliances that do not directly challenge other powers. On the other hand, multipolar systems can be plagued by misjudgments of states, compromising security and miscalculating the response required to counter threats. One of the major implications of multipolar systems is that national decisions are often made to maintain a balance of power rather than for ideological reasons. The period following the Napoleonic Wars in Europe provides the example of peaceful multipolarity, when European nations assembled regularly to discuss international and domestic issues. Unfortunately, World War I and World War II are examples of multipolarity resulting in conflict.

Dr. Jamal Al-Suwaidi’s recent book Prospects for the American Age: Sovereignty and Influence in the New World Order provides a superb analysis of the global balance of power among states and discusses whether the US will remain the dominant power of the near future. So, how would the future strategic environment change relative to the UAE if the unipolar world of today shifts to bi- or multipolarity? What decisions or actions should be taken in advance to help the UAE navigate and prosper during such a time? What should the UAE do now to best posture itself for such a change? These are all key decisions for our national leaders to consider looking ahead over the next 30 years .