U.S. Strategy in a Unipolar World by William Wohlforth NOTES
One of the defining characteristics of the international order since WW2 has been the dominant position of
the United States, which wields a power that is without historic precedent. Yet the rapid pace of change and
growing complexity of the world over the last few decades has undercut US influenceits ability to bring
about the outcomes it seeks. In other words, the life of a superpower isnt what it used to be, and because
so many different actors and factors hold sway in the contemporary world, there is no going back.
Hence the United States should not assume it can resume a command role simply by reversing recent
policies, if indeed it ever had such a degree of control. The United States may be able to boost its influence,
but it wont be a simple matter. The US remains a potential source of key global public goods, but the
superpower must provide goods that the rest of the world wants and needs, and it will have to reach new
understandings with the others about roles and responsibilities.
A Contemporary critique of 'US Stratgey in a Unipolar world', perspectives on Wohlforth (and Stephen G
Unipolarity is one of the hotter IR theory topics, and it's virtually impossible to discuss the subject without
reference to William C. Wohlforth essay 'U.S. Strategy in a Unipolar World', it provokes the reader to rethink
his or her views, and engages seriously with realism, liberalism, and constructivism.
Their argument, in a nutshell, is that from the above schools have underrated the United States' ability to
transcend structural constraints: realists overrate the impact of the balance of power; liberals overrate the
impact of economic interdependence and international institutions, and constructivists overrate legitimacy
constraints on the United States.
Stephen G Brook sums up Wolforth's argument brilliantly:
...provides the necessary analysis for concluding that the United States does, in fact, have an opportunity to
revise the system and, moreover, that this opportunity will long endure... Because their theories ignore or
misunderstand the implications of the unipolar distribution of power, scholars have generally
underestimated the U.S. potential to remake the post1991 international system. More realistic theories with
a cleareyed appraisal of the workings of a unipolar system would lead them to see the systemic constraints
they believe stand in the way of such a policy for what they are: artifacts of the scholarship of previous eras. Now that's an argument!
The topic of unipolarity has spawned two main debates: The first over how long unipolarity is likely to
endure, and the second over whether unipolarity is peaceful. But to my mind, there is a third interesting
question worth examining the same one Gen. David Petraeus asked journalist Rick Atkinson on his way
into Iraq: "Tell me how this ends?"
For many scholars, this is a moot question: Unipolarity is already ending. But even for those who think the
end is further down the road, imperial overstretch taking on a range of commitments beyond our means
is one way America might fall from being in a league of its own to being just first among equals.
In a recent Foreign Affairs article, both Brooks and Wohlforth waved off dangers such as the longterm
fiscal imbalances in the United States by observing that these problems "can be fixed." Similarly, in a
roundtable review o