For Su­per­pow­ers, It Takes Two to Tan­gle

Global Asia - - BOOK REVIEWS - Re­viewed by John Delury, As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor at Yon­sei Uni­ver­sity Grad­u­ate School of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies and book re­views co-edi­tor of Global Asia.

Af­ter a cou­ple of decades as the world’s only su­per­power, the United States now de­fines in its na­tional-se­cu­rity strat­egy two surg­ing great pow­ers, China and Rus­sia, as “peer com­peti­tors.” As the sense of ri­valry in­ten­si­fies in Wash­ing­ton, Bei­jing and Moscow, an en­light­ened voice from Oslo weighs in on the the­o­ret­i­cal and strate­gic de­bate.

Al­though ge­o­graph­i­cally closer to the strate­gic chal­lenge that Rus­sia poses to Europe, Øys­tein

Tun­sjø ar­gues that China is in a dif­fer­ent class and poses the only strate­gic chal­lenge to the US. In­deed, Tun­sjø’s cen­tral ar­gu­ment is that we have en­tered a bipo­lar struc­ture of in­ter­na­tional relations, where China is clos­ing the gap with the US, al­beit slowly, with no other states com­ing close in terms of na­tional power. This “dis­tant third” phe­nom­e­non, which Tun­sjø demon­strates with ex­ten­sive em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence, is the ba­sis of his claim about the “re­turn of bipo­lar­ity.”

He adds to this an am­bi­tious new the­ory of in­ter­na­tional relations termed “geostruc­tural realism.” In lay­man’s terms, it stresses how ge­og­ra­phy shapes the ways in which states work out a bal­ance of power. Tun­sjø’s assess­ment of the fu­ture of our bipo­lar world is, as one might ex­pect from a re­al­ist, rather pes­simistic. Given the ge­og­ra­phy of East Asia, with fluid and dis­puted mar­itime bor­ders and re­vi­sion­ist as­pi­ra­tions of nu­mer­ous states, the two poles, Wash­ing­ton and Bei­jing, will find it hard to work out a new equi­lib­rium with­out com­ing to blows.

The Re­turn of Bipo­lar­ity in World Pol­i­tics: China, the United States, and Geostruc­tural RealismBy Øys­tein Tun­sjø Columbia Uni­ver­sity Press, 2018, 271 pages, $65.00 (Hard­cover)

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