Does the world benefit from having a single superpower?

Last updated: March 3, 2017

Does the world benefit from having a single superpower?

Does the world benefit from having a single superpower?
Yes because...

The world is safer with a single strong superpower than it was in a “bipolar” Cold War with hostile ...

The world is safer with a single strong superpower than it was in a “bipolar” Cold War with hostile global alliances. For over forty years the USA and USSR were engaged in a nuclear standoff where one moment of miscalculation could have meant the end of the world. Meanwhile they fought by proxy through client states and guerrilla movements in bloody conflicts in places like Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Angola and Afghanistan. The world is also far safer than it was during the first half of the twentieth century, when having a number of strong military powers (e.g. Germany, Britain, France, Japan, Russia) resulted in two world wars and many smaller conflicts. History shows that the world is much better off dominated by a single democracy.
No because...
The existence of a single democratic superpower promotes the spread of democracy and stability. If there is to be only one superpower, let it be democratic since democracy is the most desirable system of government. In the twenty-first century it has to be realised that states which abuse human rights and threaten their neighbours (e.g. by sponsoring terrorism or building weapons of mass destruction) cannot be allowed to get away with things. The values of the USA give it the legitimacy to confront rogue states and if necessary intervene to uphold peace and stability. It has done this in recent years in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the knowledge that America will act toughly has also led Libya and North Korea to change direction in ways which make the world safer for everyone.

Does the world benefit from having a single superpower?
Yes because...

The existence of a single democratic superpower promotes the spread of democracy and stability. If ...

The existence of a single democratic superpower promotes the spread of democracy and stability. If there is to be only one superpower, let it be democratic since democracy is the most desirable system of government. In the twenty-first century it has to be realised that states which abuse human rights and threaten their neighbours (e.g. by sponsoring terrorism or building weapons of mass destruction) cannot be allowed to get away with things. The values of the USA give it the legitimacy to confront rogue states and if necessary intervene to uphold peace and stability. It has done this in recent years in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the knowledge that America will act toughly has also led Libya and North Korea to change direction in ways which make the world safer for everyone.
No because...
While the United States extols democracy, it frequently dictates to or ignores the concerns of other nations and is willing to intervene in the domestic affairs of other nations for its own purposes. This undermines the doctrine of national sovereignty upon which international security is based, and makes the world less stable as a result. True democracy abhors the one-sided vertical distribution of power. Democracy prospers best in a world in which power is divided among many players, requiring them to talk and negotiate rather than trying to impose solutions upon those with whom they disagree. By contrast, the United States definitely abuses its power in the international arena, intervening in areas which affect its national interests, but ignoring worse situations elsewhere.

Does the world benefit from having a single superpower?
Yes because...

As September 11 demonstrated, many non-state actors are hostile to peace and security. The world ne...

As September 11 demonstrated, many non-state actors are hostile to peace and security. The world needs a powerful leader to unify the global effort against terrorism and provide better security for all people. Without a single superpower coordinating global security measures, Earth is much more likely to be a troubled place in the near future. Fragile states need a protector to prevent them collapsing under pressure from extremist groups. Spineless western countries which are not prepared to spend money on their own collective security or to send their forces abroad also rely upon the willingness of the USA as single superpower to shoulder these burdens for them.
No because...
September 11 demonstrated that a single nation, no matter how powerful, cannot control world events. In fact the US is relatively weak in various ways; Iraq and Afghanistan have shown its limitations very clearly, with its mighty military unable to control small numbers of insurgents. It has become obvious that its forces are severely overstretched, and that the American public lacks the will to see the mission through. The USA may now cut and run, leaving chaos behind. This has in turn constrained the US administration in its dealings with Iran. Its diplomatic power is also weaker than it first appears, as fragile regimes know that too close a relationship with Washington will fuel domestic discontent. Meanwhile American willingness to guarantee collective security has allowed many western nations to neglect their own defence, allowing themselves to believe that their superpower ally will pay the economic and human costs of security on their behalf.

Does the world benefit from having a single superpower?
Yes because...

A Single superpower can give global leadership on important international concerns. Because the USA...

A Single superpower can give global leadership on important international concerns. Because the USA is affected by the same problems as other countries (for example, climate change, epidemics, oil crises, economic depression, illegal narcotics, nuclear proliferation, etc.) it is in its interests to promote policies of benefit to all. When the United States becomes engaged with an issue, it can swing its many allies behind a policy and back it with its considerable economic clout. An example of this would be the President’s initiative on HIV/AIDS in the developing world.
No because...
Many international problems require cooperation between large numbers of states. The existence of a single superpower actually undermines this kind of coordinated response. This is partly because America sees the United Nations as a rival, and cannot be bothered to work within the only truly global institution to build consensus, and partly because the USA is often out of step with world opinion and arrogantly refuses to consider compromise. On many issues the USA has either refused to give a lead (climate change) or has actually obstructed progress (pharmaceutical licensing, steps to ban the use of anti-personnel mines). In other areas the US administration has sought to impose a self-interested or faulty policy upon the rest of the world (e.g. abstinence education as a solution for HIV/AIDS in Africa, refusal to support women’s health programmes if these include advice on abortion).

Does the world benefit from having a single superpower?
Yes because...

The Cold War ended because the USA won – that is why it is the single remaining superpower. And tha...

The Cold War ended because the USA won – that is why it is the single remaining superpower. And that victory proved the superiority of western liberal democracy and capitalism over totalitarianism and a command economy. All those who prize individual freedom and open societies, or who benefit from the prosperity brought by free markets should welcome the USA’s victory. During the Cold War the USA’s competition with the Soviet Union often led it to support right-wing dictatorships providing they were anti-communist, but since 1990 it has thrown its weight behind democracy, encouraging many more countries to develop free political systems. America is not perfect, but it still acts as a powerful role model for other states, encouraging the spread of democratic values and individual freedoms, and promoting the most effective system of wealth creation that has yet been found.
No because...
The USA may stand for democracy and both economic and individual freedoms at home, but it has consistently failed to translate its ideals into the international arena. It continues to support a range of undemocratic states where human rights are suppressed, for example Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt (and arguably Israel). It fails to apply meaningful sanctions against autocratic states like China and Uzbekistan, and has tried to undermine the International Criminal Court’s work in upholding human rights standards. And far from promoting free trade and open markets, it tries to protect its domestic industries through a mass of tariffs, subsidies, standards and tax-breaks. Indeed, many people blame the US for blocking a global trade deal which would bring huge benefits to poor countries. All of this means that the single superpower fails to use its dominant position for good.

Does the world benefit from having a single superpower?
Yes because...

Many of those who dislike a single superpower would prefer the United Nations to have a greater role...

Many of those who dislike a single superpower would prefer the United Nations to have a greater role in global affairs. Yet during the bi-polar period of the Cold War the UN couldn’t get anything worthwhile done. Because all important issues were seen through the prism of East-West rivalry, action was always blocked in the Security Council by either America or Russia. Supporters of the UN have to admit that since 1990 the global body has been able to act much more constructively. This can be seen in a development agenda that is no longer politicised by rival capitalist and communist ideologies, and by its successes in liberating Kuwait during the First Gulf War and nation-building in places like Timor L’Este, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The creation of an International Criminal Court and the wider promotion of human rights are other advances which have only been possible since the early 1990s.
No because...
The United Nations was actually quite effective during the Cold War, mediating disputes and acting as a forum in which the two superpowers could talk and so avoid disastrous misunderstandings. Both sides saw the value in treating the UN with respect in order to put their case to the wider international community. From the 1950s to 1980s the UN Health, Agriculture and Development agencies, and its peacekeeping forces achieved great things, for example eradicating smallpox, promoting the “green revolution” and helping calm conflicts in places such as Cyprus and Congo. In a unipolar world the UN has been both more ambitious and less successful, a victim of the whims of a single American superpower. This has led it into disastrous failures in Somalia, the Balkans and Central Africa, and implicated it in the tragedy of the Iraqi oil-for-food programme. At other times (Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq 2003) it has been ignored by the USA and devalued as a global institution.


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