My daughter is in a class on Model United Nations. They take the positions of particular countries on issues of global importance. But she’s finding that she knows little about global affairs despite being the daughter of two parents with graduate degrees in political science. Her research takes her to obscure reports and creepy sources like the CIA Factbook. All of this made me think: “There has to be an easier way!” to gain a basic understanding of the international order. This post is the beginning of such a way. My daughter canʻt be alone in lacking an understanding of how international politics works, so my hope is that this benefits others. Americans are notoriously ignorant on this topic, due to their lack of geographical knowledge. Because most of my readership is Hawaiian history-oriented, I include a part at the end (this is Part 1) on Hawaiʻi’s place in the global order during the kingdom period mainly, but I touch on its place today. Oh, and by the way, this one is not part of the Moʻolelo series.
There are about three models of the “balance of power,” or the world order. Not to be mistaken with the “New World Order,”* these models describe how power is distributed among major countries in the world. One is the bi-polar model – two poles of power – and this is the model that existed during the Cold War (1946-1991). Virtually all countries had to choose whether to align with the US (and capitalism) or the USSR (and communism). Few countries chose not to do this. One possible exception was the “Group of 77” or G77, which was composed of developing countries uniting to counteract the disproportional influence of the G7, the seven most powerful countries. But at one point, the G77 chose as its leader Fidel Castro, showing it still had to choose in a bi-polar world (and it chose communism).
The second model is the uni-polar model: one pole of power. This is the model we are probably in today, but it seems clear that we’re on the tail end of it. The one pole of power, if you havenʻt guessed, is the United States. The US does half of all military spending in the world! This makes US military spending greater than the next ten countries combined. (See chart below, but how much this is exactly is a bit unclear – Department of Defense spending is usually around $700 Billion, but programs like nuclear weapons are in the Department of Energy and, when taken into account, bring US military spending close to $1 Trillion per year). The US maintains 800 military installations in 130 countries (there are only 193 countries in the world), and yet claims not to be an empire. It is also the largest economy in the world at roughly $20 Trillion, though per capita it’s only number 10 – Luxembourg and Quatar have double the per capita income at US$100,000. Countries choose today simply whether to ally with the US or be a “rogue state.”
The third model, one that is hypothetical, but seems to be emerging, is the multi-polar model, consisting of several loci of power. The closest thing we see to this today (which suggests it is emerging) is what are called the BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa comprise an alternative power center to the US (and its allied European countries). The BRICS have developed an alternative to the World Bank, whose loans and indebtedness kept developing countries subservient to the US-controlled order. The global systems theorist Immanuel Wallerstein posits that this multi-polar system will replace what is called US hegemony – its global dominance. President Trump’s four years of “America First” has neglected that it is part of a system of alliances with Western Europe in particular and has weakened its hegemony to the breaking point. Many believe (and theyʻre probably right) that the “leader of the free world” is no longer the US President, but Angela Merkel of Germany, who unofficially guides the European Union.
*In 1990, President George H.W. Bush famously said that one could perceive the outline of a “new world order” forming with the fall of Soviet and communist countries. His masonic membership, along with the term “Novum Ordum Seculorum” being on US currency caused conspiracy theories to fly freely. Bush was merely describing the move from the Bi-polar model to US hegemony. And the phrase Novum Ordum Seculorum is indeed masonic, but it means “secular world order” not new world order and seems to refer to the Masonic idea that organized religion would no longer be necessary if “men” were all good (Freemasonry is only for men, and their slogan is “we can make a good man better, but we canʻt make a bad man good”).