Pub. date: 2011 | Online Pub. Date: October 04, 2011 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412994163 | Print ISBN: 9781412959636 | Online ISBN: 9781412994163| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Bipolarity and Multipolarity
Bipolarity and multipolarity are theoretical concepts that refer to the distribution of relative power capabilities among the major powers in the global and/or regional international system. Bipolarity exists when there are two dominant powers—commonly referred to as “superpowers”—in the system whose power capabilities are considerably greater than those of other major powers. The prime example of bipolarity is the U.S.–Soviet competition during the Cold War. Multipolarity exists when there are three or more great powers in the system. Historically, multipolarity has been the dominant power configuration in the modern European states' system. The significance of the distribution of relative power capabilities in the international system is widely contested. For realists, it is the single most important determinant of international politics. Liberals also accept that the distribution of power is an important factor shaping international politics, although they attach greater significance to domestic-level factors (such as regime type) or the existence ...