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Sat. May 18, 2024
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Around the World, Across the Political Spectrum

The Shift towards Multipolarity: The Need for Interest Alignment Diplomacy


Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, world politics have largely been led by the interests of the United States and the European Union. This power dynamic has found little real challenge in the past three decades, but there are signs that this is changing. The array of evidence of a rising China, the failures of American wars in the Middle East, and the lack of development in poorer nations all point towards a more multipolar world politic in the coming decades. Combined with the growing threat of ecological devastation from climate change and the exacerbation of resulting crises like the migrant crisis, the shift to multipolarity could threaten the political stability of the world if nations don’t work together to fight its effects. However, it is clear that getting countries to work together for a goal that doesn’t immediately benefit them is a strenuous task at the best of times, and there are many reasons why conflict between nations can often be easier than cooperation. There is only one real option to deal with conflicting interests standing in the way of addressing climate change in a new multipolar era—aligning our interests with that of other nations.

                  Interest alignment is not about ignoring the reality that conflict between nations is encouraged in a world with limited resources. Interest alignment has to do with directly acknowledging both conflicting interests and differences in thought and then taking an active stance in bringing those differences towards the goal of cooperation for a distinct purpose. The issue here is not about changing material interests, since every country wants to grow in power, influence, or money. The real goal is cooperation towards mutual success even in the face of options where conflict seems like it can create greater successes. The reasoning for this is simple—conflict breeds instability, especially in a world where countries heavily rely on each other for different resources. Additionally, the long-term effects of trying to decide the policy of other nations are harmful even for the countries that think they’re benefitting from it.

                  To understand this, we can simply look at the history of colonialism and the American dominance of South American politics. With major outside influences constantly affecting their governments for over four centuries, there has been little ability for South American nations to decide their own politics due to coups and military dictatorships. This is not to say that South Americans do not run their own politics, but there are issues in trying to govern a nation when every decision needs to be made while considering the massive power disparity with the US and Europe. The reliance on extraction industries established during colonialism outweighs social issues in favor of policies that create cheaper products and enable favorable conditions for foreign investors or foreign interests. Nations that try to go against these dynamics are often punished, such as the ongoing embargo against Cuba and the US-sponsored coup against Salvador Allende that installed Pinochet in Chile in 1973. These power dynamics can even be seen in international law, which further constrains what weaker nations can do. To quote B.S. Chimni’s Third World Approaches to International Law, “Today international law prescribes rules that deliberately ignore the phenomena of uneven development in favor of prescribing uniform global standards” (p. 5). The issue for the US and Europe, however, is that these relationships end up creating more unstable world politics in the long run. The drug trade in South and Central America has grown greatly because weak governments are unable to do anything about it, as corruption and systemic inequality encourage the cultivation and trafficking of narcotics. In Mexico for example, even though the government took on a war against the cartels from 2006–2012, with help from the US, very little was accomplished other than to create more violence (Council on Foreign Relations, 2007). This is because the larger causes of cartel success are systemic and require long-term solutions. You can find this dynamic of dominating other countries’ politics backfiring in the Middle East and Africa as well, as colonialist rule divided countries with little thought for self-governance and has led to few stable governments since then.

                  In acknowledging this history, we can realize three important elements. Firstly, that the consequences of colonialism continue today, secondly, that there is little indication of these colonialist relationships changing, and thirdly, that Western nations believe these relationships benefit them when they just end up weakening world political stability. But this takes on a new meaning in light of what a multipolar world would look like. If the US and EU don’t change the way they interact with underdeveloped countries, there will be increased incentive for those countries to create relations with other rising powers like China. This is a fundamental issue in how the Western world has interacted with the rest of the world, and to address these relations there needs to be further acknowledgement of the past and an understanding of the power divide between weaker nations and the US and EU. The ability to decide the political and economic norms that weaker countries have less say over and must follow to be successful determines the relationships between countries. The reason that interest alignment is the only solution is because nations only commit to things they think will benefit them. Interest alignment is about understanding that long-term stability outweighs short-term gains. To avoid the worst of climate change in a multipolar world, cooperation is the only option. The goal is to change the philosophy of what long-term interests really look like, which isn’t the ability dominate other nations but the ability to create sustainable international relationships.

Walker Brock is a Senior at George Mason University, graduating in Spring of 2023 with a BA in Government and International Politics from the Schar School of Policy and Government and a BA in Psychology from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. His interests are in public health policy and increasing access to mental health services through nonprofit organizations.



Chimni, B. S. (2006). Third world approaches to international law: A Manifesto. International Community Law Review, 8(1), 3–27. https://doi.org/10.1163/187197306779173220

Council on Foreign Relations. (2022, September 7). Mexico’s Long War: Drugs, crime, and the cartels. Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/mexicos-long-war-drugs-crime-and-cartels

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