Reflections on the Contemporary World Order


DARIO BATTISTELLA, Un monde unidimensionnel
SciencesPO Les Press, Paris, 2011, 176 pp.


This concise, but well written International Relations (IR) book addresses the topic of world order in the post Cold War period. Author is Dario Battistella, considered one of most distinguished contemporary scholars in the IR field within the francophone space. Among his published works, we remind bestsellers like Théorie des relations internationales (in 2012, at the 4th edition), The Return to the State of War or Paix et guerres au XXI siècle.

Title of book under review is a metaphor derived from Herbert Marcuse’s One- Dimensional Man. In an analogue way, Battistella argues that world after Cold War consists: an unipolar inter-state system at the level of power distribution and, an unitive international society in term of values. Thus appears as an ‘one-dimensional world’. To his analysis, author combines IR Realism’s reasoning to inter-state system and IR Liberalism’s view to international society.

In the outset, Battistella reviews the main scenarios and ‘prophecies’ of early 1990s on how world tomorrow will look like from the IR standpoint. From F. Fukuyama’s End of History to S. Huntignton’s Clash of Civilizations, or C. Krauthammer’s Unipolar Moment to H. Kissinger’s multipolarity as referred to in Diplomacy, none of the theories came to fruit says the author. Rather, we have witnessed a compilation of elements from each theory in the period since Cold-War formally ended.

Book is divided in two main parts: first covering the interstate system and second, the international society.

In first, author discusses the system’s settling around the power pole represented by United States. His arguments are of material nature (as a direct reference to Realism) and show the unipolar structure of contemporary interstate system. Moreover, unipolarity is not only durable, but stable and hegemonic: gap in terms of resources between US and any other peer or group of peers is extremely significant. Simply by examining evolution of PIB in the twenty years after USSR’s collapse or evolution of military expenditures, we discover not that US stagnated or decreased, but increased in comparison with the other great powers, in absolute numbers. Therefore, hegemonic stability of the system is due to fact no other secondary power either could or would balance the US; be it either via an internal balancing policy -augmentation of military resources, or external- alliances with other powers. Lack of balancing policy from US’ traditional adversaries –like Russia or China, for instance- is explained on one side objectively: by rational calculus in terms of cost-advantage; on the other, refuse to engage in a balancing policy on the part of US allies is as well, subjective. It relates to the membership at a community of shared values with the United States. Same time, says the author, US’ leadership is accepted because US are not perceived as a threat by others in the system, but as a fundamental pillar for the global security.

Shared values just mentioned, explain in turn the unitive international society – this being the argument explored in second part of the book.

Legitimacy of the international society prevailed since end of Cold War. Taking as departure point H. Bull’s definition of international society: ‘states which, aware of their shared values and interests, agree to common rules govern their mutual relations and participate to the good functioning of their institutions’(p. 93), Battistella believes the liberal-democratic values of the American and European societies are still far from being threatened. And, for the moment, there are no real contenders to stand as an alternative to them. Hence, liberal-democratic values of American and European societies prevail as the international system ‘pillars’ of regulation. Furthermore, the indisputable primacy US has for more than 20 years now, had led to a certain “rupture within the rupture, a re-lecture of the international liberal culture re-establishing the solidary-exclusive and hierarchic –nonegalitarian principles of the international society, rather than pluralist-egalitarian“[1] (p.99). It resulted in an international society inclusive for the states accepting the rules of the game and exclusive/punitive for the failed or villain states.

The book is written in a light manner, absent of a pompous style. Choice of words is not at all technical and the language is accessible even for those un-familiarized with the IR field. Taking everything into consideration, Battistella’s work is a must-read as well from another reason: it gives a the counter-perspective rooted in International Relations to the Cassandra-type of prophecies advocating the decline of US and the very popular rise of China these days. The easily comprehensible arguments of Dario Battistella should be read by anyone interested where the world today stands, be they fans of the US/Occident or not.


Cătălin Secăreanu
[The University of Bucharest]


[1] The argument is developed more broadly by the author in The Return to the State of War, European Consortium Paper Press, London, 2008.


CĂTĂLIN SECĂREANU  is PhD Student, Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Bucharest/Ecole Doctorale de Droit, Université Montesquieu Bordeaux 4, Bordeaux /Ecole Doctorale Francophone en Sciences Sociales, Universitatea din București; Master, Comparative Politics, Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Bucharest; BA in Political Sciences, Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Bucharest. Domains of interest: Romanian Foreign Policy after 1989, Geopolitics of the extended Black Sea region, UE-US relations, Role of political elites in modernization.




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