Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 17
  • Cited by
    This article has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Resnick, Evan N. 2015. I Will Follow: Smart Power and the Management of Wartime Alliances. Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 38, Issue. 3, p. 383.

    Thies, Cameron G. 2013. The Roles of Bipolarity: A Role Theoretic Understanding of the Effects of Ideas and Material Factors on the Cold War. International Studies Perspectives, Vol. 14, Issue. 3, p. 269.

    Güner, SerdarŞ. 2012. Religion and Preferences: A Decision-theoretic Explanation of Turkey’s New Foreign Policy. Foreign Policy Analysis, Vol. 8, Issue. 3, p. 217.

    Wohlforth, William C. 2012. How Not to Evaluate Theories. International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 56, Issue. 1, p. 219.

    Glaser, Charles L 2011. Why unipolarity doesn't matter (much). Cambridge Review of International Affairs, Vol. 24, Issue. 2, p. 135.

    Wohlforth, William C 2011. No one loves a realist explanation. International Politics, Vol. 48, Issue. 4-5, p. 441.

    Fearon, James D. 2010. Comments on R. Harrison Wagner’s War and the State: The Theory of International Politics. International Theory, Vol. 2, Issue. 02, p. 333.

    Mowle, Thomas S. and Sacko, David H. 2007. The Unipolar World.

    Malici, Akan and Malici, Johnna 2005. The Operational Codes of Fidel Castro and Kim Il Sung: The Last Cold Warriors?. Political Psychology, Vol. 26, Issue. 3, p. 387.

    Kang, Heejoon and Reuveny, Rafael 2000. An exploration of multi‐country political conflict/cooperation interdependence. International Interactions, Vol. 26, Issue. 2, p. 129.

    Sheetz, Mark S. 1999. Exit stratgies: American grand designs for postwar European security. Security Studies, Vol. 8, Issue. 4, p. 1.

    Wohlforth, William C. 1999. The Stability of a Unipolar World. International Security, Vol. 24, Issue. 1, p. 5.

    Wohlforth, William C. 1999. A Certain Idea of Science: How International Relations Theory Avoids the New Cold War History. Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 1, Issue. 2, p. 39.

    Fink, Evelyn C. Humes, Brian D. and schwebach, Valerie L. 1997. The size principle and the strategic basis of an alliance: Formalizing intuitions. International Interactions, Vol. 22, Issue. 3, p. 279.

    Ogilvie‐White, Tanya 1996. Is there a theory of nuclear proliferation? An analysis of the contemporary debate. The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 4, Issue. 1, p. 43.

    Spirtas, Michael 1996. A house divided: Tragedy and evil in realist theory. Security Studies, Vol. 5, Issue. 3, p. 385.

    Schmidt, Gustav 1994. Introduction. Contemporary European History, Vol. 3, Issue. 02, p. 145.


What was bipolarity?


In spite of its widespread use, no one has ever stated clearly what the distinction between bipolar and multipolar systems refers to. Moreover, some common definitions of “bipolarity” imply behavior that is inconsistent with the behavior of states during the cold war. This article argues that the distinctive feature of post–World War II international politics was not that two states were more powerful than the others, as the literature on bipolarity would suggest, but that one state, the Soviet Union, occupied in peacetime a position of near-dominance on the Eurasian continent, a position that states in the past had been able to achieve only after a series of military victories. This fact explains the behavior that others have sought to explain by bipolarity, as well as behavior that is inconsistent with what common definitions of bipolarity would lead us to expect. The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of the argument for structural theories of international politics and controversies about what lies ahead.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

R. Harrison Wagner , “The Decision to Divide Germany and the Origins of the Cold War,” International Studies Quarterly 24 (061980), pp. 155190.

Arthur Lee Burns , “From Balance to Deterrence: A Theoretical Analysis,” World Politics 9 (071964), pp. 494529.

Ted Hopf , “Polarity, the Offense–Defense Balance, and War,” American Political Science Review 85 (061991), pp. 475–94.

Geoffrey Blainey , The Causes of War, 3d ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1988), pp. 108–24.

R. Harrison Wagner , “The Theory of Games and the Balance of Power,” World Politics 38 (071986), pp. 546–73

Emerson Niou and Peter Ordeshook , “Stability in Anarchic International Systems,” American Political Science Review 84 (121990), pp. 1207–34.

Jack Levy , “Preferences, Constraints, and Choices in July 1914,” International Security 15 (Winter1990), pp. 151–86.

Robert Gilpin , War and Change in World Politics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981).

Karl Deutsch and J. David Singer , “Multipolar Systems and International Stability,” World Politics 16 (041964), pp. 390406

Richard Rosecrance , “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Future,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 10 (091966), pp. 314–27.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *