The War Against Ukraine and the Failure of “Great Power Politics”

Author: Luke Cooper

This chapter interrogates the claim that the Russian war against Ukraine represents a “return” or “resurgence” of “great power politics.” It argues that this cyclical temporality, in which the world order is imagined to be returning to, or still locked within, a condition of great power competition inhibits scholars of international relations (IR) from identifying the features of novelty and transformation in the twenty-first-century world order. The chapter pursues the claim that rather than a world order of attenuated hierarchy – that the concepts of unipolarity, multipolarity, and great power competition all, in different ways, assume – power in the contemporary world order is becoming more diffuse among a wider range of actors and this is undermining and reshaping traditional geopolitical hierarchies. Rather than a resurgence of great power politics, the opposite may be occurring: a fragmentation of order in which no state can expect to create the “spheres of influence” historically associated with a select few
dominant powers.

This chapter was published online in the Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Geopolitics by Palgrave Macmillan. 

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