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    May 17, 2016

    The Meaning of Multipolarity: Methodology and Indicators

    May 17, 2016 - 
    Andrew Korybko, Katehon - 

    Contemporary global politics is marked by the struggle of multipolar forces to balance International Relations at the same time as the existing unipolar ones are aggressively resisting and fighting to retain their hegemony. The consequence of these dueling world views and their fierce multi-spectral competition is the global instability that’s come to characterize the modern day and usher in the start of the New Cold War. Whether it’s the War on Syria, the War on Currency, or the War on BRICS, the US is pulling out all the stops in offsetting the rise of multipolarity and safeguarding the unipolar world order that it’s constructed since the end of the Old Cold War. Hybrid Wars, both their regular economic & informational iterations and their irregular regime change one, are becoming the modus operandi in waging a series of incessant asymmetrical battles across all fronts. 

    The scope of what’s happening is unprecedented in history and can be overwhelming for even the most zealous analysts to follow, let alone the passive observer, so what’s needed in order to make sense of this all and simplify the various processes that are underway is a solid definition of what exactly constitutes multipolarity. The topic of study is rich with detail and impossible to comprehensively cover even in the scope of this book-length series, but the purpose is to instill the reader with a broad understanding of the differences between unipolarity and multipolarity. From this foundational cornerstone of meaning, individuals can then categorize countries into one or the other camp, which in turn more easily allows them to identify whether an examined event is more favorable to the world’s unipolar or multipolar forces. Sometimes it’s very difficult to classify a country or event into either of these binary groups, but in that case it just confirms that the said subject of study is the source of fierce competition between the two sides and a focal point of the New Cold War. 

    The research begins by explaining the difference between unipolarity and multipolarity, highlighting the five most relevant factors that could be analyzed in assessing which side of the divide a given country falls on. It also incorporates the role of the political system-elite-military trifecta in the greater calculation and shows how this much less defined group of indicators could sometimes be the most accurate. Having laid down the groundwork for the rest of the research, Part II is then broken down into a series of sections which contain the strategic profiles of a handful of leading countries across Eurasia, using the prior methodology to classify them as unipolar, multipolar, or contested. Finally, the last part of the study explains the nature of the New Cold War competition that’s currently underway in courting the contested states and why they’re the most pivotal battlegrounds of the 21st century. 

    The World Orders

    Although it might sound overly simplistic, all of the destabilization across the globe is due in one way or another to the attempts of the unipolar world to fight back against the rising multipolar one. This metaphysical dichotomy gives rise to legitimate questions about the defining characteristics of each camp, which subsequently necessities an examination of both.

    The Difference

    The unipolar category of states and non-state actors (informational, NGO, private sector economy, etc.) have in common a shared desire to retain and strengthen the existing US-led system of International Relations. They either already benefit from such an arrangement, or have been misled into believing that they do or are about to in the near future. Multipolar forces, on the other hand, want to change the world order into something more equitable and reengineer its structure so that it’s easy for them to actualize their grand strategic interests. The present global arrangement impedes their development and keeps them in a subservient position concerning the US and its quislings. 

    The Criteria

    At this moment in time, the way to most accurately identify which camp a state falls into or most generally leans towards is to assess five relevant indicators, the hierarchy and proportionate influence of which varies on a case-by-case basis depending on the state. The proceeding list is an example of the order that these indicators are expected to typically take, although of course it’s far from being totally inclusive and perfect. Rather, the intent of the following is to provide a basic framework that analysts can use as they begin to categorize countries as unipolar or multipolar, and suggestions are offered for ways in which this can be scientifically quantified. Beginning with the least reliable factor and progressing to the strongest determinant, they are:


    The editorial policy of publicly financed and private media based within a studied country can say a lot about the direction that its elites (whether politically in power, plotting to enter it, or content remaining outside of it) want to take it in the coming future. It’s not the most reliable indicator, and the globally diffusive prevalence of alternative media (state-affiliated, NGO-influenced, or individually independent) can offset the intended informational effects of their more conventional counterparts, but it at least provides a starting point for getting an idea about a country’s overall disposition. 

    Other than perusing the TV, internet, print, and radio platforms of the country in question and drawing one’s own personal conclusion about whether their overall combined influence is more unipolar or multipolar, interested researchers can devise a methodology for testing this by counting how many stories out of a given total tend to sympathize with either ideology. The parameters for determining that might vary depending on the country in question and the topical (regional/global) focus of its given media, but astute individuals can process these contexts and create custom tests that lead to relevant results. 

    At the end of the day, though, the image that’s being broadcast for domestic consumption might be different that the domestic reality, which is why media is seen as the least reliable indicator of a country’s disposition, although of course it shouldn’t at all be underestimated and might at times be weaponized for Color Revolution purposes under certain conditions. 


    This is much easier to quantify and explain, and it simply deals with the country’s leading trade and investment partners. There’s a difference in importance attached to which states a given country is importing from and exporting to as compared to the ones that it’s investing in and which are investing within it, but counting on the researcher’s judgements in making this contextual differentiation and accounting for the proportionate influence that these sub-indicators have on a case-by-case basis, it’s also possibly to quantify this and put it into useable data form for comparison’s sake. In doing so, economies of scale must be considered, as should an examined country’s specific placement in the overall global economic chain and hierarchy, but again, it’s up to the judgement of the researcher carrying out the study to factor this into their work. 

    The reason that all of the abovementioned qualifications are necessary to speak upon is because raw economic data sometimes doesn’t present a complete picture about a country’s economic trajectory. It’s a well-known fact that China’s series of One Belt One Road global infrastructure projects is shaking up developing economies’ existing relationships, so just because a said state might still have the US, Germany, or any other Western country as their top economic partner at the time of the study doesn’t mean that this might not change in the near future or that a major shift is presently occurring. Therefore, analyses need to be holistic and factor in as many variables as possible in gauging whether a country’s economy is closer to unipolar or multipolar forces. 

    Furthermore, no matter which of the two it’s more substantially affiliated with, it doesn’t mean that the government will necessarily follow the economy’s lead in throwing its weight behind that specified camp’s metaphysical vision. 



    The institutions that a country chooses to join are strong indicators of the commitment that its government has endeavored to make to its respective allied forces, although not every organization may represent a clear-cut unipolar-multipolar dichotomy, if any at all. For example, while the IMF, World Bank, and WTO might have solely been unipolar instruments of power in the past, the involvement of almost every country in the world to differing extents in each of these groups demonstrates that some of the most important earlier tenets of American hegemony – economic liberalism and globalization – have become almost ubiquitous and are also practiced in some form or another by the world’s multipolar Great Powers. 

    In fact, the near-ubiquity of these precepts means that they can also interestingly be used in weakening the US’ unipolar hegemony if applied in the right manner, with China’s One Belt One Road vision being a prime example of multipolar globalization. It’s not for the author to make a value judgement about whether or not it’s “right” to use economic liberalism and globalization in select and disciplined instances to restructure the global system, but in general, replacement institutions such as the BRICS New Development Bank, the related currency reserve pool, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank emulate the functions of their Western/unipolar counterparts and are often staffed by former executives from those very same organizations. 

    Superficially, it might not appear like there’s much a difference between the unipolar and multipolar application of economic liberalism and globalization, but those making that argument haven’t given the multipolar iteration enough time to prove that it has the potential to be qualitatively and substantially different than its Western/unipolar predecessor. In fact, one can argue that the institutionalization of the BRICS format began as a test run in gauging the multipolar feasibility of this concept before emboldening their members into recreating this larger model on a smaller, regional scale (e.g. the Russian-led Eurasian Union) and multilaterally branching out into different non-economic categories of cooperation (e.g. the expansion of the SCO to include India). 

    Security And Integrational:

    Continuing off of the tangent of non-economic institutions, it’s worthwhile to speak about their integrational and security counterparts. The Eurasian Union that was just mentioned is of the former, while the SCO is of the later, and the unipolar steroid-driven versions are the EU and NATO. There’s a big difference between the unipolar and multipolar versions of these institutions, and part of that has to do with their chartered functions and the intentions behind their creation. It’s important to note that the multipolar versions came into existence after the unipolar ones had already been active for decades, and that the Eurasian Union and the SCO thus had enough time to analyze the operational shortcomings of their predecessors and craft more flexible and less-dominating institutions. 

    Because of the transformative nature of contemporary International Relations, an examined country’s membership in certain institutions is an important determinant in gauging where its grand strategic loyalties lie. Still, it can’t be discounted that some countries have joined their respective organizations out of interest in ‘freeloading’ the perceived benefits, or even worse, sabotaging their ‘new partners’ from within by behaving as institutional ‘double agents’. As per the latter point, a country could also have become an institutional member for genuine, legitimate reasons but only to later have their political and “deep state” (permanent intelligence-military-diplomacy bureaucracy) establishment hijacked by the opposite side as a means of destroying their rivals’ organizations from within. 

    This doesn’t mean that the parasite-controlled state should be written off as ever becoming an ally once more in the future, since if the agents of influence are cast out of their positions (exemplified as the elite or corrosive deep state elements losing elections or being internally purged), then the strategically occupied state could return to being a constructive member of the multipolar community. 


    It might seem odd to some readers that grassroots forces are given the second-highest role in the exampled hierarchy of determining a country’s unipolar or multipolar disposition, but the reality is that the population plays a considerable role in this process. Although Western citizens do not yet fully understand the power that they wield in their societies, their governments have gone to great lengths over the past two decades to disseminate Color Revolution technology all across the world in equipping partisan activists with the tools to enact disproportionately intense pressure against their governments in coercing them towards the unipolar fold. If “reverse-Color Revolution” technology was harnessed by multipolar activists (ideally representing the will of the majority) in a disciplined and select fashion which disavowed regime change and violence, then it would be possible for some Western citizens and others to liberate their countries from unipolar influences. 

    The key operative word is “some” because this might not be possible in states that are outright structural “dictatorships” such as the US. To explain, in the absence of a considerable patriotic counterpart to oppose them, Color Revolution-employing activists can typically (yet another operative term) only be dispersed and neutralized with varying degrees of state force, but in a system such as the American one, this regularly takes the form of disproportionate and unprovoked violence. Additionally, even if there was an activist minority of individuals brave enough to confront the American state, it’s unlikely that their compatriots would join them in the numbers that would need to be gathered to enact positive change, nor remain arm-in-arm with them for the amount of time that this would take, owing to the massive influence that American media and NGOs have in simultaneously pacifying and intimidating the population (to say nothing of decades of divide-and-rule social and ethnic policies). Therefore, it’s less likely that the influence of legitimately grassroots multipolar influences would be able to change the US, but the strategy of ‘reverse-Color Revolutions” could be much more successful in relatively freer and smaller countries like some of the ones in Europe. 

    Another point that should be made is that the term “grassroots” doesn’t always mean that a specified movement is naturally occurring, independent, endemic to the host country, nor represents the will of the majority, but that it’s the perception about this which is mostly important, and herein the role of the domestic and international media can be seen in operating as a force multipolar in this regard. Nevertheless, because of the role that legitimate (reverse-Color Revolution) and faux (Color Revolution) grassroots movements can have in shaping the national and international discussion about a country’s metaphysical orientation, they’re seen as the second-most important indicator of a country’s unipolar or multipolar tilt. Qualitatively speaking and in the absence of any relevant ongoing grassroots (whether legitimate or faux) movement, researchers can gauge the general sentiment of a country by conducting surveys about how its population views the US and China, for example, or the US and Russia, depending on the relevant continental and situational context. This, of course, has observable limits due to the size of the study and the identity composition of the queried population (whether they represent the majority trend or are minority outliers). 

    Even without the practice of reverse- or actual Color Revolution technology, the overall sentiment of the population is still a crucial factor in underpinning a government’s chosen trajectory vis-à-vis the unipolar or multipolar worlds. If the authorities’ decision does not correlate with the mood of the majority or the latter can’t be engineered by the media and NGOs into thinking otherwise, then the entire course of action is on flimsy footing and could easily be subject to reverse-or actual Color Revolution disturbances. 


    The final and most important determinant of a country’s allegiance to unipolarity or multipolarity usually comes down to its geopolitical position. It’s just as odd to think of Mongolia as a unipolar state as it would be to think of Canada as a multipolar one, and while there’s nothing inherently characteristic in each to prevent them from becoming their geopolitically ordained opposite, common logic doesn’t dictate that either of them would ever naturally make this switch. Of course, Color Revolutions and other sorts of changes could transpire to make it more likely, but ultimately, geopolitical preconditions have a powerful guiding role in deciding a country’s future. Granted, the geopolitical definition of what exactly constitutes a unipolar or multipolar state might change with time, especially if a prominent member of one or the other category switches allegiance and changes the regional paradigm, but for the most part, this classification is expected to remain relatively static for the time being. 

    For example, many of the former Soviet states are incorporated in the overlapping institutions of the Eurasian Union, CSTO, and the SCO mostly due to their geopolitical complementarity in being a ‘natural fit’. Likewise, the UK and all of Western Europe are in NATO and the EU for the very same reasons as they relate to the unipolar perspective. Things get a bit more complicated when it comes to what has been described as the “Rimland”, or the broad swath of land stretching from Eastern Europe, the Mideast, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. In this space, unnatural alliances have been made which do not necessarily correlate with their given state’s geopolitical interests. Poland is the prime example of a diehard anti-Russian state on almost every social and political level, despite this being to the ultimate disadvantage of Warsaw in losing out on the pivotal East-West connectivity role it could play in linking together Russia and Germany. Turkey is a similar case of confounding unnatural geopolitical alliances, just like one could say Vietnam is as well. India is the ultimate wild card and has yet to resolutely commit 100% to one side or the other, though it’s surprisingly been tilting heavily towards the US as of late and creating serious concern among the multipolar analytical community. 

    In connection with examined states’ geopolitical and other relations with the US, it should be explicitly stated that there’s nothing wrong with that in principle, but that the most important element in each case is intent, which is difficult to quantify but not impossible to assess. It’s the intention behind the ruling figures that are engaging with the US that determines whether they’re doing so for a mutual apolitical advantage or as some sort of grand strategy against a third party. Multipolarity should not be confused with “Orthodox Anti-Americanism”, which is the rejection of all things directly related to the US and is pretty much only present nowadays in Eritrea, North Korea, and Zimbabwe. It’s theoretically possible for all countries to have some sort of win-win relationship with the US such as how multipolar hero Hugo Chavez supplied oil to the unipolar “devil” George Bush in exchange for much-needed hard currency, but regretfully, Washington’s hegemonic ambitions in dominating every facet of its bilateral relations with its “partners” complicate even superficial “win-win” interactions such as the one just mentioned and makes them part of the US’ zero-sum strategy against global multipolar forces. Having said that, the US and China still have mostly positive economic relations with one another (despite the deep mutual distrust and the US’ occasional subterfuge), just as the US and Russia have civil relations when it comes to the International Space Station. By and large, however, the more closely that a certain state cooperates with the US on a variety of levels, the more likely it is that the given state is under or about to come under the full unipolar influence of the US, which is precisely why India’s recent pro-American overtures are so disturbing to some. 

    What can be interestingly concluded by conducting a geopolitical review of the world is how some countries perfectly fit together in their strategic alliances, while others are oddly out of place and could be said to have been ‘poached’ by the unipolar world due to careful enticement of their elites and other dubious mechanisms. Nevertheless, because they are not affiliated with their natural geopolitical partners, it can be argued that artificial means are being used to keep them in their present relationships, which is where the other four factors of the media, economics, institutions, and grassroots sentiment come in (with a heavy accent on the role of information warfare). Left to their own prerogative and exempting the role of information warfare (such as the weaponization of historical memory), it’s theorized that the Rimland states would opt to side with their natural geopolitical partners in teaming up with the multipolar world and working to counteract the unipolarity that had earlier taken them hostage. 

    The Political System-Elite-Military Trifecta

    There are three additional unquantifiable (or difficultly quantifiable) factors that operate alongside a country’s geopolitics in influencing its unipolar or multipolar categorization. As was explained above, it’s possible to make a relatively accurate determination about a country’s geopolitical situation vis-à-vis this binary choice, and in the instance of states where one isn’t able to easily identify which way it leans, then the other factors below could give a strong indication whereof or result in the conclusion that the country is contested and thus a battleground location in the New Cold War. In parallel with the five-factor system that was previously elaborated on, the influence of the state’s political system, its nebulous elite, and the loyalty and influence of its military are also important considerations in gauging its overall disposition. 

    Political System

    For the most part, countries that have a Western Democratic political model or one which closely emulates it are part of the unipolar world or could more easily be manipulated into joining it. The former appraisal is issued due to the common civilizational origins that the Western European and North American (with the wavering exception of Mexico) states have with one another and which bind them closer together on an intimate level, but they aren’t surefire or irreversible indicators. In fact, it’s because of the latter assessment that they have the potential to switch from unipolarity to multipolarity if their electorate allows it, though it would be naïve to say that “people’s power” alone would be responsible in that case. 

    Western Democratic political systems aren’t simply a model in which it’s widely (and inaccurately, in the case of the US) assumed that citizens directly vote for their leaders, but a full package of ‘bells and whistles’ that also typically includes an unofficially set number of parties (often two, three, or four), lobbyists (legal bribe-givers), and a certain informational and political climate that’s usually modeled off of the American one (aggressive, never-ending campaigning in the most extreme ‘perfect’ cases), et al. This type of structure is rife with opportunity for manipulation by foreign (American) forces and non-state (elite, transnational business, etc.) actors, though it also means that positive and benign influences such as multipolar ones could find a way to constructively and legally affect the political process. Furthermore, because of the regularity of elections, the Western Democratic political model provides the US with the chance to routinely cycle out its proxies and “legitimately” work towards regime change in a targeted state by using the described political and informational culture against the ruling authorities. 

    Nowadays, most countries in the world have to one degree or another emulated the Western Democratic model, at least in terms of its regular electoral cycles and indiscriminate enfranchisement. However, what crucially differentiates a country like Russia from that of the UK, for example, is the notable absence of American-influenced political and informational culture. In countries such as Russia where only the broad skeletal form of Western Democracy is evidenced, it can be said that their governments are practicing Sovereign Democracy, or Western Democracy with national characteristics. This type of governing system is the least susceptible of the Western Democracy-influenced models to foreign manipulation, although by its very nature it’s vulnerable to Color Revolutions simply for the fact that there are democratic and preplanned elections that could be marketed as a ‘plausibly deniable’ trigger for these events. In states such as North Korea and Eritrea, the same regime change threat doesn’t exist, although it doesn’t mean that they’re totally immune from other forms of weaponized “people’s power”, either. North Korean society is being infiltrated by illegal and fundamentalist Christian cults that could pose a long-term problem to its internal social cohesion, while Eritrea is being targeted by “Weapons of Mass Migration” with the generous “refugee” incentives that the EU gives in almost all cases to any Eritrean who sets foot on its territory.


    The next factor that should be looked at in seeing whether a state is unipolar or multipolar is the consensus of its elites. In some states, this could be taken to mean the elite in general (political, economic, social, etc.), while in others, depending on their internal situation, one or another category of elites might be all that needs to be examined in order to draw an accurate assessment. The role of the elite is relevant to all nature of political systems and is an important determining factor in every country, although it’s usually difficult to measure. When looking at the political elite, for example, one might be tempted to think that formal allegiance to the ruling party is a sufficient indicator, although more often than not, nominal loyalty is misleading and could easily be affected en mass by a coordinated intelligence campaign aimed at securing key defections (whether inter-party or explicitly international) well in advance of a timed regime change event. In other instances, the elite are divided in accordance to the two-, three-, or four-party system endemic to most manifestations of Western Democracy, thus complicating the exercise for the average observer and requiring the input of relevant experts to make the proper determination. 

    As regards the economic elite, there are times when they can be easily categorized, such as if their trade relations are overwhelmingly with a clear unipolar or multipolar state, but even then, the analysis must take care to incorporate changing trends and the overall trajectory of the country’s economy. If a unipolar-oriented economy is progressively becoming multipolar (usually marked by a spike in bilateral trade and investment with China), then the present economic elite might either be on their way out or in the process of diversifying their holdings to secure their existing position during the structural transition. Some members of the economic elite can be wily and hard to predict, and it might not be possible to learn everything about their identity, economic holdings, the extent of their domestic influence, and other pertinent facts, giving rise to both educated and unsubstantiated speculation most of the time. The author suggests that researchers try to pinpoint a few major economic figures and trace their political connections through open source media research, as this appears to be the only reliable way in gathering information other than consulting with the examined country’s informed nationals. 

    Economic elite usually cooperate with their counterparts but also compete against them, and this information is typically discussed in the mainstream or alternative media, meaning that the completion of a full ‘auditing profile’ on one or another member of the economic elite might predictably open up the doors to learning more about their allies and competitors, thus gradually allowing the investigator to gain a more profound understanding of how these networks function. Through the acquired knowledge, a more accurate determination can be made about the economic elite’s loyalties and the potential that some of them may have in reinforcing the existing status quo or leading a transition. If a major economic figure can be linked to formal or informal (militia, “NGO”, etc.) political groups within the country or even abroad, then this demonstrates that they link together the two categories of elite and are important players that could become directly involved in either regime change or “regime reinforcement”.  Accordingly, this makes it of paramount importance that their loyalty and intentions be ascertained as soon as possible in order to see whether they could become a threat in the event that the US decides to target their host country with Hybrid War. 

    The last elite group that’s most closely related to the subject of focus are the social elite, and these are characteristically represented by musical and cultural icons (oftentimes one and the same). Their influence permeates among the youth and they could eventually play an instrumental role in psychologically preconditioning them to passively or actively support a forthcoming regime change plot. It may not even be intentional on their part – the vast majority of a country’s social elite is usually apolitical but outwardly practices a pro-Western lifestyle – but when the time is right and the Color Revolution is already in motion, many of them opportunistically jump at the first moment to side with the “protesters” by giving them declarative statements of support or even free concerts, all in a bid to increase their prestige among the youth and capitalize off of the free national and international publicity. Depending on how this plays out in practice, it could either be an irrelevant afterthought in the larger regime change sequence or a force multiplying variable that decisively attracts a sizeable proportion of the youth demographic and motivates them to actively take part in the unfolding Color Revolution demonstrations. On the other hand, patriotic social elite and musical/cultural icons could play a very formidable role in helping society resist the Color Revolution attempt by counteracting the organizers’ demagogical appeal that it’s “cool” and “inevitable”. In most cases, it’s very easy to tell whether a member of the social elite is pro-unipolar or patriotically multipolar, though this could of course change as the regime change scenario progresses. 


    The final part of the trifecta is the role and influence of the military in affecting national affairs. As a general rule of thumb, the closer that a country adheres to the Western Democratic model, the less likely it is that their respective military is much of a factor in the national equation, but the reverse also holds true as well. For example, the Norwegian military has close to no influence over national policy and could not realistically be used as an important determinant in assessing whether the state is unipolar or multipolar, but the armed forces of Vietnam are much more relevant in this case due to that given country having a completely different political system. In some governing models, the loyalty of the military might not always correspond to that of the political and economic elites, in which instance a military coup (whether overt or covert) is possible with the proper behind-the-scenes intelligence support. If the military is de-facto the most important force within the country even though this isn’t legally recognized within the state’s constitution, then the odds only increase that this could occur, and a shining example of this is the 1965 stealth military coup that essentially displaced Indonesia’s non-aligned Sukarno from that time on. 

    Like the other two related factors in the trifecta, it can be difficult to assess the role of the military in some of the examined states, although history and an astute reading of the present situation can point researchers in the right direction. Sometimes it’s the case that the military has always been an important player in the national scene, whereas in others it’s been sidelined due to time and negative historical experiences. In some, the military might unexpectedly reveal itself to be an influencing player only after certain events transpire, leading one to ‘reverse-engineer’ how it came to be the case that this institution somewhat abruptly and clandestinely came to the forefront of national affairs. It seems to be the trend that the US and its unipolar allies regularly try to tinker with military loyalty of their relatively lesser-Western Democratic targets, but that these victimized states are unable to do the same back to them owing to the structural differences between the two and the vastly different role that the military plays in the unipolar aggressor nation’s society. That being said, in the cases where unipolar states co-opt “partners” that noticeably practice less of a Western Democratic standard and whose militaries occupy a more substantial role in their national affairs (which is common in African states, for example), then it’s definitely possible for this tactic to be reversed against them in re-flipping the examined state returning it to its multipolar nature. 

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