International Law in a Multipolar World

By Charles Camp And Theresa Bowman

From a bipolar world marked by the Cold War between the two major powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, to a decade largely dominated by the United States, the international system now appears to have drifted into a multipolar world crowded with state and non-state actors. This article gives a historical perspective of how the recognition and administration of international law responds to changes in the global power structure.


“We will lead by inducing greater cooperating among a greater number of actors and reducing competition, tilting the balance away from a multi-polar world and toward a multi-partner world.”
– Hilary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State


LegacyWhether it is termed “multipolar” or “multipartner,” the current global field of international political and economic influence has long ceased to orbit around a Washington, D.C. address. In the decade after the Cold War, the United States enjoyed a unity of political and economic global vision with its allies so pervasive as to be described as a unipolar, American global hegemony. By contrast, the present world’s crowded cast of state and non-state actors exerts influence in unexpected ways that redefine concepts of warfare and state intervention.

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