© 2017

Polarity, Balance of Power and International Relations Theory

Post-Cold War and the 19th Century Compared


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xi
  2. Polarity, Neorealism and its Problems

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 1-1
    2. Goedele De Keersmaeker
      Pages 11-46
  3. Polarity in the Cold War, the 19th Century and Today

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 47-47
    2. Goedele De Keersmaeker
      Pages 49-65
    3. Goedele De Keersmaeker
      Pages 67-110
    4. Goedele De Keersmaeker
      Pages 111-150
  4. Nineteenth-Century Balance of Power and Twenty-First-Century Multipolarity

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 151-151
    2. Goedele De Keersmaeker
      Pages 153-185
    3. Goedele De Keersmaeker
      Pages 187-207
    4. Goedele De Keersmaeker
      Pages 209-228
  5. Conclusions

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 229-229
    2. Goedele De Keersmaeker
      Pages 231-241
  6. Back Matter
    Pages 243-247

About this book


The book discusses the rise of polarity as a key concept in International Relations Theory. Since the end of the Cold War, until at least the end of 2010, there has been a wide consensus shared by American academics, political commentators and policy makers: the world was unipolar and would remain so for some time. By contrast, outside the US, a multipolar interpretation prevailed. This volume explores this contradiction and questions the Neorealist claim that polarity is the central structuring element of the international system. Here, the author analyses different historic eras through a polarity lens, compares the way polarity is used in the French and US public discourses, and through careful examination, reaches the conclusion that polarity terminology as a theoretical concept is highly influenced by the Cold War context in which it emerged. The book is an important resource for students and researchers with a critical approach to Neorealism, and to those interested in the defining shifts the world went through during the last twenty five years.


Polarity International 19th Century Neorealism Unipolarity Multipolarity American French Foreign Policy Polarity Configuration Neorealist School Balance of Power Post-Cold War

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

About the authors

Goedele De Keersmaeker is a researcher at the Ghent Institute of International Studies (GIIS). She is a former director of the International Peace Information Service (Antwerp) and of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (Prague). Goedele has a vast experience of educational writing on international relations and security, with particular research interests in a historical approach to international relations. 

Bibliographic information