Tunsjø, Øystein (2018) The Return of Bipolarity in World Politics: China, the United States, and Geostructural Realism. New York: Columbia University Press, xi+271 pp., index.

​​ISBN: 978-0-231-17654-5

Pavel K Baev

Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

Read more about this book: cup.columbia.edu

​This compact book is a result of many years of research on the theme that might appear over-theorized and investigated in all minutiae of consequence. Yet, the author develops a fresh theoretical perspective and convincingly shows its applicability. The first half of the slim volume establishes the proposition that the world system has indeed progressed from the short-lived unipolarity to bi-polarity, and not too much-anticipated multi-polarity. This US-China bi-polarity is significantly different from the US-USSR bi-polarity of the Cold War era, particularly as the main interface is in the Asia-Pacific and not in Europe. The examination of this difference requires an enrichment of the neorealist model with a geopolitical perspective, and the author defines this theoretical approach as ‘geostructural realism’ (pp. 13–17). This theoretical innovation makes it possible to explain the striking dissimilarity between the two bi-polar systems: the first one saw strong balancing behavior of key state-actors, relative stability on the main theatre, and many proxy conflicts in the periphery; the second one features ambiguous balancing, higher instability in the main interface, and low tensions in such regions as Africa or Latin America. These characteristics of the new bi-polarity are scrutinized in the second part of the book, which leaves aside such impacts as economic interdependence and focuses on the fact that the USA and China ‘are confronting each other at sea, not on land’ (p. 182). Perhaps the most worrisome conclusion is that the probability of a limited war in the East Asia is high and growing. The logic behind this prediction is impeccable, but a reader is left with hope that it will be proven wrong.