This Time Its Real: The End of Unipolarity and the Pax Americana Academic Article uri icon


  • Before the Great Recession's foreshocks in fall 2007, most American security studies scholars believed that unipolarity-and perforce American hegemony-would be enduring features of international politics far into the future. However, in the Great Recession's aftermath, it is apparent that much has changed since 2007. Predictions of continuing unipolarity have been superseded by premonitions of American decline and geopolitical transformation. The Great Recession has had a two-fold impact. First, it highlighted the shift of global wealth-and power-from West to East, a trend illustrated by China's breathtakingly rapid rise to great power status. Second, it has raised doubts about the robustness of US primacy's economic and financial underpinnings. This article argues that the Aunipolar moment is over, and the Pax Americana-the era of American ascendancy in international politics that began in 1945-is fast winding down. This article challenges the conventional wisdom among International Relations/Security Studies scholars on three counts. First, it shows that contrary to the claims of unipolar stability theorists, the distribution of power in the international system no longer is unipolar. Second, this article revisits the 1980s' debate about American decline and demonstrates that the Great Recession has vindicated the so-called declinists of that decade. Finally, this article takes on the Ainstitutional lock-in argument, which holds that by strengthening the Pax Americana's legacy institutions, the United States can perpetuate the essential elements of the international order it constructed following World War II even as the material foundations of American primacy erode. 2012 International Studies Association.

published proceedings

  • International Studies Quarterly

altmetric score

  • 26.43

author list (cited authors)

  • Layne, C.

citation count

  • 153

complete list of authors

  • Layne, Christopher

publication date

  • March 2012