Event Summary: ‘Without a Captain at the Helm: Statecraft in a Multipolar World’


This is a summary of an event with Dr. Charles Kupchan, Professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University and Whitney H. Shepardson Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, on 23 January 2014; it reflects the views expressed by the speaker, not those of The Henry Jackson Society or its staff.

To view a full transcript of this event, click here


Dr. Charles Kupchan argued that the emergence of other global powers is bringing an end to a long period of Western Anglo-Saxon dominance and leadership, around which the current global order was built and maintained. In the scenario of a global order without a dominant ‘Captain at the Helm’, Dr. Kupchan sought to provide ideas as to how a peaceful transition could be made into a structured, multipolar world in which vying powers share responsibility on global issues and agree on fundamental human rights and freedoms. Dr. Kupchan urged domestic political and social revitalisation, open discussion with emerging powers and a focus on specific issue resolution.



  • For the last two hundred years the world has been dominated by a Western, and specifically an Anglo-Saxon, form of power – first in the shape of Pax Britannica and then Pax Americana. The current world order developed under that dominance and was anchored by it;
  • While multiple centres of power existed prior to the era of Western dominance, limited direct interaction or interdependence meant the issue of issue of global governance was not significant;
  • The transition from Pax Britannica to Pax Americana was uniquely peaceful because power passed between two states with a similar political, philosophical and economic outlook.


Emergence and divergence:

  • During the twentieth century and into the twenty-first , North America, Europe and Japan commanded held about 70% of global wealth; now these ‘Atlantic democracies’ command less than half (48%) and their share is set to decline;
  • As other powers, China in particular and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), grow in stature, they will likely challenge to dominant Western-made order. Many will naturally want to project their own values and pursue their interests on the world stage;
  • The current normative order – the ‘Atlantic’ order – will not disappear; rather it will be forced to coexist with other systems, including state capitalism, political Islam and the form of social-democratic capitalism seen in Brazil, for example. The rules for international and domestic governance will inevitably come from within this mix, but there is no certainty over where;
  • The rise of developing powers is also juxtaposed by Western economic stagnation and political infighting, characterised by political polarisation and a return to ideological cleavages. Moreover, as income divisions have grown, society has lost its dynamism and citizens have lost belief in the economic and social model that underpinned their cultures.


Navigating a new world order:

  • The West must first resolve its internal political problems and lack of self-belief before its model can stand up effectively against others when necessary;
  • The West, and most importantly the United States, no longer accepts the role of global guarantor of order and the duty must be shared with others. The West, China and other developing powers need open discussion as to how to share collective responsibility;
  • The fundamental tenets of global order – rules about legitimacy and democracy; about human rights; about intervention; about sovereignty – should be re-affirmed. A mutual understanding of terms needs to be reached with others who do not necessarily share Western values;
  • The gap between the supply of global governance and the demand for global governance is increasing. In response, the international community should focus less on form, how world order and institutions will look, for example, and more on substance. Pressing issues such as nuclear proliferation, climate change or global financial stability need collective answers.

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