The fate of the unipolar world

When my friends and I welcomed the new decade alongside the intermittent crashing of waves on the delectable shores of Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, we took a moment to predict what the 2020s would herald for our own lives and the potential events that might shape up the world in the years immediately ahead. Besides a few very predictable hits along the lines of “graduating” and “running it back the following New Year’s Eve,” most of our predictions fell flat and are probably resoundingly laughable at this point in time. Surprisingly enough, the only major one we managed to hit on the nail was the high possibility that we’d finish college in the midst of a recession, or at the very least teetering close to one. 

Predicting the world to come is no easy task and no one can do so with total absolute certainty, but a recurring theme regarding the future seems to arise more frequently as the nature of the global world order breaks the mold cast by the circumstances of the end of the Cold War: the end of the “unipolar world.” When the Soviet Union collapsed in the final days of 1991, the United States emerged as the world’s sole superpower. The bipolarity that had defined the international stage for nearly five decades gave way to American unipolarity. Thanks to the country’s vast network of international alliances and bilateral partnerships, the United States found itself in a position of primacy, where the defense of her interests could go virtually unchallenged. It was the perfect storm for the United States to cement herself as the most powerful country in the world, as a mass transition towards democracy in the developing world returned governments that were much more akin to allying themselves with Uncle Sam and checking as many items off America’s wishlist as they could: trade liberalization, privatization, free and fair elections and easier paths for foreign direct investment.

Up until this year, I had never heard of this concept, but became invested in it after it became one of the President of Russia’s favorite topics to spew vitriol against since the start of the Russo-Ukrainian War back in February. Throughout many of his speeches, especially those directly related to the ongoing war, President Putin has repeatedly stated his wishes for the world to do away with American unipolarity. Back in August, he asserted that the current unipolar model, which he considers obsolete, will be superseded by a new world order. Last week, he blasted the West, saying it was doomed and promised “a liberation anti-colonial movement against unipolar hegemony.” Beyond the propagandistic value of his statements, made to assuage domestic concerns regarding Russia’s underperforming military, does Putin make a valid point regarding receding American influence? 

To an extent, America’s standing on the world stage is not the same as it was in the recent past. Russia’s desire to hold former Soviet republics in a tight clutch, combined with China’s aggressive push to extend its influence into the developing world through both hard and soft power definitely weakens unipolarity, as it creates additional bands of nations that seek to act on a different set of interests than Washington’s. All that is predictable, as Russia and China have never been on the best of terms with the United States. However, what about the rest of the world, where the United States sways sizable influence? As other countries grow and consolidate their power, they naturally become more confident in moving forward as they see fit. This means the United States has to put more effort in maintaining its friends worldwide.

Within Latin America alone, countries beyond those perennially conflicted with the United States are now more willing to buck the American line. Mexico, which had been a relatively loyal companion to the United States in its preceding four administrations, now takes a significantly more independent path under President Lopez Obrador, often finding itself at odds with the approach Washington wished it took. For instance, since taking office in 2018, his government has pursued several economic and drug policies that directly counter American interests. The same can be said of other Latin American governments like Brazil, Guatemala, El Salvador and Peru, which have shown a higher willingness to go their own way. The recent election of left of center administrations that highly pride their sovereignty will definitely test the United States’ ability to retain good relations with a part of the world that has remained within her sphere of influence for multiple decades now.

A world away, the United States also has to face challenges with its European and Asian allies, as the election of more nationalistic governments in Europe creates uncomfortable tensions and leaders like newly elected Filipino president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. attempt to pull off a balancing act and draw closer to both Beijing and Washington. Although the United States has a long list of domestic concerns that need to be urgently addressed, it cannot let foreign policy fade into a secondary concern. It is important that the sovereignty of nations be respected, but the multipolar world Russia so eagerly awaits is one where liberal democracies lie on one end, and authoritarian regimes coalesce around the others. The world is shifting and the United States needs to learn to shift with it, lest President Putin’s wish be granted. Now, more than ever, the United States needs to find ways to remain at the forefront of the promotion of values considered indispensable to a proper society like freedom, democracy and the rule of law. It may be time for the United States to return to the drawing board and rethink the way it guarantees its place in the world, but it cannot by virtue of stronger rivals abandon one of its raisons d’être. The circumstances may change, as change is the only constant in life, but for the United States to accept a fate prescribed by its adversaries and quietly shepherd itself into a managed decline would be the ultimate act of betrayal to the values hundreds of millions hold close to heart, and enable authoritarianism to flourish unchecked.

Pablo Lacayo is a senior at Notre Dame, majoring in finance while minoring in Chinese. He enjoys discussing current affairs, giving out bowl plates at the dining hall, walking around the lakes and karaoke. You can reach him at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.


‘It’s not over’: Ukrainians, professors shed light on ongoing conflict in Ukraine

Co-president of the Ukrainian Society at Notre Dame and senior Maryna Chuma stated in simple terms what she feels Notre Dame students should know about the war in Ukraine.

“It’s not over,” she said.

The Ukrainian Society was initially founded in order to celebrate Ukrainian culture on campus, but since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, it has shifted its focus toward advocacy and spreading awareness about the war. About a week after the six-month anniversary of the invasion, Chuma said the war continues to have a major impact.

“It’s still very real for the Ukrainian people and for the allies around the world,” she said. 

On Wednesday, the Nanovic Institute hosted a flash panel focusing on the current state of affairs in Ukraine as told by eyewitnesses. Multiple panelists stressed that the war is still ongoing and continues to upend the lives of the Ukrainian people. 

Panelist Dmytro Sherengovsky, a vice-rector at the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU), spoke about how life in Ukraine has become increasingly uncertain as a result of the war. Sherengovsky said he has stopped planning more than a year in advance for UCU because he does not know what the country will look like in a year.

Despite the uncertainty, he said Ukrainians continue to hold out hope that they can win the war and rebuild a more fair and successful state.

“Nevertheless, Ukrainians are dreaming about the future,” he said.

As the war has raged on, countries including the U.S. have imposed economic sanctions on Russia. Notre Dame international affairs professor A. James McAdams said the Russian economy has managed to withstand the sanctions thus far.

“Russians have been very shrewd at how they’ve managed them to an extent they managed before this particular invasion of Ukraine. They clearly took into account the possibility of some sanctions and protected themselves ahead of time,” McAdams said. 

Certain American cultural staples, such as McDonald’s, have left Russia in response to the invasion. McAdams is doubtful this gesture will do anything to change Russian sentiments. 

“Russia is a very different place without McDonald’s and other companies, but I think to focus on something like that has to miss the fact that most Russians are squarely behind this conflict,” he said.

Although the sanctions have thus far failed to make a major impact on Russia, McAdams said the military aid sent to Ukraine by the U.S. and other nations has proven to be effective. He said the support the U.S. and other allies have provided has allowed Ukrainians to keep fighting and, in some cases, even regain territory.

Ukrainian Society officer and sophomore Marko Gural explained the role military aid, especially rocket systems and missiles, have played in slowing the Russian offensive and allowing Ukrainian forces to regain territory. 

“Ukraine started to gain lots of rocket systems and military weapons from the United States for the most part, but also from other European allies. What this has done is first of all, obviously, it’s hurt the Russians in frontline position, but it’s also allowed the Ukrainians to launch some rockets into Russian territory or Russian controlled territory,” Gural said. 

Gural noted that Russian forces were stalled, but he finds it unlikely there will be a swift end to the war. 

“It does seem like the Ukrainians might be trying to push forward again,” he said. “It doesn’t really seem like peace talks are anywhere close to even starting.”

The media devoting less coverage to the war in Ukraine is a cause for concern, Gural said. 

“I think probably personally, for me, the most troubling thing over the past couple of months has been seeing that internet mentions or internet searches, in particular, have gone down concerning the war,” he said. 

Chuma also expressed frustration with the change in media coverage. 

“It is very frustrating, as someone [who is] part of the Ukrainian diaspora, to see the headline kind of getting lost among other headlines,” she said. 


ND AAHD majors display “Ongoing Matter” exhibit on the Mueller Report

“Ongoing Matter: Democracy, Design and the Mueller Report” is a project created to educate and help people interact with the information presented in the “Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election”, also known as the Mueller Report.

The exhibit is presented by the department of art, art history and design (AAHD) and was designed by co-creators Anne Berry and Sarah Martin. The project is on display in the AAHD Gallery in 214 Riley Hall until Sept. 29. 

The Mueller Report was published in 2019. The report documents the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election and allegations of Donald Trump’s campaign coordinating with Russia to undermine the election. 

Berry, an associate professor at Cleveland State University, said the goal of the exhibit is to make the Mueller Report more digestible for the general public.

“The objective [of the project] was to take sections of the Mueller report and make it easier to understand for a general audience through the medium that we are most familiar with, which is graphic design,” Berry said.

Another goal was for the exhibit to be collaborative. Berry said she and Martin, who is an assistant professor at the University, reached out to their design friends and had a group of designers come together to talk about the report. The group responded to the prompt by making posters, she said. 

Jessica Barness, one of the designers featured in the exhibit noted that the exhibit is a more effective form of communion.

“Through visual communication, designers can convey meaning in ways that words alone cannot,” she said in an email. “‘Ongoing Matter’ leverages the power of posters and draws upon histories of political and social issue posters.”

Another designer, Andre Murnieks remarked that he enjoyed their artists’ use of posters.

“Posters are a good medium to get a message out about something important and timely,” he said.

Berry, exhibit co-creator and an assistant professor at Cleveland State University, said the goal of the exhibit is to make the Mueller Report more digestible for the general public. Photo by Caroline Collins.

Murnieks said the biggest challenge he faced during the design process was encapsulating all of the information from the report into a few posters. Murnieks’ poster is based on a handwritten letter that was included in the Mueller Report.

“The letter is being decoded as you look at the poster,” he said.

According to Martin, the Mueller Report failed to communicate information effectively, and she hopes the art installation will help people engage with the material presented in the report in a more delightful way. 

“It’s tantalizing, it’s enticing, it’s visual, it’s the exact opposite of what the report was. The augmented reality is meant to delight a viewer, it’s meant to engage someone in a report that’s dry and dense,” Martin said. “The goal is to have people engage verbatim with the language of the report.”

Martin further explained that the report was a design failure because it was 448 pages long, 12 point Times New Roman font, contained legal jargon that would be unfamiliar to the general reader and the original report was later redacted. 

“A bad design can shape the future. It can change how people think about things and respond to things,” Martin said.

The exhibit is meant for everyone and it is a nonpartisan, grassroots design initiative aimed at encouraging people to engage with the government, Martin said. 

Berry explained that there was a public interest and media frenzy surrounding the report. She also stated the exhibit is an investigation of how information is presented and interpreted and serves as “an investigation about design and design solutions.”

“The content is political, but our approach has been an investigation of the imagery and the language of what’s buried in the report,” Berry said. “We are trying to emphasize that this is a case study about how important information is being communicated. The larger issue is how government entities communicate information.”