The Global Power Imbalance

EDITORIAL, 29 Aug 2016

#444 | Johan Galtung

Dear Reader: This editorial 444–the number calls for attention–is dedicated to a global overview, the world “right now”, so unstable with imbalances everywhere that what we are living is fluxes and jumps.

Let us start with two major relations: nature-human, USA-Rest.

Look at the human-nature relations.  We are used to being on top, killing and taming animals, protected against many of nature’s hazards including micro-organisms. But nature comes up with ever smaller viri, and larger, or more, tsunamis and earthquakes, and an erratic climate. We oscillate between blaming ourselves, including military scheming, and the anthropomorphic “Mother Nature is angry” (Evo Morales).  If nature is angry, she has good reasons for a good riddance of us. And we are slow at a deeper human-nature relations respecting and enhancing both.

Nature is on top and our natural sciences are simply not good enough, taken by surprise all the time.  Meteorology is good at covering the whole Beaufort wind range from 0-12; others not.  Maybe we have desouled nature and besouled ourselves too much to establish our own Herrschaft (rule, dominance), at the expense of Partnerschaft (partnership).  Unless this changes, imbalance with nature on top, and surprises, will continue.

Maybe the opposite holds for the US-Rest imbalance; that US exceptionalism serves USA as badly as humans above nature serves us?

This author, in 1976, compared the decline and fall of the Roman Empire to a possible decline and fall of the West in general and the US Empire in particular, based on the synergy of uni-causal paradigms.  Rome considered itself exceptional and invincible by barbarians, but the counterforces were tearing at them; and they lived on past glory. Clinton, straight from the past with some domestic renewal, will enact that past; any realistic assessment being close to treason. There are elements of the latter in Trump, but he lives in his own bubble, insensitive to the context on which he depends. 60-40 for Clinton?

What happens then?  A continuation of the USA on a collision course with three of the other seven big powers in the world.  With Russia over Ukraine; with China over “everything but China” TPP, and navy navigation rights in the South China Sea; with Islam over the Islamic State, to be eliminated before it is understood.  The USA says this is with Putin-Xi-IS, grossly underestimating how representative they are.

The relation with the other four is not too good either: with major powers Germany and France in EU-NATO over Ukraine; the USA still unable to treat African and Latin American-Caribbean unification with dignity, and on equal terms, and to handle India’s many ambiguities. They think they have Japan–not among the 8 Big–in the pocket with “collective self-defense”, but may underestimate Abe’s ambiguities.

We mentioned a human tendency to desoul nature and besoul humans. There is a similar US tendency to see others as objects to be handled by the only true subject, the USA.  The objects, all seven, now enter subject-hood with their own goals and ways of pursuing them.  Some of the ends and means may be incompatible with those of the US; spelling conflicts.  However, rather than solving those conflicts creatively the USA may turn these subjects in ultimate object-hood, bombing that recalcitrant thing into the Stone Age (from which they then emerge).

This will not work.  The US-topped pyramid will tumble down, and in the debris at the bottom USA will find itself on more equal terms. There will be massive US resistance, already visible, and few allies will sign up on the US side. The most likely are those of the same evangelical faith, Denmark and Norway, bombing Libya, contributing the latest (last?) NATO Secretaries General. The world as a whole, more afraid of USA than others, is sick and tired of the whole thing. The balance there once was, like for the Roman Empire, has smoldered away, a victim of massive abuse and living in the past. Clinton will speed this up, leaving for the 2020 president to create a new reality.

But there are more imbalances.  Inside EU, Germany is now on top of a pyramid, realizing a German goal from two “world” wars in Europe.  This is not what the others want: if EU, then equality. Germany will come tumbling down too; Volkswagen with all its tricks contributing.  Much German technical magic, like the US political magic, is gone. Other members can also make cars and things, flattening the pyramid.

Still more imbalances and a rather major one: Europe vs Eurasia, Europe in the old sense of EU and some more vs Eurasia with not only Russia and former Soviet republics, Caucasian, “stans”, but with China and potentially the rest of Islam, Mongolia–and Turkey in the middle. Middle?  A US NATO ally fighting the Kurds, another US ally, in Syria; and turning to Russia for good neighbor relations in spite of history. How successfully, we shall see; the shadows of history are deep indeed.

1600+ years have split Orthodox and Catholic Europe, with a power balance to Russia abused by a Napoleon, a Hitler. Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill bridging deepens the split to the Evangelicals and strengthens Eurasia. The old “balance” may yield to a European House.

Still more.  The relation of Russia to Eastern Europe took the shape of a power balance with the latter enrolled in NATO and EU.  The relation of Russia to China became SCO against US encirclement; NATO vs a Warsaw Pact moved 10,000 Km to the east and very much stronger. Is Russia able to persuade Eastern Europe not to be afraid of Russia, that Crimea-Ukraine was special? Is China able to persuade Russia not to be afraid of Chinese farmers moving into former Chinese territory?

What we see all over is “power balance” based on force on both sides yielding to imbalance because one is smoldering, or yielding to peace, meaning a balance based on good things flowing.  In short, what we see globally is not power balance but power imbalance that can lead to war “before it is too late”, to passive coexistence, or to active coexistence, peace.  Very, very dynamic indeed.  No stability.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 29 Aug 2016.

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9 Responses to “The Global Power Imbalance”

  1. Thomas Krogh says:

    The “funny” thing is Galtung’s inability to confront his own limitations. His own bubble.

    The fact that the actions he (has to) semi-support and “explain” – The Russian war crimes in Crimea and the Chinese aggression at sea – are among the very reasons his prognosis collapses.

    Landsbergis’ recent observations and analysis come across as being much more rooted in realities and in a much deeper understanding of the East than Galtung’s. Perhaps because he actually understands the dynamics and challenges.

    Now that the BRICS mirage has collapsed, the bolivarian revolution burned out in a orgy of violence and economic mis-management, the economic and ecological consequences of the Chinese unbalanced boom becomes obvious and the US’ stronghold in research, innovation and development is more evident the ever, the Galtung’s of this world should have the guts and honesty to look outside their bubbles.

    But I will predict that they would rather delete critical comments than ever admit any kind og errors… :-)

    • So long as you keep your comments civil without attacks ad-hominem I will allow you to participate, krogh. In you next ad-hominem–you took another bite here–you are gone again. Persona non grata in this site, for the whole world to know, it is not a secret or conspiracy theory. You are not welcome here. Capiche? I hope so. :(

      Not censorship, just keeping the house clean from undesirables. Even though your kind attract traffic to the website.

      Internet Troll: A person, usually operating under a pseudonym, who posts deliberately provocative messages to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of provoking maximum disruption and argument. They are often paid by nefarious sources but sometime are motivated to do so for their own amusement. They often try to provoke dissension and doubt by writing dis-informational comments to the editor and/or other participants in a given discussion.

      • Thomas Krogh says:


        So you require me to keep of ad-hominen, but proceed to troll me? ;-)

        Ah well, I’ll let it pass. For now.

        But let’s return to the issue at hand. What is your own opinion on the narrative? Galtung’s US vs Putin-Xi-IS monochrome storytelling is melting away under the harsh sun of realities. Why is that? Perhaps because it never was.

        Take Syria. IS was – and is – a reaction to 40 years of disasterous Syrian interal politics. Politics that was – whole- or half-heartedly – supported by Soviet-to-become-Russia and Iran. A disaster waiting to happen. It is slowly dawning on Russia that this paricular war is a quagmire. Just as the Pashtun red dust was a generation ago. It the Iranians are also learning this now. With the – not altogether unepxected – result that the Moscow-Teheran axis is aching. Now throw in Erdogan that, while with one hand tries to mend the Russian alliance, attacks the Kurds. Not IS. Which – of course – manages to irritate Moscow yet again, while strengthening the Kurd-US ties.

        What happened to Galtungs monochrome? Yes, the heat of Syria’s realities melted it.

        Take Ukraine. Landbergis – one of the fathers of the Baltics, with an – often – very direct critique of the US. What happened there? He came around and is now warning against the increasingly aggressive and unhinged Russian behavior. A behavior that is creating fault lines between Russia and basically the rest of Europe. What happend to Galtung’s “European House” with Russia as a part? Again – melted away in the harsh heat of realities.

        Take China. The South Sea aggression has turned China’s neighbors against Beijing. Not against the US. Again the harsh heat of realities has melted Galtung’s monochrome.

        Yet, Galtung is right. Somebody is indeed looking at the fault lines and “grossly underestimating how representative they are.” But the faultlines – the monochrome – is so very different from what Galtung thinks. The conflicts are much more complicated – and much less “US vs XYZ” – than the Galtung Narrative claims.

  2. Gary Corseri says:

    The trolls may bark up their little trees and derive what small satisfaction they can from such; personally, I found Professor Galtung’s overview of our contemporary world’s crises arresting, probing, alarming with good cause, and, we hope, inspiriting deeper, critical thought and more productive and creative actions.

    Dr. Galtung’s major theme is that our world is out-of-balance in various ways. It is a general problem with Empires, and our stretching, “global” empire has pretty much run its course. Empires over-reach–just as Rome did a couple of millennia ago. While there is a early-phase period of fecund growth, there seems to be no end in sight. Rome controlled the Mediterranean, Gaul, Britain, stretched into Egypt and would have kept stretching, but at some point, one of the incontrovertible laws of Nature and Physics–entropy–takes over. Empires have “over-reach,” humans have hubris. And both run out of steam!

    Galtung’s breadth of knowledge of history and “natural laws” is matched only by the wide-angle lens with which he views our current maladies and challenges. In so many areas–geo-political, natural and spiritual–we find our world in wild flux, transforming before our eyes… into–what? We cannot be sure! (Even positivism can land us in quicksand!) We must proceed with caution, even with humility, as we search ourselves and formidable minds past and present for our best understanding. We must attune ourselves, too, to what Ptolemy called “the music of the spheres,” for that, too, is at work now, as it has always been, in our galaxy–whirling like a pinwheel in the hand of the Infinite and Eternal.

  3. Leejah Singh says:


    I think J Galtung’s world view is a bit more nuanced than that. Yes, he is focussing on a set of imbalances revolving around the US. But as the US IS the Worlds sole super power and as it is difficult to argue that US is NOT on a confrontational course with both Russia AND China, that focus is hardly neither controversial nor wrong.

    That said I do think that you have a point with regard to two other issues. The Syrian tragedy with IS/Daesh thrown in, is as complicated as it is horrible and the USDaesh confront is much less obvious here. I also think that while I agree with J Galtung that “US exceptionalism” serves neither the US nor the rest of the world, his vision of a “The US-topped pyramid” tumbling down is unlikely to materialize any time soon.

    My own prognosis is a bipolar system with major major player USChina as the axis and minor major players as India, Russia, EU, Brazil, Japan positioning themselves along the axis. None of the minor major players want a US-dominated world, nor do they want a China-dominated world or economy.


  4. Farhang Jahanpour says:

    As usual, Dr Gatlung throws his net wide and provides a global overview, which is refreshing but which also involves some oversimplifications. However, his basic argument that the world is out of joints and suffers from the imbalance of power is absolutely correct and needs to be addressed.
    America has been a great, enterprising civilization that has given many positive things to the world, not least the concepts of freedom, equality and free speech. However, no country is qualified to rule the world. The world has become too complex for any one country or civilization to rule it. Recent election primaries in the United States have certainly shown that the United States lacks the moral and intellectual compass to lead the rest of mankind. If America is the leader of the free world, the free world is very badly led.
    To say that Europe, Russia, China, the Middle East and the rest of the world should not live in a unipolar world under US hegemony is not anti-American. In the long run this will also save America from the inevitable collapse of any empire that is overstretched that Dr Gatlung predicts. The answer is not either a unipolar world or anti-Americanism. The answer is to realise what was the main aim behind the establishment of the United Nations, namely that all countries of the world with their own diverse cultures and political institutions should live in harmony as equal members under the rule of international law, not under the rule of the country with the biggest military-industrial complex.

  5. Per-Stian says:

    One of the reasons I like to read Galtung’s comments is that, having and living in different parts of the world, he has a different perspective and is more well-informed than most others. It’s refreshing, and invites further reading and knowledge.

    We are very familiar with trolls up here in Norway, but I’ll just ignore the usual one and focus on more important matters.

    However, instead of writing a wall of text, that most here will know anyway, since Galtung talks about nature in this article, I’ll just mention an ironic fact of the society we live in. Out in our streets there are “Do no litter” signs, and bins on practically every corner. Then you have the oil and gas industry, industry more generally… For them, Nature is the bin.


    • Gary Corseri says:

      To answer your last question– No, not FAIR at all!

      But, your comment here is “fair and balanced,” succinct and to the point. I, for one, totally agree with you, Leejah and Farhang that Dr. Galtung’s varied background, deep questioning and global perspective–past and present–invite us all (not only in his writing here, but in the work presented through TMS) to delve for truth and meaning under the mass delusions and the passing side shows.