October 27, 2008





    Responding to Cui Jian-shu’s 

“Cyclical Logic in the Transition of Hegemony:




                     George Modelski







1.   Four questions for long cycle theory

          Is leadership needed in the world system?

          Would the future international system transition conform to

                    a global war model?

          Is international power necessarily sea power?

          Does the global political system evolve cyclically or spirally?

2.  China’s peaceful rise, and Long cycle theory  

           Assessing China’s rise

          Strategic options

          Long cycle theory’s predictive function

          In closing




Responding at length to this well-documented analysis and critique of the “long cycles” research program is a worthwhile task because it allows us to review a number of important issues.   But we need to observe right from the start that the title Cui Jian-shu, the author, chose for his paper: “Cyclical Logic in the Transition of Hegemony” is itself the first weakness of that recent contribution to World Economics and Politics (Beijing).*   


For the theory of long cycles is in fact neither a study in cyclical logic nor is it an exposition of “hegemony”.   It is a field of research in world politics that pinpoints periodic regularities in the working of the global political system over the last half millennium.  These regularities form a repetitive beat, ultimately attributable to the coming and going of generations that activates and the beat carries a system-building, evolutionary, process.   Nor is that program to be confused with the theory of hegemonic stability or other accounts of hegemonic transition, as is evident in the table that Cui Jian-shu reproduces but then ignores, claiming that the use of terms such as global leadership is nothing but an (American) attempt to conceal a hegemonic design.


The author of “Cyclical logic…” organizes his discussion as answers to four questions, dealing respectively with leadership and hegemony, global war, sea power, and evolutionary logic.   These are good questions, and the present response will follow the same order, and review each one of them in turn.   Rounding up this debate we shall ask how long cycle theory illuminates the prospects for China’s “peaceful development”, and what are the grounds for respecting its predictive capacity.



                  1.   Four questions for long cycle theory


Is leadership needed in the world political system?


That is the first, and most important question asked by Cui Jian-shu, and his own answer is clear:   The world’s political system does not need leadership because, he argues, it is an anarchy of independent states [1]    For him moreover, there is no difference between leadership, as understood in long cycle theory, and hegemony, as used in hegemonic stability theory (now largely abandoned), or as understood in common parlance going back to the classics.   That is why he maintains that “an international system free from hegemony is indispensable to independence, variety, and effective competition”, and that is why he claims that “an attempt to dominate the international system by a world power” will fail.   The attempt to make  hegemony look benign by resort to the concept of “public goods’ created by it is no more than a sham, he claims.   Leadership, in this context, is for him nothing but hegemony, and that means domination and exploitation.   This raises two questions for examination:  does the world system need global political organization, and is leadership the best form of such organization?


In response, consider first the matter of terminology of this debate.  The concept used in all recent long cycle work is global leadership.  It connotes leadership that arises in response to global problems: those that concern the world system as a whole, such as global security, world trade, and inter-continental exchanges more broadly.   It needs to be construed narrowly, and it is not intended to suggest omnipotence, or to stand for armed intervention in national and other ‘domestic affairs’.   Global leadership is not to be used interchangeably with  “world leadership”, a term used in the early 1980ies, but since discontinued, following the publication, in 1988, of Documenting Global Leadership[2].


Second, the global political system is not (as some other scholars also maintain) anarchic, that is in a state of lawlessness, or absence of authority or lack of governance.  It is not a world government, but it certainly is a system that has been evolving, in the modern era, toward a degree of political organization that is substantial but still leaves much to be accomplished.   Since about 1500, the main thrust of global-system building has been in the work of a succession of world powers exercising “global leadership”:  Portugal, the Dutch Republic, Britain, and the United States.   They did provide, in successive cycles, and in a competitive environment, the kernel of system- building, on which their successors built increasingly efficacious global arrangements.  As precursors, Portugal, and the Dutch Republic, laid the groundwork that Britain and United States perfected; to the latter two the term “hegemonic” has sometimes been applied but that practice ignores the evolutionary process involved, and the way in which it represented a cumulation of the experience of several centuries of the modern era.   Product of a system of competition that selected them in preference to their imperial adversaries, they provided the early, and legitimate, authority structure built primarily on the foundation of treaties and peace settlements that are now fully documented in [2].


Third, a system whose human population has multiplied at least 25-fold between 1000 and 2000 would be expected to develop new forms of global organization, arranged in a federalist-type, multiple-level format, providing not only for local and national but also regional and global political institutions. The precise form the global political structures  will assume in decades and centuries to come remains to be seen.   In the modern era since about 1500, the second period of global political evolution,  the standard choice has been between world empire, and global leadership.  Remarkably, successive attempts to pursue the imperial type of rule have been invariably and regularly defeated.    But global leadership is not the only possible alternative to a world empire.  Theoretically and arguably, it is a transitional form that is evolving, via system-building in the third period, into a form of organization that is commensurate with emerging global problems. [3] 


Global leadership is about solving new problems and forming new institutions, more specifically about global system-building or, for short, system-building. [3]  For the social organization of humanity does not pre-exist as part of the ‘environment’ but has to be constructed,.   Global leadership itself is an institution that has to be built (based on classical, and Italian models) from the simpler forms of the Portuguese, and the Dutch, to the more powerful rounded ones devised by British and American political organizations.   Those who opposed them in global wars were aspirants to imperial power, striving for continental supremacy.   “System-building” is, of course, an ideal-typical concept that highlights important features of the experience of global leadership but does not exhaust that experience.   In contrast to hegemony’s emphasis on “order”, system-building is, of course, innovating, creating new forms of organization (elements of the global political system) and improved conditions for global exchanges (global communications and trade).   In that sense, it too is creative of order, in the form of global public goods that may initially yield high returns for the innovators but whose benefits will – via competition – increasingly spread far and wide.   To repeat, such public goods are in themselves creative of order but they do require broad global support for their maintenance, and broad order-maintenance is not in the purview of global leadership, and must rest on such wide-spread support if it is to be effective.


Hegemony has a tendency to veer into imperialist stances.   The experience of the past half-millennium has been of global system-building in the face of imperial designs by supremacy-seeking continental hegemons.  System-building is a necessary feature of global organization; but hegemony is not.   Put briefly, hegemony is about order (as in the imperial Pax Romana) but global leadership as system- building is about legitimate change, appropriate to the conditions of the past millennium, but in turn also itself subject, in good time, to thoroughgoing change.


In short, the answer to the first question is:   all social systems have a political component;  global leadership has been selected as the most adaptive form of global political  organization for the second period of global evolution, now approaching its end.   



Would the future international system transition conform to a global war model?


Cui Jian-shu claims not only that long cycle theory assumes that “leadership is derived from global war” but also that it projects “the future of the international system on the basis of global war”.  He writes as though long cycle theory predicted another global war.


All that is, of course, not just wrong, but also positively misleading.   In the first place, long cycle theory is not a global war model.  It is the model of a phased evolutionary process, one of whose phases involves selection of a particular set of structures and/or policies from among those ‘on offer’.   Call that phase the macro-decision phase of an evolutionary learning process.   We observe, second, that in five previous cases, and at intervals of just over 100 years,  a global war functioned in just that fashion (selecting non-imperial, and innovative modes of organization).   But we also know that world system processes are evolutionary, and therefore function as mechanisms of change.   That is why, thirdly, and for many years, a key question for students of this subject has been not just that of global war but also of the substitutes that might emerge to replace it as a macro-decision mechanism.   No one is entitled “to predict the next cycle of global war based on Modelski’s long cycle theory”, as Cui implies that they might.  


For the key to understanding the role of global war in the past is to see it as a process of renewing the political structure and selecting its priorities.   That is why it has been viewed, analytically, as a macro-decision phase of the long cycle.   Such a systemic decision is analogous to an electoral campaign that in a national system might take years, and at the global level, might take as long as a generation. 


That is why it is entirely consistent with the theory that new forms of macro-decision, other than global war, might emerge in the course of the current cycle.   One crucial benefit of such a theory is that it might, and should, not just alert political leaders and other participants in that process to the need for devising new solutions to the problem of refreshing the structures of world politics but also lend greater urgency to that task.   Globalization, and changes in military technology clearly lower the probabilities of another global war.   But attention to political development, and to the selection of new or reconfigured leadership will also be necessary.


To describe long cycle theory as ‘projecting the future of the international system on the basis of global war” is therefore grossly misleading.   It is surprising that Cui Jian-shu blithely ignores those portions of long cycle debates that deal with “the two principal global problems: those of avoiding nuclear war and of reconstructing global solidarity” [4] in the books he is citing.  He  neglects to mention that discussion in the paper just cited  even though he mentions several other contributions to that volume.  


In fact, long cycle theory sounds a warning that adherence to antiquated concepts and  traditional practices could bring about a slide into conditions that through misperception, illusions, accidents or the operation, or unintended consequences may spark global warfare.   The probability of such occurrence may be low but is not negligible, in particular as long as major nuclear arsenals persist, and increasing numbers of states accumulate nuclear arms and means of their delivery.   Merely to rely on the fear of such weapons, or grim forecasts of the consequences of their use is to make the same mistakes as were made by those who, on the eve of World War I argued that the lethality of new weapons (the machine gun), and the strength of trade linkages would avert recourse to warfare. 


We might, finally remark on the critic’s views of what constituted a global war in the past half-millennium, for he claims that only the two world wars of the 20th century deserve such appellation.   But the facts suggest otherwise.   The first series of wars he questions, the wars of Italy and the Indian Ocean, [6] diminished the position of Venice and its control of the spice trade that transported South and Southeast Asia products to the Mediterranean.   In the crucial year of 1509 Venice’s independent survival was at stake in Italy, while the Egyptian-Gujerati fleet it sponsored in the Indian Ocean was destroyed, at Diu, by the Portuguese, who thereby established their command of that ocean space.  [7] The Spanish-Dutch wars opened that space to the Dutch and the British, and closely linked the Atlantic to the  Indian and Pacific Oceans. The French wars were fought on at least three continents.   And so, while much of the global wars’ military activity occurred in the then “active zone” of the world system, that is in and around Europe, the organization of the entire oceanic space was, from the signing of the Treaty of Tordesillas onward (Portugal-Spain,1494, text in [2]) onward, subject to the global political process.


The short answer to the second question is:  long cycle theory is one of an evolutionary selection process, and not a ‘war cycle’, or global war transition model.


Is International Power necessarily Sea Power?


It is a postulate of long cycle theory that forces of global reach are among the four necessary conditions for establishing global leadership.   In past cycles of global politics, sea power with an oceanic operational capacity obviously was the chief element of global reach.   It made it possible for Portugal, the Dutch Republic, and Britain, to operate world-wide, and deny a similar capacity to their opponents.   In the most recent past cycle, that included the world wars of the 20th century, sea power was combined with air power, and found expression, after 1941, in powerful aircraft carrier forces.  After the 1960s, submarines armed with nuclear missiles came to form large, and invulnerable, components of nuclear deterrence forces of several powers.   In the current (learning) cycle (1975-)  however space forces is becoming increasingly salient as an instrument of global reach.  Experts now claim that China has “a carefully thought-out space-flight program that will take them up to parity with the United States and Russia” [6]. 


Sea Power in Global Politics, 1494-1993” [9] was published in 1988 as part of long cycle studies, and as an empirical demonstration of  the importance of oceanic maritime forces in the unfolding of long cycles.   It was never meant to “overemphasize” (in Cui’s claim) the significance of that particular component of conditions of global leadership. But it does support the general concept of ‘forces of global reach’ with a large array of historical data.


Cui Jian-shu devotes a large portion (1/5th) of his article to discussing sea power, but fails to examine the importance of the other necessary conditions of global leadership: in particular that of  economic innovation, the creation of leading commercial and industrial sectors, and the role of these in world trade.   Those matters were elaborated at length in “Leading Sectors and World Powers [10] published in 1996, that, surprisingly, he does not mention at all.   Similarly lacking is any attention to the role of open, and democratic-tending societies in these matters, a subject discussed i.a. in “Democratization from a Long Perspective” (1991). [11] Studies of global  democracy suggest that the leading role of the world powers of the long cycle was in part attributable to their democracy-tending  societies.  They also show that these democracies, in particular Britain and the United States since the 19th century have served as the activating force of a world-wide diffusion of this form of social organization.


In short answer o the third question: sea power has been just one of the ingredients of global political potential; space power is now rising in importance.


Does the Global Political System Evolve Cyclically or Spirally?


The short answer to this fourth question is:   the global political system does evolve, but it does so neither cyclically (strictly speaking) nor spirally.   It does not do it cyclically in the sense of the system moving through a number of phases and then returning to its starting position.  And yet global political evolution does have periods composed of four phases of about 100 to 120 years, and each a long cycle, and that amounts to a distinct regularity that deserves to be highlighted.


We have no disagreement on the point that each successive world power has been different from its predecessors, and its successors, and the author makes that point strongly. He also describes the process as “evolution” but does not explore the uses that this concept has been put to in long cycle theory.  In particular, he fails to observe that the sequence of world powers is not random but represents phases in the process of global evolution, each successive power contributing its own special characteristics appropriate to that phase (Portugal , in the age of discovery, laying the informational basis for the world system, and Britain, three cycles on, the industrial base).   And, as already pointed out, he does miss on important recent developments that have transformed this theory into a branch of “evolutionary world politics”, and of “world system evolution”.


Cui Jian-shu makes no mention in particular of “Leading Sectors and World Powers” – in [9] – as well as  From Leadership to Organization: The Evolution of Global politics” – in [3].   He does not seem to have visited the “Evolutionary World Politics” Home Page either; it was started in 1997, and remains current.    He has not followed the literature of the last decade because the most recent long cycle paper he cites dates from 1996, and most of the others go back to the 1980ies.


How then does the global political system evolve?   It evolves algorithmically, and in conjunction with the learning experience of the major participants.   It evolves in sequences of four phases that jointly constitute one period of an evolutionary process, and can be represented by a logistic curve.   Each long cycle, with its four phases, is an algorithmic process of the diffusion of a major political innovation (such as laying the foundations for a global political system, as in  [4]).   Successive phases of that long cycle are agenda-setting, coalition-building (our current phase, 2000-2025), macro-decision, and execution.  Four long cycles constitute one period of global political evolution, and govern the character of the problems encountered in each cycle.   The current period of the evolution of global politics (since about 1850) is centered on the emergence of global political organization.


In sum, the dynamic of the global political system is neither cyclical nor spiral;  it is that of a multi-level evolutionary learning process.



       2.   China’s peaceful rise, and  Long cycle theory


Assessing China’s rise


Cui Jian-shu claims in conclusion that “an interpretation of the prospects for China’s rise and for the relations between China and America, the only superpower in the world, in the perspective of long cycle theory would be misleading”.   He argues that the rising China, unlike France, or Germany in earlier cycles, advocates multipolarity and, even though pursuing sea power, it does so against the background of globalization rather than colonization.  


These are important arguments but neither of these two conditions, multipolarity, or globalization, are incompatible with long cycle theorizing. [12]   Multipolarity is the condition that tends to occur in the latter part of the trajectory of global leadership, in the phase of de-concentration in particular.   The standard example of that condition was the state of the international system at about 1871, with Britain beginning a retreat from power, Germany ascending, and the United States, Japan, and Italy poised to make an entrance onto the world stage. The current situation (2008) is precisely that condition:  one of de-concentration, with China and India emerging as major players, Russia returning, the European Union augmenting its political stature, and the United States experiencing a condition of overstretch.


But the problem with multipolarity is its instability.   It is not a lasting solution to institutionalizing global politics or to perpetual peace.   In the example just cited, soon after 1900, the global powers arranged themselves into two rival alliances:   with Britain moving toward a “special” relationship with the United States, as well as understandings with France, Russia and Japan,  while Germany, riding high, was left to stand by Austria-Hungary, with its commitments in the volatile Balkans.   In other words, multipolarity morphed into bipolarity that in short time took the form of two military blocs that proceeded to fight World Wars I and II.   Cui Jian-shu rejects the possibility that China might be falling into the role earlier played by Germany.    Long cycle theory sounds an alarm warning of such dangers. 


Nor is globalization a condition that is outside the reach of long cycle theory that is grounded in an evolutionary approach, nor is it incompatible with the possibility of ‘perpetual peace’.   For globalization is more than just a vast expansion of world trade, making China ‘the factory of the world’ – just as Britain claimed in mid-19th century the title of “industrial workshop of the world”.   It is not only “the background of Chinese sea power rise” (as it also was for Portugal, the Dutch Republic, and Britain) but even more importantly, it is the process of the emergence of global political institutions [13].  Long cycle theory is ultimately a theory of lasting peace.


Expecting globalization to do its work is the stance implied in Cui Jian-shu’s argument, that is one of waiting for current trends in relative economic weight to take effect (as China’s GDP is projected to equal that of the United States  in two or three decades time).   “The present international system, ruled by the USA, will shift from balance to imbalance and undergo change eventually after the model of peaceful development” in a process that is in turn driven by evolutionary processes.  That why evolutionary long cycle theory does yield useful insights into the problem of China’s “rise” (or ”development”).


Strategic options


As just noted, the global political system is currently (in 2008) in the phase that might extend for up to another two decades, say to 2026, that of de-concentration.   Alternatively, we might locate it in the phase of coalition-building.   In that ‘long cycle’ perspective, the two following options are open to China.


First, and less attractive, is one that would represent a surrender to the inertia of the past, one that would turn into a revisionist posture, much like that Germany assumed on its way to 1914, and 1939, or that revolutionary France adopted in 1792.   In the broadest of terms that posture might take the form of a challenge to the existing territorial system, and a rejection of the global structures (such as international institutions, or international law) that are Western in their origins but have more recently become near universal.   The one concrete issue that could fall into the ‘revisionist’ category for China could be the future of Taiwan, and of the South China Sea islands,  problems that might however be susceptible to peaceful development [14] for in other respects – maybe Tibet or Xinjiang – a status quo approach might carry the day.


Another possibly revisionist power is Russia, nuclear-armed, and recently oil-rich, seeking to recover sway over territories lost in the upheavals of 1989-91 (the ’greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’?) [15] and, post-Georgian crisis of 2008, with a claim to “spheres of influence” in the areas formerly under its imperial sway.  A revisionist Russia could find common ground with China.  Here could reside the basis of a re-emerging bipolarity (but much will depend on the state of the world economy, and the course of oil prices).  Other revisionists might be found in the developing world.  One wonders, though, how such claims would resonate in the world system at large.


An alternative, and more attractive stance might be the choice for continuity, meaning ongoing integration into the contemporary “international community”, say on the model of Japan.   China has an important stake in the United Nations’ system, with a permanent seat on the Security Council, hence a significant role in shaping global politics and world security.   As its  UN-system contributions, including budgetary and peace-keeping, will rise in years to come so will its weight in that system.   The Beijing Olympics of 2008 offered helpful hints of such an accommodation.   China would remain (for some time to come?) outside an emerging community of democracies.  But it could also assume an innovative leadership role in dealing with climate change and/or other environmental problems.


In 2003 China announced a new policy posture, that of “peaceful rise”, soon to be recalibrated as “peaceful development”.  Commenting on this development, two American scholars engaged in a debate in Foreign Policy [17] that clarified the range of possible outcomes.   Zbigniew Brzezinski maintained that “conflict is not inevitable or even likely” because China is focused on economic development, is assimilating into the system, and because the nuclear age will have altered traditional power politics.   John Mearsheimer, by contrast, was expecting “a considerable potential for war by 2025 or 2030”, and painted a picture that is ”not a pretty one”, arguing that China “cannot rise peacefully”, i.a. because of US policy of “checking rising powers”.


In fact, and in long cycle theory, both positions are tenable.   Evolutionary considerations, including economic globalization, and widespread awareness of nuclear dangers, and of common interests in survival, make ‘peaceful development” the stronger option.  But the inertia of the existing system of power politics, and a failure to deal with the question of leadership, added to ordinary ignorance, misperception, miscalculation or terrorism, mean that the probability of major, even nuclear war is greater than zero, and not credibly negligible.


For the problem, in the next few decades of global politics will be not just to avoid (suppress) global war, but to select, and to execute the adjustments and/or changes that are likely to be necessary for dealing with global problems, and in political arrangements and institutions including global leadership and the responsibilities of ‘stakeholders’.   As the political system is moving toward multipolarity, it will tend to lose direction and coherence and, without  a  revitalizing “macro-decision” (that is, selection of new global leadership, and recasting of global political arrangements), it will tend toward disorder.


The range of options for 2026-2050 that combine macrodecision with global war might therefore be represented as follows:


Table 1:   Global systemic options for 2026-2050


Global war

No global war


(1)   1914-1945


No macro-decision




The “traditional” outcome might be (1), as in 1914-1945, a period of major warfare.   The preferred outcome is (2), because global war is obviously to be avoided, and also avoidable.   But it requires a decision on renewal/recasting  of global leadership, and associated global political arrangements.   Option (3) is that just mentioned, of multi-polarity without war, but without effecting adjustments in political organization at the global and regional levels, and therefore unstable.  This makes it clear that the mere avoidance of global war, without political restructuring, is not costless.    Option (4) could mean the chaos of global war that renders the world incapable of reconstituting a global structure of solidarity.


Cui Jian-shu  argues for outcome (2) but does not discuss the possibility of macro-decision (the “transition of hegemony”, that is ‘hegemonic transition’,  of his title) in the long cycle timeframe.   As noted earlier, he merely writes that in due time, “the present international system ruled by the USA will shift from balance to imbalance” by “peaceful transformation” possibly accompanied by “small-scale and low intensity war”.   But that is as far as he goes; no hint as to the full mechanism of such a major political change.


The global leadership role of long cycle theory has had a long pedigree, but only light institutionalization, and experienced steady change.   It is to be expected that its shape  will be revisited in the next macro-decision phase in the light of global conditions, two or more decades, from now from, say, 2026 onward.   But the question of a “world without nuclear arms” is still with us, and as long as the powers remain nuclear-armed, long cycle theory will continue to remind us that the problem of global war (of low, but not zero probability) remains with us, urging that the task of remaking global leadership-organization calls for close attention and is becoming more urgent every passing year. [16]


Here are, in summary, the implications of evolutionary long cycle theory for viewing China’s ‘peaceful development’:

1.   Don’t be a challenger, and avoid revisionist positions;

2.   As ‘stakeholder’, work within the global polity for innovation and change;

3.   Lead by meeting global problems (climate, energy, nuclear arms);

4.   Seek the Kantian peace but remember that nuclear war is not wholly unthinkable as long as nuclear arsenals remain.


Long cycle theory’s predictive function


Cui Jian-shu admits that long cycle theory offers an “explicit paradigm” for the study of change in international politics but also maintains, in his summary, that two factors, economic globalization, and revolution in military technology, “greatly” diminish “the predictive function” of that theory.  To maintain that is, of course, to ignore the evolutionary components that are at the core of long-cycle theorizing.


Long cycle theory, and its more generalized form, evolutionary world politics, accord greater attention to long-term trends than any extant international relations theory   The basic premise of long cycle theory is that world politics is not static but dynamic, and therefore best viewed in an evolutionary perspective in which the central problem is the emergence of global-level political organization.  Emergence of political organization at the global level constitutes, of course, political globalization.   That is why long cycle theory is a theory of globalization, and more precisely, one of political globalization [18]. That emergence is driven by (“short-term”) world-power competition at the actor level, and by (“medium-term”) evolution of political institutions.   To argue that the predictive capacity of long cycle theory is undermined by a lack of attention to globalization shows, at a minimum, an excessively narrow conception of the problem that sees it in purely economic terms; at worst, it is a misrepresentation of an approach that pays close and systematic attention to the relation of politics and economics [19].


An evolutionary approach is equally appropriate to understanding the “revolution in military technology”.   World power competition (via long cycles) is the story of rapid change in weapons and weapon systems; from  gunpowder of the late middle ages, through gunpowder empires of the 16th century, the great naval fleets of the 16th-18th centuries, to the machine gun, the torpedo, and the aircraft carriers of the 20th.  The industrial revolution that is the hallmark of modern economic development made possible spectacular advances in the power of armaments.  The advent of nuclear weapons with global reach appears as no more, and no less, than the culmination of a trend mounting for the past millennium that is now reaching its peak, and that is being matched by the growth of bonds of global solidarity, and must be responded to with an evolutionary search for new global institutions.   That is precisely the prediction of long cycle theory. [20]


The “predictive capability” of long cycle theory has two elements:   its heuristic value, as a set of new questions, and, second, in its proven record of analysis over the past decades, since the 1980s.


Two sets of questions are at the center of long cycle theory.  The first is: where, in that evolutionary process, are we located at any given time,  and where are we heading?  That is, what is current phase of the long cycle, and of the process of global political evolution that is driven by it?  These questions make an analyst sensitive to the fact that global politics is never static, and makes it possible to formulate policies and priorities that match these processes.   The second set of questions concerns the qualification for global leadership, the likely characteristics of challengers, and the nature of emerging global institutions.  Qualifications for leadership [21] include responsiveness to global problems, open society, forces of global reach, and innovative economies, and the author of “Cyclical Logic” does report them but does not discuss how China might satisfy them.


But what is actual predictive record of long cycle theory that has “been around” since the 1980s?    In the face of the euphoria of the 1990s, generated by the end of the cold war and the dissolution of the Soviet bloc the global political system has now moved, as predicted in 1987 [22], to the long cycle phase of deconcentration/coalition-building (2000-2026).   Its characteristic features are those of multipolarity:  the rise of powers such as China and India, the return of Russia, and the maturing of the European Union, set against the reduced weight of the United States. [23] 


Matching the weakening of the old order is the stirring of demands for the building of new coalitions the most capable of which would manage the reordering of the global system in the decades ahead. [24]  The success of democratization over the past centuries to a majority states may be laying the foundations for a community of democracies, as a base for a world-wide coalition.  


In closing


The author of “Cyclical Logic” rightly points out that the successive powers of the long cycle each had different features and, of course, in an important sense each successive power was better equipped and more adept at dealing with global problems.   These are the characteristics of an evolutionary process at work.    But while he does seem to come out in a favor of an approach that allows for emergence, the metaphor he employs, that of a spiral, does not lends itself to systematic analysis.  The alternative to “spiral” is not “cyclical logic” but systemic (evolutionary) learning. 







*   Cui Jian-shu, author of “Cyclical  Logic in the Transition of Hegemony:   Modelski’s Theory of Long Cycles and its Weakness”   World Economics and Politics (Beijing), 2007 (12), 25-34, is member of the International Strategy Department, PLA Institute of International Relations.   Here is the (author’s) abstract of that article:


Modelski’s long cycle theory is one of the most important schools that study the evolution of international politics.   Its fundamental assumptions are:  leadership is needed in the world system; such a role is derived from global war; sea power is a necessary condition for its establishment; the evolution of international politics is based on a cyclical model in which domination by the leading power in the international system normally lasts about 100 to 120 years.   The contribution of this theory is that it offers an explicit macro-paradigm for the study of changes in international politics.   However, its weakness is also obvious.   In particular, it cannot explain some of the important international phenomena over the past 500 years.   In addition, with the development of globalization and the advances of military technology, the mode of evolution of the international political system has changed accordingly.   To some extent, this undermines the predictive capability of the long cycle theory in international relations.”


1.  But in section (V.)  he cites approvingly Karl Polanyi to the effect that Britain’s system was not anarchic but based on a balance of power.


2.  G. Modelski and S. Modelski  eds.  Documenting Global Leadership,  London: Macmillan 1988.   Cui Jian-shu would prefer the term “systemic leadership”, the system in question being the one that in his view only in the past century or so began to extend to the rest of the world.   Such an approach ignores i.a. the world-wide impact of what we know as the “Age of discoveries”, and of the global political system whose foundations were laid at that time, by Portugal and Spain.


3.   That argument is developed in G. Modelski  From leadership to organization: The evolution of global politics” in V. Bornschier and Ch. Chase-Dunn eds.   The Future of Global Conflict, London: Sage. 1999.  


4.   An empirical study is T. Devezas and  G. Modelski, “The Portuguese as system-builders:  Technological innovation in early globalization” in G. Modelski, T. Devezas and W.R. Thompson   Globalization as evolutionary process, London: Routledge 2008.


5.   G. Modelski, “Scenario for the Year 2016” in G. Modelski ed. Exploring Long Cycles, Boulder:  Lynne Rienner, 1987, pp.239, 240-7.


6.   Cui Jian-shu (p. 28) reproduces a table that for the sake of conciseness refers to Italian wars only;  other tables in several of the works he quotes (but in particular. Table 1.1 in Exploring Long Cycles, cited, p.4) make it clear that these are “Italian and Indian Ocean Wars”.


7.   G. Modelski “Enduring Rivalry in the Democratic Lineage: The Venice - Portugal Case” in W.R. Thompson ed.   Great Power Rivalries, Columbia:  South Carolina U.P., 1999.


8.   “Globalizing space”   Washington Post, July 9, 2008: A6.  It adds: “China’s military

is building a wide range of capabilities in space” including ground-based anti-satellite technology”.


9.   G. Modelski and W.R. Thompson, Sea Power in Global Politics,1494-1993,  London: Macmillan 1988.  The first author does not regard himself as a “firm proponent of ‘sea power’ by virtue of geopolitics”. as Cui Jian-shu claims.


10   G. Modelski and W. R. Thompson,   Leading Sectors and World Powers: the Co-evolution of Global Economics and Politics, Columbia:  South Carolina UP, 1996.  Chapter Nine is entitled “Sung China and the Evolving Global Economy”,


11.   G. Modelski and G. Perry “Democratization from a Long Perspective” in N. Nakicenovic and A. Gruebler eds.   Diffusion of Technologies and Social Behaviour,  Berlin: Springer  1991.  See also the discussion of ‘democratic lineage” in [6] above.


12.   The article ends on a positive note, with another allusion to Kant:  “the historic moment suggests that perpetual peace of humanity is irreversible”.   But elsewhere, claims are made that cast doubt on this proposition, in particular that the world system is (or should be?) anarchic.   These are the claims that “the international system will undergo change in the model of peaceful transformation”  or else by “small-scale and low intensity war”,  quotes from Adam Smith on the virtues of the martial  spirit, and  from Hegel, to the effect that war is not an absolute evil.   Not enough attention is paid to the problem of the mechanisms that might bring about ‘perpetual peace”, in contrast to Immanuel Kant who was quite explicit on that question.    The conditions he specified were “republicanism” (democracy), “federalism”, and “hospitality”.


13.   See  Modelski et al. eds. Globalization as Evolutionary Process, cited above.


14.   Just as Switzerland, or  Austria,  gradually separated from the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.


15.   Cui Jian-shu points out, in a footnote, that  Long Cycles in World Politics,  1987, cited,  showed, in Table 2.1, p.40,  the Soviet Union as “challenger” for 2000-2030,   (but Exploring Long Cycles, 1987, pp.224-5, cited in note 5, also discussed the possible dissolution of the Soviet Union).   The Georgian crisis of 2008 may have reopened this question but fluctuations in the price of oil, and economic depression, might be dampers of such designs.


16.   Cui maintains that “fewer and fewer states are likely to dream of world leadership”;  that statement seems to include China that on  ‘traditional’ long cycle criteria (cited elsewhere by Cui) would lack qualifications for that position:  economy large but not innovative, limited forces of global reach, lack of democracy, and limited concern for global problems.  Cui lists those conditions but does not review them in relation to China.


17.   Zbigniew Brzezinski  and John Mearsheimer   “Clash of Titans”   Foreign Policy

January-February 2005.


18.   See G. Modelski et al. eds., Globalization as Evolutionary Process, cited, esp. Chs.1-2.


19.  G. Modelski and W.R. Thompson  Leading Sectors and World Powers: the Coevolution of global economics and politics,   Columbia:  South Carolina University Press, 1996.


20.   G Modelski and T. Devezas, “Political globalization is global political evolution  World Futures,  July-September 2007.


21.   Modelski, Long Cycles in World Politics, cited, Ch.9.


22.  In  Exploring Long Cycles, cited, and in Long Cycles in World Politics, cited.


23.   In 2003 Joseph Nye wrote  (in “Limits of American Power” Political Science Quarterly  Vol.117(4)p.546) that  “”American preponderance will last well into this century …”.    The 2008  report “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World” by the National Intelligence Council “describes a decline in the United States’ world dominance as China, India and other powers assert themselves” , reported the New York Times, November21, 2008:A13.  The previous (2004) report in the series anticipated continued US dominance through 2020.’


24.   A current example of that process is the announcement (RTTNews, NASDAQ,, November 26,2008) that Russia will host the first stand-alone summit of BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) in 2009, to create “a new global financial architecture”.  This followed the Medvedev-Lula de Silva talks in Rio.   The first BRIC summit was held on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Japan in July 2008, following a BRIC Foreign Ministers meeting in Russia in May of that year.