This chapter introduces the paradox of world power by questioning how long the United States can retain its primacy in the international system when faced with domestic and global constraints. On the one hand, the United States exercises unprecedented power in the form of military and economic might while enjoying vast cultural and value-oriented soft power. On the other hand, the success attendant to unipolarity raises challenges that are rooted in the nation’s history, culture, domestic institutions, and involvement in a turbulent and competitive world system.
This chapter also discusses the difficulties of maintaining power when the costs of dominance increase and the rates of return on power decrease. The United States also faces backlash against its power from a fierce anti-globalization movement, which rejects the increased free market and expansionary efforts of the developed world. Even so, the challenges facing the United States are not all international and are in fact manifested in the culture, institutional design, and civil society that make up the country’s foreign policy process.