This paper presents two sets of arguments: one theoretical and one analytical. The theoretical arguments concern the relationship between regional ordering and systemic change. The paper questions the usefulness of the unipolar conception of the contemporary system arguing that the interaction of the Great Powers cannot be understood without reference to regional dynamics. Thus, a unipolar system implies considerable potential for U.S. hegemonic intervention at the regional level but in East Asia, we find an equilibrium constructed out of both material and normative forces, defined as a concert, which presents a considerable restraint on all powers, including the U.S. The paper then proceeds to examine these claims through an analysis of the foreign policies of the U.S., Russia, and China over the North Korean nuclear problem that emerged after 2002. It finds that China and Russia have substantive common interests arising from internal and external re-ordering in which they look to strategic partnerships, regional multilateralism, and systemic multipolarization as inter-locking processes. The paper finds that they have collaborated over the Korean crisis to prevent a U.S. unilateral solution but that this should not be construed as a success for an open counterhegemonic strategy as it was only under the constraining conditions of East Asian concert, including the dynamics within the U.S. alliance systems, that this collaboration was successful. Nevertheless, the paper concludes that regional multipolarity and systemic unipolarity are contradictory: a system that exhibits multipolarization at the regional level cannot be characterized as unipolar at the global level.

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