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Making the Unipolar MomentMaking the Unipolar Moment

U.S. Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Post-Cold War Order

Hal Brands

Narrated by Cory Schaeffer

Available from Audible

Book published by Cornell University Press

In the late 1970s, the United States often seemed to be a superpower in decline. Battered by crises and setbacks around the globe, its post–World War II international leadership appeared to be draining steadily away. Yet just over a decade later, by the early 1990s, America's global primacy had been reasserted in dramatic fashion. The Cold War had ended with Washington and its allies triumphant; democracy and free markets were spreading like never before. The United States was now enjoying its "unipolar moment"—an era in which Washington faced no near-term rivals for global power and influence, and one in which the defining feature of international politics was American dominance. How did this remarkable turnaround occur, and what role did U.S. foreign policy play in causing it? In this important book, Hal Brands uses recently declassified archival materials to tell the story of American resurgence.

Brands weaves together the key threads of global change and U.S. policy from the late 1970s through the early 1990s, examining the Cold War struggle with Moscow, the rise of a more integrated and globalized world economy, the rapid advance of human rights and democracy, and the emergence of new global challenges like Islamic extremism and international terrorism. Brands reveals how deep structural changes in the international system interacted with strategies pursued by Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush to usher in an era of reinvigorated and in many ways unprecedented American primacy. Making the Unipolar Moment provides an indispensable account of how the post–Cold War order that we still inhabit came to be.

Hal Brands is Associate Professor of Public Policy and History at Duke University. He is the author of What Good is Grand Strategy? Power and Purpose in American Statecraft from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush, Making the Unipolar Moment: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Post–Cold War Order, Latin America's Cold War, and From Berlin to Baghdad: America’s Search for Purpose in the Post–Cold War World, and coeditor of The Power of the Past: History and Statecraft. During 2015–2016, he is also a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow working at the Department of Defense.


“In his most ambitious and accomplished book yet...Brands emphasizes that the unipolar moment was neither as overwhelming nor as dramatic as many analysts believed in the 1990s, and he does a good job of showing how the same trends that created the halcyon atmosphere at that time would later complicate the work of U.S. strategic planners. Making the Unipolar Moment is both important and engaging; specialists and general-interest readers alike will find it a pleasure to read”

Foreign Affairs

“In Making the Unipolar Moment: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Post-Cold War Order, Hal Brands attributes Reagan's success to structural shifts that had already emerged by the time he took office, paving the way for his program. But Brands still insists that Reagan learned from earlier efforts and made a 'significant recalibration of U.S. strategy.’ Of course, as Hal Brands acknowledges, we never how how much is strategy and how much is structure. But that is the crucial question, and like most liberal historians, he concludes that structure predominated.”

—Henry R. Nau, Claremont Review of Books

“Exceeds high expectations with its depth, nuance and clarity that are further enhanced by a stimulating and readable style... [It is] an important book that will no doubt serve to influence contemporary debates as much as it provides a revisionist account of America's rise to power in the 1990s.”

—Oz Hassan, International Affairs

“Hal Brands has catapulted into the foremost ranks of a new generation of U.S. strategic thinkers.”

—Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs

“There are lot of books about the Cold War, and a lot of books about 'the state of the mess we're in.’ There are books about globalization, about failed states, and about America’s relations with the various parts of the world. What’s missing, however, is a book about how we got here: how the United States went from a superpower on the rocks in the 1970s to a supreme power dominating a unipolar world in the 1990s. That’s why I’ve been fascinated with Hal Brands’ new book. If you want to see how far we came from the edge of ruin—and how far we’re falling from the achievements of the 1990s—this carefully researched book is essential reading.”

—Tom Nichols, The Federalist’s Notable Books of 2016

“In attempting to explain the rise of US power from the late 1970s to early 1990s, Brands ( Duke Univ.) focuses on the balance between structural changes in global politics and strategic decisions by US leaders. In the debate between structure and agency, the book reaches the conclusion that they are both integral in explaining complex international events. The book is engaging and well researched. It is a valuable contribution to the literature on this important era and relevant to current debates about America's role in the world. Summing Up: Recommended.”


“Hal Brands has written an extraordinarily important book showing how strategy and structure interacted in the international arena in the 1980s and early 1990s. Without overlooking the deficiencies in U.S. strategy and the 'blowback' effects of some Reagan initiatives, Brands skillfully highlights how well-conceived policies exploited basic trends like democratization and globalization to catapult the United States to unprecedented power. This book is indispensable for understanding the evolution of U.S. foreign policy during the last half century.”

—Melvyn P. Leffler, author of For the Soul of Mankind

Making the Unipolar Moment is a beautifully written and thoroughly researched account that explains the structural and strategic origins of America's emergence as the sole superpower. In this masterpiece, Hal Brands convincingly demonstrates that the 1970s, rather than marking American decline, set the stage for the momentous changes that occurred in the years to follow.”

—James Goldgeier, coauthor of America Between the Wars

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University Press Audiobooks