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“Insurgencies” Against Western Hegemony in Global Politics After the Cold War


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA International Relations.


This course analyzes the main challenges that have emerged to the American-led Western geopolitical bloc after the Cold War. While the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was thought to bring about a unipolar world of American dominance and a convergence around liberal democracy and free market economies, the post-Cold War order soon produced new challenges to Western hegemony. Primary among these “insurgents” are a rising China and a resurgent Russia, both of which explicitly aim to create a multipolar world, work to create alternative international institutions and economic infrastructure, challenge Western influence in their neighborhoods, and are trying to exploit the rise of illiberalism in Western societies on both the left and the right. More so than Russia, China in fact claims to have an alternative social order that is supposed to bring it to the same level of economic and technological development as the West (or possibly surpass it), and it has decades of very high growth rates to back up those claims. Another key challenge has come from a global Islamist movement that has many faces, including state actors like Iran and the former Islamic State, as well as a wide range of non-state actors, of which Al-Qaeda is undoubtedly the most (in)famous. Finally, there is North Korea – a curious remnant of a by-gone Stalinist civilization that has nevertheless claimed a place in global politics by developing a nuclear arsenal.

The course analyzes these various “insurgencies” against Western dominance by looking at their ideologies, (geo)political strategies, and their proposed alternative political, social, and economic models. Along each of these vectors, we will assess their successes and failures in challenging the American-led Western powers and creating alternative value systems, institutions, and international regimes to those created and propagated by the Western powers. Key questions to be discussed are: What is the nature of the American-led Western bloc (is it an empire, liberal international order, Pax Americana, or something else)? What are the sources and dimensions of the West’s global power? Is the multipolar world a reality or a Chinese and Russian fantasy? Is the West truly in decline? Can China replace the United States as the leading power or are we perhaps heading towards another bipolar world? Is Russia a resurgent power or a declining one that is lashing out with its last strength? Is Islamism a real threat to the West? What is the significance of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and Iran’s attempts to acquire one? What is the role of political ideology in shaping the geopolitics of the post-Cold War order? Is geopolitical increasingly conflict taking place along cultural/civilizational lines? By analyzing these questions, we will gain a better understanding of our current geopolitical moment and how it profoundly shapes the world that we live in.

Course objectives

Students will:

  • Learn to analyze political developments on a global scale and to connect local and national developments to larger international structures.

  • Gain an understanding of the sources and nature of the power of the American-led West in international affairs and how it is perceived by the West’s rivals.

  • Gain an understanding of the various types of challenges that have been levelled against Western hegemony in global politics, in particular by China, Russia, and Islamist movements.

  • Think about our current geopolitical moment and key forces that are shaping its development going forward.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Active participation in class

  • Weekly written assignments discussing the readings

  • Oral presentation

  • End-term paper


  • Active participation in class and oral presentation (20%)

  • Weekly written assignments discussing the readings (30%)

  • End-term paper (50%)


The resit is only available if the final essay is insufficient.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

A syllabus will be provided before the course begins containing information on the literature to be used in the course. Any student wishing to start early should contact the instructor.


Enrolment through [My Studymap] ( is mandatory.

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  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga


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