According to Immanuel Wallerstein’s world systems approach, the world is a social system. This social system is made up of conflicting forces, which both hold it together through “tension” and tear it apart as each group seeks eternally to remold the system to its advantage. This is how world politics has evolved throughout modern and contemporary times.
The cohesive “tension,” however, can take different forms in different historical periods, and it can be the basic driving force for social and political evolution. In other words, tension can be the projection of the “dominant world contradiction.” For example, the European powers’ colonial-era trade monopoly, based on their political and military supremacy, was a “system response” to the tension between the global expansion of capitalism and the limited geographic resources in Europe. More recently, anticipated threats based on ideological and political antipathy between the two blocs sustained the tension during the Cold War years.
The world, however, has changed, and so has the dominant or fundamental world contradiction. The basic cohesive factor in the contemporary world system is no longer the colonial trade monopoly or Cold War ideological hatred, but it also should not be an obsessive rush for hegemonic power and competition among a few states.