Saturday, September 13, 2008

"American power did not destabilize world order; it helped create it"

Another interesting paper by John Ikenberry: Power and Liberal Order: America's Postwar World Order in Transition:

In this essay, I make four arguments. First, the American postwar order – which has occupied the center of world politics for half a century – is a historically novel political formation. This ‘American system’ is organized around a dense array of rules, institutions, and partnerships spread across global and regional security, economic, and political realms. It is an order built on ‘liberal hegemonic’ bargains, diffuse reciprocity, public goods provision, and an unprecedented array of intergovernmental institutions and working relationships. The advanced democracies live in a ‘security community’ where the use or threat of force is unthinkable. This is not empire; it is an American-led open-democratic political order.

Second, transformations in the global system are making it more difficult to maintain some of the liberal features of this order – and so the stability and integrity of this old American order are increasingly at risk. The two most important sources of breakdown are the rise of American unipolarity and the transformation of global security threats. The first of these transformations has involved the long-term ‘flipping’ of the Westphalian state system. America's power has been on the rise since the end of the Cold War, while state norms of sovereignty have eroded. This makes US power worrisome to the rest of the world, and it erodes the balance of power logic of the previous geopolitical eras. Likewise, new security threats – not uniformly shared by old alliance partners – erode the indivisibility of security that underlay the American system. Strategic cooperation between old partners is harder, and it is easier for the United States to go its own way and for European and East Asian countries to depend less on the United States or simply to free-ride on American security provision. As a result the postwar alliance system – so crucial to the stability of American political and economic relations with Europe and East Asia – has been rendered more fragile and tenuous.

Third, these shifting global circumstances mean that both liberal and neo-imperial logics of order are put in play. Both logics are deeply rooted in American political culture and both have been manifest in American diplomacy over the last century. The liberal logic has been manifest most fully in the Atlantic community, and its institutional expressions include NATO and multilateral economic regimes. The neo-imperial logic of order would take the shape of a global ‘hub and spoke’ system. This is order built around bilateralism, ‘special relationships’, client states, and patronage-oriented foreign policy. America's postwar ‘hub and spoke’ security ties with East Asia offer a glimmering of this approach. As we shall see, both liberal and neo-imperial logics continue to offer a mixture of benefits and costs for the American governance of unipolarity.

Finally, despite Washington's imperial temptation, the United States is not doomed to abandon rule-based order. This is true if only because the alternatives are ultimately unsustainable. A neo-imperial system of American rule – even the ‘hub and spoke’ version that currently holds sway in East Asia – is too costly, fraught with contradictions, and premised on an inflated accounting of American power. Likewise, there are an array of incentives and impulses that will persuade the United States to try to organize unipolarity around multilateral rules and institutions. The United States may want to renegotiate rules and institutions in some global areas, but it ultimately will want to wield its power legitimately in a world of rules and institutions. It will also have incentives to build and strengthen regional and global institutions in preparation for a future ‘after unipolarity’. The rising power of China, India, and other non-Western states presents a challenge to the old American-led order that will require new, expanded, and shared international governance arrangements.

In this essay, I look first at the features of the American postwar order. After this, I discuss the rise of unipolarity and other shifts in the global system that are altering the foundations of support for this liberal hegemonic system. Finally, I look at the forces that continue to give the United States reasons to support and operate within a rule-based international system.

No comments: