The end of the Cold War was a "big bang" reminiscent of earlier moments after major wars, such as the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the end of the World Wars in 1919 and 1945. Here John Ikenberry asks the question, what do states that win wars do with their newfound power and how do they use it to build order? In examining the postwar settlements in modern history, he argues that powerful countries do seek to build stable and cooperative relations, but the type of order that emerges hinges on their ability to make commitments and restrain power.
The author explains that only with the spread of democracy in the twentieth century and the innovative use of international institutions--both linked to the emergence of the United States as a world power--has order been created that goes beyond balance of power politics to exhibit "constitutional" characteristics. The open character of the American polity and a web of multilateral institutions allow the United States to exercise strategic restraint and establish stable relations among the industrial democracies despite rapid shifts and extreme disparities in power.
Blending comparative politics with international relations, and history with theory, After Victory will be of interest to anyone concerned with the organization of world order, the role of institutions in world politics, and the lessons of past postwar settlements for today. It also speaks to today's debate over the ability of the United States to lead in an era of unipolar power.
Reviews forAfter Victory by G. John Ikenberry, G. John John Ikenberry
In After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars, G. John Ikenberry sets out for himself the task of explaining why the international order constructed by the United States following the end of World War II has lasted as long as it has. Given standard international relations theory--at least of the Realist kind--the durability of this international order is puzzling because the great power against which it was ostensibly constructed to balance--the Soviet Union--ceased to exist at the end of 1991. Yet, at the time this book was published, and in the years since then, there had been little indication that the world's states were preparing to, or even thinking about, allying to balance against the power of the U.S., which is what standard Realist theory says should happen.Ikenberry's answer to this puzzle is institutionalization. That is to say that Ikenberry contends that the international order created by the U.S. in the aftermath of World War II is of such a nature that the lesser powers of the world do not feel the need to balance against the U.S. because they believe that the institutional restraints put into the international order by the U.S. are strong enough to keep the U.S. itself from using its overwhelming power advantage in such a way as to perpetually keep them subservient to its interests.While it is an interesting theory, there are two problems that I have with After Victory. First, Ikenberry provides little evidence that his theory is in fact the reason why the post-World War II order has been so durable. In actuality, After Victory is more about how such international orders are formed than it is about why they are so durable. Second, Ikenberry does not provide any effective refutation of the Realist answer to the conundrum of why no balancing has occurred against the U.S.: that the other states in the world are so far behind the U.S. in relative power that they see no realistic way of combining against it without first provoking its ire before any effective anti-American coalition can be formed.That being said, Ikenberry's theory is one with which I am inclined to be sympathetic. The decade of the 2000s has provided a welter of instances in which the international order should have broken down but did not. The U.S. still holds a large power advantage over the rest of the world, but it is shrinking by the year with still no signs of any impending formation of an anti-American coalition. The only one that is even close to becoming serious is a combination between Russia and China, but that has been more playacting than serious. Neither Russia nor China has shown any interest, as of yet, in trying to upset the world's liberally-oriented international order.And even if a combination against the U.S. were to form, that does not necessarily negate Ikenberry's theory. It would only negate it if the contenders were bent on rewriting the rules, like the Soviet Union was. In all likelihood, whichever state or states succeeds the U.S. as top dog will hold on to only a slightly modified version of the current international order for the same reason that the U.S. has held on to it for so long: ruling by consent of the governed is a lot cheaper than ruling by force.read more
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