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Schweller 2001

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International Security 26:1 184

46. Wohlforth, “The Stability of a Unipolar World,” p. 9.

trine of the harmony of interests.”47 Thus Ikenberry believes that the leading
state can establish a constitutional-like order among democratic states that is
governed by the rule of law and viewed as legitimate by all its members, who
therefore willingly participate in it and abide by its rules and principles. Here
Ikenberry, like many liberal theorists, employs an explicit domestic analogy to
theorize about international politics.
On the other hand, the purpose of this institutional order is to lock in the

hegemon’s advantage well after it has reached its peak in actual power. Here,
the strategy illustrates the Machiavellian maxim that the Prince should always
appear virtuous but not act virtuously. For the leading state, the aim of the
grand strategy is primacy; the means are “sticky” institutional arrangements
that lock in advantageous returns for the hegemon that are no longer war-
ranted by its actual power position. The key to the success of this rather decep-
tive strategy is for the hegemon not only to appear benign but to make all
others believe that its order is in their best interests. Accordingly, the
hegemon’s constitutional order must be continually extended to achieve uni-
versal legitimacy. Otherwise, powerful revisionist states will emerge to chal-
lenge the established order, and the system’s touted stability will be lost. To
believe that such a strategy can work, however, is to embrace the fallacy of the
doctrine of the harmony of interests among nations. Because there is no inter-
national order that serves everyone’s interests, any strategy—no matter how
clever or well intentioned—that attempts to preserve American primacy is
doomed to failure. The dilemma for American policymakers is that the more
the United States exerts itself to maintain its hegemonic status, the more others
will work to undermine it. In the end, assertive multilateral schemes such as
those prescribed in After Victory will not fool anyone.
Ikenberry himself seems to recognize this problem and the limitations of his

constitutional model to solve it. For example, given his claim that “democra-
cies have special capacities to establish binding institutional agreements”
(p. 78), and his use of NATO as an exemplar of a binding institution, one
would reasonably expect that the book’s policy prescriptions would strongly
support NATO enlargement and its declared rationale to establish a uniªed,
democratic, and peaceful Europe. They do not. Instead, Ikenberry writes: “If
NATO was partly attractive to alliance members because it lessened European
fears of American domination and abandonment, it also reassured outside

The Problem of International Order Revisited 185

47. For the realist critique of the harmony of interests, see Edward Hallett Carr, The Twenty Years’
Crisis, 1919–1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations (New York: Harper and Row,
1964), pp. 80–85.

states to some extent by restraining abrupt and offensive shifts in Western mili-
tary policy. But the NATO bombing in Serbia takes the alliance along a new
path of military intervention outside alliance territory. China and Russia—
along with other countries—publically condemned the NATO action pursued
without UN Security Council sanction. If NATO was an alliance that bound
power together and down—thereby reassuring both its members and its
neighbors—it looks very different today” (p. 273). Yes, it looks like a tool of
American power and interests.
Why does NATO no longer restrain U.S. power? Why does it no longer reas-

sure nonmembers that the United States will not abruptly shift to an offensive
military policy? The answer is that it was not the institution that assured oth-
ers that American power would be checked and defensively oriented but
rather the countervailing power of the Soviet Union and its allies. In the ab-
sence of that power, there are no assurances about how American power will
be exercised. Other states can only hope and trust that the United States will
remain benign and self-restrained. “But,” as Waltz points out, “American be-
havior over the past century in Central America provides little evidence of self-
restraint in the absence of countervailing power.”48

That said, the threat of American power is more imagined than real and
tends to be overstated. Regional and global hegemony are entirely different
matters. Since the emergence of the modern states system, the United States is
the only country to have achieved regional, much less global, hegemony. The
world is simply too vast and unwieldy a place to be ruled by any one state.
Geography and the common sense of the American people, who have shown
little enthusiasm for multilateralist internationalism, will effectively restrain
current U.S. power and aspirations. The American public, if not its leaders, in-
tuitively recognizes the limits of U.S. power and inºuence in the world; they
have little trouble grasping the difference between feasible goals that are worth
the costs entailed and counterproductive American meddling in the internal
and external affairs of distant sovereign nations.49

International Security 26:1 186

48. Waltz, “Intimations of Multipolarity,” p. 3.
49. For an extended argument along these lines with respect to American democracy promotion,
see Randall L. Schweller, “U.S. Democracy Promotion: Realist Reºections,” in Michael Cox, G.
John Ikenberry, and Takashi Inoguchi, eds., American Democracy Promotion: Impulses, Strategies, and
Impacts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 41–62; and Ole R. Holsti, “Promotion of De-
mocracy as a Popular Demand?” in ibid., pp. 151–180. In the absence of an enemy, a victorious
maritime power such as the United States can be expected to retrench from external commitments
and to experience strategic drift as it muddles through an uncertain but low-threat postwar secu-
rity environment. See Emily Goldman, “Thinking about Strategy Absent the Enemy,” Security
Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Autumn 1994), pp. 40–85.