Schweller  2001
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Schweller 2001

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holders can do when they make disproportionate

gains, constitutional orders reduce the returns to power or “winning” within a
political order. Conversely, they limit the potential losses incurred by losers.
This allows weaker actors to voluntarily confer legitimacy on the order, secure
in the knowledge that to accept “losses is not to risk everything, nor will it give
the winner a permanent advantage” (p. 32). Hence, unlike other systems of or-
der, constitutional systems are regarded as legitimate political orders by all of
its members, who “willingly participate and agree with the overall orientation
of the system. They abide by its rules and principles because they accept them
as desirable; they embrace them as their own” (p. 52). The legitimate nature of
constitutional orders makes them especially stable and resilient in the face of
The question arises, however: Why would a newly hegemonic state build in-

stitutions that limit the exercise of its preponderant power? Ikenberry offers
several reasons why it would choose this option. First, a constitutional settle-
ment conserves the hegemon’s power by lowering the bargaining, monitoring,
and enforcement costs of maintaining international order. Coercion is a far
more expensive way to inºuence others than gaining their voluntary compli-
ance by offering them a stake in establishing and preserving the new postwar
order.9 Second, the hegemon’s exalted power position at war’s end is a ºeeting
advantage. Therefore the hegemon’s interests are best served by forgoing

International Security 26:1 166

Jervis, System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University
Press, 1997).
9. For an extended discussion on this point, see G. John Ikenberry and Charles A. Kupchan, “So-
cialization and Hegemonic Power,” International Organization, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Summer 1990),
pp. 283–315.

short-run gains in favor of locking in beneªcial arrangements and future re-
turns that will continue well beyond the zenith of its power. As Ikenberry ex-
plains, “The leading state enters the postwar period sitting on a declining
power base. A binding institutional settlement allows the state to conserve its
base by creating rules and institutions that will extend the stream of beneªts
and advantages into the future, beyond what would otherwise be the case”
(p. 55). Finally and related to the last point, institution building is a form of he-
gemonic investment because, barring a dramatic shift in state power and inter-
ests, postwar institutions are sticky—”they are likely to persist and continue to
shape and constrain state action even after the power that created them has
declined” (p. 55).
For a constitutional bargain to be struck, however, weaker states must also

agree that reaching this type of settlement serves their interests. Given all the
long-run advantages accrued by the newly hegemonic power, why would sec-
ondary states accept the deal? If the hegemon is doomed to decline, why
would not the secondary states wait until their power positions improve to ne-
gotiate a more favorable settlement? Here again, Ikenberry provides several
convincing reasons why the subordinate states would bargain now rather than
later. First, credible institutional constraints on the power of the leading state
buy protection for the others against the risk of indiscriminate and ruthless
domination, such that “secondary states do not need to spend as many re-
sources on ‘risk premiums,’ which would otherwise be needed to prepare for
either domination or abandonment” (p. 57). Second, binding institutions en-
able weaker actors to bargain more effectively with the hegemon than they
otherwise could by providing them with institutionalized, and therefore pre-
dictable, “voice opportunities” in the decisionmaking of the leading state.10

The Problem of International Order Revisited 167

10. Ikenberry developed these ideas in earlier articles. See G. John Ikenberry, “Constitutional Poli-
tics in International Relations,” European Journal of International Relations, Vol. 4, No. 2 (June 1998),
pp. 147–177; and G. John Ikenberry, “Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Persistence of Ameri-
can Postwar Order,” International Security, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Winter 1998/99), pp. 43–78. Regarding
the concept of voice opportunities, Ikenberry extends the work of Joseph M. Grieco, “State Inter-
ests and Institutional Rule Trajectories: A Neorealist Interpretation of the Maastricht Treaty and
European Economic and Monetary Union,” Security Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Spring 1996), p. 288; and
Joseph M. Grieco, “The Maastricht Treaty, Economic and Monetary Union, and the Neo-Realist Re-
search Programme,” Review of International Studies, Vol. 21, No. 1 (January 1995), pp. 21–40. The
logic of voice opportunities is derived from Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty—
Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Press, 1970); and Paul W. Schroeder, “Alliances, 1815–1945: Weapons of Power and Tools of Man-
agement,” in Klaus Knorr, ed., Historical Dimensions of National Security Problems (Lawrence: Uni-
versity Press of Kansas, 1975), pp. 227–262. Charles A. Kupchan borrows Ikenberry’s concepts of
strategic restraint and self-binding strategies in his discussion of benign unipolarity in Kupchan,

Speciªcally, international institutions create multiple channels of transgovern-
mental planning and policymaking contacts between the hegemon and the
subordinate members of the system that routinize and rationalize the joint
decisionmaking process.11 The open character of a democratic polity also al-
lows groups of transnational experts, so-called epistemic communities, to ac-
quire access to governmental policymaking at both the domestic and
international levels. The power of these transnational groups to establish con-
sensual knowledge bases regarding the nature of and solution to complex
global problems helps to reinforce continuity in the policy processes and to
limit the ability of a hegemonic power to arbitrarily get its way on any particu-
lar issue.12 Third, multilateral institutions reduce the autonomy of all members
vis-à-vis one another, thereby mitigating the problems of anarchy (e.g., the se-
curity dilemma) and the role and consequences of power in their relationships
(p. 63).13 Finally, the short-term time horizons of weak states in the immediate
postwar period compel them to strike a constitutional bargain with the new
hegemon. The “option of losing more now to gain more later is not attractive
for a weak state that is struggling to rebuild after war” (p. 57).
In sum, a constitutional settlement offers a mutually acceptable bargain—the

beneªts of which accrue asymmetrically over time—that both sides prefer to
the absence of an agreement, that is, to domination or abandonment: “The he-
gemonic or leading state agrees to forgo some gains in the early postwar peri-
od in exchange for rules and institutions that allow it to have stable returns
later, while weaker states are given favorable returns up front and limits on the
exercise of power. Institutions play a two-sided role: they must bind the lead-
ing state when it is initially stronger and the subordinate states later when they
are stronger” (p. 57).14 The World Trade Organization is an exemplar of this

International Security 26:1 168

“After Pax Americana: Benign Power, Regional Integration, and the Sources of a Stable
Multipolarity,” International Security, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Fall 1998), pp. 45–55.
11. Here, Ikenberry essentially reiterates the logic behind the theory of complex interdependence.
See Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye, Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition
(Boston: Little, Brown, 1977).
12. See Peter Haas, ed., Knowledge, Power, and International Policy Coordination, special issue of Inter-
national Organization, Vol. 46, No. 1 (Winter 1992).
13. See Daniel Deudney, “The Philadelphia System: Sovereignty,