Schweller  2001
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Schweller 2001

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its stabil-
ity, its goals, are something different from the organization, the stability, and
the goals of the individuals in it.”21

Of course, theorists may within reason deªne concepts any way they choose.
But ultimately, adherence to this restricted notion of political order puts
Ikenberry himself in a bind: He cannot compare constitutional systems with
the standard version of balance of power, as he claims he does, to see which
system is better at causing order and stability. The game is rigged such that
constitutional systems, by deªnition, provide more order than the alternatives.
Ultimately it is a misleading argument for an American grand strategy of pri-
macy through policies of assertive multilateralism and cooperative security—
all of which Ikenberry claims will promote greater international order and sta-
bility than would exist under traditional balance-of-power politics. But rather
than explaining why this should be so and then showing empirically that his
model best ªts the facts, Ikenberry unwittingly makes the case by ªat: His
deªnition of international order simply excludes from consideration the auto-
matic version of a balance-of-power system, which he nonetheless claims to be
testing as a competing model of international order.
This is not a picayune semantic point. Indeed it goes to the core of

Ikenberry’s argument. To see why, I consider the two values most associated
with order: predictability and stability. The predictability of a social system de-
pends on, among other things, its degree of complexity, whether its essential
mechanisms are automatic or volitional, and whether the system requires key
members to act against their short-run interests in order to work properly.
Constitutional orders are complex systems that rely on ad hoc human choices
and require actors to voluntarily choose to subordinate their immediate inter-
ests to communal or remote ones. As such, how they actually perform when
confronted with a disturbance that trips the alarm, so to speak, will be highly
unpredictable. In contrast, the operation of a balance-of-power system is fairly
automatic and therefore highly predictable. It simply requires that states, seek-

The Problem of International Order Revisited 171

19. Jervis, System Effects, p. 13.
20. Ibid., pp. 12–17.
21. Quoted in ibid., pp. 14–15, from Kurt Lewin, Resolving Social Conºicts (New York: Harper and
Brothers, 1948), p. 73.

ing to survive and thrive in a competitive, self-help realm, pursue their short-
run interests: That is, states seek power and security as they must in an anar-
chic order.22

Here, I do not mean to suggest that balance-of-power systems always func-
tion properly and predictably: Balancing can be late, uncertain, or nonexist-
ent.23 These types of balancing maladies, however, typically occur when states
consciously seek to opt out of a balance-of-power system, as happened in the
interwar period, but then fail to replace it with a functioning alternative secu-
rity system. The result is that a balance-of-power order, which I view as a de-
fault system that arises spontaneously in the absence or failure of concerted
arrangements among all the units of the system to provide for their collective
security, eventually emerges but is not accomplished as efªciently as it other-
wise would have been.
Turning to system stability, Ikenberry deªnes stability in terms of the sys-

tem’s resilience in the face of disturbances, such as shifts in power, the rise of
new states, and changes in the goals of states (p. 45). Here again, balance-of-
power orders can be expected to perform better than constitutional ones. In a
balance-of-power system, status quo states respond to rising challengers by
arming themselves and forming counterbalancing coalitions. Precisely what
the corresponding response mechanisms are in constitutional orders is unclear.
Ikenberry provides only the vague notion that the rule of law and institutional
binding will sufªce to restore system equilibrium. Given the logic of constitu-
tional orders, however, rising challengers should not appear in the ªrst place.
Shifts in power will be benign because all states, including rising states, agree
that the order is legitimate. Once a strong state or group of states decides oth-
erwise, all bets are off; in other words, when a disturbance arises, there is no
telling how the system will behave. This is obviously not evidence of system
stability as Ikenberry deªnes it, but rather an argument that constitutional or-
ders are so robust that the problem of instability never arises in the ªrst place.
It is a rosy picture of international politics—one that provides little comfort
to defensive states if it proves incorrect. In practice, if strong states defect
from the constitutional order and seek to overthrow it, the institutional order
will naturally devolve into a balance-of-power system. In summary, while
Ikenberry, by deªnition, rules out a self-regulating (or automatic) balance
of power as a system of order, it does a better job than his constitutional vari-

International Security 26:1 172

22. These arguments are drawn from Betts, “Systems for Peace or Causes of War?”
23. I am grateful to Colin Elman and Sean Lynn-Jones for raising this point.

ant at providing the two values most associated with order: predictability and
stability.
What, then, is the beneªt of constitutional orders? Thomas Hobbes stated

that what makes men give up their independence is not reason but fear. The
hegemon has the least to fear and so little incentive to create an order that
binds its strength. Secondary and weak states have a good deal to fear, but a
system that merely has certain characteristics of a constitutional order but not
the crucial one—competent agents able and willing to enforce the rule of law—
will not protect them.
What Ikenberry sees as constitutional order is little more than what Charles

Krauthammer calls “pseudo-multilateralism: a dominant great power acts es-
sentially alone, but, embarrassed at the idea and still worshipping at the shrine
of collective security, recruits a ship here, a brigade there, and blessings all
around to give its unilateral actions a multilateral sheen.”24 The danger is that
American political leaders, and those countries that have placed their security
in their hands, might come to believe their own pretense. China, Ethiopia,
Czechoslovakia, and Austria learned this lesson the hard way in the 1930s;
Britain and France followed in 1940.

The Inevitability of Hegemonic Decline?

Ikenberry claims that a new hegemon should pursue a policy of strategic re-
straint if it realizes at the outset of the postwar juncture that its capability ad-
vantage is a wasting asset. Accordingly, the hegemon will forgo short-run
gains and instead invest in its future, establishing a durable set of institutional
arrangements that bind its power but lock in long-term beneªts. There are sev-
eral problems with this logic.
First, although hegemonic decline may be inevitable, it is not self-evident

that a policy of strategic restraint better serves the hegemon’s long-
run interests than simply taking advantage of its power position to grab imme-
diate gains. Indeed there is no a priori reason to conclude that instant post-
war beneªts (e.g., increases in the size of the new hegemon’s territorial bound-
aries, spheres of inºuence, colonial possessions, etc.) will not continue
to accrue signiªcant future gains and thereby better serve to arrest the pace of
hegemonic decline than Ikenberry’s alternative of a constitutional peace settle-

The Problem of International Order Revisited 173

24. Charles Krauthammer, “The Unipolar Moment,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Winter 1990/
1991), p. 25.

ment. Because one can make an equally impressive logical case to support
either position, theoretical arguments alone will not tell us whether the choice
to transform is more likely to beneªt the hegemon over the long run than is
the decision to dominate. It is ultimately