Schweller  2001
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Schweller 2001

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orders than they
do about America\u2019s determination to maintain its grip on the foreign and mili-
tary policies of the European states and Japan. As Waltz remarks, \u201cRealism re-
veals what liberal institutionalist theory obscures: namely, that international
institutions serve primarily national rather than international interests.\u201d42
Inasmuch as NATO serves to reassure U.S. allies that the United States will
not turn inward and abandon them, Ikenberry\u2019s binding institutions thesis is
partly correct. But it incorrectly identiªes the leading state as the target of the
binding strategy rather than the subordinate state, in this case, Germany. This
is a critical error because it exposes the logical problem at the core of his argu-
ment\u2014namely, that institutions can bind a hegemon\u2019s power. Institutions can-
not be both autonomous and capable of binding strong states. Institutions are
either instruments of strong states, and therefore capable of binding subordi-
nate ones, or they are independent of strong states and thus unable to perform
a binding function. In any case, leading states can never be bound by institu-
tions. A hegemon may choose to exhibit restraint, and then again it may not. In
these matters, however, institutions are guarantors of nothing. At one point,
Ikenberry remarks: \u201cInstitutional binding is like marriage: two individuals
realize that their relationship will eventually generate conºict and discord, so
they bind themselves together in a legal framework, making it more difªcult to
dissolve the relationship when those inevitable moments arrive\u201d (p. 69, n. 58).
A recent study by the Council on American Families found that 50 percent of
all ªrst marriages end in divorce.43
If the United States suddenly stopped behaving like a huge but usually
placid elephant and turned into a carnivorous Tyrannosaurus rex, the protection
of international institutions and the rule of law would be of small comfort to
the rest of the world.44 We would quickly see a return to tried-and-true bal-
ance-of-power politics, which is precisely the problem: When the safety mech-
International Security 26:1 182
41. See, for example, Robert O. Keohane and Lisa L. Martin, \u201cThe Promise of Institutionalist The-
ory,\u201d International Security, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Summer 1995), pp. 39\u201351.
42. Kenneth N. Waltz, \u201cIntimations of Multipolarity,\u201d in Birthe Hansen and Bertel Heurlin, eds.,
The New World Order: Contrasting Theories (London: Macmillan, 2000), p. 5.
43. Ross Wilymz, \u201cLow Marriage, High Divorce Rate Hits Kids Hard,\u201d Reuters, April 4, 1995.
44. I have borrowed these metaphors from Josef Joffe, \u201cHow America Does It,\u201d Foreign Affairs, Vol.
76, No. 5 (September/October 1997), p. 16.
anisms of the institutional system are actually called on to perform, they will
not work as designed and will, most likely, be counterproductive with the ob-
ject of security. This is because the logic of how security is caused by constitu-
tional order rests entirely on the hegemon\u2019s voluntary compliance to the rules
of the game. The system therefore can neither ensure that the hegemon will not
defect nor survive the hegemon\u2019s defection; yet this is precisely the danger that
a constitutional order is designed to guard against. Here, Betts\u2019s observation
that advocates of collective security confuse causes and consequences applies
equally well to Ikenberry\u2019s concept of constitutional order: \u201cPeace is the premise
of the system rather than the product.\u201d45 I would add that Ikenberry\u2019s notion that
the international system may exhibit features of a constitutional order is like
describing someone as a little pregnant. Either a full-blown constitutional or-
der is in place\u2014which means that there is a sovereign arbiter to make and en-
force agreements among states\u2014or we are dealing with a balance-of-power or
hegemonic system with international institutions, which, after all, are always
present in some form or another.
The Paradox of Unchallenged American Primacy
Ikenberry claims that his institutional theory of order explains why American
primacy has not engendered the \u201cnormal response\u201d of resistance and counter-
balancing and \u201cwhy international order has remained so stable after the Cold
War despite these heightened power asymmetries\u201d (p. 270). Once again, there
are several plausible alternative explanations for why secondary states have
not yet balanced against U.S. power.
First, the international structure that emerged out of World War II was bipo-
lar, not unipolar. Bipolarity and the common Soviet threat explain how and
why the United States created a web of supranational institutional arrange-
ments among the industrial democracies and why they voluntarily partici-
pated in them. These U.S.-led institutions were primarily designed not to bind
American strength but rather (1) to project U.S. power more effectively than it
otherwise could in an overall strategy of containment, and (2) to reassure am-
bivalent allies to accept the risks that accompanied Germany\u2019s and Japan\u2019s re-
vivals within a U.S.-led anti-Soviet coalition. Because America is an offshore,
insular state, its power is not as threatening to other regional powers as their
power is to each other. Thus, although the structure of the international system
has changed from bipolarity to unipolarity, the problems that the institutions
The Problem of International Order Revisited 183
45. Betts, \u201cSystems for Peace or Causes of War?\u201d pp. 23\u201324 (emphasis in original).
were designed to solve largely remain. The Europeans want the United States
to maintain its military presence on the continent to guard against the twin
threats of a Germanized Europe and a revitalized Russia. Likewise, the United
States must remain engaged in East Asia to contain rising Chinese power and
to prevent the emergence of an independent, nuclear Japan, which would
destabilize the region and trigger a dangerous arms race between Japan and
Second, the industrial democracies have had no reason to fear that the
United States, with little history of imperialism or greedy expansion, would
use its power for malign purposes. The benign nature of American intentions,
not the illusion of protection from American power provided by binding insti-
tutions, explains why members of the Western alliance have not defected to
aggregate their power against the United States after the Cold War. The dura-
bility of the West\u2019s institutional arrangements is a consequence, not a cause, of
peace among the industrial democracies, which share common goals and val-
ues and trust that the United States will not act aggressively.
Finally, some argue that the United States is so overwhelmingly powerful
that there is no possible combination of states that could balance against it. As
William Wohlforth points out, \u201cUnipolarity is a structure in which one state\u2019s
capabilities are too great to be counterbalanced. . . . Unipolarity should not be
confused with a multi- or bipolar system containing one especially strong po-
lar state.\u201d46 This is precisely the error that Ikenberry commits in labeling the
postwar structures after 1815, 1919, and 1945 hegemonic systems. The ªrst two
were multipolar systems, the last was a bipolar one. All systems prior to the
current one were balance-of-power systems, not hegemonic or constitutional
orders. All except the present unipolar system witnessed balancing among the
great powers. Ikenberry myopically focuses on America\u2019s bloc system and
calls it a constitutional international order. Yet the high degree of institu-
tionalization within the U.S.-led coalition was merely a by-product of collec-
tive-defense balancing in a bipolar system.
Conclusion and Policy Implications
The novelty of After Victory\u2019s analysis is largely derived from the rather inter-
esting duality at its core: It prescribes liberal idealist means to achieve Machia-
vellian realist ends. On the one hand, Ikenberry\u2019s basic institutional argument
is entirely consistent with liberal idealism and what E. H. Carr called the \u201cdoc-