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Liberalism and Empire: Logics of Order in the American Unipolar Age

Author(s): G. John Ikenberry


Source: Review of International Studies, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Oct., 2004), pp. 609-630
Published by: Cambridge University Press
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Review

of International

Studies

(2004),

30, 609-630

Copyright

? British

International

Studies

Association

DOI: 10.1017IS0260210504006254

Liberalism

and empire: logics of order


in the American
unipolar age

G.

JOHN

IKENBERRY

Introduction

The United
States dominates
the world as no state has. It emerged from the Cold
or ideological contenders are
War the world's only superpower, and no geopolitical
in sight. Europe
is drawn inward and Japan is stagnant. A half-century
after their
the United
States still provides security and garrisons
occupation,
troops in Japan
- the world's
and Germany
second and third largest economies. US military
bases
and carrier battle groups ring the world. Russia
is in a quasi-formal
security
with the United
itself to US
States, and China has accommodated
partnership
at least for the moment.
For the first time in the modern
era, the world's
dominance,
most powerful
state can operate on the global stage without
the counterbalancing
of other great powers. We have entered the American
unipolar age.1
The United
States is not just a superpower pursuing
its interests; it is a producer
of world order. Over the decades, and with more support than resistance from other
a distinctively
international
order. Its
states, it has fashioned
open and rule-based
interests, and ideals together constitute an
dynamic bundle of oversized capacities,
American
project' with an unprecedented
global reach. For better or worse, states
constraints

today must operate in, come to terms with, or work around this protean order.2
America's
power has been dramatically
overwhelming
edge in sheer military
war on terrorism,
revealed to the world. The Bush administration's
invasions of
and Iraq, expanded military
2002 National
Afghanistan
budget, and controversial
power into the light of day
and, in doing
Security Strategy have thrust American
so, deeply unsettled much of the world. Worry about the implications of American
is the not-so-hidden
subtext of recent US-European
tensions and has
unipolarity
in recent presidential
in Germany,
elections
Brazil, and South
figured prominently
Korea. The most fundamental
about the nature of global politics - who
questions
- are now
commands and who benefits
the subject of conversation
among long-time
allies and adversaries alike. To acquire the capacity to dominate
is not to gain the
right to rule.
sense of this new unipolar
The world
is trying to make
are
reality. Diplomats
trying to figure out how an American
unipolar order will operate. Will the US break
out of

1
2

its postwar

commitment

to multilateral

and alliance-based

partnerships

and

'The Illusions of Empire', Foreign Affairs


essay draws on G. John Ikenberry,
2004).
(March/April
see William Wohlforth,
For the best discussion
of unipolarity,
'The Stability of a Unipolar
World',
International
21: 1 (Summer
Security,
1999), pp. 1-36.

This

609

610

G. John Ikenberry

to unilaterally
dominate
the world? Should American
power be appeased,
or
are
resisted?
scholars
basic
Meanwhile,
engaged,
asking
questions about American
as
a
formation.
What
is
the
character
of American
domination?
unipolarity
political
attempt

is based on a mix of force and consent, is it shifting


are the restraints on American
if any? Is
power
resistance and breakdown
inevitable? Looming
in the background
is American
consistent with multilateral,
question:
unipolarity

If the postwar American


system
toward force? What
increasingly
counterbalancing,
is the fundamental
rule-based

order?

two logics of order. One logic is


does face a choice between
Today,
This is order built around
unipolar order organised around 'liberal' characteristics.
alliance partnership,
and rule
multilateralism,
strategic restraint, and institutional
based relationships - prominent features of the post-1945 Western
system. The other
This is order built
logic is unipolar order organised around 'imperial' characteristics.
the US

around American

coercive

reduced

rules of

divide and rule strategies, and


domination,
the game. In this imperial vision of order,
US power is the provider, protector, arbiter, and final word in international order.
a grand historic
turn toward imperial rule is
The view that America
is making
reflected in a growing body of scholarship
that evokes images of empire. 'No one
can deny the extent of the American
informal empire', argues Neill Ferguson who
unilateralism,
to shared
commitment

to its British precursor.


likens today's imperium
'Even recent American
foreign
of the British Empire in its Victorian
heyday,
policy recalls the gunboat diplomacy
when a little trouble on the periphery could be dealt with by a short, sharp "surgical
Johnson advances
the more disturbing
claim that America's
strike"'.3 Chalmers
Cold War-era military power and far-flung system of bases have been consolidated
over the last decade into a new form of global imperial rule. Driven by a triumph
alist ideology, exaggerated
threats, and a self-serving military-industrial
complex, the
intent on world domination'.4
United
States is 'a military
juggernaut
Military
in regional headquarters
commanders
around the world are latter-day proconsuls,
who are the visible manifestation
of American
warrior-diplomats
imperial reach.
it is not built on the
The American
empire is innovative, Johnson asserts, because
acquisition of territory; it is an empire of bases.
The assertion that America
is bent on empire is not new. A looming global empire
is the image evoked by British writer and Labour politician Harold Laski in 1947
bestrides the world like a colossus; neither Rome at the
when he said that America
supremacy enjoyed
height of its power nor Great Britain in the period of economic
. . .
an influence so direct, so profound, or so pervasive.
Today literally hundreds of
millions

of Europeans
and Asiatics
know that both the quality and the rhythm of
in Washington'.5
lives depend
made
And,
indeed, Dean
upon decisions
and other American
architects of postwar order were great admirers of the
Acheson
war era, left-wing
British Empire. During
the Vietnam
thinkers and revisionist
their

Niall Ferguson,
Empire: The Rise and Demise
of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global
Power (New York: Basic Books,
2002), p. 368.
Chalmers
Johnson, The Sorrow of Empire: Militarism,
(New
Secrecy, and the End of the Republic
York: Metropolitan
Books,
2004).
5
as a World Power: A Realist Appraisal from Wilson
to Reagan
America
inNorman
Graeber,
Quoted
& Littlefield,
1984), p. 275.
(Lanham, MD: Rowman

Liberalism

and empire

611

read into the history of American


foreign policy a deep-rooted
impulse
toward militarism
and empire.6
empire has more varied and contested connot
Today the notion of an American
- a term
ations
of approval and optimism for some and disparagement
and danger
for others. Neo-conservatives
celebrate the imperial exercise of American
power. In a
'white man's burden', America's
'liberal imperialism'
modern
version of Kipling's
and undercuts
the tyranny that supports terrorism, military
promotes
democracy
In contrast,
and
critics who see an emerging
weapons
aggression,
proliferation.
on
American
about
its
corrosive
the country's democracy,
its
worry
impact
empire
historians

financial burdens, and the threat it poses to the multilateral


institutions
unacceptable
and alliances that have supported America's national interests since World War II.
In this essay, I make
three arguments. First, unipolarity
does generate imperial
not
of
but
notions
do
capture key features of the
empire
adequately
temptations
have
around
American
order
that
grown up
power. The United States has a
political
in Latin America
and
imperial policies, particularly
relations with Europe, Japan, Russia and China are
and this is true even when
the term empire is
It is a political
democratic.
order built on 'liberal
and an unprece
reciprocity, public goods provision,

long history of pursuing crude


the Middle East. But America's
as imperial
not best described
modified
with neo-, liberal, or

hegemonic'
bargains, diffuse
institutions
and working
dented array of intergovernmental
The
relationships.
a
use
or
advanced democracies
within
where
the
threat
operate
'security community'
it is an American-led
of force is unthinkable. This is not empire
open-democratic
no
name
or
order
that
has
historical
antecedent.
political

to be sure, both liberal and imperial logics are at play in the current
Second,
American
Both logics are deeply rooted in American
unipolar moment.
political
over the last
in American
culture and they both have been manifest
diplomacy
century. The liberal logic has been manifest most fully in the Atlantic
community,
and its institutional
include NATO
and multilateral
economic
expressions
regimes.
in the neo-conservative
The imperial logic is manifest
grand strategy of unilateral
rule. This is a vision of order organised
around the bold exercise of
American
from the constraints of multilateralism
American
and
power, gradual disengagement
a pre-emptive push to overturn or disarm hostile dictatorships. The invasion of Iraq
was the defining goal of this ambitious
grand strategy. Over the longer term, the
the shape of a global
of
order
would
take
'hub and spoke'
likely
imperial logic
This
is
order
built
around
client states,
bilateralism,
system.
'special relationships',
and patronage-oriented
America's
'hub
and
postwar
foreign policy.
spoke' security
ties with East Asia offer a glimmering of this approach. As we shall see, both liberal
to offer a mixture
and imperial
of benefits
and costs for the
logics continue
of
American
governance
unipolarity.
to
the US
is not doomed
Third, despite Washington's
imperial temptation,
abandon rule-based order. This is true if only because the alternatives are ultimately
- even
unsustainable.
The costs of an imperial system of American
rule
the 'hub and

The Tragedy of American Diplomacy.


See also Gabriel Kolko,
The Roots
Williams,
Appleman
(Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1969);
of American Foreign Policy: An Analysis
of Power and Purpose
The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign
and Gadriel Kolko
and Joyce Kolko,
and Row,
1972).
Policy, 1945-1954
(New York: Harper

William

612

G. John Ikenberry

is too costly, fraught with


spoke' version that currently holds sway in East Asia
on
an
and
inflated
of
American
contradictions,
power. Like
premised
accounting
are
an
of
there
incentives
and
will
that
the
US to try
wise,
array
impulses
persuade
to organise unipolarity
around multilateral
rules and institutions. The United
States
some
want
to
rules
in
and
institutions
but
it
may
renegotiate
global areas,
ultimately
will want to wield its power legitimately in a world of rules and institutions.
In the first

this article, I explore alternative ways to conceptualise


of hierarchy,
and
captured by notions
unipolarity,
empire, hegemony,
I
After
sketch
the
of the American
this,
security community.
defining characteristics
rule-based
and 'voice'
relations, and bargaining
system
public goods provision,
In
next
I
at
the
look
the imperial and 'hub and spoke'
sections,
opportunities.
sections

of

American

impulses generated by unipolarity. Finally, I identify the incentives


rule-based order that still hold sway even in a unipolar
multilateral,

Anarchy

and pressures
world.

for

and hierarchy

one disputes that American


It is the character and logic
power is extraordinary.
of American
domination
that is at issue. Is the American
unipolar order a latter-day
that scholars
empire or is it something new? At stake are the most basic distinctions

No

in depicting
order. The first distinction
international
is between anarchy and
the second
is between
and security community.
empire, hegemony,
its specific character, international political order refers to the 'governing'
among a group of states, including its fundamental
rules, principles,
arrangements

make

hierarchy;
Whatever

and institutions.7 Order can be based on coercion,


of
consent, or an equilibrium
and infused with
power. As we shall see, today's unipolar order is both hierarchical
liberal hegemonic
characteristics.
In identifying the organising principle of international politics, neorealists make
the elemental distinction
between anarchy and hierarchy. Anarchy
is order without
central authority. Sovereign states compete in a self-help system. In Kenneth Waltz's
classic statement of this view, the 'parts' of the system are made up of states that are
alike ('like units') in their fundamental
character, undifferentiated
by function.8 In a
states do not stand in any fixed, formal, or hierarchical
of anarchy,
condition
relation with one another. The last word in political authority
is state sovereignty,
which

constitutes
the formal rejection of hierarchy.
In a world of anarchy, incentives exist for states to balance. States can never be
fully certain of the intentions of other states and so cannot rely on commitments
to ensure their security. When powerful
and guarantees
states emerge, weaker states
will seek protection
in countervailing
coalitions. The alternative
is to risk domin
ation. 'Secondary states, if they are free to choose, flock to the weaker side; for it is

For discussions
of international
order, see G John Ikenberry, After Victory: Institutions,
Strategic
Restraint
and the Rebuilding
Press,
of Order after Major War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University
Bull, The Anarchical
2001), p. 22-3; Hedley
Society: A Study of Order in World Politics
(London:

inWorld Politics
1977); and Robert Gilpin, War and Change
(New York: Cambridge
Press, 1981).
University
8
Kenneth Waltz,
Politics
Hill,
(New York: McGraw
Theory of International
1979), p. 95.
Macmillan,

Liberalism

and empire

613

the stronger side that threatens


them. On the weaker
side they are both more
and safer, provided,
of course, that the coalition
appreciated
they join achieves
enough defensive or deterrent strength to dissuade adversaries from attacking.'9 As
the distribution
of power shifts, coalitions will shift as well. International
order,
therefore, is the result of balancing by states seeking to ensure their survival in an
anarchical

system.10

which he argues is a typical


balancing with
'bandwagoning',
a domestic
of competitors
within
in domestic
system. Losers
political
political contests tend to throw their support to winners.11 The contrast is critical for
and it goes to the heart of the neorealist
claim that domestic
and inter
Waltz,
national politics are fundamentally
distinct. The stakes of winning
and losing are
lower in domestic politics, and the possibilities
exist to experience gains even while
new leaders. Under
with powerful
conditions
of anarchy,
if states
cooperating
- a
'bandwagon' with the most powerful state, the result will be a 'world hegemony'
situation that would leave these states at the mercy of the strong. Because the stakes
are lower in domestic politics, more complex and differentiated
political orders can
Waltz

contrasts

strategy

emerge.

Hierarchical
orders, in contrast to anarchy, are ordered relations between units
where political authority
is centralised and the units in the system are functionally
In a hierarchical
differentiated.12
international order, states are integrated vertically
can be
with highly defined superordinate
and subordinate positions. But hierarchies
established and maintained
in different ways - and hierarchical
orders can come in
relations can be a feature of states that still are ultimately
many guises. Hierarchical
of
anarchy. That is, hierarchy can be based simply on differentiation
on
a
based
The
have
in
power disparities.
authority
'great powers'
privileged position
the international
order based on their power
More
articulated
capabilities.13
hierarchical
relations can also emerge from negotiated
'contracts' between
states,
where secondary powers cede formal control of aspects of their sovereignty
to lead
states. David Lake argues that external restrictions on states constitute hierarchical
... is defined
authority relations. 'The degree of hierarchy
by the locus of rights of
residual control or, less formally, by the decision-making
possessed
by
authority
each polity'.14 In this view, hierarchy in international
relations is generated through
negotiated agreements between states that result in transfers of sovereign authority.
Hierarchical
relations can also be manifest
inmore formal and elaborated institu
tional relations in which anarchy all but disappears.
Formal colonial empires and
coercive spheres of influence
such as the Soviet Union
in Eastern
established
operating

within

9
Waltz,
Politics,
p. 127.
Theory of International
10
For an overview
of balance-of-power
The Balance
and
Sheehan,
theory, see Michael
of Power: History
Theory (London: Routledge,1996).
11
Waltz,
Politics,
p. 126.
Theory of International
12
For a survey of hierarchical
theories of order, see G John Ikenberry and Dan Nexon,
'Hierarchy and
International
Relations
paper, 2004.
Theory',
unpublished
13
See Ian Clark, The Hierarchy
in the International
Order (Cambridge:
of States: Reform and Resistance
Order (Cambridge:
Press, 1989); and John A. Hall, International
Cambridge
University
Polity Press,

1996).

14
David

'The New Sovereignty


in International
Lake,
311. See also Lake, Entangling
Relations:
American
Princeton University
Press, 1999).

Relations',
Foreign

International
Studies Review
(2003),
in its Century
(Princeton, NJ:

Policy

p.

614

G. John Ikenberry

was
II - were hierarchical
orders where domination
after World War
Europe
were
nor
neither
informal
institutionalised.
The hierarchical
relationships
negotiated.
in a system of negotiated
rules and
hierarchical order may be manifest
Alternatively,
states agree to differenti
institutions where both the subordinate and superordinate
Power disparities
still matter but they
ation of functions,
rights, and obligations.
a mutually
exist within
rule-based
order. American
institutional,
agreed-upon
Europe after World War II tend to fit this pattern.15
order today
and in the past as well
exhibits a rich array
international
Clearly,
The question
is: is today's unipolar
of these hierarchical
characteristics.16
order
a
term
to
is
that
refers
the
distribution
of
and
it
hierarchical? Unipolarity
power
can be contrasted with bipolar and multipolar
distributions
of power. As William
relations with Western

States alter
Wohlforth
argues, the sheer disparities of power in favour of the United
states are not able to resort to the realist
the fundamental
logic of anarchy.17 Weaker
to protect themselves
from American
strategy of power balancing
predominance.
The insecurities of anarchy do not disappear for weak states, these states are simply
too weak - individually and collectively - to do anything about it.Without
the fear
alliances rising up to resist the United
has
of counterbalancing
States, Washington
an unprecedented
to impose its will on the global system. The ultimate
opportunity
check on its power has disappeared.18 But the absence of balancing
against the US
order that make the United
States
may also be a result of features of international
less threatening to other states than were previous powerful states. Nuclear weapons,
and modernisation
all these features of today's unipolar
democracy,
capitalism
order may make unipolarity more benign than realists might contend.19 But what is
not in dispute is that unipolar order is hierarchical.
The security and economic features of unipolarity also reflect hierarchical relations.
A

the United
States still provides
after their occupation,
security
half-century
and
Western
and
have
for
Germany
(and
Europe)
Japan.
Germany
Japan
protection
'civilian' great-power
nuclear weapons
and pursue
eschewed
strategies precisely
alliance security
because
they remain secondary partners within an American-led
relations are also generating
and division of labour
system. Economic
specialisation
patterns that are more consistent with patterns of hierarchy than anarchy.20
If the United
States is so powerful
today that the logic of anarchy recedes,
behaviour. US policy
neorealist
theory will have problems
explaining American
of anarchy
is seen to be driven by neorealist mechanisms
of
under conditions
But if anarchy-driven
selection and competition.
pressures and incentives disappear,
that other
it is not clear what factors shape unipolar
foreign policy. It does mean
and the more specific costs and benefits
factors
domestic,
ideological, transnational,
of policy. It also means that, although
will likely be stronger determinants
of policy

15

These

last two types of hierarchical

orders

roughly

confirm

to the distinction

Imake

below

between

empire and hegemony.


16
in International
See Paul MacDonald,
Polities',
paper, 2003.
'Theorizing Hierarchy
unpublished
17
International
'The Stability of a Unipolar World',
William Wohlforth,
Security.
18 For a discussion
see G John Ikenberry
The Future of the
of this perspective,
(ed.), America Unrivaled:
Balance
Press, 2002).
of Power (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
19
ch. 1.
Unrivaled,
(ed.), America
Ikenberry
20
'The Nature
and Sources of Liberal
International
and G John Ikenberry,
See Daniel Deudney
25: 2 (1999), pp. 179-96 For an alternative
Studies,
view, see Kenneth
Order', Review of International
International
25: 1 (Summer 2000), pp. 5^11.
after the Cold War',
'Structural Realism
Waltz,
Security,

Liberalism

and empire

is more consistent with hierarchy than anarchy, the actual


unipolarity
can
formal and informal, negotiated
vary greatly between
hierarchy
or
coercive
liberal relationships.

Empire,

hegemony

615

character of
or imposed,

and security community

but what type of hierarchy? Here it is


American
unipolar order may be hierarchical,
useful to distinguish between three forms of hierarchical
order
empire, hegemony,
and security community. Each offers a distinct logic of order, even though all three
in various ways in today's global system. The key difference
logics may be manifest
the lead state operates
between
is that in an empire,
empire and hegemony
in a hegemonic
order, the lead establishes
unilaterally and outside the order, whereas
that it itself operates within. They are different
multilateral
rules and institutions
In a security community,
coercion is washed out of the system,
types of domination.
and hierarchy itself ismuted.
'domesticated',
power becomes
and manifestations.
But in essence, empire
Empire has many different meanings
refers to the formal or informal control by a leading state of the foreign and
domestic policies of weaker political units.21 As Michael Doyle
suggests, 'empire . . .
formal or informal,
in which one state controls
is a relationship,
the effective
In
of
modern
another
political society'.22
scholarship, according
political sovereignty
to Dominic
Lieven, this has led to the comparative
study of two types of empire.
where
One is the modern European maritime
empire
empire is defined in terms of
centre and colonial periphery. Cultural
the relationship
between
the metropolitan
are seen as inherent
and political domination,
along with economic
exploitation,
on
of
The
focus
is
the
other
and absolutist
land
great military
aspects
empire.
run
to
to
which
from
Alexander
the
often
tied
universal
Great
religion,
empires,
Rome and China and on through the Hapsburg
and Ottoman
empires to
and the Soviet Union.23
in any of these instances - offers the most extreme form of
manifest
Empire
hierarchical order in international relations. It is order in which weaker units are not
is ultimately
based on coercive domination.
Weaker
fully sovereign and control
on
are
on
to the
and
societies
the
and
tied
periphery
peoples
dependent
coercively
centre.
In
orders
have
in
actual
varied
their
imperial
practice, imperial
widely
degree
of hierarchical domination
and control.24
is also a contested term but inmodern
international relations theory it
Hegemony
refers to the rule and regime-based
order created by a leading state. Hegemonic
orders are also hierarchical,
although within the order, weaker and secondary states
ancient

Russia

21

Limits and Theoretical


See Alexander
Possibilities
Nations,
Revolutions,
Motyl,
Empires:
Conceptual
Press, 1999), ch. 7.
(New York: Columbia
University
22
Michael
Press, 1991), p. 45.
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
Doyle, Empires
23
Dominic
Press,
Lieven, Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals
((New Haven, CT: Yale University
and colonial
2001). On the maritime
empires, see Doyle, Empires. On the great land empires, see S.M.
24

Eisenstadt,
See Doyle,

The Political
Empires.

Systems

of Empires

(London:

Transaction

Books,

1992).

616

G John Ikenberry

can be looser
are formally sovereign and the extent and mechanisms
of domination
and less formal. But ultimately, hegemonic
order is established
and maintained
by
the preponderance
of power of the leading state, and when that power declines or
passes to another state, the order will break apart or at least change to reflect the
interests of the newly powerful state.25 Britain in the nineteenth
century and the US
after World War II are the great historical cases of liberal hegemony.
state
the logic of hegemonic
order. A dominant
Robert Gilpin
has captured
- and
a
war
new
to
with
international
order
from
the
emerges
capabilities
organise
to establish rules and institutions
of its favourable position
that
takes advantage
serve its long-term
interests. Rules and rights are established
and enforced by the
state. Compliance
and participation
within the
postwar capacities of the hegemonic
a
order is ultimately ensured by
range of power capabilities available to the hegemon
and so forth. Direct
power, financial capital, market access, technology
military
an
of order, but less direct 'carrots and
coercion is always
option in the enforcement
to maintain
control. Gilpin also argues that
sticks' are also mechanisms
hegemonic
of hegemonic
ideology and status appeals are also integral to the perpetuation
order.26

order can be more or


Hegemonic
is
of the lead state. When hegemony
states are organised
around
between
alised relations. In its 'liberal' guise,

less based on the direct and coercive domination


and non-coercive,
relations
relatively benevolent
more reciprocal, consensual,
and institution

state has incentives to establish


the hegemonic
acts on its long-term
interests rather than
regimes. The hegemon
over
to identify its own
This
allows
it
short-term
distributional
gains.
struggle
and stability of the larger political
interest with the openness
system. In Robert
structures
of power,
the theory holds
that 'hegemonic
Keohane's
formulation,
are
a
to
most
conducive
the
of strong
dominated
country,
development
single
by
are
and
well
Such
rules
international
whose
relatively precise
obeyed'.27
regimes
to maintain
states have the capacity
regimes that they favour through the use of

multilateral

state gains the ability to shape and


sanctions. The hegemonic
coercion or positive
to smaller
the flow of benefits
the international
dominate
order, while providing
states that is sufficient to persuade them to acquiesce.
international political
of non-anarchical
is a final conception
Security community
to settle disputes
is seen
order. In a security community, war or the use of violence
as the deep
as unthinkable
states within
the community. Anarchy
among member
organising principle of state relations disappears and a new 'social structure' of state
- an
states. In such an
relations emerges
amalgam of open, integrated democratic
as well - is rendered
and indeed hierarchy
of power politics
order, balance

25

The World in
and hegemonic
of hegemony
For discussions
stability theory, see Charles Kindleberger,
'State
of California
1929-1939
Press, 1973); Stephen Krasner,
(Berkeley, CA: University
Depression,
28: 3 (April 1976); and Robert
Power and the Structure of International
Trade', World Politics,
The Political Economy
US Power and theMultinational
of Foreign Direct
Corporation:
Gilpin,
Investment
1973). For a critique of this literature, see David Lake,
(New York: Basic Books,
or Tattered Monarch
with
Naked
and the International
Emporor
Economy:
'Leadership, Hegemony,
37 (1993), pp. 459-89.
Studies Quarterly,
International
Potential?'

26
Robert
27
Robert

in World Politics.
Gilpin, War and Change
'The Theory
of Hegemonic
Keohane,
Stability and Change
M. Siverson,
and Alexander
in Ole R. Holsti,
Randolph
Regimes',
International
Press,
1980), p. 132.
(Boulder, CO: Westview
System

in International
Economic
in the
L. George
(eds.), Change

Liberalism

617

and empire

a security com
advanced by Karl Deutsch,
irrelevant. In the original formation,
were
a
as
and
is defined
group of like-minded peoples who
economically
munity
linked together by common
institutions
and practices,
and
politically
integrated,
united by a shared 'sense of community'.28
it a security community:
Three features of the North Atlantic
region make
identities and shared values; transnational
economic
and societal inter
collective
structures that channel and resolve political conflict. In
and governance
dependence;
a recent restatement
of this perspective,
Thomas
Risse
argues that the social
structure of theWestern
security community
shapes the basic character and identities
of the actors who operate within
does not
it.29 This Western
security community
vanquish conflict but it does radically reduce security dilemma dynamics and makes
economic
and institution
great-power war impossible. Democracy,
interdependence,
of Western
alised governance
relations are characteristics
political order that work
in Western
shared values and collective
identities.30 Peoples
together to produce
states have attained a sufficient level of shared loyalty to each other and trust that
the structure of interstate relations has changed. Risse argues that as a result of this
and collective
shared sense of community
the Atlantic
identity, countries within
as
seen
as highly
not
state
do
actions
that
would
be
region
regard
threatening
came
over
states
if
from
outside
the
trade,
they
threatening
community. Disputes
- indeed because
are
these democracies
defence, and other issues do not disappear
- but
more
are
such
conflicts
increase
may
becoming
interdependent
actually
they
shared political
institutions
and stable expectations
contained within
that their
resolution can be achieved short of resort to armed violence.

Unipolarity,

liberalism,

and empire

the postwar
and Western
legacy of liberal hegemony
security community,
new strategic thinking triggered
when
combined
with
the
unpolarity
particularly
11 - does make more plausible
the logic of American
by September
empire. This is
so not only because of the sheer predominance
of American
power. But also
- because
to liberal ideals which makes
unipolar power is connected
paradoxically
In shaping
the American
world order 'project' both more expansive and complex.
world order, power and liberalism are a much more potent mixture
than simply the
exercise of crude material
remains: is the resulting
power alone. But the question
American-led
order an empire?
Realist scholars depict international relations as the interaction of sovereign states
Despite

who manoeuvre

28

in a world

of anarchy.

In the classic Westphalian

image,

states

et al., Political
and the North Atlantic Area (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
Community
Barnett
Press, 1957). See also Emanuel Adler and Michael
(eds.), Security Communities
University
Press, 1998), and John R. Oneal and Bruce M. Russett,
(New York: Cambridge
University
Peace: Democracy,
and International
Triangulating
Organizations
(New York:
Interdependence,
Norton,
2001).
29
'U.S. Power in a Liberal Security Community',
inG John Ikenberry
Thomas Risse,
(ed.), America
Unrivaled.
30
in Russett
These
three characteristics
of liberal order are explored
and Oneal, Triangulating
Peace.
Karl Deutsch

G. John Ikenberry

618

on the use of force domestically,


a monopoly
while order at the inter
a
level is maintained
diffusion
and
of power among
through
equilibrium
is more hierarchical
than
states.31 But, as we have seen, today's unipolar world
on
is
its
anarchical - and the Westphalian
head.
The
United
States
image
flipped
on the international
a quasi-monopoly
use of force while the domestic
possesses
of states are increasingly
institutions
and behaviours
that is,
open to global
Post-9/11
administration
American
Bush
about
scrutiny.
thinking
'contingent
open states up even further to outside intrusions. The
sovereignty' and pre-emption

maintain
national

and the simultaneous


of state
predominance
unbundling
historical development.
this view, the Italian scholar, Vittorio Emanuele
Parsi, argues that the
Echoing
a transformation
in the last decade
international
system has undergone
only to be
as
as
11
intensified since September
any since the Peace of Westphalia.32
profound
Parsi identifies two epochal shifts. One is a shift from pace dfequilibrio
('peace of
to a pace egemonica
('hegemonic
peace'). For five hundred years, the
equilibrium')
by ensuring an absence of an overarching power in
security of states was maintained
rise of American
unipolar
is a new world
sovereignty

the rise of American


the international
system. With
unipolarity,
stability and peace
are guaranteed
of power by a single superstate. The disparities
of
by the wielding
is impossible.
power are so great that counterbalancing
by the other great powers
The other shift is from a system governed by the 'balance of power' to the 'balance
States and the other great powers are not worried about war
of terror'. The United
them. They are now worried
about global terrorism - that is, they are
between
states in the periphery.
about threats that emerge from failed and hostile
threats cannot be deterred;
attacked. Together
they must be pre-emptively
these two shifts give the United
States the capacity and necessity
but only a few
- to
would say the authority
international
order
and
unilaterally project force
police
into the affairs of vulnerable yet threatening sovereign states.
in its
This new logic, of course, is grandly embraced by the Bush administration
2002 National
States will increasingly
Security Strategy. In this vision, the United
stand aloof from the rest of the world and use its unipolar power - most importantly,
- to
In a
and enforce
the peace.
its military
arbitrate
power
right and wrong
States must
Hobbesian
world of anarchy, the United
step forward as the order
States will refuse to play by the same rules as other
creating Leviathan. The United
worried
These

states; this is the price that the world must pay for the unipolar provision of security.
under which the United
This view is reflected in the Bush doctrine of pre-emption
States claims a new right to use force 'to act against emerging threats before they are
also warns other great powers not to
fully formed'.33 The Bush administration
The US insists that it will not accept the
challenge America's military pre-eminence.
rise of a 'peer competitor'.
Indeed, in the Bush view, no one should want to try
the peace.
everyone benefits in a world where a single superpower maintains

31

state system, see Bull, The Anarchical


of the Westphalian
and Waltz,
Society;
depictions
see
of the Westphalian
Politics.
For an important
settlement,
Theory of International
reinterpretation
Press,
Organized Hypocrisy
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton
Sovereignty:
University
Stephen D. Krasner,
argues that the norms of Westphalian
1999). Krasner
sovereignty
actually emerged
long after 1648
and departures
from it lace the entire history of the state system.
32
Inevitabile: Europa e Stati Uniti oltre l'Iraq (Milan: Universita
Vittorio
Emanuele
Parsi, L'alleanza
33

For general

Bocconi
Editore,
2003).
Office of the President, National

Security

Strategy

of the United

States,

September

2002.

Liberalism

and empire

619

in this vision of American


is
Interestingly,
unipolar rule, the Bush administration
itself in liberal clothing. American
power is seen as being put at the service
wrapping
of universal
ideas - openness, democracy,
limited government,
human dignity, and
the rule of law. In this sense, President Bush's championing
of democracy
in Iraq
and around the world
is only the most recent version of a century-old American
tradition in which its leaders see a natural confluence between liberal idealism and
the exercise of geopolitical
and
power. Wilson,
FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Reagan,
Clinton
all these American
the United
States as a 'liberal
presidents
portrayed
beacon' for the world.34 Now the Bush administration
raises the stakes and offers the
US to the world as a liberal Leviathan.
The United
States is not the first global power to see its geopolitical
exertions in
this light. Niall Ferguson argues that the American
is remark
'strategy of openness'
of the British Empire
in the second half of the
ably similar to the aspirations
nineteenth
After all, it was a young Winston
century until the Great Depression.
to 'give
Churchill who argued that the aim of British
imperialism was ultimately
to strike the
peace to warring
tribes, to administer
justice where all was violence,
chains off the slave, to draw the richness from the soil, to place the earliest seeds of
commerce
and learning, to increase in whole peoples
their capacities
for pleasure
and diminish their chances of pain. . .' In Ferguson's view, these are but variations
on a common Anglophone
theme of liberal empire.35
More
in the Western
almost
all of the great empires
world - from
generally,
were seen by their leaders as
to Rome and Great Britain
Alexander
the Great
exercises in the provision of peace and stability. Alexander
the Great's ambition was
not

outsiders
and to unite East and West. As
just to conquer but to assimilate
Alexander's
vision
of
Anthony
Pagden argues:
empire, or at least the vision later
historians
have provided
for him, had many of the properties
that later empires
would claim for themselves, from ancient Rome to the United States: the capacity to
provide a living space for diverse peoples, to create peace and order in a world that
would otherwise be at war with itself, and to defend a tenuous, hard-won and fragile
civilisation against all that might threaten it'.36
But - to restate the question
is today's American
dominated political formation
an empire? If empire has any meaning,
it refers to the political control by a dominant
state of the domestic and foreign policy of weaker countries. The European colonial
embodied
the most
direct and formal
century
empires of the late nineteenth
in
versions. The Soviet postwar
of
influence
Eastern
entailed an
sphere
Europe
more
coercive
but
indirect
form
of
control.
Political
in
rule
the British
equally
to
varied
from
direct
colonial
rule
what
Robinson
and
Empire
enormously
Gallagher
have called 'informal empire' in parts of China, the Ottoman Empire, and Egypt. If
in
system of political relationships
empire is defined more
loosely as a hierarchical
which
system

34

On

the most

powerful
indeed qualifies.

University
35
See Niall
36
Anthony

decisive

influence,

the postwar

American

see Andrew
of the American
J. Bacevitch,
strategy of openness,
continuity
and Consequences
Empire: The Realities
of US Diplomacy
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard
Press, 2002).
Colossus:
The Price of America's
Ferguson,
(New York: Penguin Press, 2004).
Empire
(New York: The Modern
Pagden, Peoples and Empire
Library, 2001), p. 13.

the 21st century

American

state exercises

620

G. John Ikenberry

But if the American


system is an empire, it is like no other. To be sure, the United
States has a long tradition of pursuing
crude imperial policies - most notably
in
Latin America and the Middle East.37 But, at least for the more advanced democratic
countries
in the postwar era, the American-led
order is a more negotiated
system
sought participation
by other states on terms that are
true
in
This
is
three
the United
States has
respects. First,
mutually
agreeable.
in
for
the
of
other
in
states,
provided public goods
exchange
cooperation
particular
through the extension of security and the support for an open trade regime. Second,
the American
system is infused with rules and institutions
through which power is
from the system but arbitrary
typically exercised. Power politics are not eliminated
where

the United

States has

and indiscriminate power is reigned in. Finally, weaker and subordinate


states in the
American
order are given some 'voice opportunities',
that is, they are given informal
access to the policymaking
States and the wider array of
process of the United
institutions that constitute
the system.
intergovernmental
It is these features of the post-1945 American-led
liberal international order that
have led historians such as Charles Maier to talk about a 'consensual empire' and Geir
to talk about an 'empire of invitation'.38 Raymond Aron saw the American
Lundestad
as
an
system
'imperial republic'.39 Britain had a formal empire with few imperial
institutions. The United States has no formal empire but more developed
institutions such as alliances,
order is
security treaties and multilateral
regimes. The American
hierarchical

and ultimately sustained by economic and military power. But it is order


infused with liberal characteristics
and put at the service of supporting an expanding
system of democracy and capitalism.

The American

system

In contrast with imperial political


the American
formations,
system took shape in
the decades after World War II as an open, negotiated,
and institutionalised
order
The United
States is situated at the centre of this
among the major democracies.
liberal order
but it is an order built around the American
of
complex
provision
security and economic public goods, mutually
agreeable rules and institutions, and
interactive political processes
that give states a voice in the running of the system.
and diffuse reciprocity also
Strategic bargains, binding security ties, open markets,
infuse the order and give it liberal characteristics.
This distinctive
liberal political
architecture
is built on top of aWestern
security community which removes war and
threats

of force from American

massive

relations

do give
power advantages
and
hegemonic
security community

with

the other democracies.40


America's
a hierarchical
cast, but its liberal
features make American
empire a structural

the order

impossibility.

37

See Michael
'The US and Latin America:
the Lens of Empire',
Current History,
Shifter,
Through
670 (February 2004), pp. 61-7.
38
Geir Lundestad,
The American
Press, 1990).
'Empire' (London: Oxford University
39
The United States and the World, 1945-1973
Aron, The Imperial Republic:
Raymond
(London:
Weidenfeld
and Nicolson,
1975).
40
These features of the American
system in Ikenberry, After Victory, ch. 6.

103:

Liberalism

and empire

621

This order was built in the decades after World War II through the pursuit of
two grand strategies. One grand strategy is realist in orientation.
Forged during the
it
is
the
of
Cold War,
maintenance
deterrence, and
organised around containment,
the global balance of power. This strategy has been celebrated in America's
history
of the last half-century. Facing a threatening and expansive Soviet Union after 1945,
the United States stepped forward to fill the vacuum left by a waning British empire
to Soviet power. The
and a collapsing European
order to provide a counterweight
was
to
touchstone of this strategy
containment which sought
deny the Soviet Union
the ability to expand its sphere of influence outside its region. Order was maintained
these decades
of the bipolar balance
between
the
during
by the management
and Soviet camps. Stability was achieved
American
through nuclear deterrence.41
For the first time in the modern
and the doctrine of mutual
era, nuclear weapons
assured destruction made war between the great powers utterly irrational. Contain
ment and global power balancing
in
ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union
is no longer the defining logic of the existing order but it
1991. Nuclear
deterrence
to impart stability in relations among
remains a recessed feature that continues
China, Russia, and theWest.
America's
balance-of-power
grand strategy has yielded a bounty of institutions
in the decades
and partnerships
since 1947. The most
important have been the
NATO and US-Japan
alliances. This global system of American-led
security partner
a
have
the
end
the
Cold
survived
of
bulwark
for stability
War,
ships
providing
and reassurances
States main
they manifest. The United
through the commitments
in Europe and East Asia and its alliance partners gain
tains a forward presence
as well as a measure
of regularity in their relationship with the
security protection
But
War balancing
world's
Cold
has yielded more
than a
power.
leading military
utilitarian alliance structure. The American-led
alliance system has inspired a wider
that have helped generate unprecedented
array of economic and political agreements
the countries
levels of integration
and cooperation
of Western
among
Europe,
North America and Northeast
Asia.
II as the United
The other grand strategy, forged during World War
States
the reconstruction
of the world economy,
is liberal in orientation.42
It seeks
market
order around institutionalised
relations
among integrated
political
democracies. America's
agenda for reopening the world economy and integrating the
major regions of the world together was not simply an inspiration of businessmen
and economists. There have always been geopolitical goals as well. Whereas America's
realist grand strategy was aimed at countering Soviet power, its liberal grand strategy
was aimed at avoiding a return to the 1930s: an era of regional blocs, trade conflict,
and multilateral
and strategic rivalry. Open trade, democracy,
institutional
relations
went together. Undergirding
this strategy is the view that a rule-based
international
planned
to build

41

See John Lewis Gaddis,


Strategies
(New York: Oxford

Security Policy
Power: National

42

A Critical Appraisal
of Containment:
Press, 1984); and Melvyn
University
and the Cold War
the Truman Administration,

of Postwar American National


P. Leffler, A Preponderance
of
(Stanford, CA: Stanford

Security,
Press, 1992).
University
in Ikenberry, America's
This liberal grand strategy is sketched
Liberal Grand
Strategy: Democracy
in the Post-War Era', inMichael
and National
Cox, G. John Ikenberry, and Takashi
Security
Promotion:
and Impacts
(eds.), American Democracy
(London: Oxford
Inoguchi
Impulses, Strategies,
Press, 2000), pp. 103-26.
University

622

G John Ikenberry

one where the United


to derive
order - especially
States uses its political weight
an
conserves
most
that
rules
is
order
American
interests,
fully protects
congenial
its power, and extends its influence into the future.
This grand strategy has been pursued through an array of postwar initiatives that
look disarmingly
like 'low polities'. The Bretton Woods
the GATT and
agreements,
in
Eastern
OECD,
WTO, APEC, NAFTA,
democracy
promotion
Europe, Latin
a
are
and
East
Asia
cake
of
America,
together they
integrative initi
complex layer
industrial world
atives the bind the democratic
the 1990s, the
together. During
United States continued to pursue this liberal grand strategy. Both the first Bush and
to articulate a vision of world order that was not
Clinton administrations
attempted
an
or
an explicit policy of balance of power. Bush the
on
external
threat
dependent
elder talked about the importance of the Euro-Atlantic
and articulated
community
ideas about a more fully integrated Asia Pacific region. In both the Atlantic
and
Pacific regions the Bush strategy was to offer a positive
vision of alliance and
that was built around common values, tradition, mutual
self-interest,
partnership
to describe
of stability. The Clinton administration
and the preservation
attempted
the post-Cold War order in terms of the expansion of democracy
and open markets.
for
What emerged was a liberal vision of order. Democracy
provided the foundation
Trade and capital flows were seen as forces for
regional community.
political reform and integration.
- and in some
These two grand strategies are rooted in divergent
ways antagon
istic intellectual traditions, but over the last fifty years they have worked remarkably
well together. The realist grand strategy created a political rationale for establishing
around
the world. The liberal strategy created a
security commitments
major
global

and

States could exercise its power


leadership. The United
positive agenda for American
and achieve its national
interests but do so in a way that helped deepen the fabric of
- it
international community. American
power did not destabilise world order
helped
create it. The creation of rule-based agreements
and political-security
partnerships
were both good for the United
States and for a huge part of the rest of the world.
The result by the end of the 1990s was a global political formation of unprecedented
- a
states tied together
coalition
of democratic
size and success
trans-oceanic
institutions and security partnerships.
through markets,
this American
system is tied together in a cooperative
security order.
Importantly,
from past security arrangements
within
the
This was a very important departure
area. The idea was that Europe and the United
States would be part of a
Atlantic
great powers
single security system. Such a system would ensure that the democratic
not go back to the dangerous game of strategic rivalry and balance of power
politics. It helped, of course, to have an emerging Cold War with the Soviet Union
to generate
But the goal of cooperative
this cooperative
security arrangement.
was
in
order. Without
the
other
elements
of
Western
the Cold War,
security
implicit
it is not clear that a formal alliance would have emerged as it did. Probably it would

would

taken on such an intense and formal character. But a security relationship


States that lessened the incentives for these states to
Europe and the United
in
of
balance
power politics was needed and probably would have been
engage
in a formal alliance institution
A
embodied
security order
cooperative
engineered.
States would be rendered more predictable.
ensured that the power of the United
Power would be caged in institutions
power more reliable
thereby making American
to Europe and to East Asia.
and connected
not have
between

Liberalism

and empire

623

system is built on two historic bargains that the United States has
and grows out of its
made with the rest of the world. One is the realist bargain
Cold War grand strategy. The United
States provides
its European
and Asian
and access to American markets,
partners with security protection
technology, and
an open world economy.
In return, these countries
agree to be
supplies within
This American

reliable partners who provide diplomatic,


economic
and logistical support for the
United States as it leads the wider Western postwar order.
The other is a liberal bargain that addresses the uncertainties
of American
power.
states agree to accept American
East Asian and European
leadership and operate
within an agreed-upon
system. In return, the United States opens
political-economic
In effect, the United
itself up and binds itself to its partners.
States builds an
institutionalised

coalition of partners and reinforces the stability of these long-term


beneficial
itself more
relations by making
'user friendly' - that is, by
playing by the rules and creating ongoing political processes with these other states
that facilitate consultation
and joint decision-making.
The United
States makes
its
power safe for the world and in return the world agrees to live within the American
system. These bargains date from the 1940s but continue to undergird the post-Cold
War order. The result has been the most stable and prosperous
international
order
in world history. But new ideas within
the Bush administration
crystallised
by
- are
11 and American
power dominance
September
unsettling
today's order and the
mutually

political

bargains

Unipolarity

behind

it.

and its discontents

the United
States with both new opportunities
and dangers.
presents
Unipolarity
more
Increased power advantages
the
US
It
freedom
of
action.
is easier for
gives
or
no
to
to
to
other
countries
it
alone.
say
go
Washington
military,
Growing power
economic
and technological
to control
also gives the US more opportunities
outcomes
around the world. But unipolarity
also creates problems of governance.
or
Without
it
is not clear what disciplines or renders
bipolar
multipolar
competition,
more
US
Other
countries
than in the past about domin
power.
worry
predictable
and abandonment.
exploitation,
They may not be able to organise a counter
can
alliance
but
resist
and
undermine US policies. Moreover,
when
balancing
they
are
countries
the
US
their
leaders
have
electoral
democracies,
may
confronting
incentives not to bend to American
pressure.43
to these new American
There are several aspects
dilemmas.
First, a
unipolar
ation,

of power creates 'legitimacy problems' for the lead state in a


unipolar distribution
that
such as bipolar and
way
great powers operating in other power configurations
not
orders
And
do
American
indeed,
multipolar
experience.
unipolar power today
a legitimacy
or multipolar
In a bipolar
is experiencing
the
world,
problem.
state
to
of
is
easier
achieve.
the
Cold
War
power
legitimacy
During
bipolar
struggle,

43

For efforts
Ethan
after

to sketch

B. Kapstein
the Cold War

see Ikenberry
the emerging politics of unipolarity,
Unrivaled;
(ed.), American
and Michael
Mastanduno
and State Strategies
(eds.), Unipolar Politics: Realism
Press, 1999).
(New York: Columbia
University

and

G. John Ikenberry

624

its orbit because that


American
power was seen as legitimate by other states within
at
was
the
of the common
in
and
service
mutual
embedded
put
power
security pacts
America was primus inter pares within a Free
defence against Soviet communism.
World partnership.
orders do not legitimate power as readily. It is easier
But unipolar or hierarchical
for other states and peoples to ask basic questions about the rectitude and legitimacy
States rule the system? What gives it the
of American
power: why should the United
and
to
and
decide
evil, or make and enforce rules? After the
wrong, good
right
right
the Clinton administration
power by championing
legitimated American
were the watch
and enlargement
and
markets
open
engagement
globalisation
was
of
forces
with
the
words. United States power
progressive
capitalism and
aligned
movement
have
crisis and the anti-globalisation
The Asian financial
democracy.
cover
has
for American
tarnished this legitimating
power. The Bush administration
as
master
war
on
terrorism
the cutting edge of American
elevated the
foreign and
principle of international order. But fear of terrorism is not a sufficient legitimating
Cold War,

cover

for American

power.44

in how the world sees


also appears to have created problems
Second, unipolarity
In the past, the United
States provided
of public goods.
the American
provision
- which
- such as
and support for open markets
security protection
global 'services'
to work with rather than resist American
made other states willing
pre-eminence.
for these states to endure
tended to make it worthwhile
The public goods provision
irritations of American
the day-to-day
foreign policy. But the trade-off seems to be
States appears to be providing fewer global public goods
shifting. Today, the United
dominance
while at the same time the irritations associated with American
appear to
be growing.
in this way: the United
States is
be useful to think of this dynamic
It might
of
both
the
in
is
that
it
governance'
provider
simultaneously
'global
unique
and it
through what has tended in the past to be the exercise of 'liberal' hegemony
liberal hegemonic
interest. America's
is a great power that pursues its own national
rule or regime
theWTO,
role ismanifest when it champions
engages in international
to cooperative
creation, or reaffirms its commitment
security in Asia and Europe. Its
steel
for example, when it seeks to protect its domestic
role ismanifest,
great-power
or textile industry - or when President Bush proclaims, as he did in the 2004 State of
States doesn't need a permission
that 'the United
the Union message,
slip' to use
a
as
it is seeking to lead or
it acts
liberal hegemon,
force to protect its citizens. When
the global system of rules and institutions; when it is acting as a nationalist
interests and its relative power
it is seeking to advance domestic
great power,
- liberal
and nationalist
two
roles
these
great power
hegemon
Today,
position.45
are increasingly in conflict.

manage

44

45

on the left, right, and centre have identified a legitimacy


crisis. See Perry Anderson,
Commentators
17 (September/October
New Left Review,
'Force and Consent',
2002); Robert Kagan, A Tougher War
The
New York Times, 25 January 2004; and Zbigniew
for the US Is One of Legitimacy',
Brzezinski,
or Leadership
Choice: Domination
2004).
(New York: Basic Books,
For a useful
Relationship
pp. 103-30.

see Bruce Cronin,


'The Paradox
of Hegemony:
America's
discussion,
Ambiguous
7: 1 (2001),
Journal of International
with the United Nations',
Relations,
European

Liberalism

Neo-imperial

and empire

625

grand strategy

It is at this juncture that a new neo-imperialist


grand strategy has been embraced by
in the aftermath of September
11. Driven by the fear of
the Bush administration
a
to
and
take
emboldened
terrorism,
by the rise of American
willingness
big risks,
an
era
for
of American
neo-conservative
thinkers
argue
global rule
unipolar power,
of
exercise
around
the
bold
unilateral
American
military power and aimed
organised
a
It
at confronting
is
in which sovereignty
the
world.
vision
around
rogue regimes
even as it becomes more
for
becomes more
for America
conditional
absolute
standards of internal and external behaviour.
countries that challenge Washington's
But it is also a grand strategy that is politically unsustainable.
four claims. First, the United
States
The new imperial grand strategy makes
stand aloof from the rest of the world and use its unipolar
should increasingly
- to
- most
its military
arbitrate right and wrong and
power
power
importantly,
States will refuse to play by the same rules as other
enforce the peace. The United
states but this is the price that the world must pay for the unipolar provision
of
to
order
around
America's
older, postwar approach
alliances,
organised
security.
and strategic bargains with other key states
falls away.
multilateral
cooperation,
is reflected in Secretary Rumsfeld's
This new geopolitical
aloofness
aphorism that
the alliance' rather than the other way around.46
'the mission determines
States will determine what is a threat and how to respond; relevant
partners will be invited to join in. But gone is the notion that the alliance
thinkers are not against security partnerships
the mission. Neo-imperial
'coalitions of the willing' will be formed only if other countries sign on

The United
and willing
determines
per se but
to America's

is also reflected
in the October
2002
goals. This approach
unilaterally-defined
under which the United
National
Security Strategy's new doctrine of pre-emption
States claims a new right to use force 'to act against emerging threats before they are
are the old justifications
of war based on self-defence
and
fully formed'. Gone
in Article
51 of the United Nations
charter. 'When it
imminent threat enshrined
comes to our security', President
Bush affirmed,
'we really don't need anybody's
permission'.47

to
and the willingness
Second, the new imperialists argue that military
power
- must
in
interest
be put back into the centre
it robustly
pursuit of the national
of American
foreign policy. Early neo-conservative
thinking in the 1970s made this a
tenet
central
of its critique of American
era; that
foreign policy in the post-Vietnam
had become too liberal, too soft, and too
policy, in the minds of neo-conservatives,
to confront Soviet expansionism.
Power must be put back in the service of
unwilling
American
and
the
national
interest.
principles
Third, the new imperialists urge the US to pull back from treaties and inter
use

national

that jeopardise American


agreements
sovereignty and constrain the exercise
of power. The neo-conservative
calls it the 'new
pundit, Charles Krauthammer,
unilateralism'
After
eight years during which foreign policy success was largely

46
47

2001.
remarks on Face The Nation,
CBS, 23 September
Rumsfeld,
in Dan Baltz,
'President puts onus back on Iraqi leader', The Washington
Quoted
2003, p. Al.

Donald

Post,

1 March

626

G John Ikenberry

measured
could sign and the number of
by the number of treaties the president
summits he could attend, we now have an administration
willing to assert American
freedom of action and the primacy of American
national
interests. Rather
than
new
contain power within a vast web of constraining
international
the
agreements,
on
unilateralism
seeks to strengthen American
and
it
power
unashamedly
deploy
behalf

of self-defined global ends.'48


Some advocates of this view simply appeal to the new realities of terrorism: in an
new era where small groups of determined
individuals can unleash massive violence
the
civilised
world
without
the old system of rules and multilateral
against
warning,
- whatever
it takes, in short, to 'get them before
cooperation must give way to action
new
more
fundamentalists
offer
attacks
they get us'. Other
political-philosophical
on multilateralism
and rule-based
order. In one of the most
far-fetched
versions,
Under
Secretary of State John Bolton, prior to joining the administration,
argued
that a great struggle was unfolding
between what he calls
'Americanists
and
are depicted as elite activist groups who seek to strengthen
Globalists
Globalists'.49
net of agreements on environment,
human
'global governance'
through a widening
rights, labour, health, and
is to enmesh the United
country of its sovereignty.
and are now seizing back

affairs and whose not-so-hidden


political-military
agenda
States in international
laws and institutions
that rob the
to Bolton, have finally awakened
Americanists,
according
the country's control over its own destiny.

the new imperial thinkers also incorporate Wilsonian


ideas into their
Finally,
vision in urging the spread of democracy. This is not just idealism, according to neo
it is good national
and the rule of law
conservatives;
security policy. If democracy
are established
in troubled countries around the world, they cease being threats. This
in Ronald Reagan's celebrated
1982
argument was given a conservative
imprimatur
in which he called for the promotion
of democracy
speech to the British Parliament
as a fundamental
global security imperative. In the hands of new fundamentalists,
this aspiration has become, in Pierre Hassner apt phrase, 'Wilsonian in boots'.50 The
of democracy
is not left to the indirect, long-term forces of economic
promotion
and political engagement - but, when necessary,
it is purveyed through
development
force. Some neo-imperialists,
such as Tom Donnelly
and Max Boot, go even
military
further and argue for formal quasi-imperial
control over strategically valuable failed
bases and an imperial civil service.51
states, backed up by new American
This

new

grand

strategy,

however,

encounters

problems

for

variety

of

reasons.

To begin with,
the troubles that the Bush administration
in stabilising
is having
of mass destruction
in Iraq
postwar Iraq
together with the failure to find weapons
have cast doubt on the viability of this strategy elsewhere in the world. The Bush
administration
will defend
its actions, but the Iraq war looks increasingly
like a
and an under-appreciation
of
costly misadventure
pursued with poor intelligence

48

'The New Unilateralism',


The Washington
Post, 8 June 2001, p. A29.
Krauthammer,
John Bolton,
'Should We Take Global Governance
Law,
Seriously?'
Chicago Journal of International
pp. 205-22.
1:2(2000),
50
States: The Empire of Force or the Force of Empire?' Chaillot Papers,
'The United
Pierre Hassner,
no. 54 (September
2002), p. 43..
51
See Max Boot,
'American imperialism? No need to run away from the label', USA Today, 6 May
needs a colonial
2003, p. 15A; Boot,
Times, 3 July 2003, p. 19; and Tom
office', Financial
'Washington
'There's no place like Iraq ... for US military
5May 2003.
bases', Weekly Standard,
Donnelly,

49

Charles

Liberalism

627

and empire

and political costs. The financial cost to the American


people has also
diplomatic
will grudgingly
reduced the appeal of this grand strategy. Politicians
provide the
unilateral
funds needed to rebuild Iraq, but they also realise that American
massive
States will get stuck with the bills. The American
ism means
that the United
people
are not willing to pay for the neo-conservative
vision.
this grand strategy is built on a radically
Most
inflated view of
importantly,
American
and it does, in fact,
power is overwhelming
power. American military
States extraordinary
global influence. But in an age where terrorism
give the United
is the overriding
American
security threat, offering or withholding
security cooper
ation does not mean as much as it did during the Cold War. Back then - when the
the
threats were clear and aimed at Europe and Asia as much as North America
to its allies. Current threats are less geographically
US was truly indispensable
fixed
and the United States feels more at risk than itsmajor Asian or European allies. Yet
in intelligence,
the United
States needs those allies for assistance
law enforcement,
and a thousand small cooperative
gestures every week in the war on terrorism.52 All
roads lead back to America's
traditional
liberal
grand strategies and its more
hegemonic

orientation.

Hub-and-spoke

versus multilateral

order

there are still two general


grand strategy is unsustainable,
to
choose
States
ways
'govern' unpolarity. One strategy is
might
most
of
the
the multilateral,
rule-based
era, manifest
strategy
postwar
fully in
America's
relations with Western Europe. The other strategy is what might be called
'hub and spoke' bilateralism. This is a strategy that has been pursued in important
relations with East Asia. Overall, unipolarity
does
respects in America's
postwar
run
some
a
to
costs
to
but
also
the
incentives
for
United
States
appear
generate
Even

if neo-conservative
in which the United

global 'hub and spoke' order.


The countries arrayed around a unipolar America have an interest in a rule-based
institu
multilateral
order. In such a system, power is exercised through agreed-upon
is: how will the United
States calculate its interests? Will
it
tions. But the question
want

to

renew,

renegotiate,

and

manage

rule-based

hegemonic

order

which

entails institutional
and reduced policy autonomy
restraints, 'voice opportunities',
or will it want to break out of these multilateral
shackles and pursue direct control
of East Asia suggests,
of the system? As the 'hub and spoke' security organisation
there are incentives for the United
States to operate a global order where it deals
bilaterally with key states in all the various regions.53
state power, it is useful to
To understand
the two competing
logics of unipolar
remember

52

the contrasting

American

failings of neo-conservative
thinking are discussed
Conservative
Survival
Moment',
(March 2004).
53
of empire as a 'rimless hub and spoke'
For a discussion
Limits and Theoretical
Possibilities
Empires: Conceptual
These

1999).

in Europe

experiences

in G.

John

and East Asia.

Ikenberry,

'The End

of

The

the Neo

Nations,
Revolutions,
system, see Alex Motyl,
Press,
(New York: Columbia
University

628

G. John Ikenberry

United
States agreed to a multilateral
order with Europe because it
the restraints on its power through NATO
and other multilateral
worth what it got in return. Britain, France and other major
states
to
extent
the
that
also
multilateral
constrained
accept
agreements
they

determined
that
institutions was
were willing
to

and regularised
a multi
to
and security actions. American
within
agreement
operate
lateral economic order and make an alliance-based
to
commitment
security
Europe
was worth the price: it ensured that Germany
and the rest of Western Europe would
be integrated into a wider, American-centred
international
order. At the same time,
were
the actual restraints on American
But
it did agree to operate
minimal.
policy
- and this ensured
within
loose multilateral
that Western
arrangements
Europe
and global political order that advanced America's
would be anchored in an Atlantic
interest.
long-term national
In East Asia,
security relations quickly became bilateral. Why? One difference
was that conditions
did not favour multilateralism.
Europe had a set of roughly
states that could be brought
in a multilateral
equal-sized
together
pact whereas

US

economic

like this existed


in East Asia. But another
factor mattered:
the United
nothing
in East Asia yet wanted
less out of the region, so the United
States was dominant
to give up policy
States
found
it less necessary
in exchange
for
autonomy
institutionalised
there. In Europe,
the United
States had an elaborate
cooperation
bulwark against communism,
agenda of uniting Europe, creating an institutional
centrist democratic
and supporting
These ambitious
governments.
goals could
not be realised simply by exercising brute power. To get what it wanted,
the United
the Europeans,
to insti
States had to bargain with
and this meant
agreeing
In East Asia,
restrain and commit
its power.
the building
of order
tutionally
desirable
around bilateral
because multilateralism
have
would
pacts was more
entailed more restraints on American
in East
policy autonomy. Extreme hegemony
states in the region - while the United
led to free riding by the weak postwar
on its freedom
States could exercise control without
multilateral
restraints
of

Asia

action.

In some ways, unipolarity


States on
today presents this same logic for the United
a global scale. Rather than operate within multilateral
the United States
frameworks,
around the world. Countries
forges a hub and spoke array of 'special relationships'
the United
States and accept
its leadership
that cooperate with
receive special
so than multilateral
bilateral security and economic favours. More
'hub
agreements,
allow the United
and spoke' bilateral agreements
States to more fully translate its
into immediate and tangible concessions
from other states
and
power advantages
For example, Singapore
do so without
the
supported
giving up policy autonomy.
war on terrorism and so it gets a bilateral free trade agree
Bush administration's
ment. At the same time, the United
States can deal directly with important states so
as to circumvent global multilateral
For example, the Bush administra
commitments.
of the International Criminal Court by
tion is seeking to get around the constraints
States has massive
bilateral deals with dozens of countries. The United
negotiating
so its bargaining
to
It
finds
it
easier
power advantages.
accept non-agreement,
as
not
It
So
is
does
need
from
East
much
countries.
the
Asian
'model'
great.
leverage
this is a logic that will be manifest
attractive. But whether
becomes
selectively or
the basic organising
become
States might
tives the United
and

rule-based

arrangements.

logic of unipolar order


still have for exercising

requires looking at the incen


its power through multilateral

Liberalism
Liberal multilateralism

and empire

629

endures

are

to
for the United
States to continue
three major
types of incentives
sources
a
stem
These
of
within
order.
multilateralism
from
the
multilateral
operate
the long-term power calculations
of power
functional demands of interdependence,
and
and
American
tradition
American
management,
political
identity.54 First,
is likely to be sustained - even in the face of resistance
support for multilateralism
- in
to multilateralism
the Bush administration
and ideological
within
challenges
grows, the need
part because of a simple logic: as global economic
interdependence
of policies also grows. The more economically
for multilateral
coordination
inter
are
that states become the more dependent
for
the
of
connected
realisation
their
they
on
one
states.
other
of
the
actions
of
economic
is
Rising
interdependence
objectives
If
true
in
international
this
the great hallmarks of the contemporary
remains
system.
the years ahead, it is easy to predict that the demands for multilateral
agreements
even and perhaps especially by the United States
will increase and not decrease.
There

will also stem from a grand strategic


support for multilateralism
a
and
and legitimate international order.
stable
power
creating
to other
is a way to signal restraint and commitment
The support for multilateralism
states thereby encouraging
of weaker states. This
the acquiescence
and cooperation
has been a strategy that the United
States has pursued to a greater or less degree
across the twentieth century - and it explains the remarkably durable and legitimate
character of the existing international order. From this perspective, multilateralism
and the search for rule-based agreements
should increase rather than decrease with
the rise of American
This
insight suggests that the current administra
unipolarity.
to general power management
tion should respond
incentives and limit its tilt
toward unilateralism.
A final source of American
multilateralism
emerges from the polity itself. The
Second, American
interest in preserving

about the nature of its own


has a distinctive
self-understanding
and this has implications
order
for how it thinks about international
political
political order. The Enlightenment
origins of the American
founding has given the
States an identity that sees its principles of politics of universal significance
United
and scope. The republican democratic
tradition that enshrines the rule of law reflects
- are best
an enduring American
or international
view that polities
domestic
rules
and principles of order. America's
tradition of civil nation
organised around
alism also reinforces this notion
that the rule of law is the source of legitimacy and
inclusion. This tradition provides a background
support for a multilateral
political
oriented foreign policy.
United

States

Conclusion

Is the United
States an empire? The world is certainly more hierarchical
today than
at any era since the days of ancient Rome. The United
States is at the centre of a
54

These sources
Multilateralism

of

in American
in Ikenberry,
the multilateral
foreign policy are discussed
on Politics,
in Decline?'
1: 3 (September
2003).
Perspectives

'Is American

630

G. John Ikenberry

institu
rooted in Atlantic
and Western
dynamic and expanding political formation
tions and traditions. The American
system has features that it shares with past great
the distinctive
and misses
the term 'empire' is misleading
empires. But ultimately
political formation requires
aspects of the global political order. Today's US-centred
new ways of thinking about liberalism, power, and international
order rather than
- notion of
of the evocative
but ultimately
the rehabilitation
ill-fitting
empire.
States is an unrivalled military power and this does lead Washington
The United
to pursue old-style
imperial policies. The other major powers have no real control
over American
inWashington
do
the neo-conservatives
imperial impulses. Moreover,
offer an imperial vision of international order. In their hands, it would be an era of
exercise of American
around the bold unilateral
American
global rule organised
and
from the constraints of multilateralism,
military power, gradual disentanglement
an aggressive push to bring freedom and democracy
to countries where evil lurks.
vision is built on illusions about American
But this neo-conservative
power. They
States of its legitimacy as the pre-eminent
risk stripping the United
global power
the role of
that flows from that status. They fail to appreciate
and the authority
institutions
cooperative
American
power. Their
lateral waging of a war

of
rules in the exercise and preservation
and multilateral
a crude 'owners manual'
for the uni
ideas are essentially

regimes and terrorists. But beyond that,


against dangerous
are
on
that America
of
the
full
silent
range
global challenges and opportunities
they
- is
in lives, treasure, and lost legitimacy
faces. The costs of military actions
greater
realise. The American
than neo-conservatives
people are not seized with the desire to
or a global empire. So even in a unipolar
run colonies
era, there are limits on

American

imperial pretensions.
the empire debate misses what is perhaps a more important international
- or
some
what
the great powers
the long peace among
namely
development,
scholars argue is the end of great-power war. We are living in the longest period
Finally,

war

Cold War
among any of the major powers. Capitalism,
democracy,
so
are
too is the
But
the
all
of
nuclear
and
weapons
part
explanation.
bipolarity,
in
about
the
of
United
has
business
which
the
States
gone
building
unique way
success after both the Second World War and the
order. American
international
Cold War is closely linked to the creation and extension of international
institutions,
which both limited and legitimated American
power. In exercising unipolar power,
liberal and imperial logics of rule.
the United
States is today struggling between
the American
Both impulses can be found deep within
body politic. But the costs
and dangers of running the world as an American
empire are great and the country's

without

liberal faith in the rule of law is undiminished. When all is said and done, Americans
are less interested in ruling the world than they are in a world of rules.