1 Does hegemony still matter? Revisiting regime formation in the

Does hegemony still matter?
Revisiting regime formation in the Asia-Pacific1
Mark Beeson
The Pacific political economy is in the midst of significant structural and institutional
change. Over the past four decades the distribution of political and economic
capabilities has shifted from a pattern that reflected American hegemonic presence
toward a more complex balance of power. Economic and security issues have become
more separate, reducing the nesting of these two issue-areas. Furthermore, an
institutional basis for handling the regional political economy on a multilateral basis is
rapidly being developed, with the result that the prior predominance of bilateral
negotiations is eroding. Collectively, these changes constitute a substantial
reorganization of the Pacific political economy.2
What a difference a decade makes. Writing as recently as 1993, Donald Crone’s
widely-cited paper detailed an apparently inexorable transformation that was
occurring in what he described as the ‘Pacific political economy’. Only ten years ago,
American hegemony appeared to be in inexorable, long-term decline. Crucially, the
apparent waning of American power opened up a space for greater assertiveness on
the part of what we might now prefer to describe as East Asian rather than Pacific
powers. The change in language is in itself revealing: notions like the Pacific political
economy, the Pacific Rim, and even the Asia-Pacific have become not simply less
fashionable, but indicative of an underlying transformation in relations between East
Asia and North America and of the concomitant emergence of more narrowly
conceived regional identities. At the core of this transformation has been a resurgence
of American power and – crucially – a preparedness to use it in ways that are judged
to further the US’s economic, political and, above all, strategic interests.
In less than a decade, then, expectations about the course of development in the AsiaPacific region have changed in significant ways. The very idea of a coherent AsiaPacific region has become problematic, and the expectation that it would be one
characterised by increasingly multilateral processes and institutions, as Crone
suggested, has become far less certain. At one level this reflects a general
disenchantment with the capacity of international organisations to fulfil the hopes of
their supporters. At another level, however, the growing prominence and importance
of bilateral and - in America’s case – unilateral policy initiatives is the most tangible
demonstration of the way relationships between key actors in the Asia-Pacific are
being recalibrated and restructured. At the centre of this process is the increasingly
assertive application of American power. As a consequence, bilateralism is back, but
so is American hegemony. At the same time, the separation of economic and security
issues that Crone took to be such a significant part of the evolving Pacific order also
looks a lot less entrenched than it did. Indeed, recent events suggest that we may need
Thanks to Donald Crone and Hugo Radice for commenting on an earlier version of this paper. The
usual caveats apply.
Crone, Donald (1993) ‘Does hegemony matter: The reorganization of the Pacific political economy’,
World Politics, 45 (4), pp 501-25.
to embark on yet another re-evaluation of the relationship between economic security
and its more traditional strategic counterpart.
This paper explores the impact of the US’s evolving relationship with the countries of
East Asia at a time when America’s foreign policy elite is prepared to act more
forcefully and, where deemed necessary, unilaterally. After initially considering the
transformation of America’s own position and the way in which hegemony might be
understood as a consequence, the paper draws on a number of theoretical perspectives
in an attempt to draw out the implications of changes in the wider geopolitical
environment for East Asia in particular. The principal conclusion of this paper can be
stated at the outset: hegemony does matter, but its impact is more complex and
contradictory than might be expected. After all, we need to remember that East Asia’s
initial rise to economic prominence occurred in the midst of, and was to a
considerable extent driven by, the overarching context of the Cold War.
Consequently, America’s self-declared ‘war on terror’, its increased unilateralism and
even the (re)fusion of economic and conventional security issues presents major
challenges, but possibly some opportunities for the East Asian region.
Regimes and hegemony: Theorising institutional change in the Asia-Pacific
When attempting to make sense of the apparently different patterns of international
relations in the Asia-Pacific there are some initial conceptual and linguistic hurdles to
overcome, not the least of which is how to describe the area under discussion. A
number of observers have highlighted the contested, discursively constructed nature
of terms like Asia-Pacific and Pacific Rim.3 For my purposes, ‘Asia-Pacific’ is simply
a short-hand way of referring to the broadly conceived economic, political and
strategic interactions between the countries of East Asia,4 the United States and – to a
less significant extent - the rest of the Americas and Australasia. In other words, the
conception of the Asia-Pacific used here is essentially geographic and descriptive. I
do not assume that the Asia-Pacific is a coherent, unproblematic entity with a well
defined sense of identity. On the contrary, one of the purposes of this paper is to
consider whether there is any basis for a more substantial, institutionalised set of
relationships within and across the Asia-Pacific. In this regard, Crone was right to
highlight the importance of American hegemony, but it may not have the effect he
American hegemony
It is remarkable and revealing how rapidly views about American power have
changed. A decade or so ago, the US economy was widely considered to be in longterm decline and unable to compete with the competitive, increasingly prominent
economies of East Asia. More fundamentally, perhaps, America’s hegemonic position
was seen as unsustainable and subject to ‘imperial overstretch’ as the US’s material
circumstances seemed incapable of underwriting its geopolitical ambitions.5 Things
See for example, Dirlik, A (1992) ‘The Asia-Pacific idea: reality and representation in the invention
of regional structure’, Journal of World History, 3 (1), pp 55-79.
‘East Asia’ refers to the countries of Northeast Asia – Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan – plus the
members of ASEAN.
Kennedy. Paul, (1988) The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict
from 1500 to 2000, (London: Fontana).
could hardly be more different now. Despite the persistence of some very real doubts
about the long-term health of the US economy,6 the conventional wisdom has it that
America’s overall position is historically unprecedented, unchallengeable in the
foreseeable future, and provides the basis for a far more assertive, not to say
unilateral, foreign policy.7
Certainly when judged by the conventional measures of power – military might,
political leverage, cultural influence and overall economic strength – the US looks
formidable and its relative position vis-à-vis potential rivals is unparalleled.8 But even
if we can accept that the US is pre-eminent across a range of key variables and
recognise that unique potential capacities accrue to American policy-makers as a
result, there is less agreement about either the best ways of conceptualising this power
or about the purposes to which it may be put.
In one of the most influential analyses of hegemony – a reading that effectively
brought the notion of hegemony into mainstream scholarship – Charles Kindleberger
famously argued that hegemony generally and American hegemony in particular,
were the critical pre-requisites for the adequate provision of essential international
public goods.9 The essential claim here was that, absent a dominant – but in
America’s case, at least - essentially benign power that would impose a stable, ‘open’
international economic order for the benefit of all, the international economic system
would collapse into the sort of downward spiral of isolationism and autarky that
developed before World War II. In an important extension of Kindleberger’s original
position from a broadly liberal position, John Ikenberry has persuasively argued that
in the aftermath of these sorts of economic and military cataclysms, the emergent
hegemonic power of the day is uniquely placed to create a new international order to
reflect its interests and preferences.10 Two elements of this process are crucial for
Ikenberry and other liberals: first, there is something in it for everyone. In other
words, the creation of an open intentional order has spillover benefits for other
countries beside the hegemon, as they are able to benefit from a stable, liberal
international economic system. Secondly, the system created by American hegemony
is deeply institutionalised. For liberals, institutionalisation not only facilitates the
effective management and operation of the international system, but it also constrains
the hegemon itself.
In the light of recent events and the role played by an increasingly assertive and
unilateral US, it is important to remember that one of the principal sources of concern
for many policymakers and scholars alike during the 1980s and early ’90s was how
the world would cope ‘after hegemony’ and the seemingly inexorable decline of
American power.11 The key problem was considered to be establishing a new basis for
See, Brenner, Robert (2002) The Boom and the Bubble, (London: Verso).
Bacevich, Andrew J (2002) American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of US Diplomacy,
(Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press).
Emmott, Bill (2002) ‘Present at the creation: A survey of America’s role in the world’, The
Economist, June 29.
Kindleberger. Charles. P., (1973) The World in Depression 1929-1939, (Berkeley: University of
Ikenberry, GJ (2001) After Victory: Institutions, Strategic restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order
After Major Wars, (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
See, Keohane, Robert (1984) After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political
Economy, (Princeton: Princeton University Press),
international cooperation in the absence of a dominant power prepared, if necessary,
to compel compliance for the collective good. Significantly, for scholars like Crone
and (especially) Robert Keohane, new regimes, or particular configurations of ‘liberal
arrangements for trade and international finance [established] as responses to the need
for policy coordination created by the fact of interdependence’,12 could provide the
basis for a new international order in the absence of effective hegemonic power.
Indeed, as hegemony declined, it was expected that the demand for international
regimes would actually increase as states acting cooperatively sought to retain the
advantages of reduced transaction costs that were formerly associated with effective
regimes: increased multilateral cooperation could actually be an artefact of declining
American power.13
Two aspects of these older debates are worth emphasising as they provide an
interesting counterpoint to the contemporary period. Firstly, those analysts who were
sceptical about the degree American decline have been vindicated;14 whatever
problems the international system may currently be experiencing are plainly not
simply a consequence of any lack of will or capacity on the part of the US. This is an
especially important consideration when we recall that it was the particular nature of
American hegemony that was considered to be the critical determinant of the sort of
international order or regime that characterised the post-war era. Ruggie, for example,
argued that ‘when we look closely at the post-World War II situation…we find that it
was less the fact of American hegemony that accounts for the explosion of multilateral
arrangements than it was the fact of American hegemony’.15 In other words, as far as
observers like Ruggie and Ikenberry were concerned what was distinctive about
American power was that it was an expression of underlying values and interests that
coalesced in the creation of a distinctive, liberal international order characterised first
and foremost by openness and institutionalised multilateralism. This leads to a second
critical point: much of the apparent legitimacy of the American-inspired international
order, and the key reason why other states have either supported it or not sought to
‘balance’ against the US, flows from what Deudney and Ikenberry16 describe as the
‘penetrated’ nature of American hegemony: a system of transnational relations
generates pay-offs for other ‘band-wagoning’ nations and allows continuing access to
centres of power in the US.
While it is possible to debate the degree of legitimacy that the US-led international
order has enjoyed in the post-war period, and to question the degree of influence
enjoyed by external actors,17 what is less contentious is the claim that multilateralism
Keohane, ibid, p 8.
Keohane, Robert O. (1982) ‘The demand for international regimes’, International Organization, 36
(2), pp 325-55.
Strange. Susan., (1987.) ‘The persistent myth of lost hegemony’, International Organisation, 41 (4),
pp 551-74. See also, Snidal, Duncan (1985) ‘The limits of hegemonic stability theory’, International
Organization, 39 (4), pp 579-614.
Ruggie, J.G. (1993) ‘Multilateralism: the anatomy of an institution’, International Organization, 46
(3), pp 561-98. [Emphasis in original].
Deudney, Daniel and Ikenberry, G John (1999) ‘Realism, structural liberalism, and the Western
order’, in Kapstein, Ethan B. & Mastanduno, Michael (eds.) Unipolar Politics: Realism and State
Strategies After the Cold War, (New York: Columbia University Press), pp 103-130.
Gills, Barry K (2000) ‘American power, neo-liberal economic globalization, and low intensity
democracy: An unstable trinity’, in Cox, Michael, Ikenberry, GJ and Inoguchi, T (eds.) American
Democracy Promotion: Impulses, Strategies, and Impacts, (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp 32644.
was the hallmark of the international political-economy for much of the last 50 years
or so. It is especially striking, therefore, that not only has the multilateral basis of the
contemporary system recently come under significant practical pressure as a
consequence of changes in the content of American foreign policy, but the
legitimating discourse that formally underpinned American hegemony generally and
multilateralism in particular have become less secure as a consequence.18 The
growing importance of bilateralism provides an important test for a number of
theoretical frameworks that have gained increased prominence in tandem with
changes in the international system. It is worth briefly revisiting some of these debates
as they help to explain recent developments.
Regimes, ideas and institutions
Geographical definitions are not the only descriptors that go in and out of fashion.
Regime theory has also become less prominent; recent events are unlikely to reverse
that trend. Nevertheless, some of the theoretical debates that emerged from regime
theory help us to understand the present evolution of intra- and inter-regional relations
in the Asia-Pacific.19 This is especially the case when, as we saw earlier, there was a
widespread expectation that the number and importance of institutionalised regimes
would actually increase in the aftermath of declining American hegemony. The key
question to ask in the light of an apparent resurgence and reassertion of American
power is whether regimes generally and multilateral ones in particular are likely to
decrease in number and importance. Before attempting to answer this question it is
important to clarify a number of concepts and relationships that are critical
components of regime theory and operation.
At the outset, it is worth repeating Krasner’s celebrated definition of regimes: ‘sets of
implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around
which actors’ expectations converge in a given area of international relations’.20
Whether there is a general move toward multilateral or bilateral relations, such
practices will be informed and legitimated by a specific set of ideas. There are a
number of limitations with Krasner’s definition, however: first it fails to take
seriously the pervasive impact of the US’s institutionalised hegemony in defining the
range of norms and principles that might actually constitute a particular regime in the
first place;21 second, it remains overwhelmingly state-centric in its orientation;22
finally, it often neglects the wider geo-political context in which norms and values are
produced and embedded.23 Recently, many of the issues that regime theory addresses
Bernstein, Richard (2003) ‘Press and public aboard seem to grow ever angrier about the US’, The
New York Times, March 27, on line version.
For a review of regime theory generally see, Hasenclever, A., Mayer, P. and Rittberger, V. (1997)
Theories of International Regimes, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Krasner, Stephen D. (1982) ‘Structural causes and regime consequences: Regimes as intervening
variables’, in Krasner, S.D. (ed.), International Regimes, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), pp 1-21.
Gill, S (1997) ‘Global structural change and multilateralism’, in Gill, S (ed) Globalization,
Democratization and Multilateralism, (London: Macmillan), pp 1-17.
There is now an extensive literature that highlights the role played by non-state actors in constituting
new patterns of transnational governance. See, for example, Braithwaite, J. and Drahos, P (2000)
Global Business Regulation, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press); Slaughter, A-M (1997) ‘The
real new world order’, Foreign Affairs, 76 (5): 183-97; Boli, J and Thomas, G.M. (1999) ‘INGOs and
the organisation of world culture’, in Boli, J and Thomas, GM (eds.), Constructing World Culture:
International Nongovernmental Organizations Since 1875, (Stanford University Press): 13-48.
Gills, Barry K (2000), op cit.
have been captured in the more encompassing notion of global governance – an
approach that embraces a more complex array of actors, processes and outcomes.24
But whatever one calls the process by which key governing institutions and actors
effectively create a supranational normative order to guide cooperative interaction,25
there are a number of features that are both common and crucial.
The first point to emphasise is that world orders are a consequence of the complex
interplay between institutions, ideas and political power.26 At particular moments in
history this means that particular ideas may play an especially influential role in
determining events and actually helping to constitute the institutional structures
associated with specific regimes.27 Crucially, the wider geo-political context can help
determine which ideas are influential at any time: the role played by economists and
technocrats in the aftermath of the Second World War in shaping the new
international institutional architecture designed to entrench an ‘open’, liberal trade
regime is a clear example of the power of particular ideas at moments of fluidity.28 It
is also clear that the role and guiding principles of particular institutions can evolve
significantly over time as circumstances change and new ideas become more
influential or are seen as more appropriate.29 The evolving role of the International
Monetary Fund (IMF), for example, as it moved from being the manager of a system
of regulated exchange rates to proselytising on behalf of a market-determined order, is
evidence of this possibility.30 Such changes can be explained by the complex nature of
institutions and their role as mediators and crystallisations of international power
This complexity arises, in part, from the multiple meanings associated with
institutions. Institutions are frequently seen as synonymous with formal organizations,
and this can cause confusion. Essentially, organizations are distinguished by the
possession of specific personnel, budgets and legal standing. Institutions, by contrast,
generally have a broader connotation that is central to understanding the dynamics of
regime change in East Asia in particular. In this sense institutions are ‘a set of rules or
conventions (both formal and informal) that define a social practice, assign roles to
See, Held, David and McGrew, Anthony (2002) Governing Globalization: Power, Authority and
Global Governance, (Oxford: Polity Press). The close relationship between global governance and
regime theory is epitomised by Young who argues that global governance ‘refers to the combined
efforts of international and transnational regimes’. Young, Oran (1999) Governance in World Affairs,
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press), p 11.
Stone, A (1994) ‘What is a supranational constitution? An essay in international relations theory’,
The Review of Politics, 56 (3), pp 441-74.
Cox, Robert W (1981) ‘Social forces, states and world orders: beyond international relations theory’,
Millennium, 10 (2), pp 126-55; Rosenau, James (1992) ‘Governance, order, and change in world
politics’, in Rosenau, J.N. and Czempiel, E-O (eds.), Governance without Government: Order and
Change in World Politics, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp 1-29.
A classic example can be observed in the transition from Keynesian to monetarist ideas in the 1970s.
See, Hall, P (1992) ‘The movement from Keynesianism to monetarism: Institutional analysis and
British economic policy in the 1970s’, in Steinmo, S et al (eds.) Structuring Politics: Historical
Institutionalism in Comparative Analysis, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp 90-113..
See Ikenberry, G.J. (1993) ‘Creating yesterday’s New World Order: Keynesian “New Thinking” and
the Anglo-American postwar settlement’, in Goldstein, J and Keohane, R (eds.) Ideas and Foreign
Policy: Beliefs, Institutions, and Political Change, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), pp 57-86
Barnett, M.N. and Finnemore, M. (1999) ‘The politics, power, and pathologies of international
organizations’, International Organization, 53 (4), pp 699-732.
See Pauly, L. W. (1997) Who Elected the Bankers? Surveillance and Control in the World Economy,
(Ithaca: Cornell).
individual participants in the practice, and guide interactions amongst the occupants
of those roles’.31 Depending on the level of analysis, therefore, and to place this
discussion in a specifically East Asian context, the term ‘institution’ may refer to
either formal intergovernmental organizations like the IMF which are actively seeking
to drive reform in the region, national level economic and political structures that are
the targets of such reforms, or the populations of the region which are ultimately the
institutionalized bearers of particular ideas that shape routinised social practices.32
Thus, for the US to achieve an effective hegemonic influence in East Asia it would
need to shape both the norms and values that constitute specific regimes at the
transnational level, and at the broader social level within the individual countries of
the region.
However, for much of the post-war period, American hegemony was shaped and
constrained by the overarching strategic imperatives of the Cold War. The existence
of a credible ideological and – in the initial phases of the Cold War, at least –
economic competitor in the form of the Soviet Union constrained American options in
profoundly important ways.33 The possibility that its putative allies might defect to the
communist camp meant that the US was prepared to tolerate political practices and
economic policies on the part of client states of which it did not necessarily approve.
In short, American hegemony – as far as its allies were concerned, at least – was
generally more benevolent than coercive,34 and its impact on the specific institutional
structures of East Asia was less direct as a consequence. At an ideational level, the
impact of American hegemony in this period, in the economic and political sphere at
least, was uneven and limited: neoliberal, market-oriented reform was – and still is, to
a lesser extent - actively resisted in East Asia, much to the frustration of generations
of American policymakers.35 Indeed, it is important to recognize that even during the
heyday of the American-led multilateral order, American policymakers consistently
resorted to direct bilateral pressure to cajole key trading partners like Japan into
accepting ‘voluntary’ export restraints and the like.36
And yet, the long term impact of American hegemony in the Cold War period was to
create a distinctive political and economic space within which industrialization across
much of East Asia could take off. Throughout the Cold War period the economic and
strategic dimensions of American foreign policy were deeply intertwined, but both
dimensions of policy had distinctive characteristics. The multilateral system
epitomized by the Bretton Woods institutions that oversaw the reconstruction of
successful capitalist economies in Europe and ultimately East Asia created positive
Young, Oran (1994) International Governance: Protecting the Environment in a Stateless Society,
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press), p 26.
For a more detailed discussion of institutional theory in an East Asian context, see Beeson, Mark
(2002) ‘Theorising institutional change in East Asia’, in Beeson, M. (ed.), Reconfiguring East Asia:
Regional Institutions and Organisations After the Crisis, (London: RoutledgeCurzon Press), pp7-27.
Cronin, James E. (1996) The World the Cold war Made: Order, Chaos, and the Return of History,
(London: Routledge).
For a discussion of ‘benevolent’ and coercive forms of leadership, see Snidal op cit, p 588.
The great significance of the East Asian economic crisis was to create a situation in which the US
could try to force the sorts of reforms it had discursively championed to little effect. See Bello, W
(1998) ‘East Asia: On the eve of the great transformation?’, Review of International Political Economy,
5 (3): 424-44.
Lincoln, Edward J. (1999) Troubled Times: US-Japan Trade Relations in the 1990s, (Washington:
Brookings Institution).
spillovers that were a crucial component of a more generalized struggle with
communism in which the viability of the western economic system was crucial. By
contrast, the strategic component of America’s relationships in East Asia was
predicated on an overwhelmingly bilateral basis, in which America provided the
central cog around which the Asian security system revolved; it is a system which is
still essentially in place, the emergence of regionally-based security organizations
notwithstanding.37 As Grieco points out, there is a significant degree of ‘path
dependency’ in America’s strategic policy, something that delimits the entire strategic
trajectory of the region.38 This is especially the case given the low-profile, but highly
influential roles played by senior American military personnel embedded across
much of the ‘American empire’.39
Despite the overt and covert influence that flows from the US’s dominant military
position, in the period before the Cold War was unambiguously concluded, however,
American foreign economic policy and security policy had begun to proceed on
‘separate diplomatic and institutional tracks’.40 This institutionalized separation came
to characterise America’s more assertive, results oriented approach to economic
foreign policy in particular,41 and reflected an influential idea that, especially
following the aftermath of the Cold War, geo-economics had decisively and possibly
permanently trumped geo-politics.42 The emerging strategic doctrine of the
administration of George W. Bush is, however, a powerful reminder of just how
important security policy can be,43 and of the manner in which it has become
inextricably re-entwined with other policy initiatives. The significance of this
reconfiguration of American foreign policy priorities and the re-combining of
economic and military security issues is captured by Edward Rhodes who argues that
‘the liberal order the United States aims to create will, ultimately, rest on American
military hegemony, not on the combined will and might of the liberal
world…Consensus is desirable, but it is not necessary’.44
The new, post-S11 intentional order is, therefore, one in which the US seeks to play a
much more prominent role. It is a role that is potentially less constrained by the sorts
of strategic factors that characterised the Cold War period. Consequently it is
prepared to act unilaterally and in defiance of multilateral conventions if it judges this
Hara, K (1999) ‘Rethinking the “Cold War” in the Asia-Pacific’, Pacific Review, 12 (4), pp 515-36.
Grieco, Joseph M. (1999) ‘Realism and regionalism: American power and German and Japanese
institutional strategies during and after the Cold war’, in Kapstein, EB and Mastanduno, Michael (eds.),
Unipolar Politics: Realism and State Strategies After the Cold War, (New York: Columbia University
Press), pp 319-353.
See, Bacevich, (2002) op cit, ch. 7; Kaplan, Robert D. (2003) ‘Supremacy by stealth’, The Atlantic
Monthly, July/August: 66-83.
Mastanduno, Michael (1998) ‘Economics and security statecraft and scholarship’, International
Organization, 52 (4), pp 825-54.
See, Bhagwati, J. and Patrick H.T., (1990, eds.) Aggressive Unilateralism: America's Trade Policy
and the World Trading System, (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf).
Luttwak, Edward (1990) ‘From geopolitics to geo-economics’, The National Interest, Summer: 1723.
This is especially the case given the US’s declared intention of acting ‘pre-emptively’ where is
judges this to be in its interests. See White House (2002) The National Security Strategy of the United
States of America, (Washington).
Rhodes, Edward (2003) ‘The imperial logic of Bush’s liberal agenda’, Survival, 45 (1), p 136.
to be in its national interests45 - even if this risks jeopardising the complex system of
multilateral relationships and institutions that have characterised the post-war order
for much of the last 50 years or so.46 Compliance has become more important than
consensus in the new policy environment that privileges security considerations above
all else: allies must evince support for the US or risk the consequences.47
As a result of these changes, there are some noteworthy similarities and differences
between pre- and post-S11 American hegemony, which we might expect to influence
political and economic regimes in East Asia, and the more broadly conceived AsiaPacific region. On the one hand, the US is plainly a good deal more powerful than
much of the declinist literature led us to believe, and the basic assumptions that
informed analyses by observers like Crone only a decade ago are therefore no longer
appropriate.48 On the other hand, however, the striking parallels between the strategic
imperatives of the Cold War and the ‘War on Terror’ might intuitively lead us to
expect that the US’s approach to economic foreign policy might revert to its former
style and become less coercive in an effort to keep key allies on side. After all, it was
from the 1980s onwards that American economic policy became increasingly
assertive as the importance of strategic issues appeared to decline, so it is reasonable
to expect the re-emergence of security issues might create a similarly favourable and
multilaterally based situation. While some aspects of American economic policy do
appear to be becoming somewhat less coercive, and its support for particular regimes
has become less conditioned by human rights concerns, the most notable feature of
economic policy is that it has become increasingly bilateral. To see why, we need to
look at the evolution of the new international order in the Asia-pacific in more detail.
The Emerging Asia-Pacific Economic and Security Order
There is a certain continuity, not to say irony, in the idea that economic and strategic
issues are becoming more closely entangled in the domestic and inter-regional
relations of East Asia and the US. After all, one of the most distinctive and frequently
noted qualities of approaches to security issues in East Asia have been their
‘comprehensive’ nature, embracing both economic and strategic questions in one
encompassing package.49 What is most noteworthy about the emerging order in the
Asia-Pacific is that, while there is a belated recognition on the part of the US that
security issues are fundamentally connected to broader questions about international
economic development, inequality and governance,50 there has been an overwhelming
privileging of the military aspects of American foreign policy. The desire to maintain
Dao, James (2002) ‘One nation plays the great game alone’, The New York Times, July 6. Online
Judt, Tony (2003) ‘Present at the destruction, Australian Financial Review, March 14.
Watson, Roland (2003) ‘Bush sets new rules for allies’, The Australian, June 4: p 11.
Although, as noted earlier, there are enduring doubts about the underlying strength of the American
economy, especially as a consequence of the transformation in the overall budgetary position. See
Eccleston, Roy and Dalton, Rodney (2003) ‘War cost adds to fiscal pain for Bush’, The Australian,
July 17, p 6.
See Alagappa, M (1998) ‘ Asian practice of security: Key features and explanations’, Alagappa, M
(ed) Asian Security Practice: Material and Ideational Influences, (Stanford University Press), pp 61176; Beeson, Mark (1999) ‘States, markets, and economic security in post-crisis East Asia’, Asian
Perspective, 23 (3), pp 33-52.
Todd Purdum and David Sanger (2002) ‘2 top officials offer stern talk on US policy’, The New York
Time, February 2nd, On-line version.
freedom of operation militarily has led the US to eschew multilateral entanglements in
favour of direct, frequently bilateral interactions that permit maximum leverage and
freedom of movement. It is within this overall context that the recent move to
bilateralism has achieved such prominence, but the seeds of this approach have been
germinating for some time.
The rise of economic bilateralism
The rise to prominence of the discourse surrounding ‘globalisation’ helped to
entrench the idea that certain features of the contemporary international order were
not only unambiguous ontological realities, but that they also had effects that could
only be managed through multilateral auspices. The increased integration of formerly
discrete national economic spaces as a consequence of higher levels of direct
investment, greater short-term capital flows, and increased trade was widely thought
to make transnational regime formation an evermore essential and functional part of
international relations – with or without the intervention of a hegemonic power.51 The
declining influence of a number of prominent, multilaterally-based trade regimes and
organisations is, therefore, significant and surprising. However, possible answers to
this puzzle pre-date the current obsession with the ‘war on terror’.
One of the principal causes of the declining importance of multilateral agencies in
managing and promoting reform in the economic sphere at least, has been widespread
disenchantment with a number of key organisations. The most conspicuous failure in
this regard in a regional context is the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
forum, an organisation in which great hopes were invested, but about which there has
been long-standing scepticism.52 APEC’s failure to fulfil the hopes of its advocates
tells us much about the importance of regional definition and the importance of ideas
– especially when they fail to become effectively institutionalised and do not receive
adequate political support.53
From its inception APEC contained what ultimately proved to be irreconcilable
tensions. The initial obstacle of regional definition – what exactly is the ‘AsiaPacific’, and which countries should be included as a consequence? – was never
satisfactorily resolved. The addition of evermore members – including Russia, a
country with only the most marginal claims to membership as the organisation was
originally conceived – further diluted any coherence APEC might have had and made
the development of policy extremely difficult as a consequence.
Keohane (1982) op cit; Eden, Lorraine and Hampson, F.O. (1997) ‘Clubs are trump: The formation
of international regimes in the absence of a hegemon’, in Hollingsworth, J.R. and Boyer, R. (eds.),
Contemporary Capitalism: The Embeddedness of Institutions, (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press), pp 361-94. It is worth noting that multilaterally-based regime formation is also considered
crucial in trans-boundary problems like the environment. See Young (1999) op cit.
See for example, Higgott, R (1993) ‘APEC - A sceptical view’, in Mack, A. and Ravenhill, J (eds.)
Pacific Cooperation: Building Economic and Security Regimes in the Asia-Pacific Region, (Sydney:
Allen & Unwin), pp ??; Beeson, Mark (1996) ‘APEC: Nice theory, shame about the practice’,
Australian Quarterly, 68 (2), pp 35-48.
For a more detailed discussion of the crucial relationship between power, ideas and institutions, see
Sikkink, Kathryn (1991) Ideas and Institutions: Developmentalism in Brazil and Argentina, (Ithaca:
Cornell University Press).
At the heart of APEC’s difficulties were fundamentally different visions about what
the agenda of the organisation should be and how it should go about it. Like the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which provided something of a
role model, APEC reflected the Asian countries’ preference for voluntarism and
consensus – ideas that were not popular with the ‘Anglo-American’ members of
APEC, but which were a necessary compromise to achieve cooperation. In retrospect,
the expectation that APEC’s trade liberalisation agenda would be actively taken up in
the US, let alone across the entire East Asian region, simply because it was considered
a good idea, looks hopelessly naïve and reflects the narrowness of the particular
‘epistemic community’ that championed it.54 In reality, the very different – highly
institutionalised – patterns of political and economic organisation that are associated
with East Asia’s distinctive models of development made any such transformation all
but impossible, especially given APEC’s ambitious liberalization timetable.55
Whatever problems the economies of East Asia may have experienced since the crisis
that began in 1997, it is important to recognise that for decades close relationships
between business and government, state interventionism, non-transparency,
protectionism and the panoply of measures associated with East Asia’s developmental
states, were not simply highly effective parts of the region’s remarkable economic
expansion, but they were widely considered legitimate elements of East Asia’s
political systems, too. Although there is no intention of exploring the merits of stateled development or its possible relationship to ‘crony capitalism’ here,56 it is
important to stress one thing: whether or not East Asian developmental strategies
were (or are) appropriate, they are institutionally embedded and will not disappear
rapidly. The entrenched patterns of power and interest that characterise many of the
political-economies of the East Asian region present powerful obstacles to the sorts of
neoliberal reforms championed by APEC. Given APEC’s inability to impose a trade
liberalisation agenda because of its own institutional shortcomings and consequent
lack of political leverage,57 it becomes easier to understand why governments across
the Asia-Pacific might have adopted alternative strategies. Indeed, APEC’s perceived
failings further contributed to its demise, for as John Ravenhill perceptively points
out, ‘with most foreign affairs bureaucracies severely stretched, allocation of
resources is inevitably a zero-sum game. The correlation between the lack of supply
of leadership to APEC since 1998, and the growth of bilateralism is surely no
On epistemic communities see Haas, Ernst B (1990) When Knowledge is Power: Three Models of
International Organizations, (University of California). On the competing economic visions found in
the Asia-Pacific, see Higgott, R. and Stubbs, R (1995) ‘Competing conceptions of economic
regionalism: APEC versus EAEC in the Asia Pacific’, Review of International Political Economy, 2
(3), pp 516-35.
It was expected that trade barriers would be dismantled in the developed APEC economies by 2010,
and in the rest by 2020.
But see, Beeson, Mark (2003) ‘Japan’s reluctant reformers and the legacy of the developmental
state’, in Cheung, Anthony and Scott, Ian (eds.), Governance and Public Sector Reform in Post-Crisis
Asia: Paradigm Shift or Business as Usual?, (London: Curzon Press), pp 25-43; (forthcoming) ‘The
rise and fall (?) of the developmental state: The vicissitudes and implications of East Asian
interventionism’, in Low, Linda (ed.), Developmental States: Relevant, Redundant or Reconfigured?,
(New York: Nova Science Publishers).
In addition to APEC’s voluntarist, consensually-based decision-making style noted above, it lacks an
effective secretariat to implement or devise policy.
Ravenhill, John (2003) ‘The new bilateralism in the Asia Pacific’, Third World Quarterly, 24 (2), p
It is highly significant that in the flurry of bilateral deals that are either under
consideration or – less frequently - actually completed, most are between countries
that are not significant trade partners.59 The economic benefits of such agreements
would therefore seem to be less critical than their possible domestic and international
political importance. At the broadest international level, a confluence of
circumstances has given the pursuit of preferential trading agreements what has been
described as ‘its own self-sustaining momentum’60: disenchantment with the capacity
of key institutions like APEC and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to deliver on
trade liberalisation, combined with concerns about the relative gains that might accrue
to competitors who have already achieved such agreements, has added a sense of
urgency to the bilateral push. At a regional level in East Asia the bilateral momentum
has been enhanced by the competing leadership ambitions of Japan and China. China
in particular has energetically pursued a free trade agreement with the ASEAN
grouping as a way of not simply establishing its leadership credentials vis-à-vis Japan,
but as a way of countering the US’s hegemonic presence in the region – something
that has in turn encouraged the US to seek its own bilateral deals with individual
ASEAN members.61
Japan has directly responded to China’s attempts to cement its place in East Asia’s
diplomatic hierarchy with its own ASEAN-oriented trade initiatives,62 but they have
had less impact as a consequence of Japan’s own economic and leadership
problems.63 This is not to say that bilateral deals are not potentially attractive to many
Japanese policymakers, however; on the contrary, bilateral deals offer a way of
circumventing or managing the potential pain associated with comprehensive,
multilaterally-based trade liberalisation initiatives that would inevitably impact on
politically sensitive economic sectors like agriculture. It is revealing that the bilateral
deal that Japan had least trouble in securing was with Singapore – a country with no
agricultural sector.
It would seem, therefore, that bilateralism is an approach that is in keeping with the
times, as the noteworthy congruence that has developed between America’s strategic
and economic objectives seems to suggest. However, an over-emphasis on America’s
increased predilection for unilateralism and bilateralism seriously underestimates the
enduring impact of the US’s influence and role at the centre of the existent
multilateral structures that govern global trade in particular and the international order
more generally.
The direct and indirect impact of hegemony
Some of the most persuasive arguments advanced to explain the US’s increased
interest in using bilateral leverage - in the economic sphere, at least – have centred on
the American foreign policy elite’s supposed disenchantment with APEC and the
Ravenhill, ibid, p 309.
Dent, Christopher M. (2003) ‘Networking the region? The emergence and impact of Asia-Pacific
bilateral free trade agreement projects’, The Pacific Review, 16 (1), p 7.
Vatikiotis, Michael and Hiebert, Murray (2003) ‘China’s tight embrace’, Far Eastern Economic
Review, Jul 17, pp 28-30.
Shanahan, Dennis (2002) ‘Japan free trade thrust to foil China’, The Australian, May 2, p 2.
Wall, David (2002) ‘Koizumi trade pitch misses’, The Japan Times, April 21, Online version.
WTO.64 As we have seen, in APEC’s case, this thesis looks quite plausible. As far as
the WTO is concerned, however, the argument is more complex - the WTO’s welldocumented failure to advance its liberalisation agenda notwithstanding.65 When seen
in a larger geo-political and historical context, the most significant development in the
East Asian region may well prove to be China’s accession to the WTO: as the last
significant alternative to an increasingly pervasive neoliberal, capitalist world order
dominated by the US, China’s embrace of the market and voluntary abandonment of
socialism marks a transformation of truly world-historical proportions.66
For all China’s well-known suspicions of American hegemony,67 it is revealing that
China’s elites consider that they have little choice other than to embrace
‘globalisation’ and hope to glean enhanced legitimacy from accelerated economic
development as a consequence.68 The implications of the WTO-inspired reform
process cannot be underestimated as it necessitates fundamental changes to China’s
constitution, opens up hitherto protected parts of its domestic economy to
international competition, and, in the long-term, it will systematically reconfigure
domestic interests and attitudes to international economic engagement (not to mention
‘communism’) as a consequence.69 While it may be possible to argue that change at
this world-historical level involving long-term transformation in underlying modes of
production reflects the impact of deeper structural forces, rather than simply the
influence of one organisation or even one power, the very success and pervasiveness
of those processes associated with globalisation, which are synonymous with the
American-led post-war international order, makes the survival of alternative orders
increasingly implausible.
It is precisely this longer-term, more diffuse and institutionalised ‘structural power’
that critical theorists have emphasised as a crucial factor in explaining the way in
which neoliberalism and western economic practices more generally have become so
dominant.70 This is not to dismiss or underestimate the continuing differences that
characterise capitalist organisation across the world generally and within the AsiaPacific in particular,71 but the differences within the increasingly pervasive capitalist
system are less significant in this context than are differences between it and
Dent, op cit, p 19.
Davis, Mark (2003) ‘WTO: Little to show for lots of talking’, Australian Financial Review, July 11,
p 16.
On different ways of conceptualising historical change, see Tilly, Charles (1984) Big Structures,
Large Processes, Huge Comparisons, (New York: Russell Sage Foundation), p 61.
Deng, Yong (2001) ‘Hegemon on the offensive: Chinese perspectives on US global strategy’,
Political Science Quarterly, 116 (3), pp 343-365.
Garrett, B (2001) ‘China faces, debates, the contradictions of globalization’, Asian Survey, 41 (3), pp
Fewsmith, J (2001) ‘The political and social implications of China’s accession to the WTO’, China
Quarterly, 167, pp 573-91.
See Gill, Stephen (1995) ‘Globalisation, market civilisation, and disciplinary neoliberalism’,
Millennium, 24 (3), pp 399-423; Cox. Robert W (1987) Production, Power, and World Order: Social
Forces in the Making of History, (New York: Columbia University Press). On structural power, see
Strange, Susan (1988) States and Markets, (New York: Pinter).
See, Coates, D (2000) Models of Capitalism, (Oxford: Polity Press); Beeson, Mark (1999)
Competing Capitalisms: Australia, Japan and Economic Competition in the Asia Pacific, (London:
alternative economic models.72 It is this more indirect aspect of hegemonic influence
that has been a critically important element of American power and which has been
instrumental in consolidating the long-term dominance of capitalism as the
overarching system within which specific regimes and institutions are nested. A
preoccupation with short-term changes in the content and approach of different
administrations, or even toward specific issue areas or regions, can obscure the
remarkable continuity that has underpinned American foreign policy in particular and
American hegemony more generally.73
Nevertheless, apparently short-term policy changes are important and can have
profound, unforseen long-term consequences.74 In this context, recent changes in
American foreign policy in the aftermath of S11 have been especially significant.
Perhaps the most important consequence of the emerging Bush doctrine as far as the
Asia-Pacific is concerned has been the reintegration of economic and security policy,
and the application of direct political leverage to achieve a range of inter-connected
economic and (especially) strategic goals. The privileging of strategic issues and the
willingness to use direct pressure to ensure compliance with its goals may mean that –
in the short-term, at least – ensuring widespread ideational consensus and legitimacy
is less important as far as the US is concerned than is ensuring compliance.75
Across East Asia generally and Southeast Asia in particular, the Bush administration
has placed direct pressure on a number of governments to play an active part in the
‘war on terror’.76 Unsurprisingly, Indonesia and the Philippines have been at the
forefront of such efforts and, in a striking echo of the Cold War period, the US has
placed strengthening military ties ahead of other ‘human security’ issues.77 What is
especially noteworthy about this evolving policy, however, has been the way the
administration has used economic leverage to secure strategic goals. In Thailand, for
example, the government of Thaksin Shinawatra has recently adopted a much more
active anti-terror policy – something that is widely seen as being part of its push for a
bilateral trade agreement with the US.78 Nor are such initiatives confined to the
Southeast Asian corner of the Asia-Pacific: Australia has self-consciously wedded its
high profile support for, and participation in, American-led military activities, to a
concerted push for a bilateral free trade agreement.79 The very different attitude that
Strange, S (1997) ‘The future of global capitalism; or, will divergence persist forever?’, in Crouch,
C. & Streeck, W. (eds.) Political Economy of Modern Capitalism: Mapping Convergence and
Diversity, (London: Sage)pp 183-191.
Bacevich American Empire, op cit.
The Nixon government’s decision to break the link between the value of the dollar and gold is a
classic example of this possibility. See Gowa, J (1983) Closing the Gold Window: Domestic Politics
and the End of Bretton Woods, (Ithaca: Cornell).
In this context Kaldor may be right to emphasise that the Bush doctrine will be unable to decisively
defeat terrorism, but wrong to assume that the US cannot compel allies and subordinate states to
comply with the overall direction of American policy. See, Kaldor, Mary (2003) ‘American power:
from “compellance” to cosmopolitanism?’, International Affairs, 79, pp 1-22.
Lague, David (2003) ‘Uncle Sam wants you’, Far Eastern Economic Review, July 16pp 14-18.
See, respectively, Donnan, Shawn (2003) ‘US military funds for Jakarta prompt concern’ Financial
Times, online version, January 24; Sheehan, Deidre and Plott, David (2001) ‘A war grows’, Far
Eastern Economic Review, October 11, p 24.
Crispin, Shawn (2003) ‘Targets of a new anti-terror war’, Far Eastern Economic Review, July 10, pp
Beeson, Mark (forthcoming) ‘Australia’s relationship with the United States: The case for greater
independence’, Australian Journal of Political Science.
the US displays toward New Zealand, which has adopted a more independent position
toward American security policy, confirms that the US is self-consciously linking
economic and strategic issues as part of its post-S11 approach to foreign policy.80
Thus, by accident or design, directly or indirectly, American power is inevitably
shaping the strategic and economic architecture of the broadly conceived Asia-Pacific
region. Even the most potentially powerful countries of the region – Japan and China
– are constrained by the US in ways that makes them regional influences at best, and
relatively subordinate ones at that.81 Yet the subordinate position of both China and
Japan notwithstanding, and despite their competing claims to regional leadership,
American foreign policy may actually be inadvertently encouraging the development
of a greater sense of East Asian, rather than Asia-Pacific, regional identity.82 In some
ways this is unsurprising: the inherent artificiality of the ‘Asia-Pacific’ has always
meant that its status and ideational purchase was contested and uncertain. By contrast,
the idea of ‘East Asia’, and the ASEAN Plus Three (APT) grouping which gives
political expression to it, can claim to be slightly more authentic expressions of broad
underlying historical experiences in the region.83
Whether there is sufficient political support and institutional capacity within the
region to make the APT an important actor is unknowable at this stage, but the
emergence of the APT should not surprise us: if the apparent decline of American
hegemony in the 1980s and early ’90s was associated with a redistribution of power
within the overall international system that encouraged more cooperative, multilateral
forms of institutionalisation, it is to be expected that a resurgent, more assertive and
unilateral US should encourage a similar reconfiguration of the international order.
Indeed, generations of realist international relations scholars have predicted precisely
that: unipolarity ought to generate ‘balancing’ behaviour as states seek to counter
American pre-eminence.84 That it has not happened to any significant degree thus far
would seem to be a consequence of the US’s pivotal role in the contemporary
intentional system and a recognition that ‘band-wagoning’ may be more rational than
balancing,85 and that there are specific historical and material constraints in East Asia
that make such behaviour either unlikely or ineffective.86 Whether this strategic
calculus will remain operative in the face of a fusion of American strategic and
economic interests, and the single-minded pursuit of a more narrowly conceived
national interest remains to be seen.
Hartcher, Peter (2003) ‘Stop bluffing: for Bush it’s quid pro quo’, Australian Financial Review, July
19, p 23.
Beeson, Mark and Berger Mark T. (2003) ‘The paradoxes of paramountcy: Regional rivalries and the
dynamics of American hegemony in East Asia’, Global Change, Peace and Security, 15 (1), pp 27-42.
Beeson, Mark (2003) ‘ASEAN Plus Three and the rise of reactionary regionalism’, Contemporary
Southeast Asia., 25 (2), pp 251-68.
For a more detailed discussion of this point, see Stubbs, Richard (2002) ‘ASEAN Plus Three:
Emerging East Asian Regionalism?’, Asian Survey, 42 (3), pp 440-55.
See, for example, Waltz, KN (1993) ‘The emerging structure of international politics’, International
Security, 18 (2), pp 44-79; Mearsheimer, J J (1994/95) ‘The false promise of institutions’, International
Security, 19 (3), pp 5-49.
Ikenberry, G.J. (1998) ‘Institutions, strategic restraint, and the persistence of the American postwar
order’, International Security, 23 (3), pp 43-78.
Beeson and Berger (2003) op cit.
Concluding remarks
The Pacific case suggests that there is an optimum power stratification for regime
formation that falls away on either side; too much, as well as too little, hegemony may
affect cooperation negatively.87
If Crone – and just about everyone else - was wrong about the way hegemony was
going to develop, his conclusion about its possible importance still looks about right.
Hegemony does still matter and decisively influences inter- and even intra-regional
relations as a consequence; this is especially the case when most agree that the US’s
lead in critical areas of hegemonic power and influence has actually expanded rather
than contracted over the last decade. What is less clear is how American hegemony
will affect the East Asian region in the longer-term; whether it will revert to a more
multilateral basis if and when the preoccupation with the ‘war on terror’ abates; and
whether economic and military security will remain so inter-twined. All of these
questions are unknowable, of course, but by comparing past and contemporary
patterns of hegemonic influence in the Asia-Pacific we can at least identify the factors
that are likely to shape future outcomes.
In the short-term, at least, the US’s reintegration of economic and military security
issues looks likely to force compliance on the part of even the most powerful
countries across the world. Even if East Asia – or Western Europe, for that matter –
was united and had clear, widely supported regional responses to the multifaceted
economic, political, and strategic challenges American power inevitably throws up, it
seems that the rest of the world lacks either the capacity and/or the will to counter
American power. In such circumstances, and given the current Bush administration’s
frequently doctrinaire predilection for the assertion of American power,88 we might
expect that US policy will continue to display a preference for unilateral rather than
multilateral approaches to key issues. And yet one thing that emerges from even a
brief review of the course of America’s hegemonic influence is just how quickly
things can change: already the limits of unilateralism and military adventurism are
becoming apparent in Iraq, and the US has begun to re-embrace multilateralism as a
For all the hyperbole about American power, therefore, it has limits. As in the late
1980s and early 1990s, doubts remain about the strength of America’s domestic
economy and its long-term capacity to underwrite the US’s increasingly unilateral and
militarised foreign policy. Whatever the limits to American power may be, though,
for East Asia, the short term-implications of the US’s current policy stance are not
auspicious: the US in no longer constrained by the threat of defection by allies or
client states that characterised the Cold War period, nor – to judge by the rise of
bilateral preferential trade agreements – are American policy-makers as wedded to the
idea and normative importance of economic liberalism as they once were. While
neoliberalism may not have ever achieved the ideational support or legitimacy in East
Crone (1993) op cit, p 525.
For an influential articulation of the case for a more assertive, unilateral US foreign policy see,
Kagan, Robert (2003) Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, (New
York: Knopf).
Reid, Tim (2003) ‘Washington tries to put Iraq under UN mandate’, The Weekend Australian, July
19-20, p 11.
Asia that American policymakers might have wished, the fact that the Americans
themselves have moved away from it may be equally discomforting for East Asians if
the US uses its direct bilateral leverage to secure favourable deals.
Paradoxically, therefore, and contra the conventional wisdom about the benefits that
flow to the US from a multilateral system and the critical role that hegemony plays in
maintaining it,90 American power may – in the short term, at least - be actively
undermining it. The Asia-Pacific’s incompletely realised institutionalised order
designed to advance the cause of economic liberalism, which was epitomised by
APEC, looks increasingly under threat. The US’s willingness to explicitly link
economic with military security demonstrates just how pivotal hegemony remains.
The crucial insight that a comparative analysis of the evolution of American
hegemony and its impact on the Asia-Pacific reveals is that we cannot assume that
either an increase or a diminution in American power will effect the prevailing
institutional and ideational order in predictable or inevitable ways. On the contrary,
what recent events demonstrate is that American power may underwrite a liberal,
multilaterally based-order, or it may not. In other words, it is not a question so much
of the extent of American hegemony, but of the purposes to which it is put.
While this will strike some as a remarkably trite observation, it is worth emphasising,
nevertheless: much influential North American scholarship, and much of the debate
about American hegemony and its impact on the world, has been predicated on the
assumption that American power is ultimately a force for good and the indispensable
basis for the creation of an open, liberal international order. Given the US’s historic
willingness to flout the norms and values that constituted the very economic and
strategic regimes it helped create, this was always a contestable contention. In the post
S11 era, it is increasingly looking like normatively-inspired, remarkably uncritical,
wishful thinking. We need to recognise that, as Crone pointed out ten years ago, too
much hegemony can be potentially just as damaging to the prospects for international
cooperation as too little.
Nye, JS (2003) ‘US power and strategy after Iraq’, Foreign Affairs, 82 (4): 60-73.