Joshua S. Goldstein & Jon C. Pevehouse, International Relations (10th Ed.), 2014. Ch. 2, pg. 59:

Hegemonic stability theory holds that hegemony provides some order similar to a central government in the international system: reducing anarchy, deterring aggression, promoting free trade, and providing a hard currency that can be used as a world standard. Hegemons can help resolve or at least keep in check conflicts among middle powers or small states. When one state's power dominates the world, that state can enforce rules and norms unilaterally, avoiding the collective goods problem. In particular, hegemons can maintain global free trade and promote world economic growth, in this view.

This theory attributes the peace and prosperity of the decades after World War II to U.S. hegemony, which created and maintained a global framework of economic relations supporting relatively stable and free international trade, as well as a security framework that prevented great power wars. By contrast, the Great Depression of the 1930s and the outbreak of World War II have been attributed to the power vacuum in the international system at that time—Britain was no longer able to act as hegemon, and the United States was unwilling to begin doing so.

Why should a hegemon care about enforcing rules for the international economy that are in the common good? According to hegemonic stability theory, hegemons as the largest international traders have an inherent interest in the promotion of integrated world markets (where the hegemons will tend to dominate). As the most advanced state in productivity and technology, a hegemon does not fear competition from industries in other states; it fears only that its own superior goods will be excluded from competing in other states. Thus, hegemons use their power to achieve free trade and the political stability that supports free trade. Hegemony, then, provides both the ability and the motivation to provide a stable political framework for free international trade, according to hegemonic stability theory. This theory is not, however, accepted by all IR scholars.

From the perspective of less powerful states, of course, hegemony may seem an infringement of state sovereignty, and the order it creates may seem unjust or illegitimate. For instance, China chafed under U.S.-imposed economic sanctions for 20 years after 1949, at the height of U.S. power, when China was encircled by U.S. military bases and hostile alliances led by the United States. To this day, Chinese leaders use the term hegemony as an insult, and the theory of hegemonic stability does not impress them.

Even in the U.S. there is considerable ambivalence about U.S. hegemony. U.S. foreign policy has historically alternated between internationalist and isolationist moods...


Review of International Studies (1989), 15, 183-198 Printed in Great Britain

Hegemonic stability theory: an empirical assessment

Michael C. Webb and Stephen D. Krasner

Hegemonic stability theory, which argues that international economic openness and stability is most likely when there is a single dominant state, is the most prominent approach among American political scientists for explaining patterns of economic relations among the advanced capitalist countries since 1945. It has provided a research programme for scholars, both as a positive guide and as a foil against which to test alternative theoretical explanations. The basic contention of the hegemonic stability thesis is that the distribution of power among states is the primary determinant of the character of the international economic system. A hegemonic distribution of power, defined as one in which a single state has a predominance of power, is most conducive to the establishment of a stable, open international economic system.1 In the mid-1970s Charles Kindleberger, Robert Gilpin and Stephen Krasner presented similar descriptions and explanations for patterns of international economic relations since the nineteenth century.2 All viewed Britain in the late nineteenth century as a hegemon that provided stability and encouraged liberaliza tion in the international economy, and saw the United States as holding a similar status and performing similar functions in the first decades after the Second World War. All interpreted the instability and closure in international economic relations in the inter-war period as a result of the absence of a hegemon; Britain had lost the ability and willingness to act as a hegemon, while the United States was unwilling to assume the role of hegemonic leader. Finally, all three warned that the United States had lost its hegemonic status by the mid-1970s, and predicted the erosion of inter national economic liberalization and the emergence of greater instability.

International Organization 44, 4, Autumn 1990 C) 1990 by the World Peace Foundation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Exploring the "myth" of hegemonic stability

Isabelle Grunberg

The theory of hegemonic stability has become a widely accepted explanation for the dynamics of the world economy. By linking the economy's structure and evolution with the international distribution of power, the theory combines political factors and economic outcomes and therefore satisfies the need for a truly political international economics, a need felt since the 1970s and reaffirmed with the recent emphasis on national power variables often referred to as neorealism. The theory basically holds that cooperation and a well-functioning world economy are dependent on a certain kind of political structure, a structure characterized by the dominance of a single actor. Dominance by a hegemonic power constitutes the optimal situation for ensuring and maintaining an open and stable world economy. Both Great Britain in the nineteenth century and the United States after World War II helped bring about an interdependent and overall peaceful world. Hegemons, however, tend to wane after a time, and periods of hegemonic decline are marked by strains in the system, as in the interwar period and the present.


Robert Gilpin: The Theory of Hegemonic War, 1988 Journal of Interdisciplinary History

The structure of the system or distribution of power among the states in the system can be stable or unstable. A stable system is one in which changes can take place if they do not threaten the vital interests of the dominant states and thereby cause a war among them. In his view, such a stable system has an unequivocal hierarchy of power and an unchallenged dominant or hegemonic power. An unstable system is one in which eco- nomic, technological, and other changes are eroding the interna- tional hierarchy and undermining the position of the hegemonic state. In this latter situation, untoward events and diplomatic crises can precipitate a hegemonic war among the states in the system. The outcome of such a war is a new international structure.

World Politics, Volume 61, Number 1, January 2009, pp. 58-85

Legitimacy, Hypocrisy, and the Social Structure of Unipolarity

Why Being a Unipole Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

By Martha Finnemore*

Scholarship on polarity and system structures created by various distributions of power has focused almost exclusively on material power; the structure of world politics, however, is social as much as it is material. Material distributions of power alone tell us little about the kind of politics states will construct for themselves. This is particularly true in a unipolar system, where material constraints are small. Much is determined by social factors, notably the identity of the unipole and the social fabric of the system it inhabits. One would expect a U.S. unipolar system to look different from a Nazi unipolar system or a Soviet one; the purposes to which those three states would use preponderant power are very different. Similarly, one would expect a U.S. unipolar system in the twenty-first century to look very different from, say, the Roman world, or the Holy Roman Empire (if either of those counts as a unipolar system). Social structures of norms concerning sovereignty, liberalism, self-determination, and border rigidity (among other things) have changed over time and create vastly different political dynamics among these systems. Generalizing about the social structure of unipolarity seems risky, perhaps impossible, when so much depends on the particulars of unipole identity and social context [.]

From Julian's paper for UCI:

The most optimistic scenario for the West foresees the PRC upholding the liberal world order, even after China’s power surpasses the U.S. conclusively. Most scholarship to date portrays the PRC as benefitting greatly from economic globalization, especially free trade and capital markets, but harboring serious objections to the cultural and political values of liberalism. […] However, being an active participant in institutions and a leader in economic globalization, where most scholars view China currently, does not add up to being a supporter of the liberal order. [Meanwhile,] China’s rise to regional hegemony looks all but certain, yet its intentions are no clearer. [...] A chorus of domestic actors, including popular nationalists, PLA generals, and intellectuals call out to jettison the official “peaceful rise” rhetoric of Zheng Bijian in favor of the unbridled assertiveness Johnston already finds China accused of in Western media. [...] That China would ever seek more than regional hegemony should not be a foregone conclusion; it could do no more than repeat Japan’s fleeting challenge in the 1980s and then cede the spotlight to another of the rising BRICs in a cycle which would be familiar enough that Western powers could defuse it. [...] China’s international problems and reluctance to become a responsible stakeholder in the system clearly don’t reside in institutions themselves, but in their tendency to forego the neutrality they sometimes promise in favor of the promotion of liberal values anathema to much of the world.

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