Review by Alex Roland
After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and, the Rebuilding of Order After Major Wars. By G. John lkenberry. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001. Pp. xvi, 293. $55 cloth, $19.95 paper.)
“Professor Ikenberry seems optimistic that the United States discovered a workable formula for a stable international order after World War II and has successfully applied it since to develop more and stickier institutions.”
This timely and thoughtful book explores peacemaking after war. How do states turn military victory to advantage? John Ikenberry, professor of government and international affairs at Georgetown University and a non-resident senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, focuses his analysis on modern, non-predator states whose war aims rise above the mere acquisition of power and territory for their own sake. He seeks to understand how such states create a post-war order that is both lasting and conducive to their interests. As the United States struggles to consolidate its victory in the Cold War, this question warrants close attention.
Professor Ikenberry grounds his argument in institutionalism, a theory of international relations pioneered by Duke University’s Robert O. Keohane. A corollary to the dominant neo-realist and neo-liberal theories of international relations, institutionalism claims that international organizations—to include networks, shared values, and institutions—moderate the dominance of force and ideology in international relations. The United Nations, the World Court, human rights, and free trade are all institutions in this sense. According to the author, the United States—since World War II—has been especially effective in trading its hegemonic power for institutional arrangements that secure its goals of peace and an open, multilateral economic order.
In Ikenberry’s view, nations victorious in war seek to secure a stable post-war order through balance-of-power, hegemonic, or constitutional means. The traditional balance-of-power strategy depends for stability on a shifting equilibrium of power, while the hegemonic approach requires a preponderance of power. Constitutional frameworks — which the author prefers and recommends—attempt to limit the return of power diplomacy. “Stable political orders,” he writes, “are those that have low returns to power and high returns to institutions.” This, of course, is another way of saying that might should not make right, the fundamental liberal critique of realism. But neither can right be assumed to be lodged in any particular state or ideology. Rather, it must be found pragmatically in the give and take of building and maintaining international institutions.
To demonstrate his theory, Professor Ikenberry rehearses three familiar case studies and one comparatively new one. He begins with the 1815 settlement of the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon. Britain emerged as hegemon, but wisely chose to restrain its power in return for great-power commitment to a new international order, “a process of permanent diplomacy by conference.” What others have seen as the Concert of Europe or the states or congress systems, Ikenberry sees as an institutional order, an interpretation that makes up in illustrative power what it might lack in originality. In the second example, 1919, the United States replaces Britain as hegemon. Woodrow Wilson, of course, plays the institutionalist, offering his Fourteen Points and the League of Nations as paradigmatic institutions/p>
Predictably, World War II corrects the institutional shortcomings of l919. America’s hegemony is greater in 1945 than in 1919, giving it more capital in the search for order. In practice, argues Ikenberry, the United States created two orders after the Second World War. A containment order dealt with the communist bloc. A Western order bound Washington with Tokyo and the European democracies in an “open, multilateral economic order.” Conflicts with the Eastern bloc would be met with traditional instruments of power—economic, political, and military. Conflicts within the Western order “would be captured and domesticated in an iron cage of multilateral rules, standards, safeguards, and dispute resolution procedures ” A “reluctant hegemony,” the United States succeeded in building this institutional web because it traded power for cooperation, because it was transparent in its goals, and because the Western states wanted to bind the Americans to their economic and military security.
The Western order spread to the Warsaw Pact after 1991 for similar reasons. NATO enlargement flowed more from its usefulness as a “sticky institution” than from its military necessity. New organizations such as the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the World Trade Organization expanded the web of institutions, in some cases to former Warsaw Pact countries. NATO bombing of Kosovo in 1999 tested both the European-American alliance and the tolerance of Russia and China, but still the order held. Professor Ikenberry seems optimistic that the United States discovered a workable formula for a stable internationa1 order after World War II and has successfully applied it since to develop more and stickier institutions.
Viewed through the theoretical lens of institutionalism, the author’s argument that nations victorious in war seek to secure post-war order through balance-of-power, hegemonic, or constitutional means is hardly original. The goal of this study has more to do with defending institutionalism than it does with rethinking the history of the peace settlements it deploys as illustrations. Still, the lens shines a new light on contemporary events, exposing refreshing insights. Though the book was published before 9/11, it offers a cautionary warning about President Bush’s expressed willingness in late 2002 for Washington to go it alone if necessary in preemptive pursuit of its national security: “When American power holders bridle at the restraint and commitments that international institutions often entail, they might be reminded that these features of institutions are precisely what has made American power as durable and acceptable as it is today.
Alex Roland, a member of the Board of Directors of American Diplomacy Publishers, is professor of history at Duke University, where he teaches military history and the history of technology. His most recent book is Strategic Computing: DARPA and the Quest for Machine Intelligence (MIT Press, 2002).