After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars


The end of the Cold War was a "big bang" in world politics not unlike earlier historical moments after major wars, such as the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the end of the World Wars in 1919 and 1945. Here John Ikenberry asks the question, what do states that win these great conflicts do with their newfound power and how do they use it to build order? In examining the major postwar settlements in modern history, he argues that powerful countries usually seek to build stable and cooperative relations, and...
See more details below
Available through our Marketplace sellers.
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (8) from $38.00   
  • New (1) from $145.00   
  • Used (7) from $38.00   
Sort by
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Note: Marketplace items are not eligible for any coupons and promotions
Seller since 2007

Feedback rating:



New — never opened or used in original packaging.

Like New — packaging may have been opened. A "Like New" item is suitable to give as a gift.

Very Good — may have minor signs of wear on packaging but item works perfectly and has no damage.

Good — item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Acceptable — item is in working order but may show signs of wear such as scratches or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Used — An item that has been opened and may show signs of wear. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Refurbished — A used item that has been renewed or updated and verified to be in proper working condition. Not necessarily completed by the original manufacturer.

Gift quality, Fine. Perfect. Bound in fine black bonded leather with gold lettering and head and tail lines. Hardcover. Sans DJ. Ships daily.

Ships from: Boonsboro, MD

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Sort by
Sending request ...


The end of the Cold War was a "big bang" in world politics not unlike earlier historical moments after major wars, such as the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the end of the World Wars in 1919 and 1945. Here John Ikenberry asks the question, what do states that win these great conflicts do with their newfound power and how do they use it to build order? In examining the major postwar settlements in modern history, he argues that powerful countries usually seek to build stable and cooperative relations, and often the best way to do this is to restrain the exercise of brute power by operating within multilateral institutions.

The author explains that military winners have a long-term interest in the stability of a new world order, since they are the dominant powers within it. Consequently, they limit their own power and coopt other states to create stable and lasting relations. The more institutionalized and self-limiting, the more durable the postwar order. Ikenberry maintains that a country's ability to restrain its power has shifted historically with the rise of democratic states. Blending comparative politics with international relations, and history with theory, After Victory will interest anyone concerned about the organization of world order, the role of institutions in facilitating cooperation, and the lessons of past postwar settlements for today. It also speaks to current debates in the policy community about the ability of the United States today to organize the post-Cold War order.

"For the third time in this troubled century and following the end of the Cold War and the tragic events in the former Yugoslavia, the world is challenged to create a stable and enduring world order. In this pathbreaking book, Ikenberry draws upon novel theoretical insights and historical experience to determine what policies and strategies work best as the United States attempts to lead in the struggles to create a new world order. . A major contribution to IR theory and to thinking about international order." (Robert Gilpin, Princeton University)

"Through careful, thorough, and subtle analysis of the diplomacy of the post-war settlements of 1815, 1919, 1945, and 1989--91, John Ikenberry addresses in After Victory three major questions for the study of world politics: how do major-state victors seek to translate their military success into a sustainable political order; why do secondary-state partners accept the order so constructed by the major victors; and why have post-war settlements become progressively based on institutional principles and practices? In its theoretical boldness, historical sweep, policy relevance, and sheer elegance of analysis and presentation, few books published in the past quarter-century in the field of international relations are the equal of After Victory." (Joseph Grieco, Duke University)

"After Victory is an extremely important inquiry into the origins of postwar order in international relations--the key analytic and policy issue of our time. Ikenberry's book is unique in its theoretical and empirical sweep. In contrast to realists, for whom international orders are epiphenomenal and transient, and constructivists, who see order emerging from shared worldviews and norms, Ikenberry adopts a historical sociological framework. He argues that states self-consciously create institutions to bind themselves and others in international orders that reduce the 'returns to power'." (David A. Lake, University of California, San Diego)

"After Victory argues that political primacy is achieved best through a strategy of limiting the unilateral exercise of power. This book engages contemporary political debates, and it illuminates these debates with an informative set of historical case studies. All serious students of international relations and all practitioners of foreign policy will want to come to terms with John Ikenberry's elegant and learned analysis." (Peter Katzenstein, Cornell University)

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Robert Wright
After Victory show[s] how international governance can serve the interests of hegemonic powers.
Political Science Quarterly - Peter Liberman
This is a thought-provoking and elegantly written book and an important contribution to our understanding of postwar orders and institutions.
Journal of Politics - Randall L. Schweller
After Victory is a majestic work that combines many familiar but seemingly unrelated themes into one elegant package of exceptional theoretical and empirical sweep. . . . It should have an enduring impact on the study and practice of international relations.
Foreign Affairs - Tony Smith
The liberal argument that democratic regimes can make a dramatic difference in world affairs has finally achieved intellectual respectability, as this fine book so convincingly maintains.
From the Publisher
Winner of the Jervis-Shroeder Best Book Award

"After Victory show[s] how international governance can serve the interests of hegemonic powers."—Robert Wright, The New York Times

"This is a thought-provoking and elegantly written book and an important contribution to our understanding of postwar orders and institutions."—Peter Liberman, Political Science Quarterly

"After Victory is a majestic work that combines many familiar but seemingly unrelated themes into one elegant package of exceptional theoretical and empirical sweep. . . . It should have an enduring impact on the study and practice of international relations."—Randall L. Schweller, Journal of Politics

"This pathbreaking work is one of the most important studies on international order to appear in many years. It will be required reading for all students and scholars of international relations."—Choice

"The liberal argument that democratic regimes can make a dramatic difference in world affairs has finally achieved intellectual respectability, as this fine book so convincingly maintains."—Tony Smith, Foreign Affairs

"An elegant, penetrating study about the creation and maintenance of international order in global society. . . . This pathbreaking work is one of the most important studies on international order to appear in many years. It will be required reading for all students and scholars of international relations."—Choice

"This is unquestionably one of the most important books in the field of the past decade."—International Affairs

Political Science Quarterly
This is a thought-provoking and elegantly written book and an important contribution to our understanding of postwar orders and institutions.
— Peter Liberman
Journal of Politics
After Victory is a majestic work that combines many familiar but seemingly unrelated themes into one elegant package of exceptional theoretical and empirical sweep. . . . It should have an enduring impact on the study and practice of international relations.
— Randall L. Schweller
An elegant, penetrating study about the creation and maintenance of international order in global society. . . . This pathbreaking work is one of the most important studies on international order to appear in many years. It will be required reading for all students and scholars of international relations.
Foreign Affairs
The liberal argument that democratic regimes can make a dramatic difference in world affairs has finally achieved intellectual respectability, as this fine book so convincingly maintains.
— Tony Smith
International Affairs
This is unquestionably one of the most important books in the field of the past decade.
The New York Times
After Victory show[s] how international governance can serve the interests of hegemonic powers.
— Robert Wright
Read More Show Less

Product Details

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


AT RARE historical junctures, states grapple with the fundamental problem of international relations: how to create and maintain order in a world of sovereign states. These junctures come at dramatic moments of upheaval and change within the international system, when the old order has been destroyed by war and newly powerful states try to reestablish basic organizing rules and arrangements. The end of the Cold War after 1989 is seen by many contemporary observers as the most recent of these great historical moments. With the dramatic collapse of the bipolar world order, the question not asked since the 1940s has recently been posed anew: how do states build international order and make it last?

The great moments of international order building have tended to come after major wars, as winning states have undertaken to reconstruct the post-war world. Certain years stand out as critical turning points: 1648, 1713, 1815, 1919, and 1945. At these junctures, newly powerful states have been given extraordinary opportunities to shape world politics. In the chaotic aftermath of war, leaders of these states have found themselves in unusually advantageous positions to put forward new rules and principles of international relations and by so doing remake international order.1 This book raises three fundamental questions about order building at these great junctures. First, what is the essential logic of state choice at these postwar moments when the basic organization of international order is up for grabs? That is, what is the strategic circumstance common to theseorderingmoments, and what are the choices that the leading states face in rebuilding postwar order? Second, why has the specific "solution" to the problem of order changed or evolved across the great postwar settlements? In particular, what is the explanation for the growing resort to institutional strategies of order building, beginning with the 1815 settlement and most systematically pursued after 1945? Third, why has the 1945 postwar order among the advanced industrial countries been so durable, surviving the dramatic shifts in power that accompanied the end of the Cold War?

The great postwar junctures share a set of characteristics that make them unusually important in providing opportunities for leading states to shape international order. The most important characteristic of interstate relations after a major war is that a new distribution of power suddenly emerges, creating new asymmetries between powerful and weak states. These new power disparities are manifest precisely as the old order has been destroyed, and there are opportunities and incentives for states to confront each other over the establishment of new principles and rules of order. Major postwar junctures are rare strategic moments when leading or hegemonic states face choices about how to use their newly acquired power—choices that ultimately shape the character of postwar international order.

A state that wins a war has acquired what can usefully be thought of as a sort of "windfall" of power assets. The winning postwar state is newly powerful—indeed, in some cases it is newly hegemonic, acquiring a preponderance of material power capabilities. The question is: what does this state do with its new abundance of power? It has three broad choices. It can dominate—use its commanding material capabilities to prevail in the endless conflicts over the distribution of gains. It can abandon—wash its hands of postwar disputes and return home. Or it can try to transform its favorable postwar power position into a durable order that commands the allegiance of the other states within the order. To achieve this outcome, it must overcome the fears of the weaker and defeated states that it will pursue the other options: domination or abandonment.

Historically, the leading states at the great postwar junctures have had incentives to take the third course, but the means and ability of doing so has changed over time.

There are three central arguments of this book. First, the character of order after major wars has changed as the capacities and mechanisms of states to restrain power has changed. The ability of these states to engage in what can be called "strategic restraint" has evolved over the centuries, and this has changed the way in which leading states have been able to create and maintain international order. The earliest postwar power restraint strategies of states primarily entailed the separation and dispersion of state power and later the counterbalancing of power. More recently, postwar states have dealt with the uncertainties and disparities in state power with institutional strategies that—to varying degrees—bind states together and circumscribe how and when state power can be exercised.

An historical pattern can be identified. Beginning with the 1815 settlement and increasingly after 1919 and 1945, the leading state has resorted to institutional strategies as mechanisms to establish restraints on indiscriminate and arbitrary state power and "lock in" a favorable and durable postwar order. The postwar order-building agendas pursued by Britain after the Napoleonic wars and the United States after the two world wars entailed increasingly expansive proposals to establish intergovernmental institutions that would bind the great powers together and institutionalize their relations after the war. These postwar institutions did not simply solve functional problems or facilitate cooperation; they have also served as mechanisms of political control that allowed the leading state (at least to some extent) to lock other states into a favorable set of postwar relations and establish some measure of restraint on its own exercise of power, thereby mitigating the fears of domination and abandonment.

Second, the incentives and capacities of leading states to employ institutions as mechanisms of political control are shaped by two variables: the extent of power disparities after the war and the types of states that are party to the settlement. The more extreme the power disparities after the war, the greater the capacity of the leading state to employ institutions to lock in a favorable order; it is in a more advantaged position to exchange restraints on its power for institutional agreements and to trade off short-term gains for longer-term gains. Also, the greater the power disparities, the greater the incentives for weaker and secondary states to establish institutional agreements that reduce the risks of domination or abandonment. Likewise, democratic states have greater capacities to enter into binding institutions and thereby reassure the other states in the postwar settlement than nondemocracies. That is, the "stickiness" of interlocking institutions is greater between democracies than between nondemocracies, and this makes them a more readily employable mechanism to dampen the implications of power asymmetries.

Third, this institutional logic is useful in explaining the remarkable stability of the post-1945 order among the industrial democracies—an order that has persisted despite the end of the Cold War and the huge asymmetries of power. More than in 1815 and 1919, the circumstances in 1945 provided opportunities for the leading state to move toward an institutionalized settlement. Once in place, the democratic character of the states has facilitated the further growth of intergovernmental institutions and commitments, created deeper linkages between these states, and made it increasingly difficult for alternative orders to replace the existing one.

Indeed, the institutional logic of post-1945 order is useful in explaining both the way the Cold War ended and the persistence of this order after the Cold War. It tells us why the Soviet Union gave up with so little resistance and acquiesced in a united and more powerful Germany tied to NATO. Soviet leaders appreciated that the institutional aspects of political order in the West made it less likely that these states would take advantage of the Soviets as they pursued reform and integration. The institutional structure of the Western countries mitigated the security consequences of an adverse shift in power disparities and the rise of a united Germany, and this gave the Soviets incentives to go forward with their fateful decisions sooner and on terms more favorable to the West than they would have otherwise been. And institutional logic helps account for why the major Western institutions continued to persist despite the collapse of bipolarity, even if (in the case of NATO) there was no immediately apparent function for it to perform. These institutions continue to persist because they are part of the system of mutual commitments and reassurances whose logic predated and was at least partially independent of the Cold War.

Behind this argument about the changing character of postwar orders is an argument about how democracies—employing interlocking institutions—can create an order that mutes the importance of power asymmetries within international relations. To the extent that institutions play this role, the political order that results increasingly takes on "constitutional" characteristics. Fundamentally, constitutional political orders reduce the implications of "winning" in politics. Institutional limits are set on what a party or a state can do if it gains an advantage at a particular moment—for example, by winning an election or gaining disproportionately from economic exchange. In other words, constitutional orders "limit the returns to power." Limits are set on what actors can do with momentary advantages. Losers realize that their losses are limited and temporary, and that to accept those loses is not to risk everything or to give the winners a permanent advantage.

Seen in this way, it is possible to argue that the constitutional character of political orders—whether domestic or international—can vary. The degree to which the institutions within that order limit the returns to power vary, and therefore the overall constitutional character of the order can vary. Historically, international orders have exhibited very few institutional limits on the returns to power. Orders built simply on the balance of power or the coercive domination of a hegemonic state exhibit no constitutional characteristics whatever. But if institutions—wielded by democracies—play a restraining role that is hypothesized in this book, it is possible to argue that international orders under particular circumstances can indeed exhibit constitutional characteristics.

This is a claim of considerable theoretical significance. It is widely understood that domestic and international politics are rooted in very different types of order. Domestic politics is governed by the rule of law and agreed-upon institutions, whereas international politics is governed by the exercise of state power. In domestic politics, power is "tamed" by a framework of institutions and rules, whereas, it is argued, international politics remains an untamed world of power politics. In the most influential formulation, the two realms have fundamentally different structures: one based on the principle of hierarchy and the other on anarchy.2 But it may be more accurate to say that domestic and international order can take many different forms. In some countries, politics can be extremely ruthless and coercive, whereas some areas of international politics are remarkably consensual and institutionalized. The domestic-international divide is not absolute.3 When war or political upheaval results in the rise of a newly powerful state or group of states—that is, where there exist highly asymmetrical power relations in an international environment where the basic character of order is in transition—leading states will be presented with the choice to dominate, abandon, or institutionalize the postwar order. When the incentives and opportunities exist for the leading states to move in the direction of an institutionalized settlement that binds states together so as to limit and constrain state power, including the power of the leading or hegemonic state, the postwar order begins to take on constitutional characteristics.

The rest of this chapter looks more closely at the puzzles of postwar order that have eluded explanation, the hypotheses and institutional argument developed in this book, and the larger theoretical implications that are at stake in the debate over how states create and maintain order.


Order formation in international relations has tended to come at dramatic and episodic moments, typically after great wars. These shifts in the system are what Robert Gilpin calls "systemic change," moments when the governing rules and institutions are remade to suit the interests of the newly powerful states or hegemon.4 The irregular and episodic pattern of international order formation is itself an important observation about the nature of change. The importance of war, breakdown, and reconstruction in relations among states speaks to a central aspect of international change: that history is, as Peter Katzenstein argues, a "sequence of irregular big bangs."5 World politics is marked by infrequent discontinuities that rearrange the relations between states.

Although the most consequential reordering moments in international relations have occurred after major wars, the specific character of the orders these settlements produced have changed over the centuries. The settlements grew increasingly global in scope. The Westphalia settlement in 1648 was primarily a continental European settlement, whereas the Utrecht settlement in 1712 saw the beginning of Britain's involvement in shaping the European state system. The Vienna settlement in 1815 brought the wider colonial and non-European world into the negotiations. In the twentieth century, the settlements were truly global. The peace agreements also expanded in scope and reach. They dealt with a widening range of security, territorial, economic, and functional issues and they became increasingly intrusive, entailing greater involvement in the internal structures and administration of the defeated states; they culminated in 1945 with the occupation and reconstruction of Germany and Japan.6

Most important, in the settlements of 1815, 1919, and 1945, the leading states made increasingly elaborate efforts to institutionalize the postwar security relations between the major powers. Rather than rely simply on balance-of-power strategies or preponderant power, they sought to restrain power, reassure weaker potential rivals, and establish commitments by creating various types of binding institutions. The strategy was to tie potentially rival and mutually threatening states together in alliance and other institutions. Robert Jervis notes this logic in the Vienna settlement: "The conception of self-interest expanded, and statesmen came to believe that menacing states could best be contained by keeping close ties on them."7

The postwar settlements of 1919 and 1945 saw postwar order-building strategies that were even more far-reaching in their use of institutions to bind and reassure potential adversaries. The explanation of how and why this practice of using institutions to tie states together emerged in 1815 as an alternative to a simple balance-of-power order, and reappeared in even more extensive form after the two world wars, is an important historical and theoretical puzzle.8

After 1945, the United States pursued a strategy of postwar order building that involved the unprecedented creation of new intergovernmental institutions. In the aftermath of World War II, the prewar order was in ruins, the European great powers were beaten down, and the United States was poised to dominate world politics. From this commanding position, between 1944 and 1951, the United States led the way in establishing the Bretton Woods institutions, the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the U.S.-Japan security treaty, and other alliances in Asia. Postwar institutions came in many guises—regional, global, economic, security, multilateral, and bilateral.

There have been many great wars and many moments when newly powerful states were in a position to organize the postwar order. But never has a single state emerged so dominant after so consequential a war; and never has there been a great power that has sought to institutionalize the postwar order so thoroughly. The specific contrast can be made between American and British hegemonic periods, for the United States has made much more extensive use of institutions than Britain did in the nineteenth century.9 Why would the United States, at the height of its hegemonic power after World War II, agree to "institutionalize" its power? The United States did attempt to lock other states into these institutions while simultaneously leaving itself as unencumbered as possible. But the postwar institutions inevitably also set some limits on how America could exercise its hegemonic power. Why would it agree to these institutional limits? It is also a puzzle why weaker and secondary states would agree to become more rather than less entangled with such a powerful hegemonic state. To do so is to risk domination, and if these weaker states believe that the hegemon's power will ultimately decline, they might argue that it is better not to lock themselves in, and wait until they can get a better deal later.

It is also a puzzle that the 1945 order has been so durable. One of the great surprises of the post-Cold War period is the remarkable stability of relations between the United States and the other advanced industrial countries. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of bipolarity, relations among the United States, Europe, and Japan continue to be relatively open, reciprocal, legitimate, and institutionalized. Many observers expected the end of the Cold War to trigger major changes in relations among these countries, such as the breakdown of multilateral institutions, the rise of regional blocs, and the return to strategic balancing by Japan and Germany.

The end of the Cold War has not only eliminated a source of cohesion among the industrial democracies; it has also led to a unipolar distribution of power. In both economic and military spheres, the United States leads its nearest rival by a larger margin than has any other leading state in the last three centuries. Yet despite this concentration of American power, there is very little evidence that other states are actively seeking to balance against it or organize a counterhegemonic coalition. Again, the puzzle today concerns what has not happened: In a decade of sharp shifts in the distribution of power, why has there been so much stability and persistence of order among the industrial democracies?


The debate about the sources of international order is typically waged between those who stress the importance of power and those who stress the importance of institutions and ideas.10 This is a false dichotomy. State power and its disparities determine the basic dilemmas that states face in the creation and maintenance of order, but variations in the "solutions" that states have found to these dilemmas require additional theorizing. The character and stability of postwar order hinge on the capacities of states to develop institutional mechanisms to restrain power and establish binding commitments—capacities that stem from the political character of states and prevailing strategic thinking about the sources of international order. But prevailing theories of institutions also miss the way institutions play an ordering role as mechanisms of political control.

The realist tradition advances the most clearly defined answers to the basic question of how order is created among states.11 The fundamental realist claim is that order is created and maintained by state power, and shifts in order are ultimately driven by shifts in the distribution of state power. Built on this view, realism—and its neorealist revisions—offer two relatively distinct images of order formation in world politics: balance of power and hegemony.

Balance-of-power theory explains order—and the rules and institutions that emerge—as the product of an ongoing process of balancing and adjustment of opposing power concentrations or threats among states under conditions of anarchy.12 Balancing can be pursued both internally and externally: through domestic mobilization and through the formation of temporary alliances among states to resist and counterbalance a threatening concentration of power. Under conditions of anarchy, alliances will come and go as temporary expedients, states will guard their autonomy, and entangling institutions will be resisted. Balance-of-power realists differ greatly over how explicit and self-conscious the rules of balance tend to be. The order that emerges is thus either the unintended outcome of balancing pressures or a reflection of learned and formalized rules of equilibrium and balance.

A second neorealist theory holds that order is created and maintained by a hegemonic state, which uses power capabilities to organize relations among states.13 The preponderance of power by a state allows it to offer incentives, both positive and negative, to the other states to agree to ongoing participation within the hegemonic order. According to Robert Gilpin, an international order is, at any particular moment in history, the reflection of the underlying distribution of power of states within the system. Over time, this distribution of power shifts, leading to conflicts and ruptures in the system, hegemonic war, and the eventual reorganization of order so as to reflect the new distribution of power capabilities. It is the rising hegemonic state or group of states, whose power position has been ratified by war, that defines the terms of the postwar settlement and the character of the new order.

These neorealist theories are helpful in identifying the strategic dilemmas that emerge at postwar junctures: the problem of creating order in highly asymmetrical power relations. But neither version of neorealism can make complete sense of the rising role of institutional strategies of order building by leading states or the sequence of postwar orders that emerged. Neither version allows international institutions to play a primary role in the organization of relations among states.14 In a simple neorealist view, hegemonic order is established and maintained by the continuing use of inducements and threats that are available to the preponderant postwar state, which relies on such material capabilities as military power; control over raw materials, markets, and capital; and competitive economic and technological advantages.15 As I will argue later, there is evidence that hegemonic states—Britain in the nineteenth century and the United States after the world wars—acted according to a more sophisticated understanding of power and order. They sought to establish mutually agreed-upon rules and principles of order, and they appeared to realize that to do so required not just wielding material capabilities but also restraining the use of that power.16

Likewise, the continuing stability of the Western postwar order challenges most neorealist theories of balance and hegemony. With the end of the Soviet threat, balance-of-power theory expects the West, and particularly the security organizations such as NATO, to weaken and eventually return to a pattern of strategic rivalry.17 Neorealist theories of hegemony have argued that the extreme preponderance of American power will trigger counterbalancing reactions by Asian and European allies, or at least a loosening of the political and security ties that marked the Cold War era.18 Some neorealist accounts have been advanced to explain the absence of European or Asian balancing responses in the face of renewed American hegemony. One such explanation looks at American post-Cold War grand strategy and its seeming ability to use material resources to coopt and reassure allies, thereby forestalling balancing and resistance.19 Another realist answer is that contemporary American power is so much greater than that of other states that counterbalancing would not work.20

Nonetheless, the basic thrust of these neorealist theories is that the advanced industrial states will again have to deal with the problems of anarchy after the Cold War: economic rivalry, security dilemmas, institutional decay, and balancing alliances. The external threat of the Cold War is gone, and even if the United States remains predominant, it has lost a critical source of cohesion among the allies. The fact that post-Cold War relations among the Western industrial countries have remained stable and open, and institutionalized cooperation in some areas has actually expanded, is a puzzle that can only be explained by going beyond neorealism.21

Liberal theories are also relevant but incomplete in understanding the politics of order building after major wars.22 These theories provide particularly promising leads in explaining aspects of the 1945 postwar order, but they do not provide a full explanation of its features or the sources of its stability.23 Liberal theories are less concerned with the asymmetries of power between states and the constraints on cooperation that are engendered as a result. They miss the prevalence of institutional binding practices as an alternative to traditional balancing and the way in which the open and democratic American polity has combined with international institutions to mitigate the implications of postwar power asymmetries.

Liberal theories see institutions as having a variety of international functions and impacts that serve in various ways to facilitate cooperation, modify state power, and alter the ways in which states identify and pursue their interests.24 Liberal theories have also identified and stressed the importance of institutions among states that serve as foundational agreements or constitutional contracts—what Oran Young describes as "sets of rights and rules that are expected to govern their subsequent interactions."25 But there has been less attention to the ways that institutions can be used as strategies to bind states together so as to mitigate the security dilemma and overcome incentives to balance. Liberal theories grasp the ways in which institutions can channel and constrain state actions, but they have not explored a more far-reaching view, in which leading states use intergovernmental institutions to restrain themselves and thereby dampen the fears of domination and abandonment by secondary states.

The approach to institutions that I am proposing can be contrasted with two alternative theories: the neoliberal (or "unsticky") theory and the constructivist (or "disembodied") theory. Neoliberal theory sees institutions as agreements or contracts between actors that function to reduce uncertainty, lower transaction costs, and solve collective action problems. They provide information, enforcement mechanisms, and other devices that allow states to realize joint gains.26 Institutions are employed as strategies to mitigate a range of opportunistic incentives that states will otherwise respond to under conditions of anarchy.27 Institutions are thus explained in terms of the problems they solve; they are constructs that can be traced to the actions of self-interested individuals or groups.28

Constructivist theory sees institutions as diffuse and socially constructed worldviews that bound and shape the strategic behavior of individuals and states. Institutions are seen as overarching patterns of relations that define and reproduce the interests and actions of individuals and groups. They provide normative and cognitive maps for interpretation and action, and they ultimately affect the identities and social purposes of the actors.29 Behind state interests and power are state identities—prevailing norms and ideas about the purposes and orientation of the state as an entity and as an actor in the wider international system. In this view, the organization of postwar order, in each historical instance, reflects the prevailing thinking among those party to the settlements about what the proper principles and purposes of international order should be. This prevailing thinking, in turn, is rooted in the principles and purposes that shape the fundamental identities of the states themselves.30

A third position holds that institutions are both constructs and constraints. Institutions are the formal and informal organizations, rules, routines, and practices that are embedded in the wider political order and define the "landscape" in which actors operate.31 As such, institutional structures influence the way power is distributed across individuals and groups within a political system, providing advantages and resources to some and constraining the options of others. This approach gives attention to the ways in which institutions alter or fix the distribution of power within a political order. It offers a more sticky theory of institutions than the rationalist account, but unlike constructivism, it locates institutional stickiness in the practical interaction between actors and formal and informal organizations, rules, and routines. Because of the complex causal interaction between actors and institutions, attention to historical timing and sequencing is necessary to appreciate the way in which agency and structure matter.

The key focus of neoliberal institutional theory is the way in which institutions provide information to states and reduce the incentives for cheating.32 But this misses the fundamental feature of the prevailing order among the advanced industrial countries: the structures of relations are now so deep and pervasive that the kind of cheating that these theories worry about either cannot happen, or if it does it will not really matter because cooperation and the institutions are not fragile but profoundly robust. Moreover, it is a question not only of how institutions matter but of when they matter. Neoliberal institutionalism argues that institutions matter most after hegemony; when hegemony declines, institutions sustain order and cooperation. But institutions are also critical at the beginning of hegemony—or "after victory"—in establishing order and securing cooperation between unequal states.33 The theory of institutions advanced in this book incorporates assumptions about path dependency and increasing returns to institutions to explain their potential significance in overcoming or mitigating anarchy, balance, and strategic rivalry.


This book argues that the basic problem of order formation is a problem of coping with the newly emerged asymmetries of power. This is the classic problem of political order: How can a stable and mutually acceptable system of relations be established between strong and weak states? Max Weber took this problem as the central dilemma of politics—turning raw power into legitimate authority. Wars create winners and losers, they magnify the differences between strong and weak, and they destroy the old rules and institutions of order. In this situation, as has been said, leading or hegemonic states can aggrandize their position, states can seek security in balances of power, or states can create more institutionalized political orders. Faced with similar postwar strategic situations in 1648, 1713, 1815, 1919, and 1945, the leading states pursued different strategies. The initial settlements dealt with the problem by separating and balancing power of the major states.34 The settlements after 1815, 1919, and 1945 increasingly resorted to institutional strategies to establish strategic restraint and overcome fears of domination and abandonment. The central focus of this book is to understand the logic and variation in these postwar strategies and the implications for the stability of the 1945 postwar order.35

The argument advanced here is that the character of postwar order has changed as the capacities of states to restrain power and establish commitments has changed. The rise of democratic states and new institutional strategies allowed states capacities to develop new responses to the old and recurring problem of order.

Chapter Two specifies the book's dependent variables: the order-building strategies of the leading postwar states and variations in the character of postwar order. The primary empirical focus is on the choices and policies of newly powerful postwar states and, in particular, variations in the extent to which these states employed institutions as mechanisms to establish commitments and restraints.36 The secondary empirical focus is the actual character of postwar order and, in this regard, a broad distinction is made between three types of order: balance of power, hegemonic, and constitutional. These varieties of order differ in the way that the distribution of state power is organized and restrained. This book does not seek to explain systematically variations in these three types of order. Rather, it looks for variations in the character of order as evidence of the extent to which institutional strategies of order building are advanced and successfully pursued by the leading postwar state.

These arguments about the institutional logic of order building and variations in its manifestation are developed in Chapter Three. Assumptions are made at the outset about the basic "problems" that leading states face in rebuilding order after major wars: the breakdown of the old order, the rise of new power asymmetries, and the basic choices that they face. These simplifications are made so as to clarify the basic strategic circumstances and choices. Explaining variations in the choice of order-building strategies—and the growing embrace of institutional strategies—is the puzzle that emerges from this construction of the problem.

Over time, postwar settlements have moved in the direction of an institutionalized order, and have begun to take on constitutional characteristics. Power in exercised—at least to some extent—through agreed-upon institutional rules and practices, thereby limiting the capacities of states to exercise power in arbitrary and indiscriminate ways or use their power advantages to gain a permanent advantage over weaker states. This model of postwar institution building is an ideal type. None of the major postwar settlements fully conforms to its ideal logic. The model allows, however, for the identification of a logic of order building that is more or less present in the settlements of 1815, 1919, and 1945, and that is most fully evident in the 1945 settlement among the industrial democracies. Chapters Four, Five, and Six examine these major modern postwar cases. The 1815 juncture provided Britain with a leading power position, but the establishment of binding institutions was limited by the nondemocratic character of the states involved. The proposed general security guarantee failed primarily because of the inability to the states involved to make binding commitments. Russian Tsar Alexander's highly personal and eccentric foreign policy was the most visible expression of this constraint. The 1815 case shows the leading state attempting to use institutions as a mechanism of power restraint, and there are some traces of constitutional order, but the episode also reveals the limits to which nondemocratic states can create binding institutions. In 1919, the prevalence of democracies among the Western postwar powers provided opportunities for institutional agreement, and Woodrow Wilson articulated ambitious institutional proposals. European leaders did worry about American domination and abandonment, and they did seek to draw the United States into a security commitment. An institutional bargain was within reach, and the reasons for failure are more idiosyncratic than deeply rooted in the postwar circumstances identified by the model. Wilson's stubborn convictions about the sources of law and institutions, the poor exercise of American power, and missed opportunities were enough to doom the settlement, particularly in the face of con-flicting interests among the allies.

The 1945 juncture provided the most pronounced incentives and capacities for the leading and secondary states to move toward an institutionalized settlement. The United States commanded a far more favorable power position than it did after 1919 or than Britain did after 1815. It had more capacities to make institutional bargains with other states, and the sharp asymmetries in power made European governments particularly eager for agreements that would establish commitments and restraints. The democratic character of the states involved made the institutional agreements that resulted—however reluctantly they were initially entered into—more credible and effective in mitigating the severest implications of power asymmetry. The character of the American domestic system—which provided transparency and "voice opportunities"—and the extensive use of binding institutions served to limit the returns to power and provide assurances to states within the order that they would not be dominated or abandoned. The order that has emerged is distinctive—multilateral, reciprocal, legitimate, and highly institutionalized. The post-1945 American-centered order has found a novel and effective way to overcome the problem of order posed by the great asymmetries of power after the war.

Because the Cold War reinforced cooperation among the industrial democracies, it is difficult to evaluate fully the significance of the institutional sources of order during this period. As a result, the pattern of relations among these countries after the Cold War takes on added theoretical importance. As Chapter Seven demonstrates, the durability of relations among the advanced industrial countries—despite the loss of the Soviet threat as a source of cooperation—are consistent with the logic of institutional order and pose problems for alternative theories of contemporary international order.

The book's implications for contemporary American foreign policy makers are explored in the conclusion. The United States has entered the new century as the world's lone superpower. Whether that extraordinary power can be put to good use in creating a lasting and legitimate international order will in no small measure be determined by how American officials use and operate within international institutions. It might appear that there are few constraints or penalties for the United States to exercise its power unilaterally and at its own discretion. But the theory and historical experiences explored in these chapters suggest otherwise. The most enduringly powerful states are those that work with and through institutions.

Hamlet in His Modern Guises

By Alexander Welsh

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2001 Princeton University Press. All rights reserved.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents



CHAPTER ONE The Problem of Order

CHAPTER TWO Varieties of Order: Balance of Power, F3egemonic, and Constitutional

CHAPTER THREE An Institutional Theory of Order Formation

CHAPTER FOUR The Settlement of 1815

CHAPTER FIVE The Settlement of 1919

CHAPTER SIX The Settlement of 1945

CHAPTER SEVEN After the Cold War




Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)