In the recent article Hegemony and After, Robert O. Keohane offers a scathing rebuke to the recent works of Robert Kagan and Robert Liebers (too many Robert’s I know) which discuss the gradual decline in U.S. hegemony. According to Keohane, both authors claim that U.S. hegemony is desirable (the alternative of no hegemon being a “more disorderly and dangerous world) and has existed for the past 60 years not as a result of multilateralism and the creation of institutions which the U.S. led, but because other states “approve of American values and goals and believe they may need American power down the road”.
To this Keohane claims their arguments do not engage in any serious analysis of what the U.S. would need to do in order to ensure hegemony, and that their critique of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations do not account for the successes of peacekeeping, trade, etc. Keohane argues that their books fail “to distinguish between what is known and what is unknowable” (a claim that would ultimately bring me completely off topic if I broke down) and that there are six things we do know which somewhat discredit Kagan and Lieber.
They are as follows: (1) with absence of leadership world politics suffers, without alliances or other institutions helping provide reassurance, uncertainty generates security dilemmas. (2) Leadership is exercised most effectively by creating multilateral institutions that enable the sharing of responsibilities and burdens. (3) Leadership is costly and other states have incentives to shirk their responsibilities (or cheat as we called it in class). (4) In democracies such as the U.S. people pay little attention to domestic policy and less to foreign. (5) Autocracies are less stable than democracies. (6) Among those democracies in the world today, only the U.S. has the material capacity (here I assume he means military) and political unity to exercise consistent global leadership (which is needed due to (1)).
I feel as if points (1), (2), and (3) are reiterations of those arguments we discussed in class, even if (1) is a put more strongly than we ever discussed, and that the other points are Keohane’s extrapolations of real world consequences.
Overall I found Keohane’s piece an interesting argument, which gives me no desire to read the works of Kagan or Lieber (making this an unbalanced assessment of their work). I did however find there is one argument he left unaddressed (perhaps as it was not the aim of his article) in that he does not mention whether he is a declinist (pessimist) or antideclinist (optimist) of American hegemony. Personally I would assume that a liberal institutionalist could easily fathom a decline in U.S. hegemony despite its apparent need to guide a multilateral world. Surely a state would recognise that creating international institutions centred on spreading equal rights and the rule of law would lead to ceding sovereignty to the institution and empowering others? Thus a decline in U.S. hegemony is more than expected, and perhaps in no way not desirable, as the tools for the World to continue to cooperate have been established, and assuming that states continue to use them (unlike certain neocons within the U.S.) they can continue to develop and be shaped by ideas by their members. Thus a decline in U.S. hegemony does not necessarily mean a rise in Chinese hegemony, rather it could mean that institutions such as the UN now have the chance to be influenced by other cultures and take on a slightly less Western-centric flavour.