A hegemon refers to the undisputedly strongest state in the international system. Hegemony has five main dimensions namely economic, political, military, institutional and ideological. The theory of hegemonic stability mostly approached from either neorealist or neoliberal direction. The theory of hegemonic stability is critical because it captures the tendency of the leading powers in the world using force to assert their dominance. Similarly, the world super powers also use their positions to create ideas, alliances, and institutions which allow for free participation of other states in a relatively open free participation.
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In his study, Gilpin argues that the fundamental nature of international relations is yet to change over the millennia. His study is based on history, sociological and economic studies which indicate various forces which have influenced the world order. According to Gilpin, the current economic unevenness is as a result of the differential growth of power in the international system (Gilpin 186). Any shift in the balance of either economic or military power leads to a subsequent weakening of the foundations of the already existing systems. The waning of these systems is primarily caused by those gaining power because they value the increasing benefits and the decreasing costs of changing the system (Gilpin 188). Continued alteration of the system through political, territorial, technological and economic hegemony leads to increased marginal costs of continuing change beyond the marginal benefits. The cost of maintaining the international status quo among the dominant powers has increased resulting in major discrepancies between the power they possess and their commitment (Gilpin 187).
According to Gilpin, the hegemonic stability between the dominant powers and the rising powers is attained through alteration of the existing laws in the international system (Gilpin 187). Rising powers will always attempt to change the rules governing the international system, the national distribution of territory and the division of the spheres of influence. On the other hand, the dominant powers usually counter the challenge from the rising powers by exercising their hegemonic powers such as proposing changes in their policies in an attempt to restore equilibrium in the systems (Gilpin 187). Gilpin’s argument suggests that in case the dominant power fails to restore the order through changes in the policies meant to restore the previously existing equilibrium, the disequilibrium is usually resolved by war.
Before resulting to war as the final means of restoring the desired equilibrium, the challenged powers have two main alternatives in terms of the actions they can take. The most preferred solution to the disequilibrium created by the rising power is an increase in the resources that are meant in maintaining their positions and commitment in the international system (Gilpin 188). Secondly, the dominant or the aggrieved power can also attempt to reduce its existing commitments as well as the associated costs but ensure that the reduction dies not in any way jeopardize their positions in the international system. These are two policies that should be analyzed separately and be followed in exclusion of the other. In generating new resources meant to meet the cost of dominance and also forestall decline, various methods such as an increase in domestic taxation are used (Gilpin 188). Another tool which is commonly used is through an exacting tribute from other states. These two courses actions usually provoke resistance and rebellion because an increased taxes result in decreased productive investment as well as low living standards. The solution to this can be government employment of more indirect methods of resource generation in a bid to meet a fiscal crisis. Inflationary policies and the manipulation of terms of trade with other countries are common in such case.
In hegemonic stability theory, it is important to consider the role played by the hegemon in generating order and cooperation. Neoliberal hegemon has a responsibility to rescue the financial system through opening global trade by sheer economic size as well as encouraging institutionalized cooperation in order to create a sustainable and open economy. According to Gilpin, the hegemons usually force the weaker states to join cooperative regimes in order to reduce uncertainty, decrease transaction costs and build consistency in terms of economic expectations. Cooperative hegemons usually try as much as possible to identify with the interests of its allies and adjust its bargaining position accordingly.
Basically, as per Gilpin’s argument, the cost or the benefit calculation in foreign policy determination is based on a state’s objective to change the international system using methods that will give them an edge over others by putting their interests first (Gilpin 50). However, as much as a state would like to boosts its national interests over others, a cost is involved. For instance, a state must have adequate resources to meet this cost and also be in a position to pay them. However, if a state does not have adequate resources to meet these costs, it attempts to change the system. The system remains relatively stable if it is unchanged and also if individual states are profiting from it regardless of the obvious inequalities (Gilpin 51). Based on this outcome, political realists fail to argue that the objective of every state is to maximize its power within the international system. However, an opportunity cost to a society is compulsory in the acquisition of power. Consequently, if a given state is in the quest to acquire power, other desired goods are lost in the process. This has been advantageous in improving stability in the international system because most states forgo apparent opportunities to increase their influence as the costs are too high.
Although change of the international system is mostly associated with the rising powers who feel disadvantaged by the hegemons, the net gains or the benefits the accrue from a change of system can determine whether the change comes from the rising power or the hegemon. The powerful countries can engage in a change of the international system in order to increase their future benefits. On the contrary, the rising powers can pursue a change of the system to decrease threatened losses. In addition, long-term benefits are an important consideration before making the changes because they are more beneficial compared to the short term gains. Also, the losers of the change also dread the fact that the long-term costs of the development will outweigh the short term benefits. Lastly, Gilpin asserts that once equilibrium has been reached between the costs and the benefits of change, the economic costs of maintaining the status quo tends to rise faster compared to the economic capacity needed to support the status quo (Gilpin 156).
Gilpin’s argument on the contribution of hegemony in war and order differs with that of Bull’s. According to Bull, the international system is only referred to as stable if the changes made are gradual and peaceful. In addition, if an order has to be achieved, states have to follow various well-laid patterns which consequently provide stability to the system and at the same time create goals that are common for all the involved actors and reduce uncertainty. Also, Gilpin’s argument focuses on the lack of attainment of an equilibrium between the hegemons and the rising powers as the major cause of war. On the other hand, Bull argues that the practice of the laid out patterns institutionalizes the international society. Also, according to Bull, there is a difference between anarchy and order. Anarchical situations in the international order is mainly as a result of lack of higher authority of law making (Bull 135). However, the existence of anarchy in the international system is not necessary an indicator of lack of order. On the other hand, the existence of order in the international system is not an indicator of the existence of hierarchy.
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According to Bull, there are five main institutions in the international society which are key to facilitating order. They include diplomacy, international law, the balance of power, war and the Great power managerial system. According to this classification, the Great Powers play a managerial role in the international society. Also, since their interests are system-wide, any incident in the system affects their interests. Therefore, it is critical for the hegemons to establish the order by managing their relations with one another as well as managing the relations between the small states within their sphere of influence (Bull 213). Hegemons, therefore, maintain good relations with one another by ensuring that they recognize the spheres of influence of each other and desist from interfering.
The conventional approach to hegemony shows that the concept has been used to an indicator of power disequilibrium in the international system. According to Morgenthau, the primary factors on which hegemon lies include natural resources, military capacity and the level of preparedness, the economic capacity, morale and unity, technological innovation, quality of diplomacy and government. Morgenthau’s argument allows the study of hegemony and how it contributes to war and order through a multidisciplinary approach. This implies that hegemony can either be viewed as an agential or as a structural phenomenon. Although the two scholars have a different approach on how hegemonic stability theory impact on war and order, Gilpin’s argument synthesizes various aspects of Bull’s and Morgenthau’s argument.
Bull, Hedley. The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Gilpin, Robert. War and change in world politics. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1985.
Morgenthau, Hans J. Politics among nations; the struggle for power and peace. New York: Knopf, 1967. Print.
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