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Systemic Theory in an Era of Declining US Hegemony

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1""Systemic Theory in an Era of Declining US Hegemony Quddus Z. Snyder International relations theory aspires to explain political events, but as is often the case, theories adjust and develop in response to events as they unfold. In the early years of the Cold War it was believed that multipolar structures were generally more stable than those that were bipolar,1 but as years passed, and the Cold War failed to turn hot, new accounts of bipolar stability developed.2 After the Cold War ended, and the system entered a new phase of “unipolar stability,” systemic theory evolved to account for the new political reality.3 Developments have now unfolded such that power-centered systemic theory must confront two momentous questions: (1) is US hegemony declining, and (2) how are rising powers—China and India most prominently—likely to behave in a “post-American” world? Or put differently, what do waning US preeminence and the rise of non-Western great powers mean for systemic stability, defined as the absence of conflict and security competition? Up until quite recently, the dominant view among IR scholars was that the US was indeed an unrivaled superpower, or unipole.4 Scholarly debate largely centered on how enduring and """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""1"Raymond"Aron,"Peace%and %War:%A%Theory%of%Internati onal%Relations%(New"York:"A nchor"B ooks,"1979)"2"Kennet h"W altz,"“The"Stability"of"a"Bipolar"Wo rld”"Daedalus%93%(Summer"1964);"see"also,"John"Lewis "Gaddis,"“The"Long"Peace:"Elements"of"St ability"in"the"Postwar"International"System”"International%Sec urity,%Vol."10,"N o."4"(1986)"3"Wil liam"Wohlforth,"“The"S tabi lity"of"a"Unipolar"World,”"International%Security,%1999"4"Brooks"and"Wohlforth,"World%Out%of%Balance ;%Ikenberry"et."al."“Introduction :"Unipolarity,"St ate"Behavior"and"Syst emic"Conse quences”"World%Politics%Vol."61,"No."1"(January"2009); "Ikenberry"et."al."America%Unrivaled:%The%Future%of%the%Balance%of%Power %(Ith aca: "Cornell "University"Press,"2002);%Joseph"Nye,"The%Paradox%of%American%Power:%Why%the%World’s%Only%Superpower%Can’t%Go%It%Alo ne%(New"York:"Oxford"University "Press,"2002);"St eph en"Wal t,"Taming%Amer ican%Power: %The%Global%Res pon se%to%US%Primacy%(New"York:"W.W."Nort on," 2005)%2""stable the unipolar system is5; whether secondary powers are hard-balancing, soft-balancing, or not balancing at all against the US6; and whether or not a coming multipolarity can be stable.7 But even as the nature of the unipolar system was being debated, many were already anticipating the decline of US hegemony as power was increasingly shifting east.8 In the wake of the economic collapse that began in 2008, the case for American decline seems to have gained added momentum.9 US decline is a hotly debated question, the answers to which are not at all clear.10 However, even the most vocal proponents of the unipolar stability theory believe that unipolarity cannot endure indefinitely.11What this means is that sooner or later, perhaps sooner, systemic theories of IR will be put to a critical test. As the leading power drama unfolds, the discipline should focus on two central, related, tasks. First, there is the empirical question of whether or not and how fast the US is declining. And second, in the interest of properly determining the """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""5"For "a"samp ling"of"this"debate"see"Wohlforth,"“Stability"of"a"Unipolar"Wo rld”;"Layne,"“The"Unipolar"Illus ion: "Wh y"New"Great"Powers"Will"Rise,”"Internationa l%Security,%V ol."17,"No."4"(Spring"1993);"Kenneth"W altz, "“The"Emerging"Structure"of"International"Polit ics,”"International%Security,%Vol."18,"No."2"(Fall"1993);" John"Mears heimer,"“Back"to"the" Future”;"Mi chael"Mastanduno,"“Pr eser ving"the"Unipolar"Moment:"Realist"Theories"and"US"Grand"Str ategy"After"the" Cold"War”"Inter nati onal%Security,%Vol."21,"No.4"(Spring"1997);" John"Ikenberry,"“Libera lism "and"Empire:"Logics"of"Order"in"the"American"Unipolar"Ag e”"Revie w%of%International%Studies%Vol."30,No."4"(2004)""6"Robert"Pape,"“Soft‐Bal ancing"Against"the"Unit ed"States,”"International%Secur ity,%Vol."30,"No. 1"(Summer"2005);"Stephen"Brooks"and"W illiam"Wohlforth,"“Hard"Times"for"Soft"Balanci ng,”"International%Secu rity,%Vol."30,"No .1"(Summer"2005) ;"Stephen"Walt,"“Ta min g"American" Power”" Foreign%Affairs%(Sept/Oct"2 005);"Michael"Mastand uno ,"“Preserving"the"Unipolar"Moment”;"T.V."Paul,"“Soft"Balancing"in"the"Age"of"US"Primacy,”"International%Security, %Vol."30,"No.1"(Summer"2005)"7Kup chan,"“After"Pax"Americana:"Benign"Power,"Region al"Integration,"and"the"Sou rces"of"a"Stable"Multipolarity”"International%Secur ity,%""Vol."23,"No."2"(Fall"1998)"8"Lay ne,"“The"Unipolar"Illusi on"Revisited:"The"C omi ng"End"of"the"United"States’"Unipolar"Moment,”"International%Security,%Vol."31,"No.2"(Fall"2006);"Fareed"Zakaria, " Post‐American%World%(W.W."Norton,"2008);"Kishor e""Mahbubani,"The%New%Asian%Hemisphere%(Public"Affairs,"2009);"Para g"Khanna,"“The"Sec ond"World:"Empires"and"Influence "in"t he"New"Global "Order"(New"York:"Random"House,"2008)"9"Paul"Kennedy,"“American"Power"Is"on"the"Wa ne,”"The %Wall%Street %Jou rnal%(January"14,"2009)"p."A13;"Robert"Pape,"“Empire"Falls,”"Nat ional%In terest%(Jan/Feb"2009);"Roger"Altman,"“The" Great"Crash ,"2008:"A"Geopolitical"S etback"for"the" West,”"Fore ign%Affairs,%Vol."88"No."1"(Jan/Feb"2009);"Layne ,"“The"Waning"of"US"Hegemony —Myth"or"Reality?”"International%Secur ity,%Vol."34,"No. "1"(Summer "2009);"Lesli e"Gelb,"“Necessity,"Choice,"and"Comm on"Sense”"Foreign%Affairs%" (May/Jun"2009)"10"The"most"recent"iteration"of"the"d ecline"thesis"ha s"not"gone"undispu ted."See"for"example,"Josef"Joffe,"“The"Default"Power,”"Foreign%Affairs,%Vol."88"Issue.5"(Sep/Oct"2009);"Minxin"P ei,"“Asia’s"R ise,”"For eign%Policy, %Issu e"173"(Jul/Aug"2009)""11"For "example,"in"1999"Woh lforth"estim ated"that"US"unipolar"preeminence"co uld"last"as"long"as"20"years."See"“Stability"of"a"Unipolar "Wo rld.”""3""significance of the empirical record, and in avoiding ad hoc adjustments to extant theories, it would serve us well to line up existing systemic theories and review the competing predictions generated from them. This article focuses on the latter. In the debate taking place among power-centered systemic theorists, attention is mainly


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