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The Paradox of Hegemony: America’s Ambiguous Relationship with the United Nations BRUCE CRONIN University of

The Paradox of Hegemony: America’s Ambiguous Relationship with the United Nations

BRUCE CRONIN University of Wisconsin-Madison

There is an inherent tension between a dominant state’s role as a hegemon and its role as a great power. Hegemons have the material capabilities to act unilaterally, yet they cannot remain hegemons if they do so at the expense of the system that they are trying to lead. Thus there is a contradiction between the propensity for a powerful state to take unilateral action in promoting its self-defined interest and its desire to maintain long-term systemic stability. This tension between paro- chial interest and international responsibility creates a phenomenon called the ‘paradox of hegemony’. This article conceptualizes this as a form of ‘role strain’ in which hegemons are torn between their conflicting roles as great powers and systemic leaders. It illustrates these points by examining the tensions that have long defined the US relationship with the United Nations.




role theory


international leadership

Standing before Congress in the wake of the US-led victory over Iraq in 1991, President George Bush announced the beginning of a new world order organized under US hegemonic leadership. Echoing these sentiments, conservative policy analyst Charles Krauthammer (1990/91: 24) proclaimed

that ‘now is the unipolar moment

there is but one first-rate power and

no prospect in the immediate future of any power to rival it’. Intuitively, this seemed plausible. With the weakening and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, many expected the United States to finally achieve the global

supremacy that had eluded it for half a century; a Pax Americana unfettered

European Journal of International Relations Copyright © 2001 SAGE Publications and ECPR, Vol. 7(1): 103–130 (1354–0661 [200103] 7:1; 103–130; 016347)

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by potential challengers. The primary condition for the establishment of systemic hegemony — victory in a major war — had been achieved with the subjugation of Iraq and the ‘surrender’ of the Soviet Union in the Cold War. 1 As a result, the debate over hegemonic decline — so prominent in the academic and policy literature during the 1980s — had ended. 2 Yet soon after building broad international support for a new order based on multilateralism under American leadership, the US began to pursue a series of unilateral policies in the face of widespread opposition from the other great powers. The US-inspired anti-Iraq coalition had symbolized the rise of a new hegemonic era in which US leadership was broadly acknowl- edged. However, several years later, America’s announcement that it would take unilateral action against Iraq over the strong objection of several members of the United Nations Security Council undermined the multi- lateralism it had so recently espoused. 3 Moreover, having fought for the creation of a World Trade Organization based on principles of unfettered free trade, the US almost became the first nation to be cited for violating its rules after taking unilateral action against states trading with Cuba. 4 These incidents illustrate a dilemma that hegemons face in attempting to exercise their leadership through multilateral organizations. Hegemons create social structures and international organizations (IOs) in order to advance particular sets of political, economic and other types of interests. 5 These organizations help to facilitate the development of hegemonic institutions and the expansion of hegemonic world orders. 6 Once established they stabilize global politics and increase the likelihood that the other states will act according to norms promoted by the hegemon. On these points, most theories of hegemony agree. If, however, international institutions reflect the interests of the hegemon, why do hegemonic powers so often act to undermine them? This oscillation between unilateralism and multi- lateralism places a great strain on a hegemonic order and forces the hegemon to expend its resources in trying to maintain the essential rules of the system. The US is not unique in facing this dilemma; it is inherent in the nature of hegemony. This article will argue that there is a tension between a dominant state’s role as a hegemon (defined in terms of leadership) and its role as a great power (defined in terms of material capabilities). These roles often call for contradictory performances. While secondary states expect the former to often act on behalf of the common good (as defined by the politically relevant powers), domestic political actors expect the latter to act in pursuit of parochial interest. Thus there is a contradiction between the propensity for a powerful state to take unilateral action in promoting its self-defined interest and its desire to maintain long-term systemic stability at a minimal


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cost. This tension explains the contradictory behavior that hegemons often exhibit. On the one hand, as the strongest of the great powers, hegemons possess the capabilities and will to act unilaterally in pursuing their own interests. This raises expectations among domestic political actors and state officials that the government will pursue its own course when its interests are at stake. On the other hand, in their role as global or regional leaders, hegemons also have an interest in maintaining an international or regional order in which law and multilateral institutions provide for a set of stable expectations and constraints. This legitimizes the distribution of power and system rules and helps to prevent the rise of revisionist challenges. However, having socialized the key states into accepting the assumptions and norms underlying the order, 7 the hegemon is placed in a position where it must follow the rules and institutions it had helped to establish, even when it is not in its interest to do so. To do otherwise would undermine the very order it created. This tension between parochial interest and international responsibility creates a phenomenon in International Relations that can be called the ‘paradox of hegemony’. In this article, I conceptualize this paradox as a form of ‘role strain’ in which hegemons are divided between their conflicting roles as great powers and systemic leaders. I argue that hegemons fail in part because they are unable or unwilling to resolve this dilemma. The first section of this article briefly critiques traditional conceptions of hegemony, most of which are presented primarily in terms of power and control. I argue that while these theories can explain hegemonic power and unilateralism they cannot explain hegemonic authority and multi- lateralism. In the next section, I present a model of hegemony in which the role and identity of hegemon evolves from within international society. Building on this approach, I draw from role theory to show how hegemonic behavior is constrained by the expectations attached to its identity of hegemon. Following this, I argue that while both power and legitimacy are both prerequisites for the construction of a hegemonic system, they generate competing interests and conflicting expectations; thus, the paradox of hegemony. The article illustrates this paradox through an examination of the US relationship with the United Nations, in particular its policies toward Iraq from 1991 through 1999.

Hegemony as Power

Scholars and practitioners have been slow to appreciate the paradox of hegemony because most tend to conceptualize hegemony as a function of


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material capabilities devoid of social context. Scholars who otherwise hold very different views of International Relations conceptualize hegemony in

similar ways, usually in relation to the distribution of military and economic resources. For Robert Gilpin (1981: 29), a hegemonic system is one in which a single powerful state controls or dominates the lesser states. Similarly, Joseph Nye (1990: 87) conceives of hegemony as a situation of unequal power in which one country has a high degree of control over others. World-systems theorist Immanuel Wallerstein (1984: 38) sees a hegemonic system as one in which the ongoing rivalry between the great powers is so unbalanced that ‘one power can largely impose its rules and its

in the economic, political, military, diplomatic and even cultural

arenas’. In each of these conceptions, the principal idea is control by a dominant state. The distribution of power is the key variable that explains both the conditions under which hegemony will likely arise and which state’s interests will be reflected in the hegemonic order. Hegemonies exist because in an

anarchic system each state will strive to be the most powerful actor, and uneven economic, military and technological growth enables one of the competitors to achieve this goal. 8 While there is a spirited debate over what counts as a power resource and how capabilities can be successfully converted into preferred outcomes, this discussion tends to be limited to the mechanisms through which hegemons can export their preferences globally or regionally. 9 We find this most directly in the hegemonic stability literature and in the work of one of the leading hegemony theorists, Robert Gilpin. According to Gilpin (1981: 13), the ability of a dominant state to govern the system is a function of its military, economic and technological capabilities and its willingness to either induce or force other states to comply with its preferences. Similarly, hegemonic stability theory is built on the premise that

a leading state’s overwhelming economic and technological power will

enable it both to provide the collective goods necessary to facilitate an open

world economy and to enforce the rules that make this system work effectively. 10 Sometimes power is wielded directly through inducement and

coercion, while at other times it is exercised indirectly through the creation

of institutions that define the range of legitimate behavior. 11


While this model can explain the propensity of a hegemon to initiate unilateral action when it is in its interest to do so, it cannot explain why the other great powers would allow a hegemon to dominate the system. Although it is not hard to understand how a hegemon can use fear and intimidation to control the behavior of small and weak states, balance of power theory clearly predicts that the other great powers would act to prevent a single state from dominating the system for any significant period


Cronin: The Paradox of Hegemony

of time. In fact, any attempt by one state to dominate a regional or international system will likely be countered by a balancing alliance. 12 In a unipolar (hegemonic) system, there is no clear-cut distinction between balancing against threat and balancing against power. Unless states are prepared to run the risk of being vulnerable to a change in the hegemon’s intentions, other great powers can be expected to counter the hegemon’s capabilities, regardless of how benign it may appear at the time. 13 Thus, while a single state can certainly amass greater military and economic resources than its counterparts without other states acknowledging its authority, it cannot impose its will on the system without provoking the formation of a balancing alliance or at least generating ongoing opposition from secondary states. We can conclude from this that if hegemony were to arise solely out of power struggles among the great powers, it would be unstable and short- lived. Gilpin (1981: Ch. 2) may be correct in arguing that other great powers may choose not to challenge a hegemon for leadership if they judge the risks to be too high; however, it is also unlikely that a hegemon could maintain the essential rules of the system for an extended period of time without some general consensus, at least among the major powers. This

suggests that a disparity in power and capabilities among the leading states is


necessary but highly insufficient condition for the rise of hegemony. This


important in understanding the paradox of hegemony.

Hegemonic Authority as a Social Property

From this discussion we can conclude that hegemony is not an attribute of

a particular country, but rather it is a type of relationship that exists among

a group of countries. While an empire can arise through naked conquest,

hegemony requires an acknowledgment of hegemonic authority. 14 Such acknowledgment does not automatically stem from superior capabilities because in the context of a pluralistic international society of states, hegemony is a form of leadership not domination. Whereas domination needs no cultural context, leadership can only develop within a social environment with the consent of the broader community. Such an environ- ment provides the permissive condition for hegemony to evolve. No less a proponent of power politics than Henry Kissinger (1957: 1) recognizes that no international order, hegemonic or otherwise, can remain stable unless it is accepted by all of the major powers. ‘Stability’, he argues, ‘has commonly resulted not from a quest for peace but from a generally accepted legitimacy.’ Similarly, Robert Cox (1981a) has demonstrated that the cornerstone of a hegemonic order is the adoption of a dominant set of ideas promoted by the leading power. The relevant group of political leaders


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must therefore agree that the institutions and structural arrangements that are created are the most appropriate for the society of states. 15 Inis Claude (1966: 367, 369) argues that legitimacy is an essential characteristic of any cohesive and stable political system at either the national or international level. Legitimation requires that power be converted into authority, competence be supported by jurisdiction and possession be validated as ownership. The construction of a new order, then, involves a process

through which new rules, norms and distributions of power become legitimized, that is, internalized by the major actors in the system. 16 Thus, Ernst Haas (1983: 229) defines hegemony as the ‘national capability to

advance long-range views of world order

charged with that task.’ This suggests that the states will agree to specific forms of hegemonic leadership only if they accept the program that the hegemon proposes for the society of states, and believe that the leading state has both the means and the will to promote it. Thus, in order to become hegemonic, a state has to promote an order that is universal in conception. Such an order is not one in which a single state directly exploits the others but one which most states find compatible with their interests. 17 For this reason, some scholars argue that great powers prefer an informal hierarchy so long as the hegemon provides goods that are valued by the community at large and does not attempt to use its position to exploit the other powers. It is not hierarchy that states find problematic, international law scholar Lea Brilmayer (1994:

for the success of institutions

115) argues, but subordination. Under these conditions, the other great powers do not balance against the prospective hegemon because the hegemon’s authority is not derived from its capabilities — which would be viewed as potentially threatening in the context of a balance of power system — but from its role within a group of great powers. The hegemon is thereby judged by the degree to which it acts within the boundaries established by its role.

Hegemony as a Social Role

Like great power management and the balance of power, hegemony is an institution that arises within an international society of states. As with all institutions, it consists of recognized roles, generally accepted practices and a set of procedural norms. 18 Institutions generate ‘agents’ and endow them with particular kinds of power and authority. The institutional rules define the meanings and identities of the agents occupying the roles and stipulate the pattern of appropriate conduct. 19 Institutions thus differentiate among actors according to the roles they are expected to perform. When we classify an actor according to a specified role, we imply that in a variety of


Cronin: The Paradox of Hegemony

international contexts and situations, her actions and decisions will be consistent with the rules subsumed under a general category of states. 20 When actors assume a particular role, they not only develop an under- standing of their expected behavior, but also carry around a variety of

assumptions about how others within the institution will conduct themselves

in relation to them. 21 Quite simply, within the context of an institution, we

expect actors to behave in a manner consistent with their identities. For example, within the institution of war we understand the roles of soldier,

officer, civilian, prisoner, ally and neutral, and attach specific expectations to the individuals occupying these roles. Moreover, we act toward them largely based on these classifications. When an occupant of the role acts contrary to the expected behavior it is recognized as a violation and we act accordingly. Thus, if a civilian engages in armed combat he or she will likely be classified

as a terrorist and thus treated differently, even though his behavior may be

identical to that of a soldier. Roles exist independently from the actors who occupy them; therefore the expectations of behavior remain stable regardless of individual eccentricities. For example, we know what a parent is — and have expectations about how he or she should act in relation to his or her children — even if we did not know any specific parents. Two people can produce a child, but they cannot

be ‘parents’ outside the institution of the family. Similarly, over time political leaders have attached certain expectations to categories such as democratic state, great power, Arab state and hegemon. These expectations change when the institution and roles change. For that reason, while the core attributes that we ascribe to a hegemon will likely remain stable, the specific role prescriptions for a hegemon may vary depending upon the type of hegemonic system established by the specific group of states. Actors tend to act within the perimeters set by their roles for both sociological and rational reasons. That is, they are empowered to act in a prescribed manner when they internalize the attributes associated with their role, and their conformity with the role prescription enhances their identification with the particular role in the eyes of other actors. To the extent that actors value a particular role (and institution), they are more likely to act according to the role prescription. A dominant state that acts as

a leader rather than a dominator is more likely to be recognized and

accepted as a hegemon. At the same time, actors also know that if they act within the boundaries of a particular role, they could evoke specific responses by others occupying other roles. Thus police officers that follow accepted procedure are more likely to elicit respect and cooperation from their communities than are those who engage in brutality and corruption. Roles tend to become defined as an institution is constructed or evolves. On one level they reflect the principles that constitute the institution. For


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example, the roles of the clergy in the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Islamic religions are products of their respective histories and underlying doctrines. While in each case the members of the clergy constitute a body of ‘ministers’ in contradistinction to the laity, they also differ significantly in the type of authority they may exercise within the institution. 22 Similarly, the role of a hegemon in a liberal economic order is different than one that is built upon the principles of mercantilism. Both are expected to act as economic leaders; however, the specific role prescriptions (and therefore their obligations and constraints) differ significantly. On another level, the specific obligations and prerogatives that are attached to a particular hegemon are also defined as part of the process through which the institution is created. Often role prescriptions emerge through common practice or custom, both of which reflect the initial conditions that led to the creation of the institution. Practices that are established during the early period of an institution’s development can set precedents and create widespread expectations for future behavior. Once established, however, institutional norms and roles can become ‘sticky’ thereby generating and constraining future behavior. 23 For example, the practice of holding congresses to discuss issues of European importance in the post-Napoleonic era grew from precedents that were established during the Congress of Vienna rather than from a formal agreement among the great powers. Over time the five European great powers expected each other to bring all continental issues before the group; unilateral action was not a legitimate option even when one's vital interests were at stake. 24 Similarly, within the context of international society, the institution of hegemony generates specific norms of behavior. In a hegemonic system, the hegemon is recognized as a leader by virtue of its role in the institution. This role carries with it a certain range of prerogatives and obligations that an actor who is accorded the identity of hegemon may carry out. 25 While the other powers recognize that a hegemon will have greater influence in systemic matters than other states, they also expect it to provide collective goods and offer leadership in managing security and economic affairs even in cases where involvement is not in its vital interest. At the same time, the secondary states also expect a hegemon to observe certain limits on its behavior. Hedley Bull (1977: 228–9) argues that there is a fundamental set of rules that limit the behavior of the great powers in the pursuit of their managerial function within international society. While he does not address the question of systemic hegemony per se, these limits can be viewed as general boundaries for hegemons as well. Applied to hegemony, they include the following — that legal (sovereign) equality be maintained (hegemonic roles must remain informal); that the hegemon follow the rules and avoid unilateral acts that may violate them; that its


Cronin: The Paradox of Hegemony

freedom to maneuver be limited by its responsibilities; and that it accommodate the secondary powers of major importance (in effect co- opting them as junior partners). Beyond this, hegemons are expected to

follow procedural limits and ‘decision rules’ when acting within their role as

a hegemon. Thus, for example, the members of NATO expected the United

States to consult with the alliance before taking military action even in cases where the member states were not involved.

Role Conflict and the Paradox of Hegemony

As the above discussion suggests, a hegemon’s authority is derived from its role in the international society of states, particularly the club of great powers. Accompanying this authority is increased obligation. While its economic and military strength provide a wider range of options for pursuing its foreign policies than that afforded to other states, it also faces greater constraints. This tension between greater opportunities and greater constraints is the paradox of hegemony. Underlying this tension is a conflict between the dominant state’s role as

a great power and its role as a hegemon. Social actors often exhibit role

conflict when they hold multiple social identities and there are contrary expectations attached to some positions in a social relationship. Such expectations could call for incompatible performances. 26 Actors behave differently in various contexts depending on the way they define the situation and their role within it. For example, when the United States acts as a mediator in a set of negotiations, it expects to absorb insults and threats from the parties without retaliating. In a situation where the US is a party to the negotiations, however, such behavior could cause the ambassador to walk out and possibly recommend severing diplomatic relations with the offending party. Similarly, when US representatives sit on the United Nations Security Council they are acting within the context of a group of great power security managers. The expectations attached to this role may differ from a situation in which they are acting as a NATO leader. As such, they may define such concepts as ‘security’, ‘credibility’, and ‘legitimacy’ differently. Anthony Giddens (1979: 118–19) describes this tension as ‘role strain’, which manifests itself in at least two points of tension — first, between the needs and wants of the actors and the role-prescriptions that are associated with their various identities; and second, between the different role- prescriptions with which an individual is ascribed, adopts or is forced to assume. Both are relevant to understanding the paradox of hegemony. In its role as a great power, a state’s primary responsibility is to use its military and economic resources to enhance the welfare of its own domestic


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constituents and institutions. Thus, in the absence of obligations owed to international institutions, the objectives of a state’s foreign policy is determined by the interests of its ruling coalition and political elites. These actors act as agents for the state and ‘trustees’ for their societies (or at least the dominant forces within their societies). There are thus two domestic forces exerting pressure on foreign policy officials — domestic political actors (including interest groups and, in a democracy, electoral coalitions) and the officials within state institutions. Domestic actors are primarily interested in concrete economic and political benefits that may be produced through the interaction with other states, for example gains from trade, cultural exchanges and protecting state borders. Many may also support humanitarian or ideological goals, such as protecting human rights or promoting self-determination. On the other hand, in situations where public officials view the international environment as being zero-sum and competitive, state elites may also be interested in more abstract benefits, such as enhancing the state’s position in a global or regional balance of power, increasing its prestige and influence, and securing its relationships with allies. In such situations, they will define their interests primarily in parochial terms and their constituents will expect them to promote these interests with extreme prejudice. The possession of superior economic and military resources enables a great power to pursue these goals with a reasonable chance of success. Moreover, it can do so in many cases on its own without having to rely on either the cooperation of or support from other states. Great power thus produces great expectations. These sentiments are held both among societal actors (for example, voters and interest groups) and state elites (for example, parliamentary representatives, government officials and military leaders). Great power also tends to produce great confidence. Great powers win wars and dominate the global economy. Leaders of hegemonic states thus often believe that they can convert their resources into preferred outcomes and therefore are more likely to pursue risky unilateral adventures. 27 On the other hand, in its role as hegemon the state is constrained by its responsibilities and obligations to provide leadership for the system as a whole. Within the context of a hegemonic system, great power also means great responsibility. As argued above, the hegemon’s position is derived from its relationship with other states, primarily the other great powers. A hegemonic system requires some degree of consensus and this usually involves creating multilateral institutions that reflect universal values and at least the appearance of pluralism in decision-making. 28 This helps to ensure that the other powers will follow a general set of rules supported by the hegemon. At the same time, this also limits the degree to which a hegemonic power


Cronin: The Paradox of Hegemony

can pursue parochial interests at the expense of the system that it helped to create. While a hegemon may in the abstract support such principles as free trade and non-aggression, they also may find that in particular circumstances these principles are not consistent with their immediate preferences. However, having played a key role in constructing a universal set of institutions and rules that would organize and stabilize international politics, the hegemon is expected to adhere to them even in circumstances that may not be in its self-defined interests. Multilateralism requires that participating states act according to gener- alized principles of conduct without regard to the particularistic interests of the parties or the strategic exigencies that may exist in a particular occurrence. 29 This could at times force the state to act against the parochial interest (for example, supporting free trade agreements when protectionist policies would clearly benefit key domestic constituencies) or in opposition to what realists might consider to be the state interest (for example, promoting human rights when doing so may conflict with strategic calculations). When a hegemon fails to act within the boundaries established by its role, the credibility of the institutions and rules it helped to establish weakens. IOs act as the chief legitimizing agents of global politics. 30 When these organizations are undermined, the legitimacy of the international order itself is threatened. If this persists over time, the hegemonic order declines. Keohane’s (1984) theory of regimes after hegemony assumes that the hegemon continues to adhere to the norms and rules of the institutions even when it no longer controls it. While he convincingly demonstrates how a regime, once established, can continue to operate without a preponderant state to enforce the rules, he does not address what happens if that state actively circumvents the rules by initiating unilateral action.

Resolving the Paradox

The preceding pages argue that there are competing forces operating at both the domestic and global levels pulling the hegemon in different directions. This ‘role strain’ can explain why hegemons may pursue inconsistent policies and why they may oscillate between unilateralism and multilateralism. Hegemons exhibit role strain whenever their leadership perceives a discrep- ancy between their positions or interests as a great power and that as a hegemon. There are several factors that could influence the degree to which a hegemon would act as either a great power or a system leader. First, in the absence of overwhelming domestic considerations, a hegemon is most likely to follow the rules and constraints of an institution that it highly values, particularly if it believes that the institution is vital to


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maintaining the hegemonic order. The more an actor is committed to a particular set of relationships the more likely it will act according to its role as systemic leader over that of a great power. A hegemon will thus act against its parochial instincts if its leadership believes that a highly valued relation- ship is at stake. As a result, role salience (the relative importance of one particular role in relation to others in a particular situation) is a good predictor of hegemonic behavior. 31 More specifically, in cases where the leadership of a hegemonic state defines a particular situation as affecting the progress and welfare of the system, it is more likely to act within its role as a hegemon rather than a great power. Under this condition, it is also more likely to follow multilateral norms and procedures. For example, the United States may act against its own domestic constituents in economic affairs in cases where the cohesive- ness of the Group of Seven/Eight is at issue. In this situation, it would be acting to enhance its role as an economic leader of advanced capitalist states at the expense of domestic politics. Conversely, it is less likely to make domestic sacrifices when it involves a less-valued relationship, for example, a commitment to Third World states. Second, the stronger the position of the governing coalition, the greater the probability that the hegemon will adhere to the constraints of an international institution. This is because a government is more likely to define a situation as having domestic as opposed to systemic consequences when its political position is potentially threatened. It is safe to assume that foreign policy elites tend to be more disposed toward meeting their multilateral commitments than are most domestic political actors. The greater the autonomy of these elites from domestic pressures, the more likely it is that they will pursue multilateral policies. 32 Third, in circumstances where the international or regional political or economic order is stable (and where it is populated primarily by status quo powers), the hegemon is more likely to pursue unilateral actions and parochial interests without fear of disrupting the system. The more stable the order, the less likely that a hegemon will define any particular situation as being a threat to its well-being or cohesion. On the other hand, the greater the potential for a hegemonic challenger or a counter-hegemonic coalition to arise, the more likely it is that the hegemon will find it necessary to act within its role as leader. To do otherwise would undermine its position at a time when this could have dramatic consequences. The next section will illustrate the preceding points by examining the ongoing tensions that have long defined the US relationship with the United Nations. In particular, it will focus on the dilemmas faced by two post-Cold War administrations in attempting to build a ‘new world order’ under


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American leadership through the world organization. It will do so by examining US and UN policies toward Iraq from 1991 through 1999.

The US, the UN and the Paradox of Hegemony

Twice in this century the United States has sought to achieve a position of global leadership, and both times — in 1945 and 1990 — its leaders viewed the United Nations as one of its primary vehicles. Yet from the beginning, the relationship between the US and the world organization has been ambiguous; the US has alternately been both the UN’s most enthusiastic advocate and its harshest critic. On the one hand, the UN was largely the product of American thinking, American initiative and American influence. 33 The first draft of the UN Charter written at Dumbarton Oaks was largely based on a US document entitled, ‘The Essential Points in the Charter of the International Organiza- tion’. 34 A US diplomat led the founding conference at San Francisco in 1945, the agenda was based on a US blueprint and the debate followed a script developed by US political leaders. 35 At its inception, American leaders viewed the institution both as the custodian for maintaining a favorable post-war political order and as an important tool for exercising US leadership. Many in the State Department considered the organization to be at the heart of its program to institutionalize American leadership and political values in the new post-war order. 36 On the other hand, American presidents and foreign policy officials have also frequently denounced the organization publicly, withdrawn from its agencies, refused to pay its dues, and acted in defiance of the rules and procedures that it had been so influential in developing. Its own delegates referred to the organization as a ‘dangerous place’ and a ‘sewer’. 37 This ambiguity has long been a focus of study by political scientists and government officials alike. For realists the tensions between the US and the UN are the inevitable outcome of a great power attempting to exercise leadership through a multilateral security organization. Since conflicts among the major powers are the natural state of affairs, international institutions cannot be mechanisms for building consensus. Rather, they are forums through which states act out power relationships. 38 State interests, not global responsibilities or the common good, determine behavior, and therefore the best one can expect from a global organization such as the UN is to highlight how and where state interests conflict. For internationalists and institutionalists alike, the problems between the US and the UN stemmed from the lack of congruence between the interests of the Western democracies and those of the non-democracies in the developing world and Eastern Europe. For example, Kupchan and Kupchan


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(1991) suggest that an effective collective security organization requires the democratization of the large majority of states in the system, particularly the great powers. Ann-Marie Burley (1992) argues that these states must also be liberal if one is to expect the rule of law to replace the rule of politics in security matters. Yet even before the East–West and North–South conflicts paralyzed the UN as an effective global organization, the US had trouble reconciling its position as the dominant power with the responsibilities of global leadership. In its role as global leader, US officials saw in the UN an opportunity to build a consensus around a set of fundamental principles of order. Although the US had the military and economic capabilities to dominate the international system, policy-makers believed that a liberal world order under American leadership required both a system of multilateral security manage- ment among the great powers and global cooperation among the small states. 39 As a treaty-based, universal-membership organization based on liberal principles of international organization and law, the UN would commit most states to accept a set of norms that were consistent with American values. By institutionalizing these norms within a legally binding treaty, the UN would help to maintain the status quo and legitimize America’s pre-eminent role in international affairs. American leaders recognized that this type of multilateral order could only remain cohesive if all states had a stake in its progress. For this reason US representatives at Dumbarton Oaks were the strongest advocates for equal rights for smaller nations within the UN structure. 40 They believed that an organization based on sovereign equality could help to forestall challenges to the system from within the periphery by enabling small states to voice their grievances in an open forum. The UN would therefore hinder revolution by promoting global reform, particularly in the newly-emerging developing world. 41 Moreover, US officials understood that America's effectiveness as a global leader would largely depend upon its acceptance and legitimacy. This required a policy of inclusion and consultation rather than exclusion and imposition by the great powers. As a result, the framers developed procedures and decision rules within the General Assembly, specialized agencies and other UN bodies that would maximize democratic participation. 42 Yet as the dominant power in world politics, the US was uncomfortable with the unpredictability that a nominally democratic organization would introduce. As the prime mover behind the procedures and decision rules that guided the world body, the US had pledged to respect the democratic process. Yet, as David Beetham points out, legitimate power is also limited power. 43 The norm of sovereign equality provided small and weak states with


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unprecedented influence in international affairs. While this enhanced the organization’s legitimacy, it also reduced the ability of the US to translate its overwhelming capabilities into diplomatic power. Contrary to realist assumptions, the primary challenge to US authority within the UN did not come from the other great powers but from developing countries. The US found itself outvoted on many issues that were important but largely symbolic. The UN did not affect the balance of power or the distribution of capabilities within the system, but it did undermine the American self-image as the dominant force in world politics. Here again the US could not reconcile its role as global leader with that of preponderant great power. After a brief period of dominance, the US found that it could not control the organization it had been so influential in creating, particularly within the freewheeling General Assembly and the politically oriented Economic and Social Council. This led to a fierce domestic backlash among American politicians and interest groups. 44 The US faced a similar dilemma within the Security Council. In its role as global leader, American officials recognized that systemic stability required that all great powers act collectively in security matters of global importance. The US would thus exercise its leadership through a small committee of great powers, of which it would be the first among equals. This idea of multilateral security management dated back to Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘Four Policemen’ proposal and to a lesser extent to the 19th-century Concert of Europe. 45 The concept of a concert-type system was particularly attractive for the budding hegemon, since it would enable the US to share the burdens of leadership while preventing the rise of a revisionist challenger. By requiring consultation prior to action, the Security Council would also discourage potentially destabilizing unilateral adventures by the other great powers and institutionalize a commitment to maintaining stability and order. For these reasons, the US delegates at Dumbarton Oaks insisted that the Security Council have considerable authority in implementing its collective security function. Toward this end, they promoted the creation of a joint military force that would operate through the UN. American officials recognized that tensions would inevitably develop between their responsibil- ities as world leaders and the desire of domestic actors to avoid foreign entanglements. They therefore developed a mechanism that would commit the US to participate in security matters that were outside its area of vital interest. 46 Contrary to realist assumptions, American delegates were the driving force behind the development of Article 43, a provision that calls for the major powers to make its armed forces, weapons and facilities available to the Security Council as needed. Despite some fear that this could lead to


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the development of a ‘UN army’, even Congress supported a strong UN enforcement capability for the organization. 47 In this spirit, the US trusted the UN with facilitating one of its primary post-war security goals — the control of nuclear proliferation — through the development of the Inter- national Atomic Energy Commission. As the premier great power, however, US policy-makers were uneasy with the political restrictions that a concert-type system placed on their own ability to initiate unilateral action. Although the US possessed the capabil- ities to act on its own without the support of allies or partners, Security Council procedures required that the US submit its own disputes to the collective body. America may have been the pre-eminent military power in the world after the war, but in the Security Council it had to share its authority with the other great powers. Its ‘situated role’ required that it broaden its definition of security beyond the protection of American interests. Moreover, even the safeguards that were designed to prevent the great powers from dragging each other into unwanted adventures posed problems for American policy-makers. US delegates had strongly supported the Security Council veto provisions at Dumbarton Oaks and San Francisco. Yet in practice US diplomats found that the veto enabled the other great powers to thwart American initiatives as well. As a result, even before the onset of the Cold War, the UN provided both opportunities and constraints for the US in its pursuit of global hegemony. Although US diplomats had largely established the structure and decision- making rules of the organization, these same rules and procedures also limited the ability of US policy-makers to use its overwhelming capabilities to pursue its self-defined interest. Over time, the US became increasingly frustrated at its inability to build a consensus within the organization around its vision of world order. For three decades it all but abandoned this road to leadership. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Third World rebellion against the West created new possibilities for the US to assert its leadership within the UN. Yet while a general consensus began to develop around the principles of a new liberal international order, the tensions that defined the relationship between the US and UN remained. Contrary to the assump- tions of liberal internationalism, these tensions did not primarily stem from conflicting interests, but rather from the dilemma of attempting to build a consensus around American leadership while simultaneously asserting American self-interest. The US took the opportunity of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait to reassert American leadership by regaining its dominant role in the UN. Although the withdrawal of Soviet involvement from the Middle East gave the US a relatively free hand to take action against Iraq unilaterally, the US


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determined that its pursuit of a post-Cold War hegemony was tied to its legitimacy as a global leader. For that reason, President George Bush justified the American response to the invasion in terms of the leading role it would assume in building a ‘new world order’. While the definition of the term was vague, its core principles were similar to those advocated by American leaders during the founding of the UN a generation earlier — non-aggression, economic liberalism and self-determination. 48 The American conception of a new world order was not based either on collective security or on the US acting as a world police force. Rather, it was to be based on multilateral security management under American leadership. The US would essentially act as a ‘sheriff’ who would round up a ‘posse’ to oppose breaches of the peace on a case-by-case basis. This concept of hegemony required the active involvement of the UN, since a sheriff lacks both the authority and the resources to act without approval or participation from the broader community. 49 All of this not only assumed a degree of consensus among the great powers but also among a substantial portion of the smaller countries. For this, the legitimation of the UN was crucial. This approach to world order was developed at the beginning of the Persian Gulf crisis, and the procedures that guided the Security Council in prosecuting the war became established operational norms for future activities. Although the US had begun its military buildup in Saudi Arabia prior to consulting with the Security Council, it took no other significant action without first requesting and securing approval from that body. In this spirit, American diplomats worked tirelessly not only to win support from the other great powers on the Security Council, but also to avoid even a single negative vote from the non-permanent members. Secretary of State Baker even went so far as to court Cuba for support. The US military may have conducted the war largely on its own initiatives, but the political and diplomatic decisions were channeled through the concert of great powers. Yet while the US clearly wished for the UN to play a major role in its new world order, American behavior during the Gulf war – and in its subsequent dealings with Iraq over the following decade – illustrates many of the dilemmas discussed above. Throughout the war the US continually invoked international law and the UN Charter but its leadership was clearly impatient with the restraints that this imposed on its conduct. They believed in the need for multilateral action but at the same time often demonstrated a desire to act apart from the coalition. 50 Specifically, the US was torn between its desire to maintain leadership over a broad coalition while at the same time resisting coalition efforts to broker a political settlement. 51 As argued above, practices that are established during the early period of an institution’s development can set precedents that create widespread expectations for future behavior. The Gulf War had established a precedent


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that no military action could be undertaken (at least by the great powers) without authorization from the Security Council. These norms and decision rules set limits on the degree to which the US could exercise its leadership within the UN in the future. The problem of ‘role strain’ became apparent in several subsequent confrontations between the US/UN and Iraq. On five occasions between 1993 and 1999, the US attempted to initiate air strikes against Iraq in retaliation for that country's defiance of Security Council resolutions. In each case the Council demanded that the US adhere to the procedures it had established during the Gulf War. In one instance (1993), the Council gave its support, once its support was tepid, and on three occasions there was widespread opposition. Also in each case, US officials justified their attacks by evoking UN rules (they argued that Resolution 687, which called for Iraq's disarmament, gave the US the authority to react to any violations of the cease-fire agreement). 52 This indicates that the administration wished to continue to identify itself with the UN even as it attempted to pursue unilateral action. The responses by American leaders to Iraq's defiance help to illustrate the dilemmas faced by a hegemon in attempting to maintain a multilateral political order while also trying to promote what they consider to be the country's self-defined interest. In September of 1996, President Clinton reacted to the movement of Iraqi ground troops into the ‘no fly zone’ by ordering targeted air strikes, over the objections of several members of the Security Council. Confident that the US leadership position was strong internationally, the administration did not expect any serious repercussions from the Council. 53 This analysis was confirmed by the fact that despite condemnation by most of the other great powers and Arab states, no one directly challenged America’s leadership. However, a year later the US was forced to back off its plan to launch a full-scale air assault against Iraq, after the majority of the Council strongly objected. US policy-makers believed that this change in course was necessary because America’s international position had weakened within the UN, particularly among the other great powers. This weakness was evident by the changed political dynamics that had developed within the Council. Since the end of the Gulf War in 1992, members of the Council had generally deferred to American leadership in overseeing Iraq’s compliance with the UN’s cease-fire resolutions. Yet for the first time America’s traditional allies (including the non-permanent members of the Council) began to publicly question whether the US was representing them in its relations with Iraq. 54 Also for the first time, another great power took its own initiative, a move that had the backing of the majority of Council members. In the midst of


Cronin: The Paradox of Hegemony

the crisis, Russia launched a major diplomatic mission to Iraq over the objections of the US. This challenged America’s leadership role, particularly after the mission was dubbed a success by the other great powers and America’s Arab allies. 55 At that point, the US was faced with the choice of acting on its own in direct defiance of Council procedures or trying to regain its leadership role by agreeing to abide by a diplomatic solution it had originally opposed. The decision by the Clinton administration to pursue the responsible-leader route was made easier by its recent electoral victory, which strengthened its political position at home. The president could therefore afford to stand up to domestic pressure in favor of its international stature. This pattern was repeated again in both February and November of 1998, as America's unilateralism jeopardized its authority and leadership within the UN. In both cases, diplomatic action by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan forced the US to accept Iraqi ‘assurances’ and call off their planned military attacks. The actions of the Secretary-General had posed yet another challenge to America’s leadership position within the UN. Despite extremely strong domestic pressure from Congress, it became politically impossible for the US to undermine the official representative of the Security Council after he had brokered an agreement. 56 The symbolic power of the Secretary- General was so great that during the February crisis, the US had to recall aircraft that had already been launched. This changed in late December after Iraq violated the agreement it concluded with Annan. Unlike the previous month, the US (and Britain) launched their attack before Kofi Annan could attempt to negotiate a solution. France, Russia, China and most other states refused to support the action. In fact in an unprecedented move, Russia and China formed a temporary alliance against the US to oppose the attacks, with China labeling the US a ‘hegemonic menace’. 57 Unlike previous actions, the US and Britain violated the decision rules and procedural norms it had established during the Gulf War by launching the attack prior to consulting the other members of the Council. While this did not prevent the attack from continuing, it did mark the effective end of the coalition against Iraq. The repercussions of America's shift toward unilateralism were further felt when Iraq refused to allow the weapons inspectors to return, effectively destroying the disarma- ment regime that had been such an important component of the post-war settlement.


Hegemons bear a heavy burden. While most countries have to balance their domestic interests with their international obligations, hegemonic powers


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assume increased responsibilities that come with their role as systemic leaders. Hegemons have the material resources to promote their interests through unilateral action, yet they cannot remain hegemons if they do so at the expense of the system they are trying to lead. They build IOs in order to increase the likelihood that other states will follow their preferred norms, yet these same norms place limits on their own behavior. They have the greatest stake in the progress of the organizations they create, yet on a daily basis they need these organizations the least. They have the most influence in ensuring the success of these institutions, yet they also have the greatest potential for undermining them. They can most easily violate organizational rules and procedures with impunity, yet their violations have the greatest negative impact on the stability of the hegemonic order that they work so hard to maintain. This is the paradox of hegemony. This paradox arises most visibly within international organizations. IOs help to facilitate the development of hegemonic institutions and the expansion of hegemonic world orders. As such, the United States invested considerable political and financial resources in promoting the development of the UN. As a result, the institution has largely reflected the American principles of procedural democracy, great power responsibility and decen- tralized authority. In the aftermath of World War II and the Cold War, America’s political leadership considered the UN to be an important vehicle through which to pursue global hegemony. Yet the US has had trouble reconciling its propensity to pursue an independent course in international affairs with the requirements of systemic leadership. It was most likely to follow the rules and procedures of the organization when it perceived that its leadership was being challenged, for example during the Gulf crises in February and November of 1998. This suggests several theoretical points about the institution of hegemony in International Relations. First, the limits and prerogatives of a hegemon are as much a function of the particular political and social environment as they are of material capabilities. The norm of sovereign equality compelled the US to consider the views and interests of the smaller countries within the UN, a concern that would not have existed prior to 1945. Unlike previous eras, the US could not pursue hegemonic leadership without attempting to bring previously insignificant states into the general consensus. The General Assembly has long been a headache for American officials, but an organiza- tion that failed to operate on nominally democratic principles would not have legitimacy in the 20th century. For these reasons, during the Gulf War American leaders found it necessary to garner the support of states that would play no role in the effort to evict Iraq from Kuwait. Second, the conflicting expectations attached to international leadership and domestic self-interest can help explain why hegemons often oscillate


Cronin: The Paradox of Hegemony

between unilateralism and multilateralism and why hegemons often act inconsistently and erratically. While both realist and internationalist theories can explain the tensions that existed between the UN and the US during the Cold War era, they do not adequately account for these tensions during the periods when the US was dominant and unchallenged. The rise of a hegemonic challenger (the Soviet Union) and hostile majority (developing states) prevented the US from dominating the organization from the early 1950s through the late 1980s. Yet even when US authority was generally acknowledged during the organization’s early years and in the aftermath of the Cold War, American officials continued to alternately support and undermine the organization that was supposed to enhance its leadership in the world. Third, by conceptualizing the conflicting pressures placed on hegemons as a form of role strain, we can better understand the perceptions and choices of their decision-makers. The preceding pages suggest that role conflict is inherent within the institution of hegemony. This raises the question of how one can identify when a particular hegemon is facing a conflict in roles and which types of behaviors would fall within one or the other. Role strain occurs whenever there are conflicting expectations attached to one’s various role positions. In cases where the decision rules and/or norms of a multilateral institution do not conflict with the hegemon's definition of its state interests, the question of role strain does not arise. Thus, when the US and the other great powers defined Iraq's defiance of UN resolutions in 1993 in much the same way, the norms of consultation and consensus actually strengthened America's position. At the same time, in cases where a hegemon is forced to choose between following the rules and procedures of a multilateral organization and pursuing an independent path that is more conducive to its domestic interests, role conflict arises. In these instances, the degree to which the hegemon follows the rules, even when it is not in its parochial interest to do so, determines whether it is acting as a systemic leader or great power. This is because a systemic leader cannot act as a representative of the broader community if it acts in defiance of the rules of the community. Thus, in 1996 the US had to choose between acting on behalf of the Security Council by forging a consensus, or asserting its power by moving ahead with its planned attack on Iraq. In its role as hegemonic leader, the cohesion of the Security Council was the paramount issue, while in its role as dominant power, the principal consideration was American credibility and control over actions in the Gulf.


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This condition is suggested in Gilpin (1981: 32–3).


For a sample of this literature, see Calleo (1987), Kennedy (1987: 514–35), Nye (1990) and Strange (1987).


Sciolino (1998: A6).


Singer (1997: A1).


Gilpin (1981).


Cox (1981b: 172).


For a discussion of how hegemons socialize the leaders of secondary states, see Ikenberry and Kupchan (1990).


Gilpin (1981: 94).


Specifically, theoretical debates tend to revolve around what kinds of capabilities are required to maintain hegemony, in what relative quantities and how much weight military versus economic resources should be assigned in relation to each other. See Rapkin (1990: 5).


See, inter alia, Kindleberger (1986), Krasner (1976) and Gilpin (1975).


Susan Strange (1994: 24) argues that hegemonic rule is achieved through the application of ‘structural power’, which she defines as the power to shape and determine the institutions of the global political economy. This is similar to Krasner’s (1985) concept of ‘meta-power’. Both are consistent with Bachrach and Baratz’s (1963) ‘second face of power’, which they define as ‘the ability to set the agenda and structure situations in world politics’.


See, inter alia, Wolfers (1962: Ch. 8), Morganthau (1973: part 4), Waltz (1979:

123–8), Posen (1984). For critiques of balance of power theory, see Claude (1962: Chs 2–3), and Haas (1953).


Layne (1993: 252–3).


Doyle (1986: 30) defines an empire as effective control of a subordinate society by an imperial one.


This definition of legitimacy is drawn from Lipset (1960: 77).


On the role of legitimacy in International Relations, see Hurd (1999).


Cox (1981b: 169).


On institutions in international affairs, see Young (1989: 12–13) and Keohane



Meyer et al. (1987: 12).


See Holsti (1987: 5). Most of the work applying role theory to the study of International Relations has been conducted within the context of foreign policy decision-making. In this sense, this article is not within the research program developed by Holsti and his associates. Rather, I am using role theory to help explain systemic pressures placed on state leaders.


Rosenau (1987: 51).


A Catholic priest, for example, has the power to ‘absolve’ a person of his or her sins, while a Jewish rabbi can only offer counsel.


For a discussion of the ‘stickiness’ of international institutions, see Krasner



Cronin: The Paradox of Hegemony

24. See Cronin (1999: Ch. 3).

25. For this concept of roles, see Giddens (1979: 117).

26. Stryker (1980: 73).

27. Gilpin (1981: Ch. 2) argues that states make cost/benefit calculations in the determination of foreign policy, in particular in deciding on whether to initiate risky actions. To the extent that leaders of great powers believe that their capabilities reduce the risks of adventures, they are more likely to act.

28. Cox (1981a).

29. Ruggie (1993: 571).

30. Claude (1966).

31. I draw here from Stryker’s (1980: 61) concept of identity salience.

32. See Putnam (1988: 449).

33. The origins of the organization can be traced to the recommendations that emerged out of the (US) Advisory Committee on Problems of Foreign Relations in 1940. The purpose of the Committee — which was established by US Secretary of State Cordell Hull at the behest of President Roosevelt — was to survey the ‘basic principles’ that should ‘underlie a desirable world order’ after the war. See Hilderbrand (1990: 8).

34. See Luard (1982: 25).

35. See Hoopes and Brinkley (1997: 185).

36. See Campbell (1973: 4). See also Gregg (1993: 8–9).

37. See, for example, Moynihan (1978) and Kirkpatrick (1984).

38. Mearsheimer (1995: 339).

39. See inter alia Krauthammer (1985: 152), Ruggie (1996: 18–27), and Karns and Mingst (1990: 6 and 291).

40. Hoopes and Brinkley (1997: 148–56).

41. Gregg (1993: 13).

42. See Franck (1996: Ch. 2).

43. Beetham (1991: 35).

44. See, for example, Krauthammer (1987).

45. See Kimball (1991: 95–7).

46. Hilderbrand (1990: 142).

47. Hilderbrand (1990: 64–5).

48. See Bush (1990).

49. For a good discussion of the ‘sheriff’ concept, see Haass (1997).

50. See Tucker and Hendrickson (1992: 194).

51. President Bush considered such a diplomatic resolution of the conflict to be a ‘nightmare scenario’. See Bennett (1991: 27).

52. See, for example, Lynch (1998: A2).

53. Kennedy (1996: 5).

54. See St Louis Post-Dispatch (1997: A12).

55. St Louis Post-Dispatch (1997: A12).

56. Black (1998).

57. Kynge and Thornhill (1998).


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