America Unrivalled: The Future of the Balance of Power
Edited by G. John Ikenberry
If there was one thing that students of international relations thought they knew, it was that power breeds resentment, resistance, and eventually balancing. When the collapse of the Soviet Union left the United States standing alone at the top of the international system, even optimists foresaw only a temporary "unipolar moment," and pessimists looked for a quick return to multipolarity. Defying all predictions, however, over the last decade the United States has gone from strength to strength. It has increased its military, economic, and political lead over other countries and cemented its position as the most powerful country not just in the current international state system but in all modern history. Moreover, although this primacy has indeed produced resentment, it has not -- or at least, not yet -- produced the sort of great-power balancing that international relations theorists expected. Ikenberry's excellent new collection of essays brings together some of the best minds in the field to ask, Why not? Although the authors often disagree with each other, a common theme that emerges is that the relatively restrained and liberal nature of contemporary American hegemony might make it more palatable to other countries than were previous hegemonies. Whether this is in fact the case, and, if so, whether it will survive the Bush administration's aggressive approach to foreign policy, remains to be seen. Still, this book is a fine effort to take stock of the nature of the post-Cold War international system and a worthy attempt to train academic theorizing on practical concerns.