Why did the United States win the Cold War, and what can the country do now to win the peace? Ikenberry argues that the United States triumphed because it pursued a successful two-track policy after the defeat of Germany and Japan: a realist containment of the Soviet Union combined with the liberal internationalist construction of a democratic club. Ikenberry reviews the Vienna settlement of 1815, the story of Versailles, and the post-World War II order to contend that liberal victors can win the peace by showing "strategic restraint." In effect, these multilateral "institution builders" use their dominance to create international "constitutional orders," the designs of which serve the weak as well as the powerful. He concludes that this tactic, rather than a balance-of-power approach, has best served U.S. interests. With containment now buried, the value of a liberal-democratic partnership among like-minded states still endures. Yet Ikenberry worries that Washington today may not recognize the order that it once created -- and thus may miss the opportunities to increase power and well-being for others as well as itself.
For international-relations theorists, this book demonstrates that the liberal-democratic internationalist ship has finally come into port. For decades, realists have mocked liberals for their "idealism" and "utopianism," lamenting that democracy's openness, divisions, and secularism would ultimately weaken the United States in the face of its communist adversaries. But now the liberal argument that democratic regimes can make a dramatic difference in world affairs has finally achieved intellectual respectability, as this fine book so convincingly maintains.