Are the two most powerful states in the world moving toward the creation of a functioning global order? Or are international norms and institutions just a new arena for the old game of realpolitik? Foot and Walter compare U.S. and Chinese compliance with five sets of norms, governing the use of force, mutual surveillance of macroeconomic policy, nuclear nonproliferation, climate change, and global financial flows. With careful attention to detail, the authors are able to show that China’s compliance has increased as its economy has become more interdependent with the rest of the world, although in selective ways that reflect particular economic and security interests. Although the United States created the initial institutions, it has performed inconsistently, unable to rein in important domestic constituencies that have an interest in seeing certain norms violated. In both Beijing and Washington, compliance seems to be strongest when the distribution of its costs and benefits is perceived as fair. But this is a hard equilibrium to achieve, given the asymmetries of power, culture, and development that mark the international system.
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