In This Review

International Order: A Political History
International Order: A Political History
By Stephen A. Kocs
Lynne Rienner, 2019, 261 pp

Coupled with the rise of China, the United States’ foreign policy struggles have renewed old debates about the nature of international order and about what a post-U.S. global system might look like. In this illuminating history, Kocs traces how international order has risen and fallen over the centuries. At every stage, order emerged from the actions of powerful states that wanted to establish norms, rules, and institutions to suit their own purposes. In each instance, the result was an uneasy balance of coercion and consent, a tension that ultimately became a source of disorder. The victors of World War I set up a new order grounded in universal principles—free trade, self-determination, arbitration, and collective security—but were not willing to extend them to their colonial subjects. During the Cold War, the United States tried to infuse liberal values into its dominance of the Western system, and the Soviet Union tried to justify its rule of the Eastern bloc with a vision of communist egalitarianism. Today’s “liberal order” combines multilateral institutions and the promotion of human rights with forceful diplomacy and military interventionism. Kocs does not break new scholarly ground, but his comparative historical perspective provides a useful primer and a starting point for debate.