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The limits of hegemonic stability theory

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  • Snidal, Duncan
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    Hegemonic stability theory has been advanced as an explanation of successful cooperation in the international system. The basis of this “hegemonic cooperation” is the leadership of the hegemonic state; its appeal rests on attractive implications about distribution. However, two distinct strands of the theory (“coercive” and “benevolent”) must be distinguished. These strands have different conceptions of hegemony and the role of hegemonic leaders and so have different implications. Both require us to assume that the underlying international issues are public goods and that the international system does not allow for collective action. The former assumption limits the theory's range of application while the likely failure of the latter means that the theory may be wrong even within this more limited range. Simple formal models demonstrate a conclusion completely at odds with hegemonic stability theory: the decline of a hegemonic power may actually lead to an outcome both collectively superior and distributively preferable than when the hegemon was at the apogee of its power. Thus hegemonic stability is, in fact, only a special case of international cooperation. Understanding cooperation in general requires less restrictive assumptions.

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    Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal International Organization.

    Volume (Year): 39 (1985)
    Issue (Month): 04 (September)
    Pages: 579-614

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    Handle: RePEc:cup:intorg:v:39:y:1985:i:04:p:579-614_02
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