Selected Works in Progress


Pathways out of Hegemony: How the American International Order Might Unravel
With Alex Cooley.
Status: Under contract with Oxford University Press.

Summary: Hegemonic-order theories tend to downplay the politics of international order itself. International orders—liberal and otherwise—are means, mediums, and objects of power-political contestation. This book focuses on the dynamics of such contestation, and how they themselves shape the fate of hegemons and of international orders. Such dynamics, we contend, matter to American leadership and the contemporary liberal international order. We call attention to how a state can lose hegemony—and can see the international order change around it—without ever fighting a great-power war, and even while maintaining military and economic primacy across many indicators of power.

We argue that the current international order faces such a prospect. American leadership is at risk of unravelling due not simply to shifts in relative power. Rather, what matters is how these shifts connect to the architecture of the US-led order and political contention over that order. We focus on a number of separate pathways that risk accelerating this unraveling.

First, how other states, such as Russia and China, offer alternatives deals and bargains to those provided by the United States. Over the last decade, Russia tried to create institutions that mimic the form of their Western counterparts, such as the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), while revitalizing older ones, such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), in an effort to counter US and EU influence, especially in the post-Soviet sphere. For China, the announcement of the Belt and Road initiative represents, in part, China’s attempt to gain partnerships in, and influence, regions as far away as Europe and the Middle East.

Second, while high-profile efforts of Russia and China capture the headlines, a second pathway comes from below: in the form of states that willingly use the patronage and opportunities offered by new patrons to pushback and bargaining against the institutions of the Western-liberal order. Small states such as Tajikistan, Ecuador, Egypt and Myanmar are now actively using the availability of new international patrons to better position themselves as consumers of the liberal order (see Cooley 2012; Cooley and Nexon 2013). Cumulatively, their actions alter the ecology the international politics, irrespective of their intentions, in ways that reduce American influence and potentially hollow out liberal order. Indeed, in many of these states, rulers combine this new interest in non-Western partnership with a domestic populism that emphasizes, on the one hand, foreign-policy pragmatism and, on the other, a refusal to be bound by liberal values and institutional commitments

Third, we see a pathway playing out within the core and semi-core of the order itself. The rise of populist leaders, including anti-EU leaders and the Brexit movement, has shattered what was once considered an unwavering domestic commitment by major European political parties to European unity and transatlantic solidarity. Moreover, these individual challengers to the previous consensus have now developed transnational networks. They have sought illiberal allies, from both the right-wing, but also left-wing, to challenge the political and normative basis of American liberal hegemonic order. While downplayed in conventional hegemonic-order accounts, these kinds of challenges often play a key role in power transitions.

Fourth, challenges from within the hegemonic power itself. This pathway is closely intertwined with the third, but deserves special attention. In the contemporary moment, it manifests in the election of Donald Trump on pledges to renegotiate the terms of American hegemony from its very central foundations—from within the American polity. Indeed, Trumpist foreign policy combines elements of all three pathways: a withdrawal from global leadership and acknowledgment of the spheres of influence of other great powers; a paring back of funding for international goods and their associated domestic conditionalities; and, among certain elements in his administration and political base, the open courting of transnational allies and networks that oppose the transatlantic consensus and what they term a “globalist” agenda. While approaches to hegemony contemplate policy changes by the dominant power, they rarely anticipate the emergence of a leadership disposed to jettisoning its key norms and rules; that is, one that accelerates and facilitates these other pathways of hegemonic erosion.

All four of these developments now command attention in popular and, increasingly, scholarly discussion. But we call for a greater focus on how they bootstrap on one another: how each set of processes contributes to, and forwards, the others. For example, from Russian troll farms and astroturfing operations designed to delegitimize liberal order and forward challenges in the core and semi-core, to the very availability of apparently viable alternative models—Russia’s hybrid regime and Chinese capitalist authoritarianism—the shifting power-political landscape helps drive challenges in the core and semi-core.

Moreover, we bring together cutting-edge theoretical insights, including from our own prior work, to produce a new approach to hegemony and international order. This approach allows us to place dynamics of contention over hegemonic order at the center of analysis. In brief, we think about international order as manifest in, first, an ecology of security, economic, and cultural goods; second, a set of fields that shape the value of those goods and the terms of their competition; and third, a network infrastructure of relations among states, international organizations, and non-state actors. Hegemonic powers are both makers and takers of international order; the contours of hegemonic orders shape the form and content of contestation over its terms.

Logics of Political Order
With Meghan McConaughey and Paul Musgrave.
Status: Under discussion with potential publisher; target date for completion, March 2019.

Summary: This book builds from our typology in “Beyond Anarchy: Logics of Political Organization, Hierarchy, and International Structure” to develop a conceptual account of how to think about major logics of political organization: empires, national-states, and varieties of federations, confederations, and counciliar systems. These operate, we contend, across differences of space, time, and scale: from interpersonal to international relations, and from ancient times to the present. We put forth principles for identifying, describing, and analyzing these political formations, as well for understanding the general tendencies that help account for their evolution.

The Dynamics of Power Politics
With Stacie E. Goddard and Paul K. MacDonald.
Status: In planning stages; to be completed as a deliverable for the Evaluating Power Political Repertoires (EPOS) project, which ends in 2020.

Summary: This book expands the arguments developed in “The Dynamics of Global Power Politics: From Realism to the Study of Realpolitik” to build a mechanism-centered account of the logics, dynamics, and instruments of power politics. The aim is a book that resembles Dynamics of Contention, but for the subject-matter usually studied under the rubric of realpolitik.

Edited Volumes

Undermining the Hegemon: The Global Politics of Goods Substitution
Co-edited with Alexander Cooley and Morten Andersen.
Status: Most completely. Ready for review.


The Outsider Advantage: Why Liminal Actors Rise to System-Wide Domination
Status: We’ll get from the existing draft to submission one of these days.
Summary: We intervene in the debate over balance-of-power theory by scrutinizing a particular process—one in which an outside or liminal actor successfully establishes system-wide domination—thereby transforming a previously anarchical system into a hegemonic or imperial order. Indeed, many of the cases invoked by scholars to challenge balance-of-power theory display this dynamic. We argue that system “roll up” by peripheral actors matters a great deal for contemporary debates about balance-of-power theory. It contradicts the expected outcome of such theories. But its patterns lend qualified support for balance-of-power theory, particularly in its structural-realist variant, with respect to its causal mechanisms.

Some combination of two related major processes operate in peripheral system-wide roll up. First, the new—or previously marginal—domination-seeker emerges as an ambiguous player with respect to the existing threat environment. It finds itself able to exploit ongoing rivalries and otherwise avoid counterbalancing by potential rivals concerned with long-standing threats within the system. In general, key participants in existing power-political competition fail to adjust to the threat its poses because they lack adequate information about its capabilities, intentions, or both. Alternatively, they discount such information, as it appears ambiguous when compared to the certainty of existing threats.

Second, liminal actors often face a favorable emulation lag. Newly emergent domination-seekers who enjoy an advantage—in terms of military practices, social technologies of control, and so forth—over targets of domination will find their rivals slower to adapt then if they occupied a central position within the system. On the one hand, liminal actors are more likely to be culturally distinct from other players in the system. This cultural distinctiveness creates barriers to rapid and effective emulation by potential counter-balancers. On the other hand, limited information about the nature of the newly emergent dominant seeker also works against the diffusion of their advantageous practices.

These two processes, especially when they combine, create a favorable window of opportunity for, at a minimum, the emergence of a new great power in a system and, at a maximum, its successful bid for system-wide domination. But rather than completely subvert balance-of-power theory, they point to scope conditions under which its mechanisms either cannot effectively translate into balancing equilibria or actually facilitate systemic balancing failures.

Want to see more ongoing work? Check out my curriculum vitae.