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On Hegemonic Stability Theory…

Charles Poor ‘Charlie’ Kindleberger (October 12, 1910 – July 7, 2003), an American Economic Historian, once said that it was necessary to establish a Hegemonic Regime in order to maintain Economic Stability in a country. Later, his Hegemonic Stability Theory began to be used in a larger economic context. In many cases, it extended beyond the boundaries of the Economy. For example, the British Economy collapsed between the two World Wars, while the US followed the Policy of Isolation at that period of time. The US had no desire to dominate World Politics. Since then, the Americans have been telling themselves, as well as the Global Community, that they constructed the Global Economic System in the past 75 years. Although it was a fact, the propaganda obscured the story of the US’ retreat from various decisions.

Charles Kindleberger

In order for a Nation-State to rise to the level of Hegemon, there are some attributes it must or is more advantageous to have.

First of all, it must have political strength, military force, and superior national power that are necessary for its ability to forge new international laws and organisations. In terms of military force, a standing Defensive Army is not enough… a superior Navy or Air Force is. This explains why many Hegemons have been geographically situated on peninsulas or islands. Peninsularity and insularity provide added security. and, where Naval Power is necessary, the ability to project Military Forces is also necessary. In some cases, Hegemons have not been insular or peninsular. The US, for instance, has become a virtual island. It has two massive seaboards, and its neighbours are strong allies, and relatively reliable. Also, the modern invention of nuclear weapons, and the presence of a superior Air Force provide highly reliable security for the country, setting it apart from the rest of the world.

Secondly, a Hegemon must have a large and growing Economy. Usually, unrivalled supremacy in at least one leading economic or technological sector is necessary. The first and second refers to a State, having the attribute of the capability to enforce the Rules of the System.

Thirdly, a Hegemon must have will to lead, and the will to establish a Hegemonic Regime, as well as the capability to lead and enforce the Rules of the System. After the First World War, Great Britain possessed the will to lead, but lacked the necessary abilities to do so. Without the ability to force stability on the international system, Great Britain was able to do little to prevent the onset of the Great Depression or the Second World War.

Finally, a Hegemon must commit to the system, which needs to be perceived as mutually beneficial for other Great Powers and important State-Actors.

Today, the issue of Hegemony is facing various challenges. The recent withdrawal of the US Troops from Afghanistan has reminded us of a series of events, such as the disappointing consequences of the US intervention in the Syrian Civil War, the abolition of power structure in Iraq after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003, their failure to anticipate the re-establishment of Islamic Rule in Iran in 1979, and the strategic failure to hand over power to local forces in Vietnam in 1975. The Arab Spring can also be included in this list.

It was not the case even 25 years ago. After the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, the US became the Superpower in a Unipolar World. Articles in the Foreign Affairs magazine, published by the US Council on Foreign Relations, used to project the US as a new omnipotent power at that period of time! The same magazine has changed its stance in recent times. However, some experts still believe that China’s power will be overused and the 21st Century shall be considered as the American Century. From younger Bush to veteran Biden, no US Leader has highlighted his administration’s success on foreign soils. Meanwhile, China has emerged as a Global Power during this period.

Hence, the old paradigm has become less functional. Authoritarian Rulers have seized power, replacing Democracy, in different parts of the world. The National Policies of many countries have silenced the Global Voice! The rise of China has prompted relatively small countries in Southeast Asia to remain neutral. In this context, one may recall the condition of Finland during the Soviet Era. The Soviet Union, reportedly, used to prepare Finland’s foreign policy. Beijing’s sphere of influence has extended to Central Asia in recent times. On the other hand, Russia has stamped its authority in neighbouring areas. As a result, Russian dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean has become a major issue.

If the US is forced to backtrack under the pressure of China and Russia, then its future as a Superpower is not very bright. Thinkers are looking at the future in a way that is called the Thucydides Trap, also referred to as Thucydides’ Trap, a term popularised by US Political Scientist Graham T Allison to describe an apparent tendency towards war when an Emerging Power (i.e., Athens in Ancient Greece) threatens to displace an Existing Great Power (i.e., Sparta in Ancient Greece) as a regional or international hegemon. The term is primarily used to describe a potential conflict between the US and the People’s Republic of China. It may be noted that Thucydides was an Athenian Historian and General. His ‘History of the Peloponnesian War’ recounts the 5th Century BC war between Sparta and Athens until the year 411 BC. The change of sides by 12-16 major powers led to the end of the war. Similarly, the rise of Germany disturbed Britain and Russia during the First World War. However, no one could imagine that emerging power Japan would boldly invade Russia in 1904, after the failure of all diplomatic efforts to ensure peace! Beijing can convince itself that no matter what has happened, there is no need to wage a war against the US and other Global Powers.

It is not very easy to ignore the attraction of the Chinese Market. More and more countries have strengthened trade ties with China, than with the US, in the past decade. Leading US companies, too, have urged President Joe Biden to resume trade with the Asian Giant. Two members of QUAD (or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD), a strategic dialogue between the US, Japan, Australia and India) are trying hard to resist the Chinese Hegemony. While Australia is countering the Chinese Hegemony economically, India is doing the same both with Economy and Military Strength. The US had joined the QUAD mainly to bolster the anti-China alliance. Other Asian nations are also worried about China’s aggressive foreign policy. The Defence Minister of Taiwan recently said that his country was increasingly concerned about its own security, and not about its ties with the US, in the wake of the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan. If other allies of the US begin to think about their own security situation, then Washington DC will be isolated, diplomatically.

Kindleberger had opined that the Hegemonic Regime started losing its base with the change in the Centre of Power. The question arises here: How will the US, India and their allies decide their next steps in the turbulent time? Perhaps, their economic, military and diplomatic strength would not be enough to deal with the impending stormy situations.

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