Hegemonic stability theory

Hegemonic stability theory (HST) is a theory of international relations, rooted in research from the fields of political science, economics, and history. HST indicates that the international system is more likely to remain stable when a single state is the dominant world power, or hegemon.[1][2] Thus, the end of hegemony diminishes the stability of the international system. As evidence for the stability of hegemony, proponents of HST frequently point to the Pax Britannica and Pax Americana, as well as the instability prior to World War I (when British hegemony was in decline) and the instability of the interwar period (when the American hegemon retrenched itself from world politics).[3][4]

The key mechanisms in hegemonic stability theory revolve around public goods provision: to resolve collective action problems regarding public goods, a powerful actor who is willing and able to shoulder a disproportionate share of public goods provision is needed.[5] Hegemonic stability may entail self-reinforcing cooperation, as it is in the interest of the hegemon to provide public goods and it is in interest of other states to maintain an international order from which they derive public goods.[5][6][7][8]

Charles P. Kindleberger is one of the scholars most closely associated with HST, and is regarded by some as the theory's most influential proponent.[9][10] In the 1973 book The World in Depression: 1929-1939, he argued that the economic chaos between World War I and World War II that led to the Great Depression was partly attributable to the lack of a world leader with a dominant economy. Kindleberger's reasoning touched upon more than economics, however: the central idea behind HST is that the stability of the global system, in terms of politics, international law, and so on, relies on the hegemon to develop and enforce the rules of the system. Other key figures in the development of hegemonic stability theory include Robert Gilpin, and Stephen Krasner.[11]

Robert Keohane coined the term "Hegemonic stability theory" in a 1980 article.[12] Keohane's 1984 book After Hegemony used insights from the new institutional economics to argue that the international system could remain stable in the absence of a hegemon, thus rebutting hegemonic stability theory.[13] John Ruggie's work on embedded liberalism also challenges hegemonic stability theory. He argues that the post-WWII international order was not just held together by material power but through "legitimate social purpose" whereby governments created support for the international order through social policies that alleviated the adverse effects of globalization.[14][15] John Ikenberry argues that hegemony is not a precondition for international stability, pointing to path dependence and "stickinesss" of institutions.[16][17]