International relations are very complicated, and historically they were of a paramount concern of many specialists, which attempted to explain the logic of international relations from a scientific point of view. As a result, a number of theories aiming at the explanation of the foreign affairs have appeared in political science that was quite natural because there were a lot of different views and opinions which often were contradicting to each other.
However, it does not necessarily mean that the arguments and theoretical arguments concerning the essence and fundamental principles of international relations. At the same time, it should be pointed out that a significant impact on the development of numerous political theories related to international relations produced and keeps producing the actual situation in the national, regional and world politics. In other words, the current situation in politics, beginning from the federal level and till the world scale, defines or, to put it more precisely, influences the theoretical issues which are developed in a particular historical period.
Probably the most obvious and the most understandable example for the contemporary people may be the recently developed theories which are in deep contradiction to one another, notably the Hegemonic Stability Theory and the Balance of Power Theory. It is evident that their cornerstone concepts are different and even contradictive to one another, but both theories are quite popular in the contemporary science and have a lot of supporters. This is why it is extremely important to analyze and discuss such theories to find out the extent to which they reliable and relevant nowadays and whether it is possible to agree with their basic concepts at all.
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Regarding this paper, the main focus will be made on the Hegemonic Stability Theory as one of the most popular and probably one of the most easily applied in the contemporary international relations due to the current position of the US as the only superpower in the entire world. Actually, this is probably one of the main reasons why specialists are so concerned about this theory since it helps to explain the current situation in the world politics and overshadow the negative processes that nowadays are taking place in international relations because basically, this theory supports the idea of the necessity of the existence of a hegemon, though the latter statement is quite arguably by nature.
Naturally, to better understand the Hegemonic Stability Theory, its role and properly assess it, firstly it is necessary to define the basic theoretical elements of the theory correctly, find out its essence and than critically evaluate it in both theoretical and practical dimensions. In other words, it is necessary to discuss the possible academic criticism and arguments related to the theory and then practically test it, projecting the Hegemonic Stability Theory on some real-life situation in international relations. Concerning this paper, the Indo-Pakistan conflict will be in the focus of a particular attention since it eloquently demonstrates the advantages and disadvantages of the existence of ‘bipolar’ and ‘monopolar’ world, when, in the latter case, there is only one hegemon in the world.
Only by such a profound analysis, both theoretical and practical, it would be possible to accurately assess the Hegemonic Stability Theory and make a proper judgment about its reliability and efficiency of its application.
Definition and key theoretical concepts of Hegemonic Stability Theory
Speaking of the Hegemonic Stability Theory, it is primarily necessary to point out that this theory is relatively new and has been developed during the 20th century. Traditionally, it is believed that the research of Charles Kindleberger and his theoretical assumptions are precursors of the contemporary Hegemonic Stability Theory. In this respect, it worth to note that he focuses on the analysis of the Great Depression of 1929 and his research and conclusions may be applied to the economy, though on a more profound reflection, it is necessary to admit that they are also quite applicable to the political science as well. Notably, on analysing the Great Depression of 1929, he arrives to the conclusion that it was the result of the instability in the economy and financial system, which, in their turn, were provoked by the lack of a hegemon, which was essential for the normal and effective functioning of the international economy, trade and financial system.
Obviously, it is possible to widen such a conclusion and extrapolate it on the international political relations between countries, especially, if one takes into consideration the fact that economic relations are closely related to politics and vice versa. So, it is not a secret that economy produces a significant impact on political events on all levels, from national to international.
At the same time, it is also obvious that such a conclusion made by Charles Kindleberger should be backed up by some persuasive arguments in favor of his position. In this respect, it is necessary to refer to his basic beliefs and theoretical assumptions to clear up the way of his thoughts, and consequently, to realize what was the starting point of the Hegemonic Stability Theory. So, returning to his postulate concerning the necessity of the existence of certain hegemon in the international trade and financial system, it is necessary to point out that the researcher insisted on the idea that there is a collective action problem, which grows more and more serious the less obvious and strong is the hegemon. In other words, international trade and financial relations, as Kindleberger believed, and here it is possible to add international political relations, will simply be chaotic if there is no hegemon in the world. In contrast, the hegemon, according to Kindleberger, is playing an extremely important role since this country contributes to regulation and institualization of international relations using establishing a natural control over other participants of international relations due to its higher status of the hegemon.
So, returning to his postulate concerning the necessity of the existence of certain hegemon in the international trade and financial system, it is necessary to point out that the researcher insisted on the idea that there is a collective action problem, which grows more and more serious the less obvious and strong is the hegemon. In other words, international trade and financial relations, as Kindleberger believed, and here it is possible to add political, international relations, will simply be chaotic if there is no hegemon in the world. In contrast, the hegemon, according to Kindleberger, is playing a significant role since this country contributes to regulation and institualization of international relations using establishing a natural control over other participants of international relations due to its higher status of the hegemon.
Moreover, Kindleberger believed that in such a way the problem of collective action may be solved since a hegemon would play the leading role in international relations, controlling practically all countries or at least producing certain pressure on their political and economic position. Actually, it is not surprising that such way of actions of a hegemon is quite logical and natural since it is highly motivated by benefits the country gains from its hegemonic position, which should naturally make international relations more stable and predictable. For instance, it is possible to refer to the position of the US, which benefited greatly from the Bretton Woods system that made the US dollar the reserve currency and nowadays it is the reserve currency in many, if not to say in the vast majority of the countries all over the world. Naturally, it is a great benefit for the US, though the extent to which it is beneficiary for other countries is another question. Consequently, Charles Kindleberger supposed that a hegemon would up bring stability in international relations and he believed that it is good that was actually a very arguable point, which would be discussed a bit later.
However, it should be pointed out that his views were rather subjective, or at least highly influenced by the current situation in the world. He mainly bases his judgments on the Great Depression, which, as he believed, led to the instability of international relations provoked by the lack of a hegemon. For instance, he argues that in the past there was an obvious leader, a hegemon – Great Britain, which manufacturing production surpassed significantly that of its competitors, especially France, in the mid-19th century. As a result, Great Britain had started to play the role of a hegemon in international relations both economic and political since the country was the main exporter of capital and the situation in the world economy and politics was stable. In contrast, the profound crisis of 1929, known as the Great Depression, had broken the world order existing before that led to instability of international relations.
Later, Charles Kindleberger’s theoretical views were developed and shaped into the Hegemonic Stability Theory, which core concept is the idea that “the stability of the international system requires a single dominant state [hegemon] to articulate and enforce the rules of interaction among the most important members of the system” (Gilpin 1999:42).
Furthermore, one of the cornerstones of the Hegemonic Stability Theory is the concept of a hegemon, i.e. a state which is dominant in the world and is able to establish rules and regulate international relations. In this respect, it is necessary to refer to three basic characteristics, which, according to Keohane, are typical and even essential for a hegemon. Firstly, it is the ability of a hegemon state to create and enforce international norms. Secondly, a hegemon should have the will to do so. And finally, a hegemon must possess decisive economic, political, and military dominance and supremacy over other states.
Such a position of a hegemon is supposed to provide a high degree of stability in international relations, while, in stark contrast, the lack of a hegemon would have the contrary result. To put it more precisely, the supporters of Hegemonic Stability theory believes that instability may be provoked by economic, political, technological and other changes that break the current order, the hierarchy headed and built up by a hegemon. As a result, other states will attempt to replace the weakened hegemon and “pretenders to hegemonic control will emerge if the benefits of the system are viewed as unacceptably unfair” (Gilpin 1999:194). Consequently such a struggle for leadership, or hegemony leads to numerous crises and instability of the system of international relations at large. At least this is what the Hegemonic Stability Theory suggests.
Arguments and critique of Hegemonic Stability Theory
At first glance, Hegemonic Stability Theory seems to be quite logical and persuasive. However, it is obvious that, as any other theory related to international relations, it has its own drawbacks that provoke a serious critique of the theory. Anyway, it is also necessary to remember that to remain objective it is necessary to distract from the current situation in international relations in the contemporary world.
Primarily, it is necessary to say that nowadays there appear more and more critics of Hegemonic Stability Theory because it basically focuses on the necessity of stable international relations as the main means of prevention of possible crises while, at the same time, the theory obviously ignores the interests of non-hegemon states whose deprived position makes them totally dependent on the will of a hegemon. In other words, Hegemonic Stability Theory implies that the domination of a minority, i.e., a hegemon, is good regardless the oppression of the majority, i.e., all other states that have to obey to the hegemon’s rules and regulations.
In fact, Hegemonic Stability Theory is widely criticised for its unjust principles. To put it more precisely, it is considered to by many specialists to be unjust that a hegemon occupies the dominant position in the world building up a hierarchy of states, while all the rest remain in the oppressed position and cannot really act independently or build up the hierarchy of their own. For instance, Gilpin, on analysing the causes of the Cold War and the existing system of hierarchy and the competition between the leading states, argues that the role of the US is overestimated in the world international relations, at least in the epoch of the Cold War because it was not the obvious supremacy of the US that forced many countries, including leading European ones, that forced them to give in the leading positions to this state. In contrast, the main reason forcing these countries to seek for ally in the US, even through the refusal from the world hegemony, was the threat from the USSR and its totalitarian regime.
In this respect, it should be said that the US could play the role of a hegemon, at least for capitalist part of the world, in the epoch of the Cold War but its hegemony was not really supported by objective factors, including three basic elements of a hegemon state since European countries, for instance, were quite well developed technologically and economically that they could remain competitive, as they attempt to be nowadays. At the same time, what really made them weaker than they objectively used to be was the communist threat from the USSR which was also quite a powerful state. In such a way, European countries, as well as many others, such as India and Pakistan, had to choose what an ally to chose, the US or the USSR and naturally they should to obey to the hegemony of both states.
As a result, the critics of Hegemonic Stability Theory concludes that besides a hegemon and its rules and hierarchy there are also other states that contribute significantly to the formation of the fundamental principles of international relations, which could act independently from a hegemon’s will, like the USSR and its alliances in the period of the Cold War.
Furthermore, there are also a lot of critics who argue the basic ideas of one of the founders of the contemporary Hegemonic Stability Theory Charles Kindleberger. To put it more precisely, it is argued that the lack of a hegemon in international relations in the interwar period was not the main reason for a profound economic and political crises in that epoch. In fact, historically there are defined several reasons which contributed to the development of a profound economic crises and which eventually led to the World War II. In this respect, it is also should be pointed out that the system of international relations could hardly be characterised as a stable even before the Great Depression and following problems. For instance, it is possible to remind the World War I, which was a precursor of the following economic problems and the World War II. Actually, the World War I, being a part of the struggle for the world hegemony, resulted in the unfair world order in which there was really no obvious hegemon but, on the other hand, there were also a number of states dissatisfied with the results of the World War I and striving for taking revenge, among which the main role played Germany.
Such dissatisfaction was the result of an objectively bad economic situation in these countries in the result of the World War I. However, the victorious nations also suffered form financial crises, but it was too partially provoked by the consequences of the World War I and not only the lack of a hegemon in international relations. Finally, it is extremely doubtful that the hegemony of Nazi Germany, for instance, would lead to the stability in the world system of international relations because this state was extremely militarised and it could hardly keep progressing without military invasions, which were the ideological basis of the ruling regime.
This is why it is possible to argue that Hegemonic Stability Theory is really reliable since it is necessary to take into consideration a number of different socio-economic and political factors but not only the potential desire of a state to gain the world supremacy and hegemony, which cannot be a guarantee or a remedy preventing crises in international relations.
Basic issues concerning the assessment of Hegemonic Stability Theory
Obviously, theoretical assumptions explaining the essence of Hegemonic Stability Theory discussed above and the arguments and critique of this theory in international relations are very important but absolutely insufficient for proper assessment of the theory. Naturally, theoretical basis of the theory is absolutely essential for understanding of its essence, otherwise it would be practically impossible to evaluate this theory, while the analysis of its critique contributes to more objective perception of the theory which might have seemed to be quite reliable and persuasive.
However, it is also necessary to dwell upon a practical aspect of the question. In other words, it is also required to take into consideration the historical experience and facts for which the Hegemonic Stability Theory could be applied. In terms of this paper, the Indo-Pakistan conflict would be analysed as a sample revealing the effectiveness of the basic concept of the theory, the presence of a hegemon in international relations, notably the extent, to which its dominant position can contribute to the stability of international relations, naturally, if it can really contribute at all.
In order to make a proper analysis it is necessary to apply a variety of tools. Primarily, it is necessary to take into consideration socio-economic and political variables. For instance, in the case of the Indo-Pakistan conflict and the role of hegemon in the relations between this countries, it is necessary to realise the degree of influence of a hegemon on the country, including economic, political, technological, and military, impact of a hegemon. It means that it is necessary to find out whether the countries are or were really dependent in the fields mentioned above on a hegemon that would make possible to estimate that a hegemon could really control the relations between the countries.
Furthermore, it is also necessary to take into consideration the international situation that would help to find out whether there was a ‘third’ force that could either interfere in the relations or even change them completely. This will help understand whether it is a hegemon only that can contribute to the stability of international relations, or it is not always so that would make the basic theoretical concept of Hegemonic Stability Theory quite arguable.
Naturally, such a sort of analysis would need the use of a variety of sources related to the problem and it may be both historical works, assessments of specialists, their interviews, the past and current news issues and all others related to the problem of the Indo-Pakistan conflict, which should be analysed on the basis of theoretical concepts of Hegemonic Stability Theory which may be found in works of both supporters and opponents of this theory.
The Indo-Pakistan conflict as a test for Hegemonic Stability Theory
Speaking about practical side of the question, it is necessary to analyse the relations between India and Pakistan in historical terms in recent period starting from the epoch of the Cold War, including 1970-80s, and till 1990s, when the situation in the world has changed dramatically. In fact it is very important to dwell upon this two distinguished periods since they provide the possibility to compare and contrast the role of hegemon and its contribution to the stability in international relations.
First of all, it is necessary to discuss the situation in which both India and Pakistan were in the epoch of the Cold War. In fact, it is possible to estimate that this was the epoch when there was no evident hegemon or a leader because there were two competing superpower the US and the USSR. None of them had a decisive advantages over one another this is why the world was divided into two distinct parts: the allies of the US and the allies of the USSR who were supported widely by the superpowers. However, it should be pointed out that as a rule the countries had to chose between the superpower not because they really wished to be a part of capitalist or communist system but rather in order to gain some benefits from such an alliance.
At the same time, it should be said that neither the US nor the USSR could be perceived as the world hegemon as the supporters of the Hegemonic Stability Theory observed this concept because the bipolar world system existing in that epoch did not correspond to the world domination of one, and only one state. Otherwise, it would not be a hegemony but rather a sort of the balance of power divided between two leading countries.
Naturally, India and Pakistan could not objectively choose any alternative way of development and willingly or not they had to cooperate with one of the superpowers. Consequently, India and Pakistan have chosen the USSR and the US respectively. To a certain extent, the choice of different superpowers as their allies was entirely logical since the relations between both countries were quite tense and there were a lot of problems between them, which even resulted in the military conflicts.
Probably, it is not very important to trace the origin and causes of numerous conflicts between India and Pakistan but what is important regarding this paper is to determine the impact of the existing bipolar system on the stability of relations between both countries.
So, in the situation, where there was no ‘pure’ form of hegemony in the entire world, than India and Pakistan were naturally involved in the global confrontation of the USSR and the US, which was enforced by the local confrontation. At the same time, it is necessary to find out whether such confrontation contributed to stability of international relations or, in contrast, undermined it. On analysing the history of the Indo-Pakistan conflict, it is necessary to admit that the bipolar system did not prevent the military confrontation between India and Pakistan. For instance, it worth to remind the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, which was not prevented by neither of the superpower despite their overwhelming impact on all countries in the world. It should be emphasised that before and during this war the US openly supported Pakistan, supplied this country with weapon, provided technological and financial help, encouraged international recognition and acceptance of Pakistani actions, which were far from humanistic.
However, practically the same may be said about the USSR and India. In the situation when the attitude of the US president to the Indian prime minister was characterised as enmity, Indian government logically widely used the aid of the USSR. In fact India received from the USSR practically the same aid as Pakistan from the US. In this respect it is extremely important to underline that each of the two superpowers “was unable to dissuade either side from its chosen policies and full-scale conflict erupted” (Kortunov 1994:143).
As the war had been started the allies should assist their partners in the war. In such a situation the attempts of the US to solve the problem with the help of military forces failed completely because India felt a strong support of the USSR, a superpower which could resist to the US and this is why the US military forces could not produce any significant or dissuasive impact on decision making of the Indian government. In fact, India simply ignored the US military forces. Moreover, the conflict threatened to involve neighboring countries, including China and Arabic states. In stark contrast, diplomatic efforts of the US were much more successful in retaining stability in the region, since the US pressure on the USSR had a positive effect and “Russian advice, coinciding with Mrs Ghandi’s [Indian Prime Minister] own inclinations, seems to have been crucial external factor in India’s decision to implement a unilateral cease-fire on 17 September” (Kortunov 1994:245). Thus, the war was stopped and peace was restored. In this respect, it is important to underline that it was diplomatic means that turned to be the most effective in the ending of this conflict.
However, it was not the last conflict between India and Pakistan, and the end of the Cold War did not contribute to the improvement of the situation in relations between both countries. To better understand the extent, to which the end of the Cold War has changed the world, it is merely possible to say that the US has eventually become the only superpower in the world, or the real hegemon if the terminology of the Hegemonic Stability Theory is used.
So, in the new situation in international relations in the world, India and Pakistan still had the same old problems. In this respect, 1990s turned to be not less difficult period in relations between India and Pakistan than the epoch of the Cold War. Not surprisingly, in 1999 a new conflict between India and Pakistan, known as the Kargil conflict, erupted. However, unlike in the period of the Cold War, the role of the US was much more significant in the solution of the conflict. For instance, the US diplomacy “was a critical factor in the Indian decision to limit the fighting to one isolated sector of the Line of Control in Kashmir” (Jasijit 1999:179). It was a really great success, especially compared to the conflict of the epoch of the Cold War that has been just described above, especially if one takes into consideration that India had opportunities to open new fronts elsewhere when Pakistani troops crossed the Line of Control. And again “the decision not to expand the conflict horizontally or vertically was New Dehli’s, but Washington’s influence helped to reinforce Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s preference for a limited operation to restore the Line of Control rather than open-ended war with the inherent potential for nuclear escalation” (Jasijit 1999:324).
Thus, the US, using its hegemonic position in the world, managed to prevent the escalation and expansion of the conflict between the two countries, which, by the way possess nuclear weapon. Obviously, it seems to be a striking diplomatic success, especially compared to the problems the US faced in the solution of the similar conflict in the epoch of the Cold War. Obviously, it is necessary to agree that the US benefited perfectly from its hegemony.
Conclusion the assessment of Hegemonic Stability Theory on the basis of the analysis of the Indo-Pakistan conflict
In such a way, an analysing the significant differences in the solution of the Indo-Pakistan conflicts in the bipolar world system and in the period of the world hegemony of the US, it should be pointed out that, at first glance, the supporters of Hegemonic Stability Theory are absolutely right. In actuality they really have reasons to believe so. For instance, the two conflicts discussed above reveal a really positive trend in the sustaining stability in the region where a military conflict takes place since the US forced India, as well as Pakistan, not to involve neighbouring countries or enlarge the territory of the conflict. In such a way, the military opposition of the two countries was localized and consequently, more controllable than if other regions or countries were involved. Moreover, the US can influence both participating countries without taking into consideration any other power in the world that made its peacekeeping steps quite effective.
However, this view on the situation is a bit superficial. First of all it should be said that such a situation is potentially very dangerous because the US really managed to cope with the expansion of this military conflict and even prevent the use of a nuclear weapon that was probably the most dangerous threat in the period of the Cold War when nuclear weapon served as a factor restraining superpowers and other countries from expansion and military interventions. On the other hand, the nuclear weapon has lost its restraining power, at least on the local level and it is apparently not a very good thing for the stability of international relations even though there is such a hegemon as the US.
Furthermore, the US could influence both countries and use this influence effectively for sustaining stability in the region but what is much more important than a temporary stability in relations between India and Pakistan is the fact that the US influence is uncontrollable. It means that no other superpower could stop the US in its way to the solution of the conflict. Hypothetically, such a situation may have extremely negative consequences that could undermine the stability not only in the relations between India and Pakistan but in the whole world.
What is meant here is the idea that the lack of control, or competition, or opposition to the hegemony of the US makes its policy if not unpredictably than absolutely egoistic that threatens to the national interests of other smaller and less powerful states. Practically, it means that the US can solve the conflicts or even provoke them in its own national interests. For instance, hypothetically, the US could support one of the countries, either India or Pakistan, in the Kargil conflict, than the opponent of such alliance was doomed to fail and had to give in to the will of the US and its ally.
At first glance, such a situation also seems to be contributing to the stability in international relations since the military conflict might not be even started if the US provided a one-sided total support, i.e. technological, military, financial aid, etc. Consequently, the peace would have been kept up and international relations remained stable.
However, the world hegemony of the US or any other state turns to be extremely dangerous basically because of such an unlimited power and real ability to sustain stability in the international relations the US policy or the policy of a hegemon is absolutely uncontrollable. Consequently, even though international relations remain stable the opposition to hegemon from the part of weaker states, which suffer from its policy, will gradually grow because it is natural and even inevitable that national interests of a hegemon and other countries do not coincide, like in a hypothetical assumption when the US supports either India or Pakistan. The difference in national interests between a hegemon and its opponents will gradually lead to the formation of an opposition that will grow stronger until the moment when either the forces of opposition are so strong or the forces of a hegemon are too weak by some reason, like domestic or global economic crisis similar to the Great Depression, that the hegemony will be eventually lost and the world will suffer from a chaos of international relations.
Thus, the only conclusion it is possible to make is that Hegemonic Stability Theory postulating the existing of a hegemon as a kind of panacea and an essential condition of sustaining the stability of international relations is rather a temporary remedy that could not last very long time and can lead to very dangerous results like the World War I, for instance. This is why the idea of the balance of power may be quite a good alternative to the Hegemonic Stability Theory, at least it gives a chance to weak states to find some help and support in its opposition to a superpower.