Relocating Middle Powers: Australia and Canada in a Changing World Order

By Andrew F. Cooper; Richard A. Higgott et al. | Go to book overview

1
Leadership, Followership, and Middle Powers in International Politics: A Reappraisal

Introduction

As the international system underwent a major transformation in the late 1980s, an important debate over the nature of leadership in the international order emerged in the international relations literature. This debate was provoked by a variety of theoretical and policy-related questions, largely centred on the argument about whether the United States was, or was not, in decline. While the intellectual controversy between the 'declinists' and their 'renewalist' critics tended to absorb much scholarly attention, 1 it can be argued that, in the long run, such parochial quarrels over the decline of American leadership may be less important than is the more general question of what, exactly, leadership in the international system entails and what the sources of that leadership might be. This question is clearly much wider than the issue of whether the United States lost the will or the capacity to lead in the 1980s. 2 Rather than focusing exclusively on the narrow question of American leadership in the contemporary international order, the subject of considerable speculation in the post-Cold War era 3, this chapter looks at alternative potential sources of initiative and innovation in international politics.

The essence of our argument is that under conditions of waning hegemony (or, to use Ruggie's term, hegemonic defection) 4 there is a need to pay much more attention to other sources of leadership. In particular, we examine what Oran Young has termed technical and entrepreneurial definitions of leadership, 5 a leadership style that contrasts with more traditional -- and structurally determined -- definitions of leadership that tended to prevail in the post-1945 period. It is clear that questions of leadership were of less interest to students of international relations during the period when the politico-economic

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