After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars

After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars

After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars

After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars


The end of the Cold War was a "big bang" in world politics not unlike earlier historical moments after major wars, such as the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the end of the World Wars in 1919 and 1945. Here John Ikenberry asks the question, what do states that win these great conflicts do with their new found power and how do they use it to build order? In examining the major postwar settlements in modern history, he argues that powerful countries usually seek to build stable and cooperative relations, and often the best way to do this is to restrain the exercise of brute power by operating within multilateral institutions.

The author explains that military winners have a long-term interest in the stability of a new world order, since they are the dominant powers within it. Consequently, they limit their own power and coopt other states to create stable and lasting relations. The more institutionalized and self-limiting, the more durable the postwar order. Ikenberry maintains that a country's ability to restrain its power has shifted historically with the rise of democratic states. Blending comparative politics with internat


The central question of this book is: What do states that have just won major wars do with their newly acquired power? My answer is that states in this situation have sought to hold onto that power and make it last, and that this has led these states, paradoxically, to find ways to set limits on their power and make it acceptable to other states. Across the great postwar settlements, leading states have increasingly used institutions after wars to “lock in” a favorable postwar position and to establish sufficient “strategic restraint” on their own power as to gain the acquiescence of weaker and secondary states. Leading postwar states might ideally want to tie other states down to fixed and predictable policy orientations and leave them/ selves institutionally unencumbered. But in seeking the institutional commitment of less powerful states—locking them into the postwar order—the leading state has to offer them something in return: some mea/ sure of credible and institutionalized restraint on its own exercise of power. The type of order that emerges after great wars hinges on the ability of states to restrain power institutionally and bind themselves to long-term commitments.

Viscount Castlereagh in 1815, Woodrow Wilson in 1919, Harry Truman in 1945—each sought to use newly preponderant state power to mold a postwar settlement that bound other states to each other and to them. American officials again found themselves in this position after 1989. But to lock other states into a desired order, these leading states did not simply exercise power—they sought the acquiescence of other states by agreeing to set limits on the use of that power. The order-building power of these leading states was partly rooted in their ability to limit that power institu/ tionally. The changing capacity of states to do so has had a profound impact on the type of international order that has emerged after great wars.

My interest in postwar junctures and peace settlements began in the late 1980s, when the debate about the character and significance of American hegemony was in full swing. My interest was not in the decline of hege/ mony but in how hegemonic order is created in the first place, and in how political order more generally is created.

The end of the Cold War made my question even more compelling. It also raised the stakes of my initial question about order formation in two ways: first, with the end of the Cold War, scholars and pundits began to argue that the United States was again at a major postwar juncture, a his/ torical watershed not unlike 1919 and 1945. The question immediately became: What can we learn from early postwar settlements about how to . . .

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