G. John Ikenberry
Paradoxically, the United States has been the greatest champion of multilateral institutions in the twentieth century, urging on the world all sorts of new organizational creations, but it has also tended to resist entangling itself in institutional commitments and obligations. Across the century—and in particular at the major post-war turning points of 1919, 1945, and 1989—the United States has pursued ambitious strategies that entailed the use of an array of multilateral institutions to remake international order. No other great power has advanced such far-reaching and elaborate ideas about how institutions might be employed to organize and manage the relations between states. But despite this enthusiasm for creating institutions and a rule-based international order, the United States has been reluctant to tie itself too tightly to these multilateral institutions and rules.
After 1919, the United States put the League of Nations at the centre of its designs for world order; collective institutions were to play an unprecedented role in organizing security and providing mechanisms for dispute resolution and the enforcement of agreements. After 1945, the United States pushed onto the world a breathtaking array of new institutions—multilateral, bilateral, regional, global, security, economic, and political. After the cold war, the United States again pursued an institutional agenda: the expansion of NATO and the launching of NAFTA, APEC, and the WTO. But at each turn the United States also resisted the loss of sovereign authority or the reduction of its policy autonomy. The League of Nations in 1919, the International Trade Organization in 1947, and the more recent decisions by the Bush administration to walk away from treaties on global warming, arms control, trade, and the International