The limits of hegemonic stability theory

TitleThe limits of hegemonic stability theory
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsSnidal, D

Hegemonic Stability Theory: claims that the presence of a single, strongly dominant actor in international politics leads to collectively desirable outcomes for all states in the international system. Conversely, the absence of a hegemon is associated with disorder and undesirable outcomes.

The range of the theory is limited to very special conditions.

HST is limited by:
1. Extent to which public goods hypothesis explains many issues in international politics
2. Extent to which the implicit assumption holds true that collective action in the international system is impossible in the absence of a dominant state.

HST only holds true empirically if:
1. The presence of a dominant actor leads to greater stability in international system, and
2. This greater stability benefits all states in the system, and more specifically benefits smaller states more than larger states.

Because of the difficulties inherent in empirical tests of HST, the article places greater emphasis on its logical derivation and its underlying assumptions.

HST must:
1. Incorporate dynamic processes and not just in an ad-hoc, patchwork fashion
2. Clarify the notion of size (military vs economic; absolute vs relative; interest vs capabilities).
3. Clarify role of hegemonic power – benevolent or coercive.
a. Contrast between coercive leadership of centralized model (Gilpin) and benevolent leadership of decentralized model (Keohane)

Conditions of HST:
1. The issue fulfills relevant conditions of a public or collective good (jointness, nonexclusion). Important classes of international issues do not meet these conditions.
2. Collective action is impossible. Stems from the incorrect understanding of the realist assumptions that underlie HST. Nothing in realism would rule out collective action.