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Beyond consent and coercion: using republican political theory to understand international hierarchies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 November 2013

Alexander Lanoszka*
Department of Politics, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA


In categorizing international hierarchies, theorists often emphasize some balance between levels of consent and coercion. I show that emphasis on these terms is conceptually problematic. Borrowing insights from republican political theory, I argue that we can better distinguish hierarchies on the basis of whether they feature domination. Under domination the subordinate’s freedom of choice is contingent upon the predilections of the superordinate state, which can assert its supremacy whenever and possibly, however, it may please. Moreover, subordinate states cannot unilaterally and peacefully withdraw from the hierarchy. By contrast, in hierarchies of non-domination the superordinate state enjoys the ‘powers of attorney’ with which it might be permitted to practice coercion in order to advance an agreed-upon goal. The contract underpinning this type of hierarchy also allows for the unilateral and peaceful termination by the subordinate, either through withdrawal or expiry. I demonstrate the applicability of this conceptual framework by examining Soviet and American relations with Central-Eastern and Western Europe, respectively, during the Cold War.

Original Papers
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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