One of the most venerable traditions in our field holds that the history of world politics is driven by the rise and decline of hegemonic powers. That is, it argues that international systems remain stable so long as a single political community – usually an empire of one kind or another, but sometimes a city-state, a nomadic confederation, or a sovereign state – achieves unmatchable economic and military capabilities. Those superior capabilities allow it to shape its international system according to its ideological, religious, or more parochial interests. The Romans laid down their law, their roads, and their aqueducts (see, for example, Reference EcksteinEckstein 2006; Reference Ward-PerkinsWard-Perkins 2005); the Ming constructed a series of hierarchical relations with its neighbors that followed, in various ways, Confucian principles (see Reference LeeLee 2016a, Reference Lee2016b; Reference ZhangZhang 2015); the British opened markets, suppressed piracy, and built a global system of colonies, protectorates, and other subordinate polities (see Reference DarwinDarwin 2009).
This hegemonic order, however, comes under strain when the leading power enters into absolute or relative decline. This is inevitable. Nothing lasts forever. Political and economic systems decay. Other polities experience faster economic growth, or benefit from new military and social technologies. As the hegemon weakens, it finds it increasingly difficult to maintain its preferred order. Newly empowered – or, at least, newly emboldened – polities face a choice: They can opt for the status quo and underwrite the order or even help the hegemon maintain its position; or they can decide to revise the order to better reflect their own interests, even to the point of going to war to force the issue.
Hegemons themselves must also make decisions. They can retrench, effectively conceding hegemony in at least some regions. The United Kingdom famously got out of the way for the United States in North America at the turn of the twentieth century (see Reference SchakeSchake 2017). Hegemons can otherwise accommodate rising powers, negotiating adjustments in the rules, norms, and arrangements of international politics. Or they can stand their ground, and even go to war, to maintain their position and their preferred international order.
Of course, the choices made by incumbent hegemons and rising powers during these power transitions often result from multiple interactions, claims, and counterclaims. But the important thing is that, in many of these frameworks, hegemonic wars drive major transformations in international order. The victors of those wars reshape international order. If neither side emerges from the war in a position to exert international leadership, the order atrophies or breaks down until the cycle begins again.Footnote 1
Contemporary observers believe, for good reason, that we are currently experiencing a power transition, with the center of international power shifting from “the West” to Asia in general, and from the United States to China in particular. They worry, again for good reason, about the possibility of hegemonic conflict between the United States and China (see Reference AllisonAllison 2017). And they are starting to focus on the processes and mechanisms that shape international order, especially during power transitions.
This volume looks closely at a major class of those mechanisms. It argues, among other things, that they can significantly erode, and perhaps transform, international orders, even in the absence of a hegemonic war. Consider four vignettes from the last decade.
First, on November 21, 2013, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced that his government was abandoning its Association Agreement with the European Union (EU) in favor of closer economic cooperation with the Russian Federation. As the New York Times reported, the announcement was “a victory for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia,” who “had maneuvered forcefully to derail the plans, which he regarded as a serious threat, an economic version of the West’s effort to build military power by expanding” the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) “eastward.”Footnote 2 Russia revealed that it would provide Ukraine with discounted Russian gas and purchase up to $10 billion of Ukrainian government bonds.Footnote 3 Moscow’s foreign economic pressure and assistance spurred the rise of the Ukraine Maidan movement that ultimately led Yanukovych to flee the country on February 14. In response, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea; it also deployed well-rehearsed tactics in support of separatists in Ukraine’s eastern provinces (see Reference Charap and ColtonCharap and Colton 2018; Reference Menon and RumerMenon and Rumer 2015). Relations between the United States and Russia nosedived. The United States and Europe instituted economic sanctions against Russia, while NATO bolstered its presence in its Eastern member states. Some commentators declared the start of a new “Cold War” (Reference DilanianDilanian 2016). Russian efforts to help elect Donald Trump were motivated, in part, by the hope of easing US and European sanctions.
Second, in June 2017, the government of Greece blocked an EU statement at the United Nations (UN) criticizing China’s human rights record. According to leading human rights watchdogs, this marked the first time that the EU had failed to make a statement about China’s practices at the UN human rights body. While the Greek Foreign Ministry explained its decision to block the statement as avoiding “unconstructive criticism of China,” most analysts observed that Athens was heavily influenced by receiving recent investment from Beijing, especially in upgrading the port of Piraeus, which had made cash-strapped Greece a critical European gateway for China’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).Footnote 4
Third, on June 9, 2019, protestors in the post-Soviet Central Asian state of Kazakhstan took to the streets to protest widespread accusations of election fraud that appeared to bolster the victory of President-elect Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the hand-chosen successor to President Nursultan Nazarbayev who had ruled Kazakhstan since the country’s independence. Allegations of voter fraud and ballot stuffing were supported by eye-witness accounts, social media postings, and, perhaps most significantly, harsh criticism from the international election observation mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office of Democratic Initiatives and Human Rights, which, having monitored nearly all national elections in the post-Communist space since the Soviet collapse, is considered the most credible international organization among Western states and democratic watchdogs.Footnote 5 Nevertheless, Tokayev himself readily dismissed the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’ (ODIHR) critical assessment, calling it “just one of the international organizations” monitoring the vote and stating “we should not focus on the assessment of this organization.”Footnote 6 Indeed, the Kazakh government had invited observers from twenty-two different organizations to monitor the election and all but the ODHIR had delivered supportive assessments of what had been an obviously flawed election.Footnote 7
Fourth, in March 2020, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić issued a broadside against the EU while “praising China for its willingness to assist with the [COVID-19] pandemic.” In the early days of the pandemic, a number of European politicians also thanked China for delivering medical equipment – although China would soon lose some of that goodwill as some of that equipment proved to be faulty (Reference Cooley and NexonCooley and Nexon 2020b).
While China made a major show of providing international medical assistance to countries across the world, the United States failed to play its traditional leadership role. As Reference Campbell and DoshiKurt M. Campbell and Rush Doshi (2020) noted Chinese Premiere Xi Jinping “understands that providing global goods can burnish a rising power’s leadership credentials. He has spent the last several years pushing [for China to take a greater role in promoting] reforms to ‘global governance’, and the coronavirus offers an opportunity to put that theory into action.” Indeed, many analysts have argued that if the United States follows through on the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the WHO, then that “would either advantage China, which recently announced to member states that it would contribute $2 billion to fight the pandemic, or, worse, embolden it to create a competing health organization, leveraging its position astride the global medical supply chain” (Reference EdsonEdson 2020; see also Reference Cooley and NexonCooley and Nexon 2020c).
What do these examples have in common? They all involve power politics surrounding international goods substitution. In the first, competition among potential goods providers led to military conflict and significantly altered the tenor of relations between Russia and the West. In the second, China’s provision of economic goods provided a mechanism for shaping outcomes in the EU and countering liberal norms at the UN. In the third, a government was able to blunt what should have been a clear signal of fraudulent elections by turning to alternative suppliers of election monitors. And, in the fourth, China stepped in to provide international goods in an effort to blunt criticism over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and enhance its international influence, especially in the domain of global public health.
The politics of goods substitution take place whenever states or other actors consider adjusting, or actually do adjust, “their portfolio of security, economic, cultural, or other goods.” They do so when they, for whatever reason, “find the quality or quantity of a good wanting” and thus “have incentives to expand or change their stock of that good.” They can pursue goods substitution by seeking “new arrangements from a current external supplier,” attempting “to expand their own production of that good,” looking for new external suppliers, or some combination of all three (Reference WardCooley, Nexon, and Ward 2019, 704).
As the examples we opened with suggest, the dynamics of goods substitution operate in a wide variety of settings: from inflection points in the relations between great powers to the efforts of weak authoritarian regimes to retain their hold on power. Indeed, recent commentary on Chinese goods provision is correct: The politics of goods substitution can play an important role in shaping the fate of international orders, leading states, and rising powers. Even the simple availability of new providers can help alter international orders by providing states with exit options and thus with greater leverage in their existing relationships. Hegemonic orders, in particular, depend on the effects of a “patronage monopoly” enjoyed by a dominant actor by itself or in conjunction with weaker allies (Reference Cooley and NexonCooley and Nexon 2020a, chapters 2–3).
This volume offers a framework for the politics of goods substitution and explores its dynamics in a number of empirical settings. We do not pretend that our framework or arguments are entirely novel; we draw heavily upon existing work across a number of different domains. Discussions of goods substitution run throughout international relations scholarship, albeit often implicitly. Variations on the argument exist, for example, in the literature on soft balancing (see Reference ChanChan 2017; Reference PapePape 2005; Reference PaulPaul 2005); work on forum shopping and regime complexity (see Reference Alter and MeunierAlter and Meunier 2009; Reference BuschBusch 2007; Reference DreznerDrezner 2009); analysis of the impact of the rise of China on global order (Reference BaderBader 2015; Reference Barma, Chiozza, Ratner and WeberBarma et al. 2009; Reference CooleyCooley 2012; Reference KastnerKastner 2014); findings that competition leads donors to receive fewer policy concessions in exchange for more aid (Reference Bueno de Mesquita and SmithBueno de Mesquita and Smith 2016; Reference DunningDunning 2004); the politics of strategic hedging (Reference KogaKoga 2018; Reference Tessman and WolfeTessman and Wolfe 2011); and, most notably, in understandings of alliances as mechanisms for the joint production of security (see Reference Cornes and SandlerCornes and Sandler 1996; Reference Murdoch, Hartley and SandlerMurdoch 1995; Reference OnealOneal 1990; Reference Sandler and HartleySandler and Hartley 2001). Thus, we develop a synthetic approach: a framework that emphasizes the common logics that operate across different behaviors in the realms of, for example, military security, political economy, and cultural politics (see Reference BarkinBarkin 2010; Reference Goddard and NexonGoddard and Nexon 2016).
In this introductory chapter, we begin with core concepts. We review the major categories of goods: private, public, common-pool, and club. We also discuss the concept of good specificity – essentially, the number of possible suppliers – which matters to the politics of substitution. We then turn toward a discussion of how this volume defines and understands international order. In particular, we argue that an important feature of international order is its “goods ecology” – that is, patterns in the production, supply, quality, and nature of international goods.
The next major section elaborates the logic of goods substitution, and serves as the common framework for the chapters in this volume. We discuss top-down – that is, from great and regional powers – and bottom-up – that is, from weaker states and other actors – drivers of goods substitution, and distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic reasons why recipients of patronage might seek to alter their portfolios.
We then take a slight detour. Most, but not all, of the goods discussed in this volume are the “objects” or “things” of so-called “rationalist” approaches to international politics, such as military assistance and development projects. But many of the goods in international politics are cultural or symbolic in character. Others – from security commitments to roles in international organizations – might be best understood as having performative dimensions. One of the classic “goods” in hegemonic-order theories, for example, is status or prestige, which is hardly an objective thing (see Reference DuqueDuque 2018; Reference GilpinGilpin 1981; Reference GoddardGoddard 2018a, Reference Goddard2018b; Reference Ikenberry and NexonIkenberry and Nexon 2019; Reference Larson, Paul, Wohlforth, Paul, Larson and WohlforthLarson, Paul, and Wohlforth 2011; Reference Larson and ShevchenkoLarson and Shevchenko 2010; Reference Volgy and MayhallVolgy and Mayhall 1995; Reference WardWard 2017). We therefore discuss this dimension of goods and, although it is not a focus of this volume, how approaches that focus on social fields dovetail nicely with the study of goods substitution.
We conclude by laying out the plan of the volume and the contents of each of the chapters.
Goods and Assets
Goods are anything, whether tangible or intangible, that provide a benefit and have an exchange value. Although the distinction does not concern us much here, any good that can generate future value is an asset. Examples include broad categories of goods, such as military security and economic wealth. They also include a long list of more particular goods, including aircraft carriers, nuclear weapons, military bases, hard-currency reserves, fisheries, rivers, voting rights on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and the possession of sacred spaces, such as Jerusalem or Mecca.
An important dimension along which goods differ is excludability: the degree to which a “potential user or beneficiary” can be prevented from benefitting from a good. Another is rivalry: the degree to which a good is “not diminished by consumption or use” (Reference KrahmannKrahmann 2008, 383). Different categories of goods vary in their position along these dimensions:
Public goods are nonrivalrous and nonexcludable. A classic example is a lighthouse. The owner of a lighthouse cannot prevent a ship from seeing its signal, and thus benefitting from its navigational assistance. Moreover, the lighthouse “has the same utility irrespective of whether it guides one or one hundred ships” (Reference KrahmannKrahmann 2005, 383–84; see also Reference OlsonOlson 1973). In world politics, the suppression of piracy provides an example of a public good. So long as shipping lanes remain open to everyone, stopping piracy benefits all those engaged in maritime trade and does so irrespective of the number of ships passing through.
Private goods are both excludable and rivalrous. Bilateral economic assistance and arms transfers are, in the main, examples of international private goods. While some third parties might indirectly benefit, the direct benefits go only to the recipient state, whose use of the good reduces its value for others.
Common pool goods are “non-excludable, but rival; everybody has free access to them, but the more people use them the less there is for others” (Reference KrahmannKrahmann 2008, 384; see also Reference Ostrom, Gardner and WalkerOstrom, Gardner, and Walker 1994).
Club goods are excludable but nonrivalrous. Collective security arrangements, such as NATO, provide security as a club good. Only member states directly benefit from the promise of mutual defense, but the addition of more members does not, at least in principle, reduce the value of the good (Reference KrahmannKrahmann 2008, 384; see also Reference Cornes and SandlerCornes and Sandler 1996).
These categories are ideal typical; real goods combine their features in various ways. For example, to the extent that NATO depresses security rivalries among member states and makes relations in much of Europe more peaceful, it may have spillover effects on the international conflict environment that operate more like a public good. At the same time, the value of NATO’s security guarantee probably varies with respect to the number of member states. If NATO had included only the United States, Canada, and Belgium during the Cold War it would have been much less effective at deterring the Soviet Union. But, at some point, NATO might become too large and its benefits decline. Indeed, some believe that the addition of new members after the Cold War diluted the credibility and effectiveness of the alliance (see Reference Sandler and TschirhartSandler and Tschirhart 1997).Footnote 8
Goods vary in other ways that matter for the politics of substitution: their relative specificity, which refers to the number of providers that can supply the same good (see Reference LakeLake 1999, Reference Lake2001). Gibraltar was a highly specific asset for modern European geopolitics, as it occupied a chokepoint between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The Dardanelles provide the only way to sail ships from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, which made their control a major concern for much of European history. Petroleum and natural gas reserves are relatively specific assets, in that there are multiple oil and gas fields across the globe.
These examples suggest that the specificity of assets is a function of their “natural” distribution. This is true to some degree, but a lot of other factors can affect the specificity of an asset. For example, natural gas matters as a source of energy; the development of viable alternatives makes that energy a less specific asset even though natural gas deposits remain no more or less specific. As we discuss below, in unipolar systems only the dominant power can provide credible security guarantees, giving it the possession of a highly specific asset. But as new great powers emerge, credible security guarantees become a less specific asset.
At heart, “international order” refers to relatively stable patterns of relations and practices in world politics (compare Reference Allan, Vucetic and HopfAllan, Vucetic, and Hopf 2018, 845; Reference GoddardGoddard 2018a, 765). These patterns result from many different processes, such as coercion, negotiation, contention, and resistance. But, regardless of which mechanisms dominate in a particular time or place, international orders emerge from the behavior of states, international institutions, transnational movements, and other important actors in international politics.
This is an extremely broad definition. Scholars usually describe international orders with respect to narrower characteristics. There are a lot of different analytical approaches to thinking about international order, including in terms of social network structures (see Reference DuqueDuque 2018; Reference Musgrave and NexonMcConaughey, Musgrave, and Nexon 2018; Reference Thomas, Winecoff, Pennock and DanzmanOatley et al. 2013) or nested social fields (see Reference GoGo 2008; Reference Go and KrauseGo and Krause 2016; Reference Musgrave and NexonMusgrave and Nexon 2018; Reference Nexon and NeumannNexon and Neumann 2018). But the most common approach focuses on related concepts as rules, norms, values, and social purpose (see Reference BullBull 1977, 8; Reference FinnemoreFinnemore 1996; Reference Reus-SmitReus-Smit 1997). For example, Reference IkenberryIkenberry (2011, 12–13) argues that “international order is manifest in the settled rules and arrangements between states that define and guide their interaction.” Thus, what makes an order “liberal” is the prevalence of governing liberal norms about trade, political rights, and the like.
Another way to think about international order is as a goods ecology – defined by patterns in the production, supply, quality, and nature of international goods. States and other actors deliberately provide international goods. But those goods also emerge from their coordinated and uncoordinated activities. States are positioned within that ecology into various niches, with implications for the opportunities and constraints that they face.
The idea that the distribution and quality of goods may, in effect, be “tossed up” by the behavior of states might seem strange. But we already assume something like it in common ways of discussing international politics. For example, when we speak of states facing a difficult or challenging “strategic environment,” we reference the quality of its security goods as, at least in part, such an emergent property of its security ecology (Reference WardCooley, Nexon, and Ward 2019, 16).Footnote 9 This logic extends to other categories of goods. For example, trade regimes not only affect economic goods among their members, but can also shape their quality and quantity for nonmembers (see Reference CarrèreCarrère 2006).
Conceptualizing at least one of the dimensions of international order as a goods ecology accords with important understandings of what defines a state as revisionist or oriented toward the status quo (compare Reference GoddardGoddard 2018a; Reference Rynning and RingsmoseRynning and Ringsmose 2008; Reference SchwellerSchweller 1996). These are crucial concepts in security studies and hegemonic-order theories, but they often remain ambiguous: The “most common approaches to revisionism place it on one side of a one-dimensional continuum” that is “defined by the costs that a state will bear to alter, or defend the status quo” (Reference WardCooley, Nexon, and Ward 2019, 4). But what does it mean to alter the status quo?
As Reference DavidsonDavidson (2006, 14) argues, revisionist states “seek to change the distribution of goods” such as “territory, status, markets” and other club and private goods. More generally, revisionists might object not simply to the distribution of goods – their place in the prevailing goods ecology – but to the form that those goods take. In these respects, the international goods ecology is analytically distinct from governing rules, norms, and arrangements, even though the two interact closely and shape one another. Norms that favor multilateralism will affect the mixture of public, private, and club goods in some arenas – as well as pushing toward clubs of more than two. If great powers eschew providing public-like goods, it is hard to believe that prevailing norms and rules will ultimately remain intact. For example, China’s seeming willingness to abide by Western best practices of governance and transparency in respect of its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is important, but if Beijing chooses to route twenty times as much spending via its more opaque Belt and Road initiatives to individual governments, then development financing will no longer retain its predominantly multilateral character.
This matters because, as Reference WardWard (2013, Reference Ward2017) argues, revisionism is not simply a matter of degree. There is a qualitative difference between “distributive dissatisfaction – the desire to acquire more of some resources, such as military power or economic influence – and normative dissatisfaction – unhappiness with the rules, norms, and institutions that legitimize the existing distribution of resources” (Reference WardCooley, Nexon, and Ward 2019, 5). Reference WardWard (2017, 11) distinguishes among “distributive” revisionists, who want to alter the distribution of goods in the prevailing ecology; “normative” revisionists, who are generally okay with the distribution of goods but would like to see different norms and rules; and “radical” revisionists who combine “policies aimed at satisfying distributive ambitions with those aimed at rejecting or overthrowing status quo norms, rules, and institutions.” The relationship between the two dimensions of international order suggests that these types of revisionism not only bleed into one another (as we would expect from ideal types), but also that many efforts to alter one will change the other, even unintentionally. Cooley and Nexon elaborate on these issues in Chapter 2.
Finally, one of the more important features of goods ecologies concerns the distribution of military capabilities. Whether a system is unipolar (has one great power), bipolar (has two great powers), or multipolar (has three or more great powers) can clearly be conceptualized in terms of international goods ecologies. This highlights the frequent interdependency of different domains of international goods ecologies. It also matters because dissatisfaction with the distribution of military goods lies at the heart of many venerable concepts in the study of world politics, such as balancing – that is, forming alliances or expanding military capability in order to correct a security deficit (Reference WardCooley, Nexon, and Ward 2019; see also Reference HaasHaas 2003; Reference NexonNexon 2009; Reference WaltWalt 1985).
Goods Substitution and International Order
The politics of international goods substitution involve circumstances in which states or other actors consider adjusting, or actually do adjust, their portfolio of security, economic, cultural, or other goods, assets, or capital.Footnote 10 Actors “substitute” through a variety of mechanisms: producing the good themselves, jointly producing it with other actors, or contracting for its provision with a third party. In turn, different mechanisms of goods substitution have differential impacts on international order.
If an actor supplies goods in a way consistent with the existing rules and norms that govern relations among states, it usually reinforces international order. This is what we would expect from status quo-oriented actors, but we also may see distributive revisionists at least attempting to maintain the prevailing international architecture. So, for example, if a regime accepts development aid in a way that requires it to better conform with prevailing standards of regime transparency or market relations, say from another Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) provider with similar oversight, then goods substitution works to uphold prevailing international order. We would expect normative and radical revisionists to substitute for that aid in a manner that allows the recipient to deviate from those rules and norms. Doing so potentially chips away at the order – or contributes to the building of an alternative order. Deviation by small or weak states, if permitted or unsanctioned, can, in turn, provide powerful demonstration effects to counterparts to do the same.
Before proceeding, we should stress that the term “substitution” can sometimes be slightly misleading. Actors can alter their portfolio by adding new providers without eliminating existing ones. But even the simple addition of providers has potential implications for international order. Thus, in the next subsection, we distinguish between major categories of substitution. After doing so, we turn to drivers of goods substitution.
Logics of Substitution
Actors pursue the alteration of their portfolios of specific kinds of goods, assets, and capital for a variety of different reasons. These reduce to a few ideal-typical logics: addition, in which actors simply want more of a good; exiting, in which they abandon a current provider for a new source; hedging, in which actors aim to guard against future changes in the goods ecology; and leverage, in which actors would prefer not to end their relationship with current providers but seek to secure a better deal.
At the most basic level, when they engage in the politics of goods substitution regimes secure a new supplier for a good currently provided either by another actor – such as a state or an international institution – or the international order itself. In some cases, the provision and use of the relevant good simply takes an additive form: The consumer gains additional providers of a similar good, such as foreign aid or security assistance for the purchases of military hardware. States routinely seek multiple providers of economic assistance, development aid, trade deals, or military hardware simply to increase the quantity of relevant goods.
At the other extreme, actors abandon incumbent providers – say an external patron or a joint-production arrangement – for another, such as when clients switch to different security partners or decide to produce the good entirely indigenously. In the “Diplomatic Revolution of 1756,” Austria abandoned its alliance with England in favor of one with France, in large part to counter the growing threat posed by Prussia and reacquire lost territory (see Reference McGillMcGill 1971; Reference SofkaSofka 2001). A series of disagreements, including ideological ones, led China to exit, albeit in steps, from its alliance with the Soviet Union – along with its economic and security system – and attempt to build an alternative order (see Reference LüthiLüthi 2010).
Somewhere in between these extremes we find hedging. Most international relations scholars define hedging as adopting a mixture of cooperative and competitive behaviors; states deal with uncertainty by “hedging their bets” and holding open the option of more conflictual or more cooperative behavior in the future (Reference KorolevKorolev 2016, 376–77; see also Reference GohGoh 2006, Reference Goh2013; Reference MedeirosMedeiros 2005). Reference KogaKoga (2018, 638) defines hedging as “a state behavior that attempts to maintain strategic ambiguity to reduce or avoid the risks and uncertainties of negative consequences produced by balancing or bandwagoning alone.”
In our view, hedging is a more general strategy of seeking to guard against future changes in any aspect of a goods ecology, whether the withdrawal of development assistance, termination of an alliance, downgrading of diplomatic precedence, or the imposition of unwanted conditions by a provider of a good (compare Reference Tessman and WolfeTessman and Wolfe 2011, 216).Footnote 11 In the area of symbolic politics, for example, we find repressive regimes inviting external election observers from authoritarian states to validate a problematic or fraudulent election. The aim is to hedge against a probable critical assessment from a more impartial body, such as the OSCE, as in the example of the Kazakh President in our opening anecdote, by muddying the waters (Reference CooleyWalker and Cooley 2013). Because the immediate aim of hedging is greater autonomy, our understanding is closer to what some scholars of security call “leash slipping” (Reference WaltWalt 2009, 107).
Another reason to diversify suppliers is to make them compete against one another – that is, to leverage the threat of exit to secure better deals. For example, during the Operation Enduring Freedom military campaign, the government of the small Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan repeatedly sought to extract additional rents from the United States for use of the Manas Transit Center, an air base near its capital city of Bishkek that US military planners used for aerial resupply and to stage US personnel in and out of Afghanistan (Reference GatesGates 2014, 194–95). These efforts sometimes involved turning to Moscow as a potential alternative provider of loans and economic aid, as Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev did in early 2009. Although Bishkek succeeded in increasing rents from the United States, it ultimately only closed the base when the lease expired in 2014 (Reference Cooley and NexonCooley and Nexon 2013).Footnote 12 The implicit or explicit threat of exit likely accounts for why the United States had to “pay more and got less by way of security concessions from recipients” once the Soviet Union “became a significant aid player” (Reference Bueno de Mesquita and SmithBueno de Mesquita and Smith 2016, 413) and why conditional development aid became more effective after the end of the Cold War, when liberal democratic lenders were the only game in town (Reference DunningDunning 2004).
Top-Down Drivers of Goods Substitution
There are a number of top-down (often supply-side) factors that make the politics of goods substitution more likely. Many of these reduce to the substitutability of the good, which is generally a function of the number of providers willing and able to supply a comparable good. Some goods, as we noted earlier are, by their nature or circumstances, highly specific. Holding a highly specific asset places an actor, ceteris paribus, in an advantageous position when it comes to manipulating the politics of goods substitution to maximize its own interests. But as asset specificity declines, and the possibilities of substitution increase, bargaining leverage can ultimately flip to the consumer.
To take an example familiar to scholars of international security (which we touched on earlier), in strictly unipolar systems only a single political community can provide truly effective security guarantees, because no possible combination of other actors can overcome its military preeminence (Reference WohlforthWohlforth 1999). In multipolar systems, however, more polities can extend credible security guarantees. This increases the number of possible balancing configurations – that is, the substitutability of security (see Reference KimKim 2016, chapter 3). During the Cold War, the United States used its provision of various club goods as a way to coerce allies into dollarization and other economic arrangements preferred by Washington (Reference NorrlofNorrlof 2010, Reference Norrlof2014). In theory, the advanced industrial democracies and other second-tier powers could exit, but the Soviet Union generally could not offer a better bargain, and shifting to indigenous production risked coercion from both superpowers.
The number of actors capable of providing the good represents something akin to a structural feature of international politics – at least in the sense that realists discuss the distribution of power. But the domains are obviously much greater than military capabilities, including the distribution of energy resources, mechanisms for conferring status and other forms of symbolic capital (Reference TownsTowns 2009), and the size of domestic markets (Reference DreznerDrezner 2014, chapter 5). Across different kinds of goods, relevant variation concerns whether a provider enjoys a monopolistic position, multiple providers engage in oligopolistic collusion, and whether the capability to provide the relevant asset is dispersed such that conditions increasingly resemble market competition (see Reference WaltzWaltz 1979).
But even when multiple actors could, in principle, act as alternative suppliers of a good, they may choose not to do so. Moreover, existing suppliers may discontinue the relationship, as Trump routinely suggested that the United States might do with respect to security guarantees to many of its allies. They may also act in coordinated ways to limit the bargaining leverage of consumers – in other words, engage, as noted above, in oligopolistic or duopolistic collusion. In practice, these arrangements may prove messy. For example, Washington and Moscow colluded to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons during much of the Cold War (see Reference Colgan and MillerColgan and Miller 2019). But the system proved leaky, as both Washington and Moscow provided technical assistance to some states, looked the other way when second-tier nuclear powers transferred sensitive assistance, and so on (Reference KroenigKroenig 2010). However, the more hierarchical control is established by a provider over another actor, the more it deprives that actor of the ability to seek alternatives (Reference LakeLake 1996, Reference Lake2001). Thus, as the politics of goods substitution increases, providers have incentives to turn to various kinds of coercive domination to maintain their relationships (see Reference MacDonaldMacDonald 2009). It therefore may contribute to the formation of regional hegemonic “subsystems” within the broader international order.
Bottom-Up Drivers of Goods Substitution
Top-down factors intersect with demand-side drivers of goods substitution. On the demand side, actors are more likely to seek alternative provision when they worry about intrinsic aspects of a good, extrinsic factors associated with it, or both.
Intrinsic factors refer to how actors will prove more inclined to engage in the politics of goods substitution when they find the good inadequate to meet their needs. They may, for example, worry about the reliability of a security guarantee. The “price” of the good may be too high in terms of associated conditions and quid pro quos – such as requirements to implement specific political reforms or human rights safeguards, provide military access without retaining sufficient legal jurisdiction over foreign personnel, or accept undesired nongovernmental contractors. In the wake of the Vietnam War, in 1976 the Thai government effectively refused to extend basing rights for a residual US force as it proved unwilling to grant the US side exclusive criminal jurisdiction over its personnel in a peacetime setting (Reference RandolphRandolph 1986, 189–92).
Actors will also prove more likely to seek alternative providers when they worry about extrinsic downsides. Examples of such downsides include: first, the legitimacy or audience costs of associating with a specific foreign regime; and, second, the risks of increasing dependency on a state with which they are likely to have policy disagreements in the future. This second concern seems to have been one motivation for Duterte to seek security assets and cooperation from Russia and China. In the study of alliance politics, we refer to this kind of behavior, depending on the specifics, as “hedging” or “leash slipping” (Reference GohGoh 2006; Reference MedeirosMedeiros 2005; Reference WaltWalt 2009; Reference WeitsmanWeitsman 2004, 20). In a general sense, these considerations involve negative externalities associated with existing public, club, and private goods.
Consider economic assistance. Regimes may simply view the amount of a current package as insufficient to meet their needs, but they might also consider the quality subpar. While regimes would often prefer to simply aggregate economic assistance, political factors may force them to choose among packages – that is, substitute one for another. Leaders in recipient states sometimes welcome, for example, loan conditionality as an excuse to forward their own domestic policy preferences (see Reference VreelandVreeland 2003). But they may also see specific conditions as posing unacceptable risks – whether to their ideological goals or to their domestic political survival.
Regimes often prefer fungible forms of assistance that allow them to pursue their own political agendas (see Reference BermeoBermeo 2016). Sometimes such risks stem not from the explicit terms of the good, but from negative externalities. For example, as noted in the opening section of this chapter, for Yanukovych to proceed with the European Union Association Agreement a number of negative externalities were entailed: those associated with poisoning relations with Russia, politically empowering imprisoned political rival Yulia Tymoshenko, and antagonizing specific domestic interest groups with close economic ties to Russia (Reference Menon and RumerMenon and Rumer 2015, 53–81).
For example, in June 2011 officials in the post-Mubarak government announced that Egypt would not borrow from the US -influenced International Monetary Fund (IMF) or World Bank, insisting that Qatar would provide $500 million in unconditional budget support that would allow Cairo to maintain its broad array of social subsidies.Footnote 13 More Qatari financing for the Egyptian budget and central bank in January 2013 helped Morsi to maintain his holdout.Footnote 14 However, in March 2013, after providing $5 billion in total support, Qatar indicated that it would no longer offer assistance to Cairo without an IMF deal, joining the EU and United States in insisting on the IMF’s seal of approval as a prerequisite for further financing.Footnote 15 With no alternative financing options, Cairo returned to the negotiating table; but after Morsi’s ouster in a military coup in July 2013, new President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi secured pledges for an additional $12 billion from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait to stave off immediate economic crisis and strengthen his leverage with the fund.Footnote 16 In the overall ecology of international order, these Gulf states are allies of the United States and, obviously, less powerful. However, they acted – intentionally or not – as alternative patrons to the Egyptian government, simultaneously propping up successive regimes and diminishing the influence and leverage of US led international financial institutions.
In sum, the salience of the politics of goods substitution depends on supply-side and demand-side factors. There are at least three conditions that make the dynamics of goods substitution increasingly important for international order and international power politics:
the number of possible providers increases – that is, more states or other actors can provide relevant goods to others or produce relevant goods themselves;
a growing subset of these possible providers hold revisionist dispositions;
states and other “consumers” become increasingly worried about the intrinsic or extrinsic costs associated with existing arrangements.
Of course, these drivers may be at least partially endogenous to one another. For example, the number of potential providers affects the possibilities for states to exit from an existing relationship, and is therefore likely to shape their perceived opportunity costs when it comes to staying put. Also, one or more existing suppliers may become inclined to renegotiate the terms of their provision of international goods on less favorable terms – in some cases, because existing providers themselves want to revise the system. This can simultaneously trigger demand and supply for goods substitution, unless the revisionist provider enjoys a monopoly on goods provision.
The Social Construction of Goods
The framework developed above will strike some readers as problematic, insofar as it conceptualizes international goods as material “things” whose value is related, more or less, to their objective characteristics. They might point out that, in fact, some of the goods relevant to international politics are not objects at all, but, rather, the ability to engage in certain kinds of valuable performances. Both the five permanentFootnote 17 and ten rotating members of the UNSC translate their social position – and the voting rights it confers – into geostrategic advantages of various kinds. Indeed, a number of studies find that rotating members of the UNSC tend to see increases in the amount of foreign assistance they receive from donors (Reference Vreeland and DreherVreeland and Dreher 2014). Even many physical goods that matter in world politics – from weapons systems to an advantageous position along a trade route – clearly derive their exchange value, at least in part, from social or cultural processes.
The study of goods substitution does not require attention to ways in which international goods are socially constructed, but scholars can focus on the symbolic, social, and performative character of international goods. Such perspectives, which show up in various ways in this volume, enrich our understanding of its dynamics.
Here, Pierre Bourdieu’s notions of capital and fields would seem to dovetail nicely with the broader goods substitution framework.Footnote 18 For Reference Bourdieu, Szeman and KaposyBourdieu (2011, 81) capital is “accumulated labor” that can be instantiated either in physical objects, such as diamonds or missiles, or “incorporated” as embodied dispositions, skills, and capabilities – such as comporting oneself as a skilled diplomat or a military demonstrating superior performance on the battlefield (see Reference Adler-Nissen and PouliotAdler-Nissen and Pouliot 2014; Reference PouliotPouliot 2016). In other words, capital is an alternative term for goods that highlights the notion that goods can manifest in performances.
The best known typology of capital involves Bourdieu’s broad tripartite distinction between economic capital, social capital, and cultural capital, although he also added new kinds as fitted his empirical concerns, such as “academic capital.” Broader forms of capital have subtypes, or subspecies – such as derivatives, stocks, and cash for economic capital – whose value varies in time and space. Although we can understand the relationships produced by fields and the allocation of capital in general terms, the social fields that define any particular kind of capital are historically and socially contingent.
As Reference Adler-NissenAdler-Nissen (2008, 668) argues, “a field is a historically derived system of shared meanings, which define agency and make action intelligible and the agents in a field develop a sense of the social game. The stratification of a field is based on different forms of capital … and the efficacy of the capital depends on the contexts where it is used.” Agents behave strategically with respect to the socially constituted field in which they operate. Reference Savage, Warde and DevineSavage, Warde, and Devine (2005, 39) suggest that fields each have “their own ‘stakes’ around which contestants struggle and jostle for position … agents are conditioned in their strategic behavior by their location in the competitive, game-playing character of the field.” They “compete, collude, negotiate, and contest for position” (Reference Savage, Warde and DevineSavage, Warde, and Devine 2005, 39). Thus, “field is an inclusive concept orienting analysts to both objective positions and cultural meaning, to both objective positions and cultural stances” (Reference Go and KrauseGo and Krause 2016, 9).
International relations scholars generally assume, reasonably, that in an overarching field of interstate relations (the “international system”) military and economic resources serve as critical field-relevant capital. But those are not the only possible metrics. Reference TownsTowns (2009) shows that actors can also differentiate themselves through “standards of civilization” marked, for instance, by the socio-political position of women. Similarly, racial hierarchies in world politics reflect the construction of membership in different “racial groups” as field-relevant capital for states and other actors (Reference VitalisVitalis 2015; Reference VuceticVucetic 2011). The possession of colonies – and the performance of imperial management – became important capital in the field of great-power competition during the nineteenth century (Reference BarnhartBarnhart 2016).
The concept of “symbolic capital” captures how some objects or performances become particularly valuable in specific fields. That is, specific goods become invested with particular symbolic significance. As Reference ZhangZhang (2004, 7) argues, “objective capital can be expressed and represented through symbolic capital, as it will always have a symbolic form.” But “symbolic capital can exist independently of objective capital: for instance, the word ‘progress’ may carry symbolic capital, but by itself it has no form of objective capital” (Reference ZhangZhang 2004, 7).
The possession of colonies was once symbolically important as a marker of great-power status. Rulers valued them in ways unrelated to their straightforward economic or military potential. Aircraft carriers have similarly become a prestige good, in no small measure because of their symbolic association with great-power status in the post-1945 period (see Reference Eyre, Suchman and KatzensteinEyre and Suchman 1996; Reference GiladyGilady 2018). In the early 1960s, President Kennedy committed the United States to putting a man on the moon despite seeing the project as enormously wasteful in military and economic terms. He did so because he believed that the United States needed to achieve a “first” in space exploration. An extremely high-profile first could serve as a crucial symbolic good in the broader field of science and technology. Many observers, and Kennedy himself, thought that Washington needed to outcompete the Soviet Union in that arena in order to demonstrate the superiority of the American political and economic system, and therefore the attractiveness of the United States as an alliance partner (Reference Musgrave and NexonMusgrave and Nexon 2018).
While this kind of approach does not receive much attention in this volume, many of the contributors are important players in the elaboration of practice and field-theoretic accounts of world politics. Readers will find traces of these concepts in some of the chapters. We offer it here not only to stress that “goods” can be performative in character, but how more social-constructionist frameworks can potentially shed light on the contestation and evolution of international order as a goods ecology.
Plan of the Volume
Having walked through the logic of goods substitution in this introductory chapter, in Chapter 2, “Goods Substitution and Counter-Hegemonic Strategies,” Alexander Cooley and Daniel Nexon expand upon the insights about asset substitution to recast the debate on revisionism and status quo orientations. They argue that instead of operating with types of state intentions – on a continuum from “revisionist” to “status quo” powers – we should rather focus on the broader strategic environment in which power political maneuvers take place. This is an international goods ecology comprising the different types of goods and their distribution. The key advantage of studying power politics as operating within such a goods ecology is that order itself then becomes something different from polarity or hegemony. In other words, the international order itself becomes an arena for power political struggles, and it is possible to distinguish between challenges to the power position of the hegemon and challenges to the architecture of the international order. Cooley and Nexon therefore develop an alternate typology of how international orders are challenged to show how acts of substitution – to the extent that they alter the efficacy of mechanisms for maintaining order or create qualitative shifts in international goods ecologies – are themselves potentially order transforming.
They argue that US-led hegemonic order may be undermined before any overt challenge to the power position of the Unites States emerges. The main benefit of studying the logic of goods substitution is that it gives us a tool to assess how seemingly unimportant acts of substitution, bit by bit and regardless of a lack of revisionist intent, can shape and transform the international order. The politics of goods substitution can unravel hegemony even when military goods play a minor role, and some of these dynamics are the by-product of policy decisions made with comparatively little in the way of revisionist aims. Moreover, Cooley and Nexon contend that processes of goods substitution can hollow out hegemonic orders slowly and incrementally; it may not be clear that the order is transforming until the process is far advanced and there is an undergrowth of power political phenomena that has escaped the attention of traditional theories of international relations.
This theme, naturally, is taken up in the other chapters of the volume. In Chapter 3, “International Rankings As Normative Goods: Hegemony and the Quest for Social Status,” Bahar Rumelili and Ann Towns make the case that assets and goods are not only tangible things, like military hardware or trade goods, but may also be normative in nature. They emphasize the centrality of international symbolic and normative goods in maintaining or challenging hegemony. International orders, they argue, may be characterized by different systems of supply of normative goods and status. Rumelili and Towns contend that when stabilized and widely shared, norms can fruitfully be addressed as goods in an international goods ecology. These normative goods, they argue, are characterized by specific patterns of supply, demand, and distribution; they are produced in certain forms and quantities by ranking and rating organizations, and obtained and used as social assets by states in particular ways.
One central case of how norms become stabilized in this way is through international ratings and indices. Thus, Rumelili and Towns analyze the critical role played by ranking and rating organizations and the country performance indices (CPIs) they produce in transforming norms into a set of normative goods. CPIs clarify and specify what states need to do to achieve status. They provide esteem and moral value in three ways: They supply public and comparative information, which constructs moral hierarchies; they define norms by assigning moral value to specific indicators; and they give moral status to states through the ranking systems they employ. States may acquire normative goods to challenge the dominant position of the United States, or they may challenge the existing set of normative goods to undermine the liberal normative order that undergirds US hegemony. Conceiving norms as goods alerts us to a distinct terrain where hegemony is challenged in a bottom-up and gradual fashion, over and through putatively technical measures and standards.
One major agent of change in the international order is China, and the classical debate about its role concerns whether it is surging as a global revisionist challenger to the United States, or if it is gradually being integrated into the liberal world order. In Chapter 4, “China and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: Undermining Hegemony through Goods Substitution?,” Julia Bader shows how China has begun to take a more active and assertive role in international public goods provision and that the results are more varied than the duality of revisionism versus status quo orientations would have it.
Bader addresses a recurring point in the volume, namely that China as goods supplier is increasingly identifying gaps in the existing international order and starting to fill them without necessarily challenging the United States directly. She shows how the case of China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) initiative turned out to be a successful example of goods substitution.
The AIIB was initiated as a counter-hegemonic attempt targeted at the architecture of international finance and at US dominance therein. However, as more European democracies somewhat unexpectedly joined the Bank – against the wishes of the United States – the institution gradually transformed into an integrated part of the existing international financial architecture. While the initiative’s effects in terms of deconcentrating power were limited, Bader argues that although it largely conformed to the norms and standards of international development banks, China was successful in making all founding members subscribe to the principles of nonconditionality and noninterference, principles that largely deviate from current practices in development financing. In particular, by targeting infrastructure financing – a real gap in existing goods provision by the United States and the US led order – the AIIB was, and is still, an attractive initiative for prospective lenders and borrowers alike. The United States failed in its attempt to prevent others from joining the initiative, but, more importantly, through the initiative China could disclose discrepancies between US claims of world leadership and actual attempts to fulfill this role. Regarding the demand-side dynamics of goods substitution, the case of the AIIB illustrates how opportunistic hedging and uncoordinated herding by third states may inadvertently undermine the existing order. By analyzing such opportunistic hedging by European states against the wishes of the United States, Bader shows how the framework of international goods provision, involving producers and consumers alike, directs our attention to nonhegemonic actors as crucial but often overlooked players.
In his study of intensifying goods substitution in post-Soviet Central Asia in Chapter 5, “The Silk Road to Goods Substitution: Central Asia and the Rise of New Post-Western International Orders,” Alexander Cooley details how countries in the region use the competing and overlapping infrastructure of external powers to consolidate their own domestic political standing. In the 2000s, after 9/11 and a string of “Color Revolutions,” Russia and China established themselves as alternative providers of goods in a region hitherto seen as countries in “democratic transition” under US influence. Consequently, with alternative goods providers available, Central Asian countries themselves leveraged their relationship with the West to achieve political and economic aims and to push back against criticism about human rights abuses and authoritarian policies.
Cooley’s example of how Russia deploys and supports alternative election observers to post-Soviet countries drives home the point that the rise of alternative providers and goods substitution has undermined US hegemony and eroded the policies, norms, and institutions of the US-led liberal international order. As the chapter demonstrates, these dynamics escalated very quickly in a region, originally categorized as “post-Communist,” at the outer boundary of the US-led Western sphere of influence. As such, it also serves as a reminder that goods substitution could abruptly trigger similar dynamics in other, comparable regions such as Latin America or the Arctic, which are indeed the subjects of the two succeeding chapters.
An essential component of making the study of “revisionist” states more dynamic and multilayered is demonstrating how the intentions of providers and the effects of goods substitution on order and hegemony may be independent of each other.
In Chapter 6, “Goods Substitution in the USA’s Back Yard: Colombia’s Diversification Strategies under Conditions of Hierarchy,” Morten Skumsrud Andersen takes a closer look at the role of Chinese asset substitution in Colombia. Goods substitution dynamics are evident in states that have recently opposed US hegemony, such as Venezuela and Ecuador, particularly through loans-for-oil deals. However, the case of Colombia – one of the United States’ closest allies in the region – shows how asset substitution dynamics may come to operate under conditions of hierarchy.
Andersen argues that Colombia does not seek to challenge the United States directly. Rather, Colombia is consistently seeking to diversify its ties with the United States, thereby increasing its leverage and autonomy and hedging its bets from within a hierarchical arrangement. Colombia is a “least likely” case for a theory of goods substitution, and there is limited evidence of actual Chinese goods substitution in Colombia. Yet, China’s increasingly central role in a global goods ecology gives a new context in which Colombian hedging strategies are used to threaten goods substitution. The chapter therefore shows that goods substitution mechanisms may have an effect even in the absence of any actual goods substitution. The mere threat of exiting or hedging strategies has the potential of effecting policy change, particularly when combined with domestic political context – a diversification of ties interacts with domestic and international politics, with one area having possible unintended effects on the other.
This strategy of increasing leverage with one provider by invoking alternative sources of a good receives sustained attention in Chapter 7, “Goods Substitution at High Latitude: Undermining Hegemony from below in the North Atlantic.” Here, Rebecca Adler-Nissen, Benjamin de Carvalho, and Halvard Leira underline how a potential for goods substitution may foment a strategy of playing the big powers against one another. Client states are using the threat of exit to gain leverage, and to renegotiate deals.
The authors suggest that there are signs of decline of US hegemony in the North Atlantic, and an increased potential for goods substitution by Russia and China. However, the potential for goods substitution has not been initiated by Russia and China offering what the United States or the West have ceased to offer. Rather, the authors suggest, alternative goods provision has been sought out from below, by polities with complex post-colonial and hegemonic relationships with a variety of states. These polities, the chapter shows, are experimenting with new ways of playing the United States, Russia, and China against each other. Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroes exploit their strategic positions in a variety of ways to push great powers to compete in offering a variety of public and private goods.
Indeed, these northern polities have effectively found cracks in the liberal order where they can thrive economically, strategically, and culturally. The authors point out how within a logic of international goods substitution client states may be using the threat of substitution as strategic leverage, which may drive the hegemon to renegotiate. Client leverage will be the highest they argue, when the client can easily switch goods provider, but where the hegemon cannot easily find an alternative client. Although there is little concrete good substitution in this area as yet, local politicians are clearly seeking to diversify their portfolio of goods providers and use the possibility of having alternative providers as leverage towards the West. Undermining hegemony is in this case a form of collateral damage in the wake of seeking economic improvement, political independence, and increased status.
The two chapters on Latin America and the North Atlantic, respectively, highlight how demand-side factors may matter more than the intentions of alternative goods providers. For instance, both in Iceland and in Colombia – two countries that many would instantly categorize as closely aligned to US interests – the mere existence of alternative goods providers such as Russia and China have been used to increase leverage and hedging strategies in their foreign policies.
In both Chapter 6 and Chapter 7, we see how the US led international order and the relationships and alliances in which it consists may prove more fragile than we think. Goods substitution is not only a matter of great powers competing over influence over small states; these client states could aim to “force the hand of an unwilling hegemon” by exploiting exactly this competition for the provision of goods. That is, demand-side factors are important even in the absence of actual goods substitution, and client states can exploit the competition over goods provision to strengthen their bargaining position.
In the concluding chapter, “Reflections on the Volume,” Ole Jacob Sending and Iver B. Neumann sum up this volume’s contribution to the discipline of International Relations and the study of international order, and suggest how the goods substitution framework may be extended in future research. Moving beyond a contractual view of goods substitution, they emphasize how identity would play a central role in goods ecologies, particularly in instances where a goods recipient uses its own resources to coproduce the goods with the provider as a means of gaining recognition and relevance. In turn, the quality and perceptions of goods and assets are also likely to play a part in a global goods ecology.