Global gatekeeping : how Great Powers respond to rising states




Harris, Peter, Ph. D.

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Why do some shifts in power between states pass off peacefully while others result in conflict? Scholars have debated the implications of international power transitions at least since Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War documented the rise of Athens and the fear that this aroused in Sparta. Must the rise in power of a potential challenger lead to jealousy, enmity and conflict as Thucydides claims was the case in antiquity? Or can established and rising powers find common ground on the world stage? Most attempts to answer these questions have focused on the decision-making calculus of rising states or else have modeled abstract dyadic relations between two rational actors under conditions of shifting power. In this dissertation, I shift the analytic focus onto the decision-making of established Great Powers, examining the international and domestic-political circumstances under which states will acquiesce to or promote the rise of another state and when they will instead seek to stymie the rise of a potential rival. The dissertation advances the notion that established Great Powers act as critical “gatekeepers” of world order. In the context of shifting power, established Great Powers are by definition materially stronger than their rising challengers—at least during the initial phases of a power transition. As such, established Great Powers are able to apply their preponderant power—military, economic, political and diplomatic—in ways that shape the opportunity structures available to would-be challengers. I provide an argument to explain when and why an established state will see discharge this gatekeeping function in a way that is conciliatory towards a rising state and when its leaders will, instead, opt for a strategy of containment. The model has implications for reading international history; International Relations theory on grand strategy, security studies and international order; and for contemporary public policy debates surrounding the rise of China and the other so-called BRICS nations. Evidence is drawn from a comparative historical analysis of British and American responses to rising states, 1890-1990.




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