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"What's at Stake in the American Empire Debate"

"What's at Stake in the American Empire Debate"

Journal Article, American Political Science Review, volume 101, issue 2, pages 253-271

May 2007

Authors: Daniel H. Nexon, Thomas J. Wright, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 2004-2007

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security



Scholars of world politics enjoy well-developed theories of the consequences of unipolarity or hegemony, but have little to say about what happens when a state's foreign relations take on imperial properties. Empires, we argue, are characterized by rule through intermediaries and the existence of distinctive contractual relations between cores and their peripheries. These features endow
them with a distinctive network-structure from those associated with unipolar and hegemonic orders. The existence of imperial relations alters the dynamics of international politics: processes of divide and
rule supplant the balance-of-power mechanism; the major axis of relations shift from interstate to those among imperial authorities, local intermediaries, and other peripheral actors; and preeminent powers face special problems of legitimating their bargains across heterogeneous audiences. We conclude with some observations about the American empire debate, including that the United States is, overall, less of an imperial power than it was during the Cold War.


For more information about this publication please contact the ISP Program Coordinator at 617-496-1981.

Full text of this publication is available at:

For Academic Citation:

Nexon, Daniel H. and Thomas Wright. "What's at Stake in the American Empire Debate." American Political Science Review 101, no. 2 (May 2007): 253-271.

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