The False Promise of International Institutions
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International Institutions ended, Western policymakers have sought to create security arrangements in Europe, as well as in other regions of the globe, that are based on international institutions. In doing so, they explicitly reject balance-of-power politics as an organizing concept for the post-Cold War world. During the 1992 presidential campaign, for example, President Clinton declared that, “in a world where freedom, not tyranny, is on the march, the cynical calculus of pure power politics simply does not compute. It is ill-suited to a new era.“ Before taking office, Anthony Lake, the president‘s national security adviser, criticized the Bush administration for viewing the world through a “classic balance of power prism,” whereas he and Mr. Clinton took a ”more ’neoWilsonian ‘ view.“‘ This approach to international politics rests on the belief that institutions are a key means of promoting world peace.2In particular, Western policymakers claim that the institutions that “served the West well” before the Soviet Union collapsed must be reshaped to encompass Eastern Europe as weL3 ”There is no reason,” according to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, “why our institutions or our aspirations should john 1 .Meursheiiner is u professor in the Politicnl Science Depurtiiient at the Ufiiuersityof Chicago. ~ This article emerged from a working paper written for “The Changing Security Environment and American National Interests,” a project of the John M. Olin lnstitute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. I am grateful to Robert Art, Benjamin Frankel, Markus Fischer, Charles Glaser, Hein Goemans, Joseph Grieco, Robert Jervis, Christopher Layne, Eric Lopez, Robert Pape, Ashley Tellis, Bradley Thayer, Ivan Toft, Stephen Van Evera, Stephen Walt, and especially Michael Desch for their most helpful comments. 1. Bill Clinton, “American Foreign Policy and the Democratic Ideal,” Campaign speech, Pabst Theater, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October 1, 1992;Steven A. Holmes, “Choicefor National Security Adviser Has a Long-Awaited Chance to Lead,” New York Times, January 3, 1993. 2. The other prominent theme in Western policymaking circles is the importance of spreading democracy and capitalism across the globe. Prosperous democracies, so the argument goes, do not fight each other. Thus, the aim is to increase the number of stable democracies in the international system. This line of argument is not examined here. For conciseness, international institutions are henceforth referred to simply as institutions. 3. Douglas Hurd, “ANew System of Security in Europe,” Speech to the Diplomatic and Commonwealth Writers’ Association,London, June 2, 1992.Hurd, the British Foreign Secretary,said in this speech: “We have in Western Europe, in the West as a whole, a set of international institutions which have proved their worth for one set of problems-the problems for which they were set up, and now have to be adapted for another. That is the key, the necessary changes in all these institutions are the key to getting the right help, the right reassurance to the countries of central and Eastern Europe.” Even Margaret Thatcher, with all her reservations about European institutions , has adopted this theme. She argued days after Iraq invaded Kuwait that, “We must bring the new democracies of Eastern Europe into closer association with the institutions of Western Europe. . . . The European Community has reconciled antagonisms within Western Europe; it I~iternnfio~inl Scciirify,Winter 1994/95 (Vol. 19, No. 31, pp. 5 4 9 01995by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 5 International Security 29:3 1 6 stop at [the] old frontiers of the Cold War.”4The institutions he has in mind include the European Community (EC), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE),and the Western European Union (WEU). No single institution is expected to play a dominating role in Europe, however; instead, the aim is to create “a framework of complementary, mutually reinforcing” institution^.^ “We can promote more durable European security,” Christopher claims, “through interlocking structures, each with complementary roles and strengths.”6 No other region of the world has institutions as extensive and as well-developed as those in Europe. Consequently, Western policymakers trumpet the importance of cresting webs of overlapping institutions outside of Europe. Special emphasis is placed on Asia, where there are only...


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