Review of International Studies

Research Article

The hegemon's choice between power and security: explaining US policy toward Asia after the Cold War



After the Cold War, US strategists have suggested four strategies for the hegemon: hegemonic dominion, selective engagement, offshore balancing, and multilateralism. Rather than debating which strategy is the best for the US at all times, this article focuses on examining which policy is more likely to be chosen by the hegemon – the US – under different strategic conditions. Through a neoclassical realist argument – the power-perception hegemonic model, I argue that US foreign policy depends on how US policymakers perceive US hegemonic status in the international system. Under rising and stable hegemony, selective engagement and hegemonic dominion are two possible power-maximisation strategies given the weak security constraints from the system. Under declining hegemony, offshore balancing and multilateralism are more likely to be chosen by US policymakers to pursue security because of a resumed security imperative from anarchy. US policy toward Asia after the Cold War is a case study to test the validity of the power-perception hegemonic model. I conclude that US policymakers should prepare for life after Pax-Americana, and early implementation of offshore balancing and multilateralism may facilitate the soft-landing of declining US hegemony.

(Online publication May 21 2010)

Kai He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Utah State University. He is a postdoctoral fellow in the Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program at Princeton University (2009–2010) and a Bradley fellow of the Lynda and Harry Bradley Foundation (2009–2010). His research interests include foreign policy analysis, international security, international political economy, US-China Relations, Asian security, Chinese politics, and social science research methods. He is the author of Institutional Balancing in the Asia Pacific: Economic Interdependence and China's Rise (Routledge, 2009). He has also published articles in European Journal of International Relations, Security Studies, The Pacific Review, Journal of Contemporary China, Asian Security, Asian Perspective, and International Relations of the Asia Pacific.


* The author owes special thanks to Huiyun Feng, Sheldon Simon, Stephen Walker, and anonymous reviewers of the Review of International Studies for their constructive comments and suggestions. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2007 Annual Convention of the American Political Science Association in Chicago, USA.