Rising Titans, Falling Giants: How Great Powers Exploit Power Shifts
Cornell University Press (2018)
My book, Rising Titans, Falling Giants: How Great Powers Exploit Power Shifts (Cornell University Press, 2018) examines when and why relatively rising great powers adopt predatory or supportive strategies towards other, relatively declining states. The dissertation on which the book is based received the 2013-2014 Lucian Pye Award for Outstanding Thesis from the MIT Political Science Department.
The book addresses a key puzzle in international relations theory and diplomatic history: why do some rising states seek to further weaken their declining rivals, whereas others adopt cooperative behaviors to slow or stop their peers’ declines? In contrast to studies suggesting that rising states usually become more expansionist as their relative power grows, I argue that rising state strategy depends on whether a declining state’s continuation as a great power helps or threatens a rising state’s security. More specifically, I find that rising states can be surprisingly supportive provided they need allies against other great power threats and there are minimal military risks to assisting a declining state. Instead, only when a declining state presents a major threat do rising great powers try to weaken and undermine the declining state’s strength. The counterintuitive implication is that even states which have the capacity to challenge other actors sometimes forego such steps in response to countervailing security pressures.
Drawing on over 7000 unique archival documents from a host of American and British archives, I evaluate the argument using a series of case studies examining: (1) Anglo-American relations in 1945-1949; (2) Anglo-Soviet relations in the same early postwar moment; (3) U.S.-Soviet relations in the late Cold War; and (4) a cross-national review of how the European great powers managed the declines of Austria-Hungary and France in the 1850-1914 period. To supplement the still-evolving archival record in the case of Soviet decline, I also interviewed nearly 60 senior policymakers involved in shaping U.S.-Soviet relations in the late Cold War, including officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. This work constitutes the most extensive set of elite interviews surrounding U.S. policy towards the declining Soviet Union yet available, and ensures the empirical research enjoys high internal validity.
Collectively, the book contributes to policy debates, international relations theory, and Cold War/U.S. foreign policy historiography. First, the project helps analysts understand how emerging states such as China may behave if American power wanes (and vice versa). Second, it illuminates the extent to which modern international affairs have been shaped by the rise and fall of great powers in postwar politics. Third, it offers a novel framework for scholars to understand when and why fundamental shifts in the distribution of power cause instability, itself a central question in international relations theory. Above all, the book makes a central contribution to realist theories of international relations by highlighting the incentives states often face to cooperate and support one another even when seeking power and security.