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This study looks at the underlying foundations of global order, putting aside mainstream institutionalist approaches in showing how China and the US are engaged in an intense process of contestation and renegotiation of an institutionalized order that has long been taken for granted.



Introduction and Framework


1. Global Orders: Contestation and Transition

Why do global orders lack constitutive legitimacy? The answer is that systemic contestation between leading great powers prevents the large-scale institutional redesign required to remove deadlocks in the existing global governance structures. The main problem in this process of order transition is the lack of a new political bargain on the material power structures, normative beliefs and management of the global order among the key players.

Maximilian Terhalle

2. Order Transition, Systemic Legitimacy and Institutionalization

The structure of this chapter is as follows. The first section shows why existing theories have failed to account for both China’s nonsocialization and the United States’ (and China’s) evasion of enmeshment in global governance structures. The second section looks into the consequences of these failures, that is, the deadlocks prevailing on the global plane. It starts by offering a new theoretical interpretation of the recent financial crisis. It is suggested that, since China substituted for the United States, if temporarily, as the provider of global economic goods in late 2008, the maintaining of the system by an actor other than the incumbent hegemon needs to be viewed as a “turning point” or the functional equivalent to the end of a major war. The lack of effective voice opportunities, traditionally provided at peace conferences, has since led to China’s new assertiveness and, in turn, further strengthened by US revisionism, to various US-China deadlocks. Liberal rationalist accounts readily admit their explanatory limits and refer back to the contested power structures. However, without adducing notions of world order, the current deadlocks cannot be explained. At the same time, this development highlights the United States’ and China’s exceptionalist worldviews during a period of order transition entailing considerable antagonistic potential.

Maximilian Terhalle

Conceptual Revisions


3. Order Transition in a Hybrid Environment

The previous chapter argued that international institutions and regimes are, largely, deadlocked due to great-power disagreements. This, in turn, revealed the lack of a political grand bargain among the key players. The key question this chapter poses is how the negotiation of order transition can be understood when viewed against the background of what has come to be known as the post-Westphalian environment (Linklater 1998; Rosenau 1990). Contrary to Clark’s (2005) exclusively state-based understanding of global order, the current environment also comprises global and transnational governance activities, embodied in the institutionalization of world politics surrounded by the suasion-based politics of TNAs. The chapter aims to contribute to an important broader debate into which the criticisms, raised here against Clark, have been embedded. Put briefly, the latter debate is about the degree to which patterns of global governance have reached “autonomy with respect to … states” (Börzel and Risse 2010; Cohen 2012:5). In order to illustrate this, TNAs, which have become an integral part of the policy processes shaped in regime complexes, have been selected to assess their impact on questions of order transition. The chapter will do so by framing the aforementioned question in the terms set by the governance-beyond- the-state literature and will thereby assess the strengths and weaknesses of their theoretical assumptions.

Maximilian Terhalle

4. Order Transition, Common Culture and Exceptional Worldviews

Clark’s notion of the “morality” of global legitimacy (2005) and Gilpin’s “ideological … values common to a set of states” (1981:34), which underpin an order, are both premised on and derived from the assumption of US hegemony. This understanding of a “common culture” reflects the ideological “taken-for-granted nature” of American unipolarity, common to a large majority of writings in IR theory. It is also a result of a development that, originating in the 1970s (i.e. Carter’s universal human rights ideology) and the 1980s (i.e. the reality and ideology of the Information Age), left the United States in a position, especially since 1991, both to globalize its domestic political system and structure international arrangements according to its domestic values. Or, as Kurth put it, “[b]y the 1990s…the United States had become the core state, the civilizational state, for the new global civilization” (2010:64).

Maximilian Terhalle

5. Order Transition and Effectiveness

As mentioned in the earlier chapters, Clark’s account of legitimacy is firmly based on the assumption of US hegemony (2005:226–229). Similarly, a later analysis by the same author revealed the degree to which his approach remained wedded to debates about America’s international standing in the wake of the last Iraq war. In his view, “arguably the key problem of contemporary international order” was “finding a stable accommodation between US power and the general interests of international society” (2011:36).1 More specifically, he suggested that what needed to be specified were “the duties that the US must bear as the key upholder of community values; it stipulates also the duty of the remainder of international society to make full acknowledgement of the costs to the leading state entailed by this role. This is the core of the constitutional bargain to be sought” (Clark 2005: 242).2 Consequently, Clark referred to the years 2001/2003 as “pivotal year[s]” (2011:24). Beginning in 2008, however, those years seem much less significant as a frame of reference, but his perception of a theoretical environment which is, largely, shaped by US hegemony was confirmed.

Maximilian Terhalle



6. Renegotiating the Security-Related Rules of Global Order

This chapter explores the ways in which China and the United States have renegotiated the security-related rules of the global order since 2008/9. In particular, it looks at the efforts of both countries to strike a bargain on the contours of their respective spheres of influence in the South and East China Seas and finds them as yet undetermined (Keal 1983).1 In fact, both states have repeatedly claimed that the South and East China Seas (SCS, ECS) are part of their “national” or “core interests”, while consistently failing to reconcile their claims.2 In line with the overall argument of this book, the key point here is not whether the United States would ever accept a Chinese Monroe doctrine (Foot and Walter 2011:175; Mearsheimer 2014),3 but it is that the underlying disagreements reflect systemic challenges to the global governance literature. Conceptually, the two players have not yet found an accommodation as to how to renegotiate the internal layer of great-power management, that is, how to reassemble the scope of the rights and duties among themselves. Such an agreement, however, is the key foundation for a political balance of power in Southeast and East Asia. As an authoritative observer has put it: “striking an informal understanding between China and the United States on ways and means of sharing power will be the sine qua non of regional stability. Without an informal or tacit bargain on the rules of the game underlying regional cooperation in East Asia, multilateral institutions will not be able to perform the functions in solving collective action problems” (Prantl 2013:12).4

Maximilian Terhalle

7. Renegotiating the Environmental Rules of Global Order

This chapter outlines the ways in which China and the United States have been renegotiating the environmental rules of the global order since 2008/9. More specifically, since Clark’s purely state-based views do not reflect the hybridity of actors operating today (see Chapter 3), the global order’s environmental rules (e.g. UNFCCC) and their renegotiation need to be explored in light of this hybridity. Further evaluating the main argument of this book, the focus of this case study is on the degree to which the impact of TNAs has been limited by the disagreements prevailing among the great powers. In fact, it is the irreconcilability of the latter’s viewpoints which has led to the UNFCCC’s continued and overall failure to reach a legally binding treaty on reducing and limiting carbon dioxide emissions.1 The great powers’ stances have powerfully undermined the goals that the UNFCCC’s head recently summarized (and repeated) for the Durban Platform since 2011: “To adopt a universally inclusive and legally binding agreement by 2015 (which is) to come into effect from 2020” (Figueres 2013:539).

Maximilian Terhalle

8. Renegotiating the Ideology-Related Aspects of Global Order

This case study looks at the ongoing process of renegotiating Clark’s “morality” of the global order (2005) and Gilpin’s “ideological … values common to a set of states” (1981:34) with reference to the “Responsibility to Protect” (RtP). As it was shown in Chapter 4, Keohane’s (2012) underlying assumption to the effect that any future order, despite changes in the material structure of international politics, will be underpinned by a liberal “common culture” was put into question. This was the case precisely because the “diffusion of ideas and values, with a reopening of the big questions of social, economic and political organization” has accompanied the diffusion of material power (Hurrell 2013:21). Furthermore, the absence of a common culture, embodied in the overall incommensurability of US and Chinese superior worldviews, as Chapter 4 concluded, could analytically only be channeled through the pluralist competition between “ideas of right and wrong found within a practice of states” (Cochran 2009:290). For this reason, in order to better illustrate the features of this competition, the case study breaks down the notion of ideology into contested understandings of sovereignty.

Maximilian Terhalle



9. Conclusion

This book argued that the financial crisis of 2008/9 has established China as the key challenger to the United States amidst a process of order transition, in which the latter has been far from acting as a status quo power. Their subsequent disagreements about the future shape of the global order’s legitimacy have manifested themselves in their intense competition with regard to spheres of influence in East Asia, the environment- and ideology-related aspects of the order. In particular, both have undercut the related regional and international institutional mediation efforts (e.g. UNCLOS, ASEAN), the impact of TNAs on climate negotiations (e.g. UNFCCC) and emerging norms of international law (e.g. RtP), respectively. Crucially, since both sides have vigorously pursued their national self-interests in this contest, their revisionist antagonism has consequently led to manifold deadlocks in today’s institutionalized world of global governance. In turn, their competition has prevented a new political grand bargain that could underlie a new order. As a result, the ongoing process of order transition has reaffirmed the critical role of great powers and the powerful notion of sovereignty in a systemic process that has played out to the detriment of global and transnational governance ambitions and institutions.

Maximilian Terhalle


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