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Paperback | $28.00 Short | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780262524551 | 416 pp. | 6 x 9 in | January 2009

Instructor Resources

Primacy and Its Discontents

American Power and International Stability
Foreword by Graham Allison


The unprecedented military, economic, and political power of the United States has led some observers to declare that we live in a unipolar world in which America enjoys primacy or even hegemony. At the same time public opinion polls abroad reveal high levels of anti-Americanism, and many foreign governments criticize U.S. policies. Primacy and Its Discontents explores the sources of American primacy, including the uses of U.S. military power, and the likely duration of unipolarity. It offers theoretical arguments for why the rest of the world will—or will not—align against the United States. Several chapters argue that the United States is not immune to the long-standing tendency of states to balance against power, while others contend that wise U.S. policies, the growing role of international institutions, and the spread of liberal democracy can limit anti-American balancing. The final chapters debate whether countries are already engaging in "soft balancing" against the United States. The contributors offer alternative prescriptions for U.S. foreign policy, ranging from vigorous efforts to maintain American primacy to acceptance of a multipolar world of several great powers.

Contributors: Gerard Alexander, Stephen Brooks, John G. Ikenberry, Christopher Layne, Keir Lieber, John Owen IV, Robert Pape, T. V. Paul, Barry Posen, Kenneth Waltz, William Wohlforth

About the Editors

Michael E. Brown is Dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

Owen Coté is Associate Director of the MIT Security Studies Program and Editor of the journal International Security.

Sean M. Lynn-Jones is Editor of International Security, the International Security Program's quarterly journal. He is also series editor of the Belfer Center Studies in International Security, the Program's book series that is published by MIT Press.

Steven E. Miller is director of the International Security Program at the Belfer Center.


"U.S. primacy remains of 'prime' importance to the current and future course of international politics. These superb ten essays capture the sources of, disputes about, and reactions to U.S. primacy. An excellent source for courses in international relations and American foreign policy."
Robert Art, Christian A. Herter Professor of International Relations, Brandeis University

"The United States is by a wide margin the most powerful state in the world today. Primacy and Its Discontents is an astonishing, state-of-the-art collection of articles about this profound change in the structure of international politics and its implications for the rest of the world. The authors' discussions of the sources, durability, and management of American primacy and their debate over whether and how other states can balance against U.S. power crackle with energy and insights that inform both the academic and policy communities."
Randall Schweller, Professor of Political Science at The Ohio State University and author of Unanswered Threats: Political Constraints on the Balance of Power

"For centuries, the balance of power has been the central precept of international politics, so what happens when one country's overwhelming primacy makes restraining alliances seem obsolete? This collection of top-quality essays by premier scholars offers lively debates over alternatives such as "soft balancing" and multilateral institutional constraints. Primacy and Its Discontents is ideal for getting students thinking in the classroom."
Jack Snyder, Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Relations, Columbia University, author of Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War