The Domestic Politics of International Hierarchy: Indirect Rule in the American System
David A. Lake
UC San Diego
August 1, 2011
The United States has maintained extensive international hierarchies over the Western Hemisphere for more than a century and over Western Europe and Northeast Asia for nearly seven decades. More recently, it has extended similar hierarchies over states in the Middle East, and especially the Persian Gulf. This paper examines how the United States exercises more or less authority over other countries and, in turn, the domestic politics of subordination within client states. Most important, in a world of juridically sovereign states that are, in principle, formal equals, it asks how is U.S. rule accepted as legitimate? The core argument is that hierarchy benefits subordinate countries but has interstate and intrastate distributional consequences for domestic ruling coalitions and regime types. When the gains from hierarchy are large or subordinate societies share policy preferences similar to those of the United States, international hierarchy is compatible with democracy. Thus, American indirect rule has coexisted with democracy in West European since World War II. When the gains from hierarchy are small and the median citizen has policy preferences distant from those of the United States, international hierarchy requires autocracy and the benefits of foreign rule will be concentrated within the governing elite. This has characterized U.S. rule over Central America for much of the last century. In the contemporary Middle East, the gains from hierarchy also appear small and policy preferences are distant from those of the United States. Despite rhetorical support for democracy, even in the Arab Spring, the United States has consistently backed sympathetic authoritarian rulers. The paper concludes with an analysis of the tradeoffs between subordination to the United States and democracy within the newest states of the American empire.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 42
Keywords: authority, hierarchy, collaboration, democracy, authoritarianism
Date posted: August 2, 2011
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