Present at the Destruction: Spirals of Antagonistic Order Building and the Early Cold War

3 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2014

Date Written: 2014


I have argued elsewhere that the origins of the existing international order follow a long pattern of powerful states engaging in order building not to be inclusive, but instead to exclude certain actors and entities in world politics. In this paper, I focus on an important extrapolation of this argument: the dynamics at work when two dominant powers simultaneously have the chance to build an exclusionary order that targets the other. This, I would argue, is the scenario that likely best describes the environment the United States and and China will find themselves in over the coming decades.To speak to the future, I look to the past. After introducing the core theory of exclusion and detailing the potential for competitive order-building spirals in systems with two dominant powers, I apply these arguments to the early Cold War. What each superpower feared for more than their physical security, I posit, was the prospect that the other would succeed in building an influential order from which it could amass global power, prosperity and influence at their expense. From this perspective, it was primarily fears of powerful contrary orders, not immediate military vulnerability, that drove early Cold War antagonisms. Focusing predominantly on order building on the less studied Soviet side, I reconstruct the origins of the Cold War as a prime example of what I call an antagonistic order-building spiral.

Keywords: Cold War, international order, American foreign policy, Soviet foreign policy, international relations theory, international security

Suggested Citation

Lascurettes, Kyle M., Present at the Destruction: Spirals of Antagonistic Order Building and the Early Cold War (2014). APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Kyle M. Lascurettes (Contact Author)

Lewis & Clark College ( email )

0615 SW Palatine Hill Road
Portland, OR 97204
United States

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