Rival Hierarchies: Lessons from the Cold War for Today’s Geopolitics



Jeff D. Colgan, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University

Date and Time

April 14, 2016 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


William J. Perry Conference Room
Encina Hall, Second Floor, Central, C231
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305

Abstract: To what extent will multipolar institution building undermine the US-led international order? Recent Chinese initiatives like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and similar efforts by Russia and even Venezuela, might be seen as attempts to build alternatives to American hegemony. We suggest that we can learn from past rival hierarchies to understand contemporary politics. Some scholars highlight international hierarchy, in which a dominant state exerts a limited degree of political control over one or more subordinate states. We contend that certain patterns of international cooperation and conflict between dominant states cannot be fully understood without reference to their rival hierarchies. We identify three distinct mechanisms through which one hierarchy can influence the internal workings of a second hierarchy: competitive shaming, outbidding, and inter-hierarchy cooperation.

We illustrate the plausibility of our argument by exploring the politics of nuclear technology sharing by the United States and the Soviet Union in the Cold War. We show that Soviet competitive shaming of the United States was a major motivation for the U.S. Atoms for Peace program. In response, the Soviet Union attempted to outbid the United States with its own technology sharing program. Ultimately, Moscow and Washington cooperated in founding the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The paper is co-authored with Nicholas Miller, Frank Stanton Assistant Professor of Nuclear Security and Policy at Brown University.

About the Speaker: Jeff D. Colgan is the Richard Holbrooke Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.  His research focuses on two main areas: (1) the causes of war and (2) global energy politics. His book, Petro-Aggression: When Oil Causes War, was published in 2013 by Cambridge University Press. An article that previews the book's argument won the Robert O. Keohane award for the best article published in International Organization (Oct 2010) by an untenured scholar. He has published other articles in International Organization, World Politics, International Security and elsewhere.

Professor Colgan previously taught at the School of International Service of American University 2010-2014, and was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC in 2012-13. He completed his PhD at Princeton University, and was a Canada-US Fulbright Scholar at UC Berkeley, where he earned a Master’s in Public Policy. Dr. Colgan has worked with the World Bank, McKinsey & Company, and The Brattle Group.


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