Abstract

The United States has maintained international hierarchies over the Western Hemisphere for more than a century and over Western Europe for nearly seven decades. More recently, it has extended similar hierarchies over states in the Middle East. How does the United States exercise authority over other countries? In a world of juridically sovereign states, how is U.S. rule rendered legitimate? Hierarchy has interstate and intrastate distributional consequences for domestic ruling coalitions and regime types. When the gains from hierarchy are large or when subordinate societies share policy preferences similar to those of the United States, as in Europe, international hierarchy is possible and compatible with democracy. When the gains from hierarchy are small and the median citizen has policy preferences distant from those of the United States, as in Central America, international hierarchy requires autocracy, and the benefits of foreign rule will be concentrated within the governing elite. In the Middle East, the gains from hierarchy also appear small, and policy preferences are distant from those of the United States. As a result, the United States has backed sympathetic authoritarian rulers. Although a global counterinsurgency strategy might be viable over the long term, the costs of establishing effective hierarchies in the region imply that the United States is better off retrenching “East of Suez.”

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