Becker, J. (2022). Orders of exclusion: great powers and the strategic sources of foundational rules in International Relations.International Affairs 98, no. 6 (November 2, 2022): 2149–50.
Orders of exclusion offers a historically informed analysis of the formation of international orders and provides a timely interpretation of the leading challenges facing current policy-makers. In it, Kyle Lascurettes ‘calls into question the optimistic narrative about today’s order’, arguing that, throughout history, international orders have arisen from the logic of ‘competition and exclusion’ (p. 4). The author debunks the widely held idea that the current order is exceptional and maintains that it operates like previous international orders. Lascurettes explains how, much like in the past, ‘dominant actors [today] pursue fundamental changes to order only when they perceive a major new threat on the horizon’ (p. 8). Before focusing on empirical testing, the author outlines his concepts and cases in chapter two, defining ‘order’ as a set of observed rules. Then, in chapter three, Lascurettes defines his theory of ordering as an act or acts of exclusion by a hegemonic power and articulates testable hypotheses. The remainder of the book is devoted to testing those hypotheses against nine historical cases, ranging from the Treaties of Westphalia (1648) to the various arrangements made in Malta (1989) and Washington (1990) at the conclusion of the Cold War. Lascurettes contends that the ‘liberal internationalist’ inclination, to reform the international order and make it more inclusive, is unrealistic. According to the author, hegemonic actors are most likely to develop ordering principles to exclude, not include, the most threatening actors in the system. The book ends with some potential lessons for ‘the coming Sino-American power transition’ (p. 14).
Lascurettes points to two directions for future research. The first involves implications for the three major ‘paradigms’ of International Relations: liberalism, realism and constructivism. While his theory is ‘fundamentally realist at its core’, the author finds that states are also concerned with both institutions and ideology (p. 234). Nonetheless, ‘order construction’ is driven by less ‘altruistic’ motivations than Lascurettes associates with explanations from liberal theories (p. 154). These observations raise questions about the extent and reasons behind states’ concern with institutions within the current system. Second, the book’s conclusions have policy implications. For Lascurettes, international ordering—including remodelling the existing order—is a zero-sum endeavour. He asks two policy questions: ‘what changes to the existing international order will the United States advocate as it declines in relative power?’ and ‘what if anything is the United States’ projected hegemonic successor, China, likely to do with the liberal international order when it finds itself in a position to fundamentally recast its underlying principles?’ (p. 235). Lascurettes predicts that the US will respond to Chinese gains by organizing the international order against China and its ideological model of authoritarian capitalism. Likewise, the author contends that China will seek to engage in order-building that excludes its American rival. This way, Beijing may hope, the US will be weakened with the construction of an alternative order, leaving behind the principles that have enabled the US to dominate the post-Second World War period.
Lascurettes’s book poses interesting questions for scholars and policy-makers interested in envisaging the contours of an emerging international order. Readers can assess how the author’s predictions about China–US rivalry have played out so far. Additionally, interested observers will be encouraged to keep a close eye on the extent to which either superpower achieves success in excluding (or including) the other. Lastly, how other actors respond to order-building by great powers is equally important, as it will impact the latter’s ability to construct orders that reflect their interests. Overall, Lascurettes’s analysis is both highly accessible and methodologically rigorous. The book should have a lasting influence on the study of international affairs as it offers a convincing set of arguments about a critical concept in the discipline. Beyond its theoretical contributions, the book will shape how policy-makers think about the current international order.