Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Perspectives on Politics


Department of Government


What are the general costs associated with a U.S. shift toward unilateralism? According to the overwhelming majority of international relations (IR) scholars, the costs are very high. We evaluate the key arguments that underlie this assessment, namely that increased U.S. unilateralism will: (1) spur the formation of a coalition to check U.S. power; (2) reduce efficiency gains through lost opportunities for institutionalized cooperation; and (3) undermine the legitimacy of the American-led international order. We conclude that the theoretical arguments that IR scholars advance do not show that a shift toward unilateralism necessarily has high costs. Our analysis reveals the need to, first, distinguish clearly between criticisms of unilateral policies based on procedure and those based on substance and, second, to recognize the weakness of current procedural arguments.


Original Citation

Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth, “International Relations Theory and the Case Against Unilateralism,” Perspectives on Politics, Vol, 3, No. 3 (September 2005), pp. 509-524.