As powers such as China and India rise, and powers such as the US or the UK decline, international institutions such as the United Nations Security Council, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund come under pressure to adapt to new power realities. In the wake of global power shifts, both emerging and established powers may challenge the institutional status quo. Contrary to what most power transition and power shift theories assume, challengers do not always draw on power bargaining to pursue institutional adjustment. In some issue areas, they do, but in others they employ alternative strategies including strategic cooptation, rhetorical coercion and principled persuasion. In order to contribute to a better understanding of institutional adjustments to global power shifts, the introduction to this special issue theorizes these various strategies. First, we conceptualize power bargaining, strategic cooptation, rhetorical coercion and principled persuasion as distinct strategies for institutional adjustment. Second, we elaborate on the conditions under which challengers choose particular strategies. Third, we specify the conditions under which challengers are able to achieve institutional adaptation through a particular strategy. Finally, we discuss broader implications for the future of the international order and the management of global power shifts.
- Efforts to manage global power shifts should not focus exclusively on challenges from rising powers but must take into account challenges from declining powers too. Not only China is challenging the current international order, but in some issue areas the US is acting as a challenger too. To manage global power shifts both challenges from rising and declining powers have to be taken seriously.
- In the wake of global power shifts, challengers of the institutional status quo need not always rely on power bargaining. Sometimes strategic cooptation, rhetorical coercion or principled persuasion are not only better suited to attain institutional adjustment; they are also less conflictive. They thus allow maintaining (or creating) cooperative relations between emerging and established powers, which will often be in the interest of challengers.
- In the wake of global power shifts, defenders of the institutional status quo should not assume that challengers will engage in power bargaining. After all, policy responses that are adequate for addressing power bargaining are often counterproductive in dealing with strategic cooptation, rhetorical coercion or principled persuasion. As the latter are less conflictive, they allow maintaining (or creating) cooperative relations between emerging and established powers, which will often be in the interest of defenders.
- The conditions of institutional adjustment differ from issue area to issue area and even from institution to institution. Policy advice on how to manage global power shifts should not brush over these differences. Chinese challenges to the global human rights regime cannot be treated the same as its challenges to the trade regime. And US challenges to the International Criminal Court (ICC) should not be treated the same as its challenges to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Oversimplified advice, if turned into policy, breeds policy failure.