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Working paper

If you can't beat them, do you have to join them? Strategies rising powers use to challenge and transform the international order

What strategies do rising states use to challenge the established international order and bring about its transformation? This question has received surprisingly little attention, as both realist and liberal theorists have focused on whether or not there will be a demand for change on the part of rising powers. Both schools assume that change will involve open and violent confrontation between status quo powers and challengers. Realists see this as the natural state of affairs and regard great power confrontation to be the major engine of change in international relations. Liberals are more optimistic and argue that rising powers will be more inclined to accept the established order because they find the costs of challenging it to be prohibitive.  We believe that these arguments are flawed in that they limit rising powers to only two options: they can either “beat ‘em” or “join ‘em”. Rising states can either acquiesce to the existing order or wage a full-out frontal assault to overthrow and replace it.In examining the behavior of post-Soviet Russia (the contemporary rising power that has been the most proactive in its opposition to the established order), we find that rising powers have a wider menu of effective strategies available to them – from simply ignoring the parts of the established order that they do not like, to forming new relationships and institutions that achieve specific aims. These strategies allow rising powers to resist the established order and work towards its gradual transformation