This Research Bulletin has been published in N. Van Nuffel (ed) (2007) Van Christaller tot Wallerstein. Liber Amoricum Prof. Dr. Pieter Saey Zelzate: Nautilus Academic Books.
Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.
The multilateral track, its central places and the role of hegemons
States only exist in the plural. Mutual recognition is a major definitional characteristic. To regulate their mutual relations states have always engaged in treaty-making. Many of those treaties are between just two states. Others are multilateral, engaging any number of states larger than two. One of the interesting rarely studied features of international negotiations and treaty-making is the set of places where those activities have occurred (two examples in the recent, geographical literature are: Henrikson 2005, Van der Wusten 2007).
In this paper we describe some basic features of the pattern of places where multilateral treaties have been produced and signed over the life course of the state system and assess the fruitfulness of Wallerstein’s world-system analysis in interpreting those patterns. In this initial section we set out some reasons for looking at multilateral treaties as a separate category, consider the possible importance of studying the production sites of those treaties and propose some connections of Wallerstein’s analysis and the collection of multilateral treaty signature places.
Multilateral treaties bind more than two, possibly a large number, possibly all states in the state system. Multilateral frameworks introduce general rules that regulate cooperative behaviour. They may also introduce expectations and norms that can subsequently be used for further cooperative ventures among the states involved. This fundamentally differs from the conduct of statecraft by ever provisional, temporary non-binding engagements through bilateral diplomacy. Multilateral treaties also differ from the aggregated outcome of a cumulation of bilateral engagements among the same collection of states (a general and positive assessment of multilateralism is Ruggie 1992). While in bilateral negotiations the result can easily be seen as a reflection of the power positions of the partners/contenders, this is more difficult in multilateral deals, nonetheless powerful states can bend the rules in their favour.
There are four types of questions with respect to the places where international treaties are produced and signed. They relate to the selection process of those places by the parties concerned, to the impact of the actual city selected on the outcome of the negotiations, to the impact of the treaty-making process on the life of the city in cultural and economic terms, and to the contribution of multilateral treaty-making to the spatial pattern of political centers. In this paper we concentrate on the fourth question.
What do the sites of multilateral treaty-making add to the array of political centers within the state system? That question is a small part of one of the main problems that human geography studies: how can we account for the spatial patterns of centers as they evolve over time. To that end central place systems have been constructed. They have most extensively been studied for retail functions (ever since Christaller 1933). The ensuing central places range from periodic markets to shopping malls. Retail centers should be seen as one specific type of economic center, in addition there are also political and cultural centers. Multilateral treaty sites, one type of political center, are either permanent or temporary, they may or may not in their turn specialize in economic, cultural and political agreements.
Wallerstein’s world-system analysis can be connected with the evolving pattern of production sites of multilateral treaties. It should however be stressed that Wallerstein has not paid attention to multilateral treaties or the places where negotiations have been conducted. Consequently this exercise extends the field covered by his analysis (there is, of course, a huge primary and secondary literature on Wallerstein’s world-system. The primary literature starts with Wallerstein 1974. Very useful for our present purposes have also been Chase-Dunn 1981, Taylor & Flint 2000 and Terlouw 1992).
Wallerstein’s world-system analysis is about the capitalist mode of production considered as the process of global capital accumulation . A world economy gradually, from the long 16 th century until about 1900, extends from Western and Central Europe and parts of the Americas across the globe and from then on is a truly global world-system. It is overlaid by a multicentric system of states that evolves following the same spatial expansion. Groups that initially combine profitable strategies and strategies that result in politico-military success are the overall winners of capitalist mode of production struggles. States (sometimes parts of states) are divided in core, semiperiphery and periphery zones according to that criterium. On rare occasions some state acts as the hegemonic power in the system for some period of time. The accumulation process (that encapsulates an economic and a political part) is channeled by the long Kondratieff waves (about half a century for a cycle since the Industrial Revolution) and perhaps some preceding waves of even longer length during the earlier part of the life course of the capitalist system. The same goes for the rise and demise of hegemonial powers.
How can Wallerstein’s model be related to multilateral treaty-making and to the pattern of signature places? Three angles will be pursued: the evolution of the multilateral track in diplomatic activity, multilateral center-formation in the three zones of the world economy, the special role of hegemonic powers.
The world-system perspective assumes a political economy where states should be seen in light of the process of capital accumulation. With respect to the frequency and content of multilateral treaty-making we wonder if a possible change in frequency of treaty-making and the respective evolution of categories of treaties according to their issue areas (peace, trade etc.) can be illuminated from that perspective. Do we see variations in the intensity and the type of activity in which the multilateral track is pursued, so to speak, as the apparent exigencies of capital accumulation change over time? With respect to multilateral political centers as signature places, this opens the question of specialization as regards issue areas.
If the process of capital accumulation drives the politico-military and the capital accumulation part of the process simultaneously and in an interdependent fashion, one might expect a concentration of multilateral treaty-making initiatives and involvements on the part of the most important groups benefiting from the profit-making ventures. This might also lead to a concentration of multilateral signature places in the profit-generating centers. Translated in Wallerstein’s terms this implies concentrations within core countries, but it does not exclude additional efforts in other zones of the world economy in terms of initiators of treaties or multilateral signature centers.
This can perhaps be further detailed by an analysis of the role of the hegemonic powers. In Wallerstein’s perspective three core countries have temporarily played an extraordinarily important role in the development of the world system. These states have captured the initiative of the process of accumulation by first acquiring the full benefits of a concentration of new productive technologies on their territory (rise to hegemony), then translating this in commercial advantages in international trade (victorious hegemon) and finally moving in a central position in the networks of international finance (mature hegemon). This then introduces a phase of decline (the fourth phase). Three temporary hegemonies of the United Provinces, the United Kingdom and the United States are mentioned in the world-system literature (they have been comparatively portrayed in Taylor 1996). The sequencing of the last two is supposedly determined by the Kondratieff waves, each hegemon starting in an expansionary phase of the world economy and stretching across two cycles each. The Dutch hegemony would precede the Kondratieffs. The question now arises how these hegemonic periods as a whole and their different stages relate to frequencies and types of multilateral treaty-making and to the pattern of places where treaties have been signed.
Multilateral treaties and the places where they take shape: the data
Wallerstein’s analysis covers the entire life course of the interstate system, which is also the spatial-temporal range that we intend to study. This has become possible by the use of a new data-collection that covers all multilateral treaties found in the literature and signed in the last 400 years. The data have been collected at the Political Science Department of the University of Delaware by Denemark and Hoffmann. The Multilateral Agreement and Treaty Record Set (MATRS) was constructed by consolidating information from several compendia of multilateral agreements. For each treaty the title, signators, date and place of signature, and two substantive categorizations (one broad and one more specific), along with other information were recorded. In some cases, material was missing. We are in the process of filling in that material. Most treaties are found in three compendia (Mostecky 1965, Bowman and Harris 1984, Wiktor 1998), but MATRS is supplemented by one dozen national or specialty sources as well. This material is not without shortcomings. Of the broadest and most impressive collection (Wiktor 1998), the editor notes his focus on treaties published in English or French. An earlier attempt (Mostecky 1965) collects agreements from a broader range of languages but a narrower range of subjects. We continue to add multilateral treaties as they come to our attention, and acknowledge both our debts to existing collections and the inherent biases that result.
Graph 1 shows the temporal distribution of approximately 7000 multilateral treaties concluded between 1596 and 1995. The data suggest a nearly exponential rate of increase, especially between about 1820 and 1960. The two most significant dips in the data appear at times of world war. What is most interesting about these periods is the speed with which the growth curve reasserts itself. The number of multilateral treaties appears to be increasing regardless of world-system structure, to be ‘crisis interrupted’ and not ‘hegemony driven’.
For 5958 treaties (85% of the total number) we know the places, usually cities, of signature. The negotiations have been hosted in 416 places, but 286 (69%) were used less than 5 times for this purpose. This is a highly skewed distribution. What is more, the most frequently used meeting places are a very small, pretty stable set as shown in graph 2 and table 1. The five top ranks cover roughly 50 percent of all negotiations and most of these cities play their prominent parts in several periods, London even in all of them. Most of the single entries in the table show up as meeting places in the very brief crisis periods of the first and second world war, when in fact very few multilateral negotiations occurred.
Figure 2. Number of treaties signed in different periods
Table 1. Top rankings of cities in different periods
For 4980 of these treaties (71% of the total number) we have data on their subject matter. They have been categorized in seven classes. The largest class for the entire 400 year period covers treaties related to International Trade and Property Rights: 27% of all treaties. Four categories contain similar numbers of cases: Relations among states (18%), Communication (14%), Social Affairs (13%), War and Peace (13%). Finally, there are two smalles classes of cases: Environment (8%) and a miscellaneous category (6%). Because of the preponderance of treaties in the more recent periods the overall distribution is heavily biased towards the present.
Multilateral treaty-making and the world-system: some empirical evidence
The multilateral track in international politics clearly changes over time. As we saw in the preceding section the number of treaties rises exponentionally from the early 19 th century until the 1960s. The range of issue areas also expands and consequently the substantive emphasis changes. Table 2 provides the necessary information.
Table 2. Distribution of all treaties in 7 classes for five equal periods
The figure shows the dominance of war and peace issues on the multilateral agenda during the ancien régime. Survival and demarcation of states were the problems that mattered at that stage. Ever since the Napoleonic era the general regulation of interstate behaviour has become an important point: the rule book of proper conduct, the etiquette of statesmen and diplomats, was formally agreed, rewritten and extended (after it had already been practiced for a couple of centuries). In addition international cooperation, first of all within Europe, became concerned with inevitable transboundary problems: rivers and contagious diseases. These became the first instances of wider issue areas dealing with the environment (e.g. water pollution and safety) and with social issues generally (e.g. labour relations). As the international exchange of goods and personal travel increased through the 19 th century, the regulation of trade and property and of the infrastructure for transportation and the transmission of messages became more important. The most recent period since the first world war finally shows an increase in the number of treaties that cover fields outside these issue areas: new developments can be awaited.
From a world-systems perspective we could argue that military security is basic and necessary but military expansion is expensive and problematic. At the same time the facilitation of trade and finance and the prevention of labour unrest are much more effective in allowing for the accumulation of capital. We therefore should expect a preponderance of military treaties until the scale of capitalist enterprise grows beyond the market saturation points of most individual states. This is what we find with the explosion of agreements, especially outside the area of peace and security, since about 1850. Murphy (1994) connects the simultaneous emergence of international organizations in different fields and the increase of multilateral treaties as an additional factor that underlines the importance of this trend.
Multilateral treaty negotiations had to be accommodated in specific places. As we saw in the preceding section, this was a limited number of places with a steep hierarchy and considerable stability over time. The question then arises if specialization occurred, if certain places were particularly hosting treaty negotiations that concerned only one or perhaps two issue areas and if those specializations were also maintained over time. Obviously, specialization can only occur as differentiation of the multilateral track increases.
Weak indications of specialization show up in the 1782-1849 period. St. Petersburg specializes in peace and war treaties (this reflects Czar Alexander I’s pivotal role in the Napoleonic era and beyond), Vienna in state relations (the Congress in 1815 was a first major instance of modern rule making in international relations, thereafter chancellor Metternich was central to the functioning of the European Concert), Mayence in environment (a German town at the middle Rhine that was involved in the international commission on the Rhine, one of the very first international organizations) , London in others (apparently London was at this stage the place where tryouts in unusual issue areas were preferably situated).
Table 3. Specialization of places in seven treaty types in two periods
These specializations have been calculated as location quotients. They are ratios of proportions of treaties in issue area y signed in town x relative to all treaties in that issue area compared to proportions of all treaties signed in town x relative to all treaties. In this way we show the specific attraction of town x for treaty-makers in issue area y. If the attraction for issue area y in town x equals the general attraction of that town, the score is 1. In the earlier example we mentioned only location quotients of at least 2. Mayence and London had scores of at least 4. Table 3 shows places with location quotients of at least 2 (underlined if they scored 4 or higher) for the different issue areas for the last two periods that we earlier distinguished. The rank order in each cell reflects the total number of treaties signed there in that period.
This specialization does not imply that no other treaties have been negotiated in these places. Extreme specializations (location quotients of at least 4) are rare indeed. Those places that lack any specialization receive conferences concerned with a wide variety of issues. Some of the top ranking places (many treaties signed there) belong to that category. The best examples are Washington DC in both periods and Brussels from 1916-1982. During both periods there are a handful of places that have two specializations, but most of them have just one. Continuity of specialization in different periods hardly exists. London has had a specialization in war and peace treaties not only in the two periods reported in the table but also in the preceding period, that is for two centuries. Berne has played an important role in the field of communication in both reported periods. One could perhaps expect more permanent specializations as international treaties become more closely related to international organizations with their offices and headquarters in certain places. But this is mostly a 20 th century phenomenon that still does not leave traces in these data.
From a world-systems perspective it is interesting to consider that the increasing frequency and differentiation of the multilateral track needed to accommodate the evolving world economy, do not seem to be accompanied by a general process of strong specializations of places that can act as guiding posts and centers of expertise. It is undoubtedly true that a few of those places have emerged. The best examples are Geneva and New York as the UN cities with their respective specializations in social affairs and state relations. The conclusion should be that central place making on the basis of multilateral treaty negotiations is highly selective and hierarchical with strong elements of stability. Specialization of places within that selective set of places plays a modest, secondary role in that process.
Following Wallerstein the world system functions on the basis of a differentiation in three zones: core, semi-periphery and periphery. As the world-system encapsulates the entire world, an initially existing external arena gradually vanishes. The three zones are dynamic and their dynamism is regulated by the Kondratieff waves. Table 4 therefore shows a distribution of signature places of multilateral treaties for the phases of the different Kondratieff waves and the preceding period and the absolute number of treaties signed during those phases. Periphery and external arena have been collapsed.
Table 4. Distribution of signature places across zones for different phases of the world-economy and absolute numbers of treaties signed during each phase
As we mentioned earlier absolute numbers of treaties go up at an exponential rate. The additional question is if there is an extra regulating effect from the Kondratieff waves. Probably there is, but it does not directly follow the phases of each cycle. There is a steeper increase from the second (the beginning of the first Kondratieff wave) to the third period compared to the two following sequences, then again there is an acceleration two times in succession and finally a slower increase in the two following sequences. In short , multilateral treaty-making grows steeper than normal in the early years of the 19 th century, then slows down a bit to pick up speed again towards the end of the century, maintaining a high growth rate during the first part of the 20 th century to slow down again during the later part of that century. The increases and decreases over and above the overall growth rates do not follow the phases of the Kondratieff waves as they follow a pairwise rhythm: after an initial spurt between two phases the following sequences maintain a pairwise succession. This suggests not a direct relation with the Kondratieff waves but a relation with the different phases of the cycles of UK and US hegemony that in their turn are modulated by the Kondratieff waves. We will come back to the role of these hegemons.
Distribution of signature places across core, semi periphery and periphery shows distinctive shifts over time. Before the Kondratieffs the periphery does not count. During the following period there is a definite shift from the semiphery in the direction of the core, this zone becomes ever more preponderant. But there is additionally some shift towards the periphery. The growing emphasis on the core in the distribution of signature places is in accordance with the Wallersteinian idea that the core is politically dominant. And this becomes more evident as the world-system matures. On the other hand, Wallerstein also has suggested that the dynamics in the world-system primarily play out in the semiperiphery. However that may be, it does not at all show in these figures, particularly for the more recent period. The slow emergence of the periphery as a definitely secondary point of gravity in this distribution perhaps demonstrates a growing need for collective autonomy that is still pretty weakly articulated but nonetheless exists. The question arises what kind of multilateral frameworks with what scope and range are put into place here. Finally, there seems to be no connection between the changes in these distributions and the phases of the Kondratieffs. We only observe a general trend over time, no cyclical moves.
It has always been clear that political capitals play a major role as places for treaty-production. They have the facilities. But obviously the problem is in the selection of capitals that are acceptable for all. In the end, Figure 5 illustrates, they are able to come to terms.
Table 5. The percentages of treaties signed in capital cities per period and per zone in the world system.
These are very high proportions and they do not show much of a trend nor cyclical changes. There seems to be some shift towards more noncapital cities in the core areas of the world system. This, again, reflects to some extent the emergence of a few truly first rank multilateral political centres in the course of the 20 th century, first Geneva and then also New York. It should, however, not be forgotten that other high-ranking multilateral centres have been established in national political centers like Brussels, Vienna and The Hague. The emergence of some non-capital city centers of the highest rank plus the simultaneous establishment of political world centers narrowly tied to the positions of those cities as national capitals once again illustrates the ambiguous relation of the world system as a global level phenomenon and the fragmented political organization of the globe that uses different fashions to articulate, organize and geographically position its global level functions.
Hegemony emerges when there is a special confluence of all of the attributes of global power in a single political entity (Wallerstein 1983). In terms of diplomacy, we might well expect that the unilateral ability to make the rules would translate into a miniature golden age of diplomatic interaction and treaty-making. We might well predict that multilateral activity instigated by the upcoming hegemon increases as hegemonial position becomes more salient and that the initial period of true hegemony is used to put the appropriate multilateral frameworks in place. The paucity of treaty activity prior to about 1815 makes it difficult to assess diplomacy during the Dutch period, but both the British and US periods fall well within eras during which multilateral treaty activity is rife. An analysis of the UK and US suggests a complex role for hegemons both as states and as leaders.
Hopkins, Wallerstein, and Associates (1979) provide a set of four-fold phases for hegemons, identified in Table 6.
Table 6. The phases of the UK and US hegemonic cycles
Figure 3 illustrates that the period of British rise (1798 to 1815) culminates with the UK serving as signator to some 45% of all global multilateral treaties. Once the peace generated at the Congress of Vienna of 1815 is established, the overall number of treaties signed per year falls, but the propensity of the British to sign treaties falls even faster. British treaty-signings reach a low of about 5% by the period between 1825 and 1829. There is a recovery in the mid 1830s, but the ratio of treaties signed by the UK to those signed by all parties declines through the end of the ‘victory’ phase in 1850. The very beginning of the ‘maturity’ phase (from 1850) finds a resurgent British diplomacy, but there is again a significant decline, and while global treaty-making increases, British participation falls. There is another resurgence at the end of the maturity phase that extends into the period of decline.
Figure 3. Treaties signed by Great Britain as a proportion of all treaties 1815-1899
A similar pattern is noted in the US case. The period of US ‘rise’ (1897-1929) culminates in the very early stages of ‘victory’ with the US being party to nearly 40% of all multilateral treaties. Within five years the US ceases all multilateral treaty-signing, recovering only slightly in the early 1930s. Near the finale of the US ‘victory’ treaty-signings increase from none in 1939 and 1940 to between 35% and 50% of all treaties signed in the years just prior to 1945. The period of maturity (1945-1967) begins with the US signing an unprecedented 60% of all multilateral treaties. But again, the decline in interest in multilateralism is immediate. Between 1946 and 1953 the percentage of multilateral treaties signed by the US wavers between 10% and 25%. After 1953 it does not raise above 10% again until 1964, and does not exceed 12% again through the end of the maturity phase. As global interest in multilateralism rises, especially after 1958, that of the US declines.
Figure 4. Treaties signed by US as a proportion of all treaties 1897-1989
It is interesting to note the relative role of the capital of each hegemon during these periods as well. London slowly emerges as the key multilateral treaty-signing center by the 1830s, but loses prominence in the 1840s first to Paris, and then to Vienna. In the 1860s London falls below Istanbul and Berlin. After a resurgence in the 1870s it falls below the US in the 1880s. Washington DC shows something of a similar pattern. It is the primary location for the signing of multilateral treaties by 1946, but declines quickly and lags Paris and London until just two years before the onset of the decline phase. Washington DC even falls below Moscow in the mid 1950s and mid 1960s.
A review of British diplomatic history suggests that this withdrawal was not unplanned or unconsidered. Hegemony did not lead to attempts to impose a set of rules on the world via multilateral action, but induced a drive for unilateralism. Britain was particularly powerful at the time of the crafting of the Congress of Vienna, but its geography and naval power allowed it to withdraw from continental politics. The set of policies that came to be referred to as “splendid isolation” existed on many levels. British military control allowed the classical European balance of power system to be managed without the need for constant incursions. The threat of British intervention was usually enough to thwart wars that Britain did not wish to see take place. Clarke (1989:13, 230) suggests: “Safe in its peaceful, industrious island, protected by the might of the Royal Navy, Britain could conclude that most of Europe should be left to the other Great Powers. It was precisely for this reason that Britain felt free to flaunt its power in areas where its sea power could be used to the greatest advantage.”
In 1848 Prime Minister Palmerston defined British foreign policy in unilateral terms: “I hold with respect to alliances that, England is sufficiently strong, sufficiently powerful, to steer her own course, and not to tie herself as an unnecessary appendage to the policy of any government …” (cited in Chambers 2004: 263). By the 1860s this lack of concern with Europe was made even more explicit by Prime Minister Disraeli, who declared Britain to be an essentially Asian power: “The abstention of England from any unnecessary interference in the affairs of Europe is the consequence, not of her decline of power, but of her increased strength. England is no longer a mere European Power, she is the metropolis of a great maritime empire, extending to the boundaries of the farthest ocean. It is not that England has taken refuge in a state of apathy. . . She interferes in Asia, because she is really more an Asiatic power than a European. . .” (cited in Monypenny and Buckle 1915: 467).
If Britain was busy with affairs outside Europe, it was not busy in a way that would tend to generate formal agreements. Britain was concerned with its influence in China, and threatened by the Russians who sought to expand to make up for their losses in the Crimean War. The Opium Wars of the early 1840s and the later 1850s required significant attention. In 1857 the Indian Mutiny threatened the jewel in Britain’s imperial crown. The beginnings of the conflict over the Suez Canal found the British and French at odds.
By the 1850s British positions were already being challenged, and such challenges would increase. The British, argues Albrecht-Carrie, “… had been quite content to witness the defeat of a rather meddlesome France; she had no fear of Germany and Italy seemed of little account” (1958:164). Nonetheless, France’s losses in the 1860 (relative to Italy) and in 1870 (with the Franco-Prussian War) would drag Britain back into European politics. The 1870s, which is identified as the end of the period of maturity and the start of the decline phase of British Hegemony, would witness a period of re-engagement in multilateral diplomacy.
US diplomatic history finds many analogies with that of the British. The ‘rise’ of the US is characterized by military action in a variety of colonies and quasi-states. The rising hegemon settles not on diplomacy but on war in Mexico and throughout the Caribbean, military action in Central America in support of the building of a transoceanic canal, and intervention in parts of Asia and North Africa. When Theodore Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in mediating a formal settlement to the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War, this was not evidence of diplomatic prowess and pacific intent, but of new interventionary intentions. As Roosevelt argued in 1905, “I never take a step in foreign policy unless I am assured that I shall be able eventually to carry out my will by force” (cited in Bailey 1974:515).
The 1920s usher in the era of US ‘victory’ and begin with a serious attempt at arms control following the disasters of the First World War. But there is a general withdrawal after that initiative. An argument has been made that the US might well have had the ability to make the rules in the 1930s, but failed to do so (Kindleberger 1973). It was not until 1942 and the war years that the US was again involved multilateral diplomacy. By 1945, the last year of the ‘victory’ phase, the US was participating in an extraordinary percentage of the world’s multilateral treaties.
The US becomes a ‘mature’ hegemon from a world-system perspective following the Second World War. This is a period of global re-design, but it is followed almost immediately by the Cold War, which was only marginally pursued at the negotiating table. The Cold War is generally understood to have begun in 1947, and in the years that followed the share of multilateral treaties signed by the US declined from steadily. Its post 1945-peek was in 1949 when the US participated in 26% of all treaties, and by 1961 this figure had declined to .01%. Diplomatic tools were specifically rejected in the post-war world (Bailey 1974: chpt 50). Cold War rhetoric was particularly rabid, and diplomacy was not viewed as a matter of negotiating among acceptable alternative positions. Victory was the only possible solution, and non-alignment was famously described by US Secretary of State Dulles as “immoral.”
US interests in multilateral diplomacy increased rapidly near the end of its period of maturity and into the early period of decline. After near-zero levels in the very early 1960s, a sustained increase beginning in 1963 follows a variety of political and military set-backs. These include the Cuban Missile Crisis (and recognition of Soviet nuclear parity, followed quickly by the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty), the growth of the Eurodollar Market (weakening the Bretton-Woods Monetary agreement, highlighting the ‘Dollar Glut’ and necessitating more active economic diplomacy), and the early success of the ‘People’s War’ strategy in Vietnam (increasing the need for new security arrangements).
The rise of British hegemony ushered in diplomatic withdrawal, with a tendency for resurgence at the inflection points. This suggests that dominant powers turn to pursuits (like the acquisition and maintenance of empire) that draw them away from areas (both substantive and geographical) where multilateral treaties are the mechanism by which global politics advances. The US followed the same path. Eventually, they were each dragged back when their own decline made diplomatic isolation a non-viable strategy. The result is a complex pattern of multilateral efforts during the stages of victory and maturity of hegemonic actors. There is a brief flowering of multilateral diplomatic activity, followed almost immediately by a withdrawal by the erstwhile hegemons (and their capital cities), while such states pursue other kinds of policies. Multilateralism continues to grow despite this withdrawal, which is reversed near the end of the period of maturity (and just prior to the onset of decline) when declining hegemons find the strategy of ‘going it alone’ to be untenable and/or counterproductive. Hence the world-system may find itself under the tutelage of a hegemon without any notable change in the incidence of multilateral treaty-making. Yet the hegemons themselves act in characteristic ways, ushering in important phases with a spate of multilateral agreements and then withdrawing to more expansionist pursuits in marginal areas while the incidence of treaties increases in the more stable areas that hegemons ignore.
Over the life course of the world-system the multilateral track in international relations is vigorously pursued particularly from the early 19 th century until the latter part of the twentieth century. The substantive concerns of these negotiations shift over time from an exclusive focus on war and peace to a broad agenda dominated by issues of trade and property. A world-systems approach is helpful in accounting for these developments. The slowing down of the growth rate since the later 20 th century suggests a more structural process than an exclusive focus on the last few years suggests.
The places where multilateral treaties have been signed, are a highly selective set. Over time the role of the core zone in the world economy has become more preponderant and the position of the semiperiphery has declined. There seems to be a somewhat greater role for peripheral cities in recent times. Places where multilateral treaties are made show some degree of specialization with respect to the kinds of treaties produced there, but these specializations are almost never maintained over the long term. Capitals predominate in this set of multilateral central places, but in the more recent periods, some non-capital cities particularly in the core zone have emerged as dominant multilateral central places. This underlines the importance of the political role of the core zone plus the ambiguities of salient states and an overarching world-economy in one world-system .
Hegemonic powers seem to play a changing role in the multilateral track as they move from one phase to the next in the Kondratieff cycles. They are particularly active in multilateral treaty-making just after they have risen to hegemony and again in the decline phase. This suggests an initial drive to set the political terms for the system as a whole as the leadership position gets profiled and a concern to protect acquired ‘rights’as that position becomes more contested. However, during the middle part of the hegemonic cycle, multilateral activity increases, often without any participation of the hegemon. This suggests efforts by others, possibly contenders, to change the functioning of the world-system during these phases. These efforts may in the first instance be futile, but they may be highly significant in a longer perspective. Obviously, this is a question for further study.
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**Robert A. Denemark and Hasan Yonten, University of Delaware, Department of Political Science
*** Matthew Hoffmann, University of Toronto, Department of Political Science
Edited and posted on the web on 29th June 2007
Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in N. Van Nuffel (ed) (2007) Van Christaller tot Wallerstein. Liber Amoricum Prof. Dr. Pieter Saey Zelzate: Nautilus Academic Books