Superpowers and International Governance: A ‘Might Is Right’ Story?

International governance has frequently been imposed by outright force, or more subtly by means of political, economic and military pressure. The modern world of superpowers has been no exception. In fact, their sheer overwhelming political and economic power and military might has rendered the temptation to enforce their will while ignoring or sidelining the views of other countries apparently irresistible. Nevertheless, examples from both the Cold War era and the post-Cold War world demonstrate that even superpowers cannot do as they wish. The structure of the international system as developed since 1945, along with the influence of democracy, a growing global acknowledgment of the importance of a culture of consensus and cooperation in international affairs imposes powerful constraints. This often, though not always, ensures that might is not always right. Increasingly, individual great powers do not get away with behaving like a bull in a china shop. This includes the United States (invasion of Iraq) and Russia (Crimea, Ukraine); both countries have faced significant negative consequences for their violations of international law and the conventions of global governance.

Authors: Klaus Larres