Date of Award

Winter 2002

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Studies

Committee Director

Francis Adams

Committee Member

Regina Karp

Committee Member

Donald Zeigler


Security relations between Latin American and the United States are generally well explained by hegemonic stability theory. Succinctly stated, hegemonic stability theory explains that in systems with a hegemonic power there is a greater likelihood of security cooperation. This is because a hegemon provides public goods, such as a stable currency or security from outside interference, and in turn, the less powerful states acknowledge the leadership of the dominant state. When compared to other regions it is readily apparent that the U.S. and Latin America do not have major security issues on the level of East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, or even Europe.

However, a review of the literature indicates a persistent gap between U.S. and Latin American responses to security related issues such as state sovereignty, arms trade, humanitarian intervention, the illegal narcotics trade, and technology transfer. Hegemonic stability explains the relatively peaceful relations between the U.S. and Latin America; however, it fails to explain the undercurrent of distrust.

This study focuses on the degree of power asymmetry between the hegemon and weaker states in the system to explain why the same hegemonic system may create greater levels of cooperation during different periods. A hegemonic system by definition contains a certain level of power asymmetry, however this study asks the question: When power asymmetry becomes more extreme does it erode security cooperation between the U.S. and Latin America?

To explore this issue empirical evidence is gathered from the last century of Latin American-U.S. security relations. The ebb and flow of security cooperation is analyzed and reveals that broad patterns in the system emerge over time demonstrating that as the power of the U.S. increases, the likelihood of U.S. leaders to commit to unilateral actions in Latin America increases. During the same time, the likelihood of Latin American leaders to be more sensitive to U.S. policies and search for alternatives to U.S. dominance also increases. Although U.S. hegemony contributes to greater security cooperation as hegemonic stability theory predicts, when U.S. power reaches higher levels compared to Latin American, the gains of hegemonic stability deteriorate and security cooperation becomes more difficult.

The dissertation contributes to international relations scholarship in two important ways. First, it demands that when hegemonic stability theory is applied it cannot be assumed that all levels of power asymmetry create security cooperation equally. Second, it applies formal international relations theory to Latin American-U.S. relations, a geographical area in which comparative political theory is more commonly utilized.