Ever since President Trump took over the White House, the world has pondered on what the future of the UN would look like. Throughout his campaign trail, he publicly criticized the organization. “The United Nations is not a friend of democracy, it’s not a friend to freedom, it’s not a friend even to the United States of America where, as you know, it has its home. And it surely is not a friend to Israel,” and he even once labeled the UN as, “So sad!”
So, it was predictable that after the 2016 election, academics and those in the media talked about the death of liberalism. Experts thought it was time to plan a funeral for liberalism.
Not so fast. Even though leaders like President Trump is disrupting the liberal world order and strong cooperation that has lasted for decades, he is far from destroying it outright. As G. John Ikenberry pointed out in his seminal book “Liberal Leviathan”, the liberal world order is stronger than we think and it will endure even as America’s economic power gets overshadowed by countries like China.
No single nation can solve problems such as climate change and terrorism alone. Also, economic interdependence has created a wide web of trade networks that’s impossible to untangle by pulling out of few trade agreements. We don’t need to hold a funeral. Far from it
The US was instrumental in building the liberal world order we have today. The US led effort on structuring the UN, World Bank and the IMF created a forum where countries can let out their grievances without resorting to violence, in the hopes of finding a compromise. These efforts stabilized the war torn European continent and inspired the great European experiment called, the European Union.
The effort to achieve concerted cooperation is precisely the reason why the liberal world order endured for so long and attracted both democracies and autocracies alike. Even though the Soviet Union and the US competed for military power, both nations cooperated to reduce the number of nuclear arms when it threatened international security and worked on numerous space programs such as the Apollo-Soyuz test project and Mir Space Station. Today, while the US and Russia seems to be marching into ‘hot peace, both nations have worked together in the Security Council on passing directives to deal with oil spills in the Arctic.
For centuries, liberal ideals have lit the world by enhancing individual lives through spreading technological innovations and encouraging free trade. Technological innovations have allowed for faster travel and communication, which in turn made trading with different countries easier. After 1940s, the liberal order pushed for lower tariffs, free flow of ideas, goods, capital, and people. This in turn made nations that were once foes interdependent towards another which raised the costs of war. One only needs to look at datasets from Correlates of War to see that the rates of interstate war has gone down dramatically since 1945.
The liberal world order will endure because of its ability to adapt to new challenges. It provided economic and security benefits not only to the US but to the world as well.
And in areas where the US has withdrawn its leadership position, other nations and leaders has come forward to carry the baton and lead the way. Japan carried on the TPP project and got eleven Pacific-Rim countries, plus Canada, to ratify it under a new name, Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Leaders such as Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel has spoken strongly about the importance of international institutions and liberal values such as open trade. Chinese president Xi Jingping even said in 2017 at Davao that China “should commit ourselves to growing an open global economy.”
The liberal world order we have today, the world we live in today, was shaped by the US but its longevity will not be decided by America’s hegemony. As shown above, America will continue to enjoy the benefits of liberalism and anyone who occupies the Oval Office will recognize that.
However, even as America takes a backseat in leadership role, other nations, because they want to continue and expand the benefits of liberalism, will make sure that the liberal order survives. Graham Allison said in 2017 that the liberal order is a ‘myth’. Well, it turns out others believe in this ‘myth’ and wants to see it succeed.