Has the western world become too liberal?

International security

Tobias Bunde

To person

is Postdoctoral Researcher at the Center for International Security Policy at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and Head of Policy and Analysis at the Munich Security Conference. [email protected]

Ali Wyne

To person

is a policy analyst at the RAND Corporation think tank. [email protected]

Two perspectives

End of certainties

Tobias Bunde

Since Donald Trump's election as US president, warnings of an impending collapse of the world order have been mounting. Shortly after Trump took office, the analyst Robert Kagan wrote that "the collapse of the world order, with everything that goes with it, could not be so far away." [1] Most recently he added in even clearer words: "The democratic alliance that formed the foundation of the liberal world order under US leadership is dissolving. At some point, and probably sooner than we expect, global peace will also dissolve underpinned this alliance and this order. "[2] After the turbulent weeks of early summer 2018, Chancellor Merkel also spoke of" that the established or familiar regulatory framework is currently under great pressure ". [3]

However, Trump is not the cause, but first and foremost an expression of a deeper crisis - and at the same time its accelerator. Because it embodies a downright striking alternative to the non-partisan consensus that has shaped US foreign policy and the order it has essentially shaped since 1945. Contrary to what is often claimed, Trump's foreign policy view of the world is by no means erratic, but has some clear convictions. This includes a fundamental skepticism towards multilateral organizations, with Trump repeatedly expressing that, in his opinion, the US would be ripped off by other states, especially by its allies. His rejection of free trade is similarly constant. For decades, Trump has railed against allegedly unfair trade agreements. And finally, Trump has shown great sympathy for authoritarian rulers for a long time. [4] All of this makes him an exponent of the increasingly widespread illiberal, nationalist criticism of the existing order.

Core elements of the liberal world order

It is true that what is often described with the catchphrase "liberal world order" is a complex web of norms and institutions that was neither clearly laid down in a document nor was it ever consistent. [5] But if you look at its normative core, three basic principles can be identified which, due to their peace-promoting effect, are also referred to as the "triangle of peace" in political science: liberal democracy as a political model, economic cooperation within the framework of open economies, and institutionalized multilateralism within the framework of a rule-based order. [6]

The institutions founded in the middle of the 20th century such as the United Nations, in the economic field the institutions created by the Bretton Woods Agreement and in the security field NATO, but also the network of bilateral security guarantees of the USA form the backbone of this order to this day. which at the time of the East-West conflict was still essentially limited to the western world, but was in a certain way "globalized" after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Never before have liberal ideas determined world politics in such a profound way. In almost all parts of the world, regional organizations passed treaties to protect democracy. The UN peace missions followed a liberal script and served as a transmission belt for liberal regulatory policy. [7] Non-Western major powers such as China and Russia were increasingly integrated into the liberal order, linked with the hope that they would become "responsible participants" in this order. [8] Further rounds of free trade accelerated the exchange of goods, capital and services. At the same time, the network of international organizations became increasingly dense and their powers increased. [9] The European integration process picked up speed in the 1990s and led to both an enlargement and a deepening of the EU. And while this remained by far the most far-reaching experiment in supranational cooperation, many regional organizations followed the European model of regional integration. International jurisdiction has also evolved, with the establishment of the International Criminal Court as a preliminary culmination. The global responsibility to protect was proclaimed and various measures linked to the observance of human rights. State sovereignty was defined more and more restrictively. The world order became more and more liberal.