The Threat is Real – The Global Order and Its Travails

Donald Trump greets supporters during his election night rally in Manhattan. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Donald Trump greets supporters during his election night rally in Manhattan.

There is no doubt today about the threat to the Liberal Order.  For decades we thought the the greatest threat to the Liberal Order was posed by those outsiders, the bad Russians, Mao’s China, other authoritarian adversaries.

But we were wrong!

The election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States poses the greatest challenge yet to the Liberal Order the United States and its allies built after World War II.  Gideon Rachman in the FT , yesterday, November 8th, expressed it well:

Mr Trump’s proposed policies threaten to take an axe to the liberal world order that the US has supported and sustained since 1945. In particular, he has challenged two of the main bipartisan principles that underpin America’s approach to the world. The first is support for an open, international trading system. The second is the commitment to the US-led alliances that underpin global security.

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Lacking Global Leadership

Nova Délhi - Índia, 29/03/2012. Presidenta Dilma Rousseff posa para foto junto com os Chefes de Estado do BRICS. Foto: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR.

Nova Délhi – Índia, 29/03/2012. Presidenta Dilma Rousseff posa para foto junto com os Chefes de Estado do BRICS. Foto: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR.

[Editorial Note:  This piece was originally posted at the RisingPowersProject at the inauguration of this new site.]

So the Hangzhou G20 Summit has come and gone and now the eighth BRICS leadership conference hosted again by India, but this year in Goa as opposed to the previous India BRICS Summit in New Delhi is just about upon us. This BRICS Leaders’ Summit will take place on October 15th and 16th.

So where are we in determining the the state of global order leadership and the Liberal Order that has been so prominent since the end of the Cold War? A sweep of editorials and reviews of China’s G20 in Hangzhou has been notably downbeat.  At this site ‘Rising Powers in Global Governance’, my colleague, Jonathan Luckhurst described the Hangzhou reviews this way: “The Group of Twenty (G20) has received poor reviews in recent years, so expert reactions to the Hangzhou G20 Summit of September 4-5, 2016 were hardly surprising.”

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Collaborative Leadership Stumbles; A Dangerous Political Fuse Has Been Lit

How Hwee Young:AFP:Getty Images Ratification

Well all the columns and opinions have been written, I assume,  over the Chinese G20 Summit. Other than congratulating the Chinese leadership for having pulled it off – and there is something to be said for that – the general conclusion to be drawn from these many pieces was that little was achieved with the major concern – coordinated economic growth by all the G20. The communique was a classic instance of bureaucratic ‘gobbledegook’.   While the yardsticks were moved on a number of issues, no bold announcement by the G20 Leaders was made.  As my colleague, Colin Bradford declared in his Brookings blogpost, “2016: The year for leadership that wasn’t for the China G-20”

2016 may have been the year that teed up the need for new direction, fresh initiatives, and strong leadership, but the contrary interests of G-20 member countries seem to have missed this opportunity at Hangzhou. Whereas some of the keywords for an ambitious transformative approach are in the Hangzhou G-20 communiqué, there is evidence of avoiding commitments, ducking the big ideas, and mouthing the right words but dodging the verbs and adjectives that contained ambition.

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At the Crossroads? – The Hangzhou G20 Summit and After

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With the annual G20 fast approaching (September 4th-5th in Hangzhou China) it is worthwhile reflecting on the progress, or lack of it, that the G20 Leaders gathering has accomplished since the successful efforts to avoid the catastrophic consequences of the Great Recession.

For a number of G20 cycles now, observers have recognized that the G20, notwithstanding the urging of many experts and former officials, has failed to make the transition to a steering committee. Meanwhile, G20 process has become heavily freighted with endless recommendations, statements and communiques from a growing variety of expert and non-expert corners.  The question is not whether the G20 finally will be a success because of the hosting by China’s leaders.  The Chinese Leaders know how to run a summit.  They have approached this Summit with great effort and seriousness and should be commended for their efforts. But really,  it will not be Chinese leadership that is likely to reveal G20 progress or not.

The Editors at the EastAsianForum in a very recent post,  “Making the Hangzhou G20 summit relevant” have once again put their collective finger on the issue:

But the fundamental purpose of the G20 is to set the strategic direction. The worry is that the G20 is drifting away from this role and becoming more like an international think tank than the steering committee for the global economy that it was set up to be. The G20’s deliverables are increasingly bureaucratic, focused on commissioning reports, holding meetings, developing strategy papers, publishing high level principles and high level policy documents.

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A Reform Agenda for China’s G20 Summit

Chengdu FM July 2016 copy

Coordination and harmonization are keys to collective action in global governance.  The jury remains out as to exactly what China’s hosting can accomplish with respect to either.

ANU’s Adam Triggs recently wrote that there were only three practical things that any G20 Leaders’ summit can accomplish:

… it can share information and best practice policies between countries; it can reform global governance by either reforming existing institutions like the IMF or creating new ones; or it can undertake what Oxford University’s David Vines calls ‘concerted unilateralism’, where countries implement policies (fiscal, monetary or structural) to suit their own economies, but do so collectively.

As a number of us suggested in our V20 Hangzhou gathering at Zhejiang daxue in the spring, Leaders also can, and should extend, their efforts beyond what is described above. Indeed in our collective view there is nothing more critical than having G20 Leaders direct their message to their own publics.  They need to signal their publics as to what is critical in their G20 efforts.  As our Blue Report to the Chinese leadership urged:

Together, G20 leaders can make clear and powerful statements which can signal the path of economic progress to all actors around the world. … Leaders at G20 Summits can strengthen their connection with their publics by devoting more attention to the content and the modes of communications from the summit platform.  … Key ideas could be summarized and Leaders could speak in more direct ways to their publics.  … G20 Leaders understand that globalization requires fair and updated rules that can elicit trust, a sense of fairness, and certainty.

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China and a People-Centred G20

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So it is evident there is much anger out in ‘election land’ and among the many electorates these days. The distemper is widespread.  The ‘oddest’ of campaigns of course is the Presidential race  – just 98 days away – in the United States.  A campaign driven in part by the Republican nominee who has abused his opponents and his putative friends – all in the name of ‘no more political correctness’. We are reminded constantly that rising inequality and plodding economic growth across the established powers and increasingly among the rising powers has led to growing frustration and anger from those in the 99 percent. Whether you are looking at global GDP, global trade, or global investment, all these measures of possible global prosperity look anemic. At a minimum these measures signal that the global economy has in fact not really recovered from the Great Recession.

Gideon Rachman of the FT suggested very recently that there is a strong link between those supporting Donald Trump in the US and those who voted in favor of leaving the EU in the UK referendum. As Rachman concludes in assessing these Brexit voters:”The second [parallel] is the way in which the Trump and Brexit campaigns have become vehicles for protest votes about economic insecurity. The third is the chasm between elite opinion and that of the white working class.” While it is of course much harder to identify frustration and alienation from governments in authoritarian societies, it is not hard to believe that there is much anger lying ‘just below the surface’ in states with authoritarian regimes and high degrees of inequality such as in China and Russia and in more democratic developing ones such as Brazil and South Africa.

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Undermining the Global Order – One Dark Speech after Another

Trump

As my colleague Dan Drezner titled his blog about Donald Trump’s Cleveland acceptance speech at the Washington Post – “Donald Trump’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, too long speech.” And it was. Though apparently modeled after Richard Nixon’s 1968 acceptance speech -with an emphasis on “law and order” – there was not a scintilla of sunny optimism, a better future, whatever.  Even Richard Nixon had that in his speech.

But the real damage had already been.  That had occurred with the publication of the interview (actually a continuation of an interview begun in March) by David Sanger and Maggie Haberman of the NYT with Trump.

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Enhancing Global Order: Is It Not Possible With the Great Powers?

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The Law of the Sea claim the Philippines commenced against China in 2013 came to an end last week with the award from the UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) tribunal. The award was a setback to the expansive claims by China in the South China Sea (though the Tribunal made clear it had no jurisdiction to determine the sovereignty claims asserted by China or any other country).

A number of conclusions were reached by this UNCLOS panel.   First, with respect to the historical rights China claimed through the 9-dash line (China has never made clear the actual claims arising from the 9-dash line), the Tribunal acknowledged the historical claims of China but as Taylor Fravel suggested, “the tribunal reasoned that whatever historic rights or high-seas freedoms China enjoyed were “extinguished” when it acceded to the convention.”

Second, the Tribunal set out a 4-part test to determine whether a ‘feature’ – rock, or protruding reef, or islet, is an island thus providing for expanded maritime rights.  The Tribunal utilizing this newly enunciated test rejected that any features in the Spratly Island chain brought with it a 200 mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), as opposed to a 12 mile maritime territorial limit.  This ruling is likely to have a significant impact on a variety of maritime claims asserted by other states. It also would suggest that Mischief Reef, part of the Spratly Islands and where China has carried out reclamation work, is located within the EEZ claimed by the Philippines.

Finally, the Tribunal acknowldeged that the Philippines held EEZ rights in the Scarborough Island’s Second Thomas Shoal, where China has denied access to Philippine fishing boats.

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Take a Deep Breath – Not Yet the End of the Global Order

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Gloom and despair have accompanied the Brexit vote, especially for those concerned about the wider Atlantic alliance.

Mr. Obama, after meeting with leaders of the European Union attending the Warsaw NATO Leaders’ Summit, tried to play down fears that Britain’s exit would weaken European resolve. He acknowledged that the “Brexit” vote had “led some to suggest that the entire edifice of European security and prosperity is crumbling. But he added, “Let me just say that as is often the case in moments of changes, that this hyperbole is misplaced.”

As Kathleen McNamara of Georgetown succinctly put it in her recent Foreign Affairs article, “the answer to the breathless question posed in the New York Times on Sunday—“Is the post-1945 order imposed on the world by the United States and its allies unraveling, too?”—is simple. No, it is not. And yet the emotions and cultural chasms brought to bear in the Brexit vote cannot, and should not, be ignored.

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“Burning the International Order to the Ground”

 

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Image Credit:  en.wikipedia.org

 

There is shock and incredulity following the victory of the ‘Leave’ vote in Britain.  I will let my colleagues who follow closely the EU to pick up the threads of both this negotiation and the future of this supranational institution.  There will be much analysis over this difficult exit and the reduction of the EU from 28 to 27, though it may well be that it will return to 28 if Scotland decides it unprepared to leave the EU.

But let’s turn to the implications of the British exit on larger global order questions. The vote to leave immediately brought to mind the phrase that adorns this post that my colleague at Brookings, Tom Wright used to describe Donald Trump’s foreign policy. The post from Brookings (June 3, 2016)  was using Hilllary Clinton’s San Diego speech to examine Trump’s foreign policy ideas.  As Tom concluded:

So he will double down. And as he does, he will reinforce every word of Clinton’s San Diego speech and further alienate those voters who may be skeptical of an activist foreign policy but do not want to run the experiment of deliberately burning the international order to the ground.

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