It is evidently a result of the distemper of our immediate circumstances – brought on by President-Elect Donald Trump about to become President of the United States – that my colleagues are not unreasonably contemplating alternatives to the current Liberal Order. Being apocalyptic is in; optimism out. As my Cornell colleague and political economist friend, Jonathan Kirshner recently wrote in an article in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
And so the election of Trump will come to mark the end of the international order that was built to avoid repeating the catastrophes of the first half the twentieth century, and which did so successfully — horrors that we like to imagine we have outgrown. It will not serve us well.
We have lost, we are lost. Not an election, but a civilization. Where does that leave us? I think the metaphor is one of (political) resistance.
So it appears just about everyone has joined in. There are of course insightful views of the current global order from some of my IR colleagues, including but not limited to by Thomas Wright at Brookings or Joe Nye at Harvard. But it would appear that many others have joined in as well. And it is understandable. The rise of populist forces, especially in Europe, the surprise election of Donald Trump in the United States and the continuing global economic slowdown, the decline in trade and the incomplete recovery from the financial crisis of 2008 leave an attractive political and economic landscape to contemplate the future of the global order,
This is not to suggest that folks other than my IR colleagues don’t have the necessary insights to assess the implications of current actions and events. Many do. For there is after all a need to assess the political actions, the military capabilities and the economic trends in the global order. And it remains, after all, that it it is still unclear how to determine great power capability, power and dominance. Depending on who you read, it is all about military assets; others suggest it is economic capability; and still others introduce soft power aspects as well. Thus, it is probably not very surprising that as well known an economist as Nouriel Roubini finds he is able to analyze the ‘disorder’ presented by recent events. As he declares in a recent Project Syndicate article :
He wasn’t there. But his presence seemed nowhere, and everywhere, nonetheless. Just a month ago the presidency of the G20 passed from China to Germany in Berlin. And with the transfer Chancellor Angela Merkel identified her priorities for what is going to be a truncated German hosting of the G20. The presidency will end with the a Leaders Summit in Hamburg on July 7th-8th. Summarizing Merkel’s priorities my colleague Stewart Patrick at CFR suggested the following as her particular interests:
Chancellor Angela Merkel, this year’s host, has emerged as the world’s most important defender of globalization. She has chosen “shaping an interconnected world” as the theme of this year’s summit. Her priorities include fostering economic resilience, advancing sustainable development, empowering women, implementing the Paris climate agreement, and advancing peace and development in Africa.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.