The ‘Great Dismantler’ – Can A Liberal Order Be Rebuilt after the ‘Age of Trump’

It has become clear where Trump’s policies are taking us – or as clear as one can be when it comes to interpreting Trump policy.  Trump is breaking the structures and  policy frameworks of America’s existing domestic and foreign policies.  The question is less whether he can accomplish some measure of this, then what will  it take future US leaders, assuming they are willing, to rebuild the institutions and policies that have been constructed over the past seven decades.  As Tom Friedman of the NYT recently declared:

Moreover, when you break big systems, which, albeit imperfectly, have stabilized regions, environments or industries for decades, it can be very difficult to restore them.

The litany of destruction by this President is now  all too familiar.  In his first day in office after his inaugurated, Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  He now appears to be targeting for destruction the NAFTA before the rather hapless Mexican and Canadian leaders.  And the South Korea-US free trade agreement appears to be next for the chopping bloc, notwithstanding the need it would seem to maintain close alliance support in the face of the North Korea’s nuclear and missile ambitions and US efforts to force DPRK denuclearization.

On June 1st, Trump announced the U.S. would withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord though that formally requires four years. The roll call goes on from formal withdrawal from UNESCO to lukewarm security support for NATO, to apparent contention over leaders’ communiques at recent G7 meeting in Italy to the G20 Hamburg statement. My colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations, Stewart Patrick has described in a post in RealClear World titled in part the ‘self-defeating sovereignty obsession’ of Donald Trump, the aggressive, and I would suggest, his ill-considered policy making approach:

Trump sees the world differently, more cynically. The imperative is to screw over the other guy before he does the same to you. His diplomacy contains no idealism, no appeals to better angels of our nature. It is all about power, without purpose.

As Patrick suggests the approach may be what is done in in the real estate world but it is far from the general approach of officials and leaders in global politics.

It falls short when it comes to the global agenda. There is no unilateral or bilateral solution to transnational terrorism, global financial instability, pandemic disease, international crime, or nuclear proliferation.

In no way does he appear – or act – in ways that appear even remotely akin to his immediate predecessors, Democratic or Republican.  Maybe NYT columnist David Brooks has captured best Trump’s day-to-day actions:

He was not elected to be a legislative president. He never showed any real interest in policy during the campaign. He was elected to be a cultural president. He was elected to shred the dominant American culture and to give voice to those who felt voiceless in that culture. He’s doing that every day. … Trump is not good at much, but he is wickedly good at sticking his thumb in the eye of the educated elites. He doesn’t have to build a new culture, or even attract a majority. He just has to tear down the old one.

From the US as leader of the liberal international order the U.S. increasingly appears a rogue of the same. As Richard Gowan suggests in World Politics Review:

Trump may not realize that he is laying the groundwork for a major breakdown of the international system. Little steps like affirming America’s detachment from UNESCO are hardly world-altering in their own right. But Trump is weakening the international order nonetheless, and neither he nor the U.S. foreign policy machinery as a whole may be able to navigate the turmoil that results from the president’s retreat from leadership.


It is not hard to see that Tom’s story of global governance – beyond the immediate global financial crisis of 20008 – is a narrative of growing disarray in global governance and the rising tensions brought on by the return of geopolitical frictions. And sitting here in the hyperventilation of the Korean crisis – with rhetorical blow after blow from Kim Jong-un and then from his rhetorical equal – the President of the United States, Donald Trump – Tom may be on to something.

Now some observers suggest that pattern of decline and the loss of leadership, while it may have accelerated with the presidency of Donald Trump, actually has been apparent for some time.  Christopher Layne, and others, have been attracted by the consequences of a rising power, most evidently China:     

Writing in the Financial Times, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said that London’s AIIB decision and its aftermath “may be remembered as the moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system.”


Summers was both right and wrong. The U.S. role as the hegemonic power in international politics and economics indeed is being challenged. But this did not start when Britain and the others decided to sign-up with the AIIB. America has been slowly, almost imperceptibly, losing its grip on global leadership for some time, and the Great Recession merely accelerated that process. China’s successful launch of the AIIB and its OBOR offspring merely accentuates that process. … Thus while OBOR and the AIIB don’t get the same attention from U.S. grand strategists as does China’s military buildup, they are equally important in signaling the ongoing power transition between the United States and China in East Asia. (Christopher Layne The American Conservative “Is the United States in Decline? August 8, 2017)

But the degree of dismantling is far beyond previous behavior.  It is not just that US power has declined, and other centers of power have emerged in a growing multilateralism – this is active destruction of the liberal international order. And while it is unquestionable that that geopolitical tensions have increased and China, in particular has grown powerful, both militarily and economically, and as Xi JInping has remarked at his opening speech to the 19th Party Congress – the unveiling of a ‘strong power’ or a ‘great power’. Yet in the international system, China remains, at least for now, a follower and not yet a leader. The realists are determined to see Chinese and Russian actions, combined with Trump’s erratic leadership, as the end of the liberal international order and the emergence, or a return if you like, of a great power ‘spheres of influence’ world order. Let’s hope not.   

Philip Stephens  of the FT  possibly has described America’s current leadership role best in his review of a recent book by two American historians examining ‘America First’:

The postwar international order — the framework of rules, alliances and institutions that, in broad terms, has kept the peace since 1945 — will not be so readily rescued from Trump’s foreign policy. The liberal internationalism that has defined the west has been rooted both in American power and in a shared commitment to freedom, democracy and the rule of law. This president disdains at once US global leadership and the essential values that have underwritten it. …  To identify shards of consistency, however, is not to imbue Trump’s approach with logic or wisdom. Less than a year into his presidency, he now looks out at a world in which America’s standing has never been lower. By disdaining alliances he has weakened the US. By courting Putin he has damaged US interests. Washington is seen by friends and enemies alike as unpredictable and untrustworthy. Trump can rail against globalism but he cannot undo the reality that America’s security and prosperity is intimately tied to the international order he disparages.

The last sentence is particularly pertinent.  The global governance system is built on a highly interdependent world – economic and political, both for good and for ill.  In the face of active dismantling by the Great Dismantler’ what can be done? We start with patience, I’m afraid.  It is evident that the President is instinctive and transactional in his dealings, so the best, possibly the only approach, is to remain committed to the liberal international order principles built around open markets, rule of law and a commitment to a process of democratization for all. It gets the ‘blood to flow’  when one contemplates the notion of rising up defending one’s sovereign rights and walking away from the table.  But that won’t work, whether its the NAFTA table, the NATO table, the G20 leaders table, or any other table.  Leaders will be called on to continue act in concert with, or more likely, without Trump. They need to keep the ship steaming forward, if at a much slower pace.

And meanwhile all leaders, certainly in the established countries, but not just here, need to attend to their national economies.  The income inequality and wealth inequality gaps must be reduced or the politics of Trump, or the particular country equivalent,  will only grow and the dismantling will not stop.

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The Liberal Order Under Trump at the Hamburg G20

The recent Hamburg G20 Summit was yet another setting where all eyes were on Trump. And in contrast to recent Summits, journalists, especially American journalists, had all eyes focused laser-like on the German Summit and in particular on the first public meeting of President Trump and Russia’s President Putin.  It was all great spectacle!

Fortunately, I had the good luck to have the opportunity to sit down with with Janice Stein, the founding director of the Munk School of Global Affairs to assess the liberal international order following the Hamburg G20 Summit. Janice and I had the chance to examine Trump’s actions: to evaluate the impact on allies and adversaries, Trump policy in the Middle East, North Korea and of course Trump’s behavior with Putin.  

Come and listen to this Global Summitry podcast with Janice Stein, Episode 13, in the continuing series on  ‘Shaking the Global Order:  American Foreign Policy in the Age of Trump.’  

Paris, Fossil Fuel Prices and Innovation and their Impact on Climate Change: Global Summitry Podcast – An Interview with UCSD’s David Victor

At Oxford’s, Global Summitry: Politics, Economics and Law in International Governance, I was lucky enough to sit down with David Victor to talk about climate change. David is a professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and the director of the School’s Laboratory on International Law and Regulation. He has been a contributor to the UNFCCC’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  He is one of the leading political scientists examining the consequences of climate change on global politics.

This interview with David examines the complicated requirements for the transition to a low carbon economy. David discusses questions of fossil fuel pricing, the role of coal and carbon capture and storage (CCS), and the impact of innovation on the road to deep decarbonization, the adequacy of today’s electric grids and the consequences of the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord. 

The Global Summitry’s podcast is Episode 12 in the podcast series: “Climate Change Policy in the Aftermath of the Paris Accord”. It can be found at Oxford’s, Global Summitry and also at iTunes and Soundcloud.

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The G20 – It’s Relevant But Different it Appears in the ‘Age of Trump’

 I suspect we’ll hear, once the dust settles a little on the chaos of the G20 Hamburg Summit, a litany of allegations that the Hamburg Summit reveals the irrelevance of the G20 in the Age of Trump.  Au contraire my ‘ill-observant friends’.That is certainly not the conclusion one should draw from this most recent G20 Summit, even in the ‘Age of Trump’.

There is likely to be varying views of the progress arising from the Hamburg Summit.  Our colleague Jonathan Luckhurst at Rising Powers in Global Governance posted a blog titled, “Hamburg G20 Summit Reaffirms Decentralizing Global Authority”.

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Climate Change Policy in the Aftermath of the Paris Accord. An Interview with Thomas Hale at Global Summitry Podcasts

So at Oxford’s  Global Summitry podcasts, we’ve begun a new series – this on the Paris climate change accord.  The podcast series ‘Climate Change Policy in the Aftermath of the Paris Accord’ begins with an interview with Thomas Hale, Associate Professor of Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University.  Tom has been at the forefront of efforts to understand climate change policy and indeed other critical transnational policy challenges.  The podcast interview explores the nature of the Accord, why this negotiation succeeded after so many years of fruitless effort to reach a climate change agreement. Tom also reflects on the decision of President Trump to withdraw the United States from the Agreement.      

Give it a listen.  There will be others soon.  And let us know what you think.  


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Description and Evaluation of It All: Launching a Global Summitry Archive

Here at Rising BRICSAM for some time now we’ve been concerned with Global Summitry, and summitry more generally. While Rising BRICSAM was born some years ago concerned with the emergence of new energetic emerging market actors – the BRICs, then the BRICS, and more – Rising BRICSAM has remained focused on all the ‘Influentials’ in global governance. As part of that focus we have sought to describe, examine and evaluate the effectiveness of the variety of states, institutions and now non-state actors (NSAs) that form the architecture of global order governance.

Under the umbrella of the Global Summitry Project (GSP) we have over the years launched a number of initiatives: the Global Summitry Reports (GSRs), Spotlight, China Perspectives and our most ambitious project the Oxford University Press journal, Global Summitry: Politics, Economics and Law in International Governance.

The Global Summitry Archive

And it is with great pleasure now that GSP announces the launch of the Global Summitry Archive (the Archive). This Archive aims to collect, preserve and make publicly available all information and the websites related to global summits.

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So Many Lose-Lose Propositions – ‘Shaking the Global Order’

We are beginning to understand the consequences of an ‘America First’ leadership of the Global Order. And to just about any observer of it, it isn’t pretty.  As we wait here today for President Trump’s announcement on the Paris Accord – and whether he pulls the United States officially out or not –the US is surely out at least for the next four years. 

The retreat of US leadership from the Liberal international order continues. Maybe the most startling recent statement actually comes from two Trump officials. In an opinion piece in WSJ assessing the success of Trump’s first overseas trip to the Middle East, to NATO and to the G7 in Italy, H.R. McMaster, the White House national security advisor and D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, described the America First view of the Global Order:

The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a “global community” but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.

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Looking at a Different ‘World Order’

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.

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The ‘Tweeting’ Elephant in the Room

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.

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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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