Describing the ‘Great Dismantler’ at Work

The ‘Shaking the Global Order’ series continues with a podcast interview with Kori Schake. Schake has been involved with national security and diplomacy over a number of years.  She has worked at the Department of Defense on NATO issues and for the Assistant Secretary of Defense on strategy and requirements.  She has worked at the National Security Council during the George W. Bush first term and in 2007-8 she served as Deputy Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department. Schake published, with the now Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military and has just released Safe Passage:The Transformation from British to American Hegemony. She is currently a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.   In this wide ranging Global Summitry podcast Schake discusses how she sees the Trump administration’s policies on the Korean Peninsula and with Iran.  She describes this Administration’s handling of foreign policy and nuclear strategy. She examines United States treatment of its allies and its adversaries in the international system and assesses  Trump policy and what it is doing to the Liberal Order that the United States has been a leader in building over the last 70 years.  Schake is insightful and deeply knowledgeable about an Order she has seen from the inside.

(You can download the podcast at iTunes and at Soundcloud.)




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.’  

An Addendum to the Hamburg G20

So, I was struck almost immediately by the headline in the Atlantic blog on the Hamburg G20.  It turns out that the post was by my good friend Tom Wright from Brookings. The headline – “The G20 is Obsolete”. Just as I thought but so soon after Hamburg!

Tom’s defense – when I caught him – he didn’t write the headline, which I suspect is perfectly true – but really. At least a protest!

My only immediate reposte -“you had better hope not” that is at least with respect to the conclusion.  Now, Tom generally edges to the realist side when examining the liberal internationalist order, but I was surprised by the vehemence.  Take this line:  

But the divisions in the G20 run far deeper than frustration with Trump: The body itself is a vestige of a world that no long exists.

Whoa.  That’s strong!

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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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‘America First’: American Foreign Policy in the ‘Age of Trump’


Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy  is only very slowly being revealed.  But this week will see an important addition.  On Thursday and Friday President Trump will be meeting China’s President Xi Jinping.  This meeting represents a crucial first meeting of the leaders though we have seen Secretary of State Tillerson in Beijing recently.  But Tillerson remains an enigma and it is not at all clear that he has the ‘ear ‘ of President Trump. This week we will see Donald Trump at the center of American foreign policy making with arguably the most relationship in the global order.

We have been working hard at the Global Summitry Project to chronicle and evaluate the impact of Trump on the Liberal Order.  Much of our effort can be seen at the Oxford’s journal, Global Summitry: Politics, Economics and Law in International Governance. The Journal is a partnership of the Munk School and the Rotman Management School.  I am one of the Senior Editors there. We have just launched a new podcast series – ‘Shaking the Global Order:  American Foreign Policy in the Age of Trump. Our first podcast episode, this an interview with Rory MacFarquhar a former Obama official, has just appeared. In celebration of the series, we have added the podcasts to iTunes and Soundcloud. Also, take a look at our analysis of Trump foreign policy: “Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy that its impact on the Liberal Order” that just recently appeared at the OUPBlog

Where will Trump take the United States? And where will he take the Liberal Order?  It remains an open question. Former Prime UK Minister, Tony Blair writing recently in the NYT about the politics of the centre and the challenges and pressures being experienced to both centre right and centre left parties raised the key issue:

The question is, will this be a temporary phase, perhaps linked to the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and Sept. 11, and will politics soon revert to normal, or has a new political age begun?


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‘Shaking the Temple’ – Trump and the Liberal Order

With the change in US Administrations we face possibly the most dramatic change in US foreign policy since the end of World War II.  The global leader has seemingly become the rogue seeking dramatic change in the Liberal Order the US has as much or more responsibility for over the last seventy years plus.

As has quickly become clear, however, we do not know if President’s Trump rhetoric of the campaign will be followed by actions matching the rhetoric.  There is some reason to think that his and his administration’s actions will not match some of the more highly nationalist expressions of his ‘America First’ rhetoric.  One need only look at Trump’s early statements and actions on China – phoning the Taiwan President, then questioning the ‘One China Policy’ only to reaffirm the policy in a call with China President Xi Jinping – to raise questions even doubts over the election rhetoric. But even without dramatic foreign policy actions it is not hard to see Trump and his Administration as possibly the greatest challenge to the Liberal Order that any of us have witnessed.

I will be periodically examining US foreign policy, and the policy toward the Liberal Order it and by key actors -supporters and detractors alike – hoping to assess the impact of the policies and actions on the Liberal Order. The first entry is the piece I was invited to post at the US-China Focus website.  There will be others. In addition, as Senior Editor of Oxford’s Global Summitry: Politics, Economics, and Law in International Governance, I intend to post a series of podcast interviews with experts and former officials on: ‘Shaking the Global Order: American Foreign Policy in the Age of Trump’.   I will back to you on additional posts and the podcast series.



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“Burning the International Order to the Ground”


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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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A ‘Quaint’ but Made-up US Grand Strategy

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My colleagues John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have returned to offer a new and improved version of US foreign policy.  In their recent piece “The Case for Offshore Balancing: A Superior US Grand Strategy” they offer both a critique of current foreign policy, which they see as some variant of liberal hegemony and provide, according them a clear and superior alternative – ‘offshore balancing’:

There is a better way. By pursuing a strategy of “offshore balancing,” Washington would forgo ambitious efforts to remake other societies and concentrate on what really matters: preserving U.S. dominance in the Western Hemisphere and countering potential hegemons in Europe, Northeast Asia, and the Persian Gulf. Instead of policing the world, the United States would encourage other countries to take the lead in checking rising powers, intervening itself only when necessary.

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