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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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 :
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.
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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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.