Rise and fall of liberal order | By Dr Shoaib Baloch


Rise and fall of liberal order

THE liberal international order is destined to collapse.Its debris will create a planet of disorder.

Orders are actually created to regulate interaction among states. A cluster of world institutions is set up to halt the assertive behaviour of small states and increase cooperation among great powers.

An order becomes international when all great powers are included in the arrangement whereas it becomes “bounded order” when one or more major powers are excluded from the system.

After the ruinous world wars of the twentieth century, the Cold War order was preoccupied largely with intense security competition between the US and the (erstwhile) Soviet Union.

Both major powers sought to design a world order in accordance with their respective domestic structures.

The Soviet Union tried to fashion a communist global order with socialist economic structure while the US attempted to make a liberal international order.

Finally, the collapse of communism paved the way for liberal international order which prompted Francis Fukuyama to proclaim the victory of liberalism.

When the Cold War ended in 1990, an international arrangement—liberal institutionalism, economic interdependence and democracy as governance structure—was made.

It had been a success story till 2000 but started to crumble when the US waged a global war on terror in 2001 and invaded Iraq in 2003.

Moreover, exporting democracy to other parts of the world was a liberal agenda which fell apart and regime change backfired in several regions that not only resurged nationalism but also triggered civil war in countries like Syria and Iraq.

Today, the liberal international order appears to be crumbling on account of multiple reasons.

But the most contributing factors to the demise of liberal international order are its failure to accommodate emerging major powers, the country which was charged to protect it appears to be retreating from global supremacy, rejection of other major powers of their role allotted to them by the system, significant shift in global balance of power, legitimacy crisis of global institutions, rise of virulent nationalism that may strangulate globalism sooner or later, and lack of coherence in the international liberal order mainly because of its universal appeal is bound to disappear.

Although the US has constructed an international order that included all great powers of the world, emerging new order will not be international in scope on account of the ambivalence of other powers to accept the legitimacy of a new world order.

A multipolar system also shrinks the space for a global order because it needs one leading state in the international system to uphold its principles through “carrot and stick” policy in absence of a peer competitor.

John Mearsheimer, an offensive realist, writes that “liberal international orders can arise only in unipolar system where the leading state is a liberal democracy.

”Can the rise of China allow the US to master the rules of the world? It looks unlikely as both powers are at draggers drawn over a myriad of geostrategic, geopolitical and geo-economic issues.

Neither power can craft the rules of the game in a confrontational environment. However, the US has succeeded in shaping the world with global norms through creating several multilateral organizations that have received universal relevance for over a couple of decades.

What will China offer the world with an authoritarian set-up at home? Henry Kissinger writes in the book “On China” that “American exceptionalism is missionary.

It holds that the United States has an obligation to spread its values to every part of the world.

China’s exceptionalism is cultural. China does not proselytize; it does not claim that its contemporary institutions are relevant outside China.

” Nevertheless, both powers aspire to build their respective version of world orders, but it must contain the substance of unifying principles.

It seems the new order will be regional in scope due to intensifying great power rivalry.

In fact, the rise of Asia will have a great impact on evolving new order because it hosts major economies of the world.

China wields a great deal of influence on Asian order by the virtue of the size of its economy, demography and military.

Regional economic and political organizations such as the RCEP and SCO will be the main components of new regional order, and it will reduce the role of global organizations like the UN, IMF, WTO and so on.

Put it simply, world will be divided into competing regional orders like Asian order, European Order, Islamic Order, American Order and African Order.

Or there will be Western and Eastern orders along with a thin international liberal order and thick silos of regional orders.

Indeed, the world’s retreat to regionalism will eventually cause the death of globalization. The rise of liberal international order is primarily owed to globalization and so its fall.

Global economic and political integration has enabled the US to create a rule-based universal order, but the rise of anti-globalization forces such as nationalism, illiberal populism, hybrid warfare, economic decoupling of major economies and cultural protectionist movements may rip asunder the liberal project.

Henry Kissinger writes in another book “World Order” that “the international order faces a paradox: its prosperity is dependent on the success of globalization.”

Finally, given the US-China confrontational rhetoric, there will be the “repetition of previous tragedy”.

When the European system could not accommodate Germany during the 20th Century, it triggered two catastrophic wars.

If the liberal system fails to bring forth a wide berth to China and global balance of power continues to shift, world will embroil in devastating conflicts.

Hence, the fall of liberal international order does not bode well for world’s peace and stability.

—The writer is a strategic affairs and foreign policy analyst.