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Fri. February 23, 2024
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Defending the Liberal World Order: A Winning Strategy or a Folly?
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Last year about this time I had the good fortune to attend an event at the Atlantic Council discussing the release of a new strategy paper, “Present at the Re-creation: A Global Strategy for Revitalizing, Adapting, and Defending a Rules-Based International Order” by Ash Jain and Matthew Kroenig. The conference room was jam packed, probably due to the presence of the Honorable Madeline Albright, the former Secretary of State. The paper essentially posited three scenarios for the US – and the rest of the world – and called for a new strategy. The first scenario, the “new bipolarity” is where there is a high tension for war between China and the United States (US.) The second, “a world restored” where both China and the US steer policy in a more stable direction. The third, “descent into chaos” was the most disturbing. This scenario features slow growth well beyond 2035 and a continued rise in populism across the globe. Most of the question and answer period (Q&A) focused on describing the post-World War II rules-based order and whether or not it is too late to re-establishing it again. The authors believed we can and should.

The second half of the event focused on a what that new “global strategy for a changing world” might be. Three options were laid out by the presenters:

  • Revitalization – where the US brings new democracies together and finding a productive way to engage with the autocracies and focus on building support for their nascent democracies.
  • Adaptation – where the US leads the building of an alliance of free nations, develop a new world trade agreement, and establishing norms and rules to handle disruptive technologies.
  • Defend – creating a more systematic way to enforce the rules and ramping up great power to counter both China and Russia.

The issue of re-establishing the international, rules-based honor still rages on. In fact, this topic came up just last week. Again, I had the good fortune to listen to a very engaging and lively discussion hosted by the University of Virginia’s (UVA) Democratic Statecraft Lab, a special project falling under UVA’s Democracy Initiative. National Public Radio’s (NPR) All Things Considered (ATC) host, Mary Louise Kelly moderated a discussion with Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School and Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton. The title of the debate was “Should the US Defend the Liberal World Order?” aka the international rules-based order mentioned above. “We deceived ourselves that the rest of the world would adopt freedom and the rule of law” was the opening salvo by professor Walt. Further, “…liberal world order is a myth…more people live under authoritarian regimes.”

Professor Slaughter, who also held a planning and policy role for the Department of State focused her arguments that the US should lead by example and not push democracy, even if peacefully. She believes that standing for our values is a key source of power for the US. The “US must deliver on our values to our citizens.” They both believed that we need to strengthen our relationships with our allies. As in a paper my UVA student published over the summer in the Center for International Relations, professor Slaughter suggested that we can establish a “people-centered world order” and tackle the issues we don’t seem to be able to do at the National level leveraging states, cities, and business to re-make the United Nation’s system to tackle global problems, like the pandemic, climate change, or race relations.

In their closing statement, both tended to support the following actions:

  • Strengthen relations with our allies (this point was echoed by former National Security Advisor Bud McFarlane is talk at the Scowcroft center this past week)
  • Create a new group of democracies and tackle the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Create a new, people-centered world order (the old one wasn’t successful as we had dreamed.)
  • Galvanize governors, mayors and CEOs to re-make the system
  • Stand for universal inalienable rights
  • Avoid bilateralism and seek multilateralism – working together to stave off China’s rising power and Russian’s attempts to “…weaken democratic societies from within.”

Policies and strategies like these can perhaps defend a new rules-based order. If we don’t act, it will be a folly indeed.

About the author: Mr. Stockmal writes monthly articles on organizational development, leadership, strategy, organizational transformation, and cyber security for The Strategic Edge, a publication of the Association for Strategic Planning (ASP.) Jim teaches the Strategic Management Performance System (SMPS) in conjunction with LBL Strategies and George Washington University’s Center for Excellence in Public Leadership (CEPL.) Jim also teaches the Mastering Agile Organizational Design program for CEPL. Jim also provides leadership support for the Manage to Lead program by Intelliven. Over the years, Jim has trained nearly 5000 adult learners in the areas of strategy, process improvement, change management, and organizational development.

He can be reached on Twitter: @stockmalj. Select publications and presentations include:


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