The end of lib­eral in­ter­na­tion­al­ism

In the pres­ence of strug­gling economies, au­to­cratic regimes as­sert a will to power

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Herbert Lon­don Herbert Lon­don is pres­i­dent of the Lon­don Cen­ter for Pol­icy Re­search.

At the end of World War II, the United States es­tab­lished a lib­eral in­ter­na­tional or­der that in­cluded an in­sti­tu­tional com­mit­ment to free trade and free­dom of the seas. It also in­cluded un­prece­dented as­sis­tance to weak na­tions in­ca­pable of fend­ing for them­selves, through the Mar­shall Plan, NATO and other al­liances. How­ever one de­scribes the U.S. rule, it did pro­vide a pe­riod of equi­lib­rium, not­with­stand­ing chal­lenges from the Soviet Union.

While the U.S. is not likely to be com­pletely dis­placed from its dom­i­nant po­si­tion in the 21st cen­tury, this or­der will un­doubt­edly be threat­ened by a dif­fu­sion of power and the com­plex­ity of world pol­i­tics. The open­ness that en­abled the U.S. to build net­works, main­tain in­sti­tu­tions and al­liances is un­der siege. In­ter­nally, the pop­ulist re­ac­tion to glob­al­iza­tion and trade agree­ments il­lus­trate an­tipa­thy to the post-war ar­range­ments. Ex­ter­nally, a ris­ing Chi­nese mil­i­tary pres­ence in the South China Sea and Rus­sian as­sertive­ness in Syria and Crimea chal­lenge as­sump­tions of the past.

In Asia, Bei­jing seeks to draw Amer­i­can al­lies such as the Philip­pines and Thai­land into its po­lit­i­cal or­bit. In the Mid­dle East, the U.S. has been un­able to guide the re­gion to­ward a more lib­eral and peace­ful fu­ture in the wake of the Arab Spring and has proved to be pow­er­less to halt the killing fields in Aleppo. Rus­sia’s geopo­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence has reached heights un­seen since the Cold War as Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin at­tempts to roll back lib­eral ad­vances on his ge­o­graphic pe­riph­ery.

For 50 years or more, the Euro­pean Union seemed to rep­re­sent the ad­vance guard of a new lib­er­al­ism in which na­tions “pool” sovereignty for con­ti­nen­tal co­op­er­a­tion. But to­day the EU is frac­tured. The de­par­ture of jobs to Asia and the ar­rival of mi­grants from Africa and the Mid­dle East have re­sus­ci­tated na­tion­al­is­tic im­pulses. Brexit was merely one man­i­fes­ta­tion of this trend. Af­ter that June vote, the only ques­tion that re­mains is which coun­try is next to leave the EU and how much more con­trac­tion can the Union tol­er­ate.

Even though Nor­bert Hofer of Aus­tria’s Free­dom party lost the elec­tion to a pro-EU party, his strong show­ing set off alarm bells through­out the EU. Ear­lier this year, Mr. Hofer said that Is­lam “has no place in Aus­tria” with­out ex­plain­ing what that means for Aus­tria’s Mus­lims.

The Ital­ian ref­er­en­dum also sug­gested a trou­bling trend line for the EU. Mat­teo Renzi’s pro­posal to ex­tend his pow­ers and ease fur­ther re­forms was seen as a plebiscite on his premier­ship. It was soundly re­jected and Renzi was obliged to re­sign. The “win­ner” of the ref­er­en­dum is Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Move­ment, a move­ment skep­ti­cal of the EU and global lib­er­al­ism.

Over this past decade, buf­feted by fi­nan­cial crises, pop­ulist in­sur­gen­cies and the resur­gence of au­thor­i­tar­ian pow­ers, the lib­eral in­ter­na­tional or­der has stum­bled. In part this process of dis­so­lu­tion is re­lated to the be­lief that the U.S., as the su­per­power main­tain­ing global equi­lib­rium, is no longer a fully en­gaged part­ner. Where the U.S. has lapsed, Rus­sia has in­ter­vened — not­with­stand­ing its own eco­nomic weak­ness.

What the world is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing is ma­te­rial re­duc­tion brought about through the de­mand for so­cial ser­vices and eq­uity with­out the abil­ity to gen­er­ate ad­e­quate rev­enue. Debt is the bur­den that over­whelms Europe. A cri de coeur heard through­out the con­ti­nent is a plea for the de­liv­ery of re­turns to so­ci­ety su­pe­rior to al­ter­na­tive fi­nan­cial ar­range­ments. In the back­drop of un­sus­tain­able fi­nanc­ing is a Rus­sian sys­tem of cen­tral­ized and opaque po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship in­com­pat­i­ble with Europe’s mar­ket and rules based sys­tem and a Chi­nese ini­tia­tives for global trade man­aged by a Com­mu­nist party ap­pa­ra­tus that will not tol­er­ate op­po­si­tion.

Rus­sia and China rep­re­sent a kind of Ni­et­zschean “will to power” ap­plied to a lib­eral in­ter­na­tional or­der weaker than it has been in three gen­er­a­tions. Hence, au­to­cratic gov­ern­ments will at­tempt to es­tab­lish an al­ter­na­tive po­lit­i­cal or­der man­aged by might rather than rules. The best that can be hoped for, short of con­flicts is an awk­ward co­ex­is­tence be­tween lib­eral and il­lib­eral na­tions. But even this com­pro­mise, should it be ac­cepted, is tacit be­lief the lib­eral in­ter­na­tion­al­ism that kept the world in­tact for 80 years is over.


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