October 19, 2016 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads – Avoiding Global Disorder


In a recent essay in the Financial Times, Philip Stephens lays out an argument that deserves repeating: The liberal world order—organized around US power and Western institutions and norms—has been eroded, leaving the world at a hinge point. Indeed, I believe the international order faces greater challenges today than at any time since the height of the Cold War.

This may sound abstract, but consider what is at stake. The international order that has existed since the end of World War II helped usher in a period of unprecedented prosperity, lifting millions out of poverty across the world. It has been key to the avoidance of major conflicts between great powers. It has provided the framework for expanding international trade, free and open markets, and liberal democracy. Its collapse would make for a more fractured, poorer, and more dangerous world.

To avoid such a collapse, it is critical that we understand the biggest threats and develop a renewed commitment to American leadership.

Where are the threats coming from? One clear challenge is a return of geopolitics, which has manifested itself in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Russia’s actions in Ukraine upended a core principle upon which international security is based: that states do not seize territory by force. Moreover, Russia has further militarized relations with the West—shipping nuclear-capable missile systems to Kaliningrad and deploying anti-aircraft missiles to Syria’s Assad regime.

Another major threat comes from growing nationalist movements that promote nativist or xenophobic world views. We see this across Europe, with this summer’s Brexit vote being the most striking example. But it is in the United States where growing nationalism poses the larger threat. The call for “America First” policies threatens to turn the United States inward and away from the world.

What is America to do? There must be a renewed, bipartisan strategy for the United States to uphold the international economic and security order from which Americans have derived so many benefits. While doing so, it’s important that the next president maintain focus on what’s truly important: First, Asia; second, Europe; and third, the Middle East.

The world is indeed at a tipping point. But it is far from inevitable that we descend into global disorder. This week’s reads provide some insight into the major threats to the liberal world order, as well as some perspectives on how it can be strengthened through US leadership. 

How the West Has Lost the World

Philip Stephens/Financial Times

The post-Cold War order is collapsing around the Western democracies, writes Philip Stephens in the Financial Times. As the United States experiences relative decline, the European Union fumbles its recovery from a series of economic crises, and rising powers defect from the liberal post-war consensus, the question arises: How will international relations be organized in the future? Nationalism is the new norm, but it is unclear whether this trend will be harnessed to create a more inclusive international order—or if it will drive states apart into semi-organized disorder.

After Obama: The Future of US Foreign Policy

Robert Zoellick/Financial Times

As President Obama prepares to depart the White House, the 70-year old security and economic order the United States helped establish after World War II is fracturing under stress. The next president will need to make some difficult choices about whether to try and support this system or not. Clinton’s expected appointments will seek to largely continue Obama’s foreign policy, while Trump’s expected appointments and policy positions are unclear. Both candidates, however, must form teams that can work together to anticipate and react to increasingly volatile world events.

Behind Putin's Combativeness, Some See Motives Other Than Syria

Neil MacFarquhar/The New York Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent relations with the United States reeling by halting several nuclear accords, deploying anti-aircraft weapons to Syria and long-range ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, and pushing for the reopening of military bases in Cuba and Vietnam. According to Neil MacFarquhar, this hawkish behavior could be intended to mask deep-rooted economic issues. Incomes in Russia are falling for the first time since 2000, and commentators suspect gaping holes in the federal budget. Putin’s warmongering could simply be a ploy to mask his domestic insecurity.

Putin, Syria, and Why Moscow Has Gone War-Crazy

Joshua Yaffa/The New Yorker

The souring of relations between Washington and Moscow are symptomatic of a larger crisis in Russian national identity, writes Joshua Yaffa in The New Yorker. A regional power attempting to project global influence, Russia is resorting to risky and bombastic moves to make its presence felt. Propping up the Assad regime in Syria, overt meddling in the US election discourse, and hinting at the possibility of nuclear conflict are all tactics to inflate Russian influence beyond its actual economic and conventional military means.

The Best Answer to Russian Aggression Is Containment

Ivo Daalder/Financial Times

Relations between the United States and Russia are at their lowest point in the last 30 years. Russia has become increasingly dangerous to the West, and there has yet to be a coherent policy in response. The best answer, I believe, is a strategy of containment. The United States took this approach during the Soviet years, and, although it took patience, it eventually paid off. Attempting to integrate Russia into the West has failed, and being overly aggressive plays into Putin’s hands. Only sustained outside pressure will bring about the internal change needed to reform Russia’s foreign policy.

Despite What Trump and Clinton Say, Americans Want the US to Be a Global Leader

Ivo Daalder/The Washington Post

Recent Council survey data shows that Americans support the US role as a global leader. Although this election has brought isolationism to the forefront, almost twice as many Americans favor an active US role in world affairs and view the United States as a positive, powerful force for good. The public also is largely supportive of international trade, though there is a split down the aisle on the issue. The starkest difference is over immigration, where 80 percent of Trump supporters view immigrants and refugees as a threat. Nevertheless, support for measured, open, and active engagement with the world endures.

London and the World

Financial Times

All eyes are on London and what will become of its place in the global finance industry after the Brexit vote. Covered in this special report from the Financial Times are diverse columns and features about the future London of economy but also art, sports, and even transportation in city. Highlights include an interview with London mayor Sadiq Khan about openness (a topic he discussed during his speech at the Council), the city’s challenges of pollution, and why “scientific anarchy” could make London the biomedical capital of the world.

In the Future, Cities May Finally Solve Problems That Have Stumped the World's Biggest Nations

Noah Toly/Quartz

Forty-two of the world’s top 100 economic entities are cities, says a new report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, illustrating how cities command a significant share of global economic output and could better harness their economic power to influence global policy. In an analysis from the report for Quartz, Council senior fellow Noah Toly explores how cities are—and could—shape the future of global affairs.

Rise of Saudi Prince Shatters Decades of Royal Tradition

Mark Mazzetti and Ben Hubbard/The New York Times

A young Saudi prince has quietly accumulated power over the kingdom’s government and economy, starting a war to combat Houthi rebels in Yemen and implementing austerity measures. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is only second in line for the throne, but his recent moves indicate that he may attempt to skip the line of succession and assume power upon his father’s death. His efforts to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil and bolster government services are promising signs of a bright future, but political racketeering also has the potential to destabilize the region.


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The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.


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