October 27, 2016 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads – The Rise of Populism

The rise of populism is one of the most important global developments in recent memory. Across the globe, we are hearing calls for taller fences and bigger walls. We are seeing populists who exploit anxieties and create scapegoats out of immigrants and minorities. These populists, whom I call the “new demagogues,” have largely rejected the bedrock assumptions of the post-war era: that free trade, openness, and integration are forces for global peace and prosperity.

This new era of populism—which you can hear Chatham House Director Robin Niblett and I analyze on the Council’s latest podcast—is a dangerous one, and the costs are already becoming apparent.

Late last week, a major trade deal between the EU and Canada nearly collapsed in the face of mounting populist pressure. The deal, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, is now on life support as European negotiators scramble to reach a compromise. CETA’s fate is likely to represent a harbinger of things to come, as the same forces that afflict CETA are also working against US-led trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

On the issue of immigration, too, populists have had an outsized influence. In Europe, they have fiercely resisted increased quotas for Syrian refugees. And in the United States, populists have called for mass deportations, religious tests, and a massive border wall. The upshot of such policies would be a more closed, less diverse Western society.

But rising populism is not isolated to America and the West. In China, too, populism has taken hold, and it is being channeled in troubling ways. As Andrew Browne notes in The Wall Street Journal, Chinese President Xi Jinping is translating anti-globalization sentiments into an assertive, militaristic nationalism. The same is happening in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin is using populist tactics and anti-American rhetoric to stir up domestic support. It’s not difficult to imagine how such heated rhetoric could spiral out of control and make great-power conflict more likely.

As discussed in the Council’s populism symposium this week, whether or not our world continues to be open or increasingly closed hinges on the success or failure of these new demagogues. This week’s reads explore some of the reasons why populists are gaining more prominence and what this means for America and the world.

Populism on the March

Fareed Zakaria/Foreign Affairs

In the post-Cold War years, the economic policies of the left and right wing political parties of the West have largely converged. What separates them now is a split on cultural issues – same sex marriage, gender equality, and immigration. Concern about immigration, even more so than stagnant economics, is what has been the unifying feature of the populist movements across the West, writes Fareed Zakaria. Cultural change has moved too fast for many to digest, although young people are far more accepting of foreigners than their elders. “Immigration is the final frontier of globalization,” he says, and “eventually we will cross this frontier as well.”

The Decline of the West, and How to Stop It

Javier Solana and Strobe Talbott/ The New York Times

The liberal democratic Western order created after WWII has provided economic growth and peace for decades. That has changed in recent years, and populist movements against globalism have spread across the West. Javier Solana and Strobe Talbott say that political leaders must be understanding and accommodating to the concerns of these groups if globalization is to survive in the long run. In order for globalization to be more sustainable, the economic benefits must be more equitable and less concentrated at the top.

We are Returning to a World of Great-Power Rivalry

John Sawers/ Financial Times

The post-Cold War unilateral power of the United States has ended, writes John Sawers. China and Russia, each with their own interests, have emerged to challenge the United States. Russia has a failing economy but military might, while China has both a growing economy and growing political and military influence. Russia would like a partnership with China to rival the United States; China wants Russia under its thumb while avoiding direct conflict with the United States. Meanwhile, the United States wants to maintain the order it has created but is doing little to proactively strengthen its allegiances and institutions. Sawers says the only answer is to cooperate with these powers and avoid disastrous conflict.

With Europe-Canada Deal Near Collapse, Globalization’s Latest Chapter Is History

Peter S. Goodman and James Kanter / The New York Times

A trade agreement between Europe and Canada that seemed a sure bet a year ago has collapsed, undone by small dairy farmers in Belgium. If an agreement between two wealthy, well-regulated nations can collapse, than other trade deals between developed and developing nations, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, have no hope of surviving, according to Peter Goodman and James Kanter. If the people in these two regions cannot trust one another to deliver policies that will make the unimpeded exchange of goods and services a desirable deal for both, then the merits of trade are effectively defunct in the political realm.

Xi Jinping’s Trump Moment

Andrew Browne/ The Wall Street Journal

China, not the United States, has been hurt most by closing factories and moving industries in recent years. Chinese economic growth has been slowing as the services sector and consumption have failed to offset the decline in manufacturing. The Communist Party fears its legitimacy and public support will go the way of their economy. President Xi Jingping hopes to build up nationalism and anti-Americanism and offer growing political power as a substitute. Noting that that Xi’s actions parallel Donald Trump’s movement of nationalism in the United States, Andrew Browne says the United States and China both need to recognize that each has a stake in the other’s success.

The Threat from Russia

The Economist

Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, have reemerged as the United States’ largest adversary, with the email hacks to influence the presidential election the most recent example of Russian aggression. As the Russian economy collapses and its population shrinks, Putin has maintained popular support in his country through anti-Americanism. Containing his declining power through continued diplomacy is the only way to ensure avoiding a dangerous lashing, writes The Economist. The most dire outcome is a nuclear miscalculation; as Russia declines, its arsenal is its only enduring advantage. The West must stay strong and not be torn apart in the face of mounting pressure.

Europe Wishes to Inform You That the Refugee Crisis Is Over

James Traub/ Foreign Policy

The flow of refugees into Europe has been stemmed, largely due to Turkey’s cooperation. The political and moral ramifications of how to deal with this crisis, however, have only just begun. Europe’s leaders are in a difficult spot: They could limit migration, as the European public mostly wishes, and look cruel on the international stage, or they could accept the refugees, potentially bringing to power xenophobic movements that would block immigration entirely. Europe needs migrants to reinvigorate its stagnant population and economy, and James Traub says that its goal must be to make immigration easier while acknowledging people’s fears—without exploiting them.


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

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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