The evolving international order and the role of American leadership in that order were taken up recently by G. John Ikenberry in our Global Institutional Reform Workshop (GIR).  John is Princeton University’s Albert G. Milbank Professor of Politics and International Affairs and a leading proponent of liberal internationalism.  His After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restrain, and the Rebuilding of Order After Major Wars (2001) is a much-cited examination of the rise of liberal internationalism.

The GIR Workshop is a partnership in part between CIGI and Princeton University.  This past August (August 25-27, 2008) at Princeton we held the second biennial Princeton Summer Workshop.  John produced a most interesting paper, “The Three Faces of Liberal Internationalism.”  This, like many of the other presentations, (other chapters will be reviewed here at the Rising BRICSAM blog in the next few weeks) will be brought together, and in, the second of, ‘Can the World be Governed?’ - the new volume: “Rising States; Rising Institutions: Can the World be Governed?”

As the premise of the chapter, John hypothesizes that the liberal international order has evolved and is continuing to evolve in contemporary international relations: “As in the past, the liberal international “project” is evolving.  The old American-led liberal hegemonic order is giving way to something new.”  He then sketches the evolution of the liberal international order from the beginning of the last century: the Wilsonian Liberal International Order 1.0; the Cold War Liberal International Order 2.0; and the post Cold War Liberal International Order.  The current way forward, as John describes it, is not determined; alternative evolutionary paths are quite possible.

What then are that new order and the path to the reform of global governance?  John sees three possible paths.  The first is what he calls liberal internationalism 3.0.  This new reformed liberal order will become more universal and less hierarchical than the previous 2.0.  As John suggests this will be a “flatter” international order, one where “the United States plays a less central role in providing functional services - generating public goods, stabilizing markets, and promoting cooperation.”  Such an order will be a significant refashioning of the current global governance order.  In this new order, “authority would move toward universal institutions…”   This new order has been frequently discussed here in Rising BRICSAM. It would necessarily expand membership to encompass the BRICSAM countries - at least in the G8 plus, if not in the UNSC - and possibly include other powers, if for instance the G20 Leadership summit emerges as a major new global governance organization. Though, as noted above, there will be a flatter hierarchy, it will not disappear, according to John.  As he suggests, “it simply will not be American-dominated hierarchy.”  In such an order, “their leadership responsibilities will multiply to include a wider array of security, economic and political governance duties.”

But liberal international order 3.0 is not the only path forward; indeed, it may not even be the most likely.  A second possible path, what John refers to as liberal international order 2.5, is another way forward in the reform of global governance.  As the name implies this evolution is less fully transformed.  As John sees this, “… the United States would renegotiate the bargains and institutions of the past decade but retain its position as hegemonic leader.  In some sense, this is what is already happening today.”  In such an evolution the United States would  continue to provide many of the functional services to the wider global governance system and retain some/many of the hierarchical rights it currently has in the global governance.  The presumption would be that states, especially the emerging great powers, or EGPs, would accept the altered bargains and rules in this partially transformed hierarchical order.  In such a partial transformation the United States would likely share authority over many of the economic global governance organizations but still, for example, retain its hegemonic position in, say, the security realm.

A third, and final path, is described as the breakdown in the liberal international order.  Such a path would occur, according to John, where the current order, “… were to become significantly less open and rule-based.”  While John suggests that this outcome need not entail the complete breakdown of global governance, it would mean at least the, “… end to its open, rules-based, multilateral character.” In such an order you are far more likely to see regional blocs and bilateral pacts in the security and in economic spheres.

So which is more likely and how will the new Obama Administration nudge the evolution down one path or another?  John describes a number of variables that are likely to shape the evolution.  One is the actual willingness of the US to cede authority back to the international system and a widened leadership.  A second variable is “the degree to which America’s security capabilities can be leveraged into wider economic and political agreements.” If the great powers value the significant military and security advantages that the US currently possesses then a modified hegemonic system is possible.  If not, then the other paths are more likely. The final variable is “the degree of divergence among the leading states in their visions of global governance.”  Again this is one of the critical issues we’ve raised in the Rising BRICSAM blog posts. How different BRICSAM countries assess the continued hierarchical rights of the US and the bargains and rules they are prepared to make with the US will have a mighty influence on the evolution of the liberal international order.  And so it goes.

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