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The Myth of the Liberal Order. From Historical Accident to Conventional Wisdom

June 14, 2018
Graham Allison
This is a summary of an article originally published by Foreign Affairs.

The author, former director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, writes that Trump's administration brought with it anxiety over the "fate of the liberal international rules-based order." These fears center around three primary claims: that the liberal order is responsible for the 70-year "long peace," that the main impetus behind U.S. involvement in world affairs was the construction of the liberal order and that Trump "is the primary threat to the liberal order—and thus to world peace." The author argues that the "long peace" was a product not of a liberal world order, but rather of the precarious balance of power between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and a short period of U.S. dominance after that. As for U.S. engagement in the world, that was driven mainly by a need "to preserve liberal democracy" domestically. And Trump, the author argues, is far from the primary threat to world peace. The Cold War's end gave rise not to a unipolar era, but merely a moment, and foreign policy experts have now recognized the rise of China and the resurgence of Russia. "As Kennedy put it … it will be enough to sustain a world order ‘safe for diversity’—liberal and illiberal alike. That will mean adapting U.S. efforts abroad to the reality that other countries have contrary views about governance and seek to establish their own international orders governed by their own rules.”

Read the full article at Foreign Affairs.


Graham Allison

Graham Allison is the former director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Photo by Timo Kohlenberg shared under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.