Few foreign policy issues have attracted more attention in recent years than the problem of sustaining the U.S.-led liberal international order. After World War II, the United States sponsored a set of institutions, rules, and norms designed to avoid repeating the mistakes of the 1930s and promote peace, prosperity, and democracy. The resulting system has served as the bedrock of U.S. national security strategy ever since. In everything from arms control to peacekeeping to trade to human rights, marrying U.S. power and international norms and institutions has achieved significant results. Washington continues to put maintaining the international order at the center of the United States’ global role.
Yet the survival of that order—indeed, of any ordering principles at all—now seems in question. Dissatisfied countries such as China and Russia view its operation as unjust, and people around the world are angry about the economic and social price they’ve had to pay for globalization.
It’s not clear exactly what President-elect Donald Trump’s views are on the role of the United States in the world, much less the liberal order, but his administration will confront the most profound foreign policy task that any new administration has faced in 70 years: rethinking the role that the international order should play in U.S. grand strategy. Whatever Trump’s own views, the instincts of many in Washington will be to attempt to restore a unified, U.S.-dominated system by confronting the rule breakers and aggressively promoting liberal values. This would be the wrong approach; in trying to hold the old order together, Washington could end up accelerating its dissolution. What the United States must learn to do instead is navigate and lead the more diversified, pluralistic system that is now materializing—one with a bigger role for emerging-market powers and more ways for countries other than the United States to lead than the current order provides.
THE HOUSE THAT WE BUILT
The creation of the