Pool / Reuters Trump at a meeting at NATO headquaters with Erdogan, May, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, May 2017

The World After Trump

How the System Can Endure

The warnings started long before Donald Trump was even a presidential candidate. For at least a decade, a growing chorus of foreign policy experts had been pointing to signs that the international order was coming apart. Authoritarian powers were flouting long-accepted rules. Failed states were radiating threats. Economies were being disrupted by technology and globalization; political systems, by populism. Meanwhile, the gap in power and influence between the United States—the leader and guarantor of the existing order—and the rest of the world was closing.

Then came Trump’s election. To those already issuing such warnings, it sounded the death knell of the world as it was. Even many of those who had previously resisted pessimism suddenly came to agree. As they saw it, the U.S.-led order—the post–World War II system of norms, institutions, and partnerships that has helped manage disputes, mobilize action, and govern international conduct—was ending for good. And what came next, they argued, would be either an entirely new order or a period with no real order at all.

But the existing order is more resilient than this assessment suggests. There is no doubt that Trump represents a meaningful threat to the health of both American democracy and the international system. And there is a nonnegligible risk that he could drag the country into a constitutional crisis, or the world into a crippling trade war or even an all-out nuclear war. Yet despite these risks, rumors of the international order’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. The system is built to last through significant shifts in global politics and economics and strong enough to survive a term of President Trump. 

This more optimistic view is offered not as comfort but as a call to action. The present moment demands resolve and affirmative thinking from the foreign policy community about how to sustain and reinforce the international order, not just lamentations about Trump’s destructiveness or resignation about the

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