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The Myth of the Liberal Order

From Historical Accident to Conventional Wisdom

Sailors aboard the USS George Washington in Hong Kong, January 2012. Reuters

Among the debates that have swept the U.S. foreign policy community since the beginning of the Trump administration, alarm about the fate of the liberal international rules-based order has emerged as one of the few fixed points. From the international relations scholar G. John Ikenberry’s claim that “for seven decades the world has been dominated by a western liberal order” to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s call in the final days of the Obama administration to “act urgently to defend the liberal international order,” this banner waves atop most discussions of the United States’ role in the world. 

About this order, the reigning consensus makes three core claims. First, that the liberal order has been the principal cause of the so-called long peace among great powers for the past seven decades. Second, that constructing this order has been the main driver of U.S. engagement in

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