The close of World War I was accompanied by great political and intellectual ferment over how to build a more peaceful and democratic postwar world. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson spent the first half of 1919 in Europe, working closely with British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, and other leaders. Together, they concluded the Treaty of Versailles and brought to life the League of Nations.

The league was a radical innovation, a bold attempt to build an assembly of nations committed to peace, open diplomacy, and international law. Some 60 countries joined, cooperating to mediate territorial disputes, reduce armaments, set up an international court of justice, protect ethnic minorities, and create a health section to contain disease (the league took shape amid the influenza pandemic of 1918–1919). The league was, however, dealt an early blow when the U.S. Senate rejected U.S. membership, refusing to allow participation in a rules-based international order that it deemed would encroach on the nation’s sovereignty. The league’s failure to organize an effective response to the nationalism and militarism in both Europe and Asia during the 1930s further damaged its credibility.

Yet the innovative burst of order building that took place at the close of World War I left an imprint on global affairs and would go on to shape the United Nations and the broader postwar architecture that emerged after the next global war. In effect, 1919 was a dry run for 1945.

The intellectual ferment of the post–World War I era took place not only among diplomats and political leaders. Societies at large were jolted and brought together by the Great War. Educators, members of the business community, journalists, and average citizens became more internationalist and more interested in statecraft. In 1919, Georgetown University founded the School of Foreign Service to educate students in international commerce and diplomacy. In 1920, the British Institute of International Affairs—soon to be known as Chatham House—opened its doors. Ever since, Chatham House has fostered mutual understanding among nations and their peoples through debate, dialogue, and independent analysis. The Council on Foreign Relations was founded in 1921 and became the go-to venue for private-sector representatives, politicians, diplomats, military leaders, journalists, and academics to debate U.S. foreign policy.

To mark and celebrate their centennials, Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, Chatham House, and the Council on Foreign Relations have teamed up to produce this compilation of essays. This volume is the product of the Lloyd George Study Group on World Order, a joint effort of these three institutions, made possible by the generosity of the family of Robert Lloyd George, the great-grandson of David Lloyd George. We hope the essays in this volume duly honor Prime Minister Lloyd George and his role in guiding World War I to a close and crafting a new postwar order. We also aspire to honor the contributions that the School of Foreign Service, Chatham House, and the Council on Foreign Relations have made to the study and practice of international affairs over the past century.

A New Order-Building Moment: Exploring Options

The world has arrived at a new order-building moment—one not unlike the post–World War I era. The global balance of power is shifting; the unipolarity of the early post–Cold War era is giving way to a multipolar international system. Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 U.S. presidential election represents a marked reprieve from the angry populism, nativism, and illiberalism that have of late taken hold on both sides of the Atlantic. But given the continuing pull of the politics of grievance, it remains unclear whether the democracies that built the liberal international order after World War II will, over the longer term, continue to support and defend it. The COVID-19 pandemic and the economic debacle it produced have ensured that global health has risen to the top of the international agenda. Public health joins a host of other issues—including climate change, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and disinformation—that make clear the need to both broaden traditional conceptions of security and explore new pathways toward international cooperation.

This collection of essays explores alternative conceptions of how best to promote international order and stability in the twenty-first century. Attempting to follow in the footsteps of David Lloyd George and his contemporaries, the Lloyd George Study Group charged this volume’s authors with thinking creatively and provocatively about the emerging international system and options to tame geopolitical rivalry and advance international cooperation and peace. The conceptions of order examined in the essays that follow hardly represent an exhaustive list of potential options. Rather, the project seeks to offer thoughtful consideration of a selection of alternative approaches to promoting order amid a changing world.

The first three essays in this volume call for reviving, restoring, and expanding the liberal international order. Each makes a strong case that the current order’s foundations are essentially the right ones, but the order is no longer delivering on its original promises and is therefore in need of reform.

The world has arrived at a new order-building moment—one not unlike the post–World War I era.

Robin Niblett and Leslie Vinjamuri argue that reviving the liberal international order must begin with revitalizing democracy and liberal values at home. Much of the liberal international order’s original appeal was its beneficial domestic effects—prosperity, social cohesion, representation, and voice. But many democracies are now beset by inequality, polarization, and diminishing trust in the political establishment and its institutions. The pandemic has only intensified preexisting sources of disaffection. Democracies need to get their houses in order, in part by ensuring that the economic and social benefits of globalization are more widely shared. The failure to do so has created a groundswell of support for populist leaders who portray multilateralism and globalization as antithetical to democracy. Through public investment in infrastructure and education, tax reform, and changes to trade and immigration policy, governments in the United States and Europe can breathe new life into their democratic institutions and rebuild the foundations of a renewed multilateralism that begins with transatlantic cooperation. The liberal order can be revived—but only if it is based on a new social bargain.

Anne-Marie Slaughter and Gordon LaForge’s essay proposes expanding the liberal order by deepening linkages among private, civic, educational, scientific, and other networks; they want to extend the order not out but down. Connective nodes among global networks would form impact hubs that strengthen the order by making it more inclusive and widening its reach beyond states. Especially because the state-based liberal order is falling short when it comes to addressing global problems, the extensive array of nonstate networks must be effectively tapped and integrated into governance structures. Set up properly, networks can transform the liberal international order by drawing on a swath of talent that already exists within societies. Slaughter and LaForge call for a mapping exercise to identify existing networks and their functions and to designate impact hubs that can be connected to each of the Sustainable Development Goals. Developing impact metrics to assess the success of these hubs would provide public and private investors the information they need to measure progress and maximize their investments.

Suzanne Nossel argues that strengthening the United Nations is the best and most inclusive means to increase international cooperation and defend liberal values. She maintains that the UN remains the closest thing the world has to a comprehensive system of global governance and that it has the potential to anchor the international system. Despite the UN’s failure to live up to its expectations when it comes to providing collective security, the UN has succeeded on a wide range of global governance fronts—from responding to humanitarian emergencies to combating climate change. The chief barriers to the UN’s success today stem in no small part from the failure of its indispensable nation, the United States, to be its chief advocate. China, meanwhile, has continued to assert its agenda and influence at the un, eroding the liberal values on which the body was founded. In addition to calling on the United States to reclaim its leading role at the un, Nossel argues that essential reforms include empowering the Secretariat; holding Security Council members who exercise the veto to account; increasing peacekeeping’s effectiveness by adapting strategies to better provide civilian protection and counterterrorism; and empowering the General Assembly to act when the Security Council fails to do so.

Alexander Cooley and Daniel Nexon offer a more pessimistic take on the liberal order. They argue that illiberal practices have already made significant inroads not only beyond but also within the liberal order—a trend that is likely to persist and intensify. They foresee not a complete collapse of the liberal order but instead important mutations in world politics that favor illiberal and autocratic forms of governance. As a consequence of reactionary populism and the increasing assertiveness of autocratic powers, the international order overall is veering away from traditional liberal priorities, including advancing human, political, and civil rights. In similar fashion, liberal economic arrangements may increasingly give way to oligarchic and kleptocratic alternatives. Cooley and Nexon are skeptical that these trends can be completely reversed. They argue that democratic states should focus their efforts on protecting their own values and systems of government from an international system in which illiberalism is ascendant.

This collection explores how best to promote international order and stability in the twenty-first century.

Wang Dong’s and Rana Mitter’s essays focus on China and U.S.-Chinese relations. Both see U.S.-Chinese rivalry as a major impediment to global stability but offer different diagnoses of the principal source of tension. Wang argues that the United States mistakenly attributes malign intentions to Beijing and should instead approach China as a responsible stakeholder and emerging partner. He argues that China and the United States should form a “new engagement consensus” and that rapprochement between the two countries should serve as the foundation of a new global order. He contends that China and the United States are currently headed toward a conflictual cold war but that they can manage their differences and compete constructively, thereby leading the world as two responsible stakeholders. A new G-2 would be based on a core bargain: Washington would learn to live with China’s political system and accept it as a coequal in East Asia. In return, Beijing would accept an ongoing U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific, U.S. global primacy, and the legitimacy of the existing international order.

Mitter perceives deeper incompatibilities between Beijing and Washington. Although U.S. policy may be contributing to growing rivalry, he focuses primarily on the course corrections that China needs to embrace if it is to peacefully attain its regional and global ambitions. Mitter argues that the “nucleotides” that make up China’s political DNA are authoritarianism, consumerism, globalization, and technology. China is drawing on this political model to pursue three main foreign policy objectives: Beijing insists on a central role in shaping the regional order in Asia; it is adhering to a model of Chinese economic investment and influence that draws on communitarian ideas of economic development rather than liberal norms that stress the rights of the individual; and it is driven by a strong realist desire to maintain Chinese economic and political interests. China is hewing to its authoritarian vocation, but Mitter believes that its tight grip stands in the way of its potential appeal as a regional and global leader, thereby blocking Beijing from realizing its rising geopolitical ambitions. If China is to contribute to reshaping international order, it needs to embrace a brand of governance that rests on self-restraint and compromise rather than intimidation.

In the seventh and final essay, Richard Haass and Charles Kupchan propose the establishment of a global concert of major powers, arguing that such a steering group represents the most realistic and pragmatic means of taming the twenty-first century’s inescapable ideological and geopolitical rivalry. Concerts exhibit political inclusivity; they bring to the table powerful states that wield geopolitical influence, regardless of their regime type. Concerts also exhibit procedural informality; they eschew binding agreements and public diplomacy in favor of private deliberation and consensus building. A global concert would be consultative, not decisional, readying decisions that would be taken and implemented by existing institutions. It would thus backstop, not supplant, the current international architecture by sustaining a strategic dialogue that does not now exist. A global concert would aim to build consensus around a core set of understandings to guide statecraft, manage crises, promote stability, and discuss how best to adapt international norms and institutions to a changing world.

The Common Ground

The essays in this volume do not present mutually exclusive visions for how to advance international order in the twenty-first century. Indeed, there is considerable common ground. Nearly all of the authors agree that the Atlantic democracies will remain a vital anchor of international order. For Haass and Kupchan, the transatlantic community’s centrality is a function of its collective wealth and military capability as well as democratic solidarity. Others focus more on the Atlantic democracies’ role as an anchor for securing a world order infused with liberal values and institutions. The impact hubs proposed by Slaughter and LaForge are grounded in open societies’ values and practices that allow them to thrive. In contrast, autocratic states are likely to clamp down on independent networks that threaten their grip on power. For Nossel, a leading U.S. role at the UN is crucial if the body is to continue advancing liberal values. Niblett and Vinjamuri also argue for the centrality of liberal democratic values and strong connections between the Atlantic democracies in securing world order. Cooley and Nexon, although they see potentially irreversible illiberal inroads into global governance, make a compelling case that liberal states should continue to champion democratic values, if only to protect their own systems of government. Mitter and Wang differ as to China’s intentions and their assessments of China’s foreign policy. Nonetheless, they both foresee an order in which the United States remains an anchor.

There is also an overwhelming consensus among the authors that policymakers and analysts alike must broaden the international agenda and directly take on issues such as climate change, infectious disease and public health, cybersecurity, and technological change. Such nontraditional issues were once deemed of little relevance to national security but are now front and center. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact have revealed not just the gravity of nontraditional threats to security but also the degree to which countries have become irreversibly interdependent.

In this respect, the seven essays in this volume all recognize the damage done by the Trump administration’s unilateral turn in U.S. foreign policy. As Washington retreated from its traditional role as the catalyst for both formal multilateral institutions and coalitions of the willing, international cooperation decayed, and illiberal powers filled the political vacuum left behind. How successful the Biden administration will be in repairing the damage remains to be seen.

All the essays in this volume recognize that shifts in the international distribution of power are making global governance harder to come by; multiple centers of power amid ideological diversity make for a competitive and contentious international landscape. At the same time, the authors agree that questions of order and stability are not solely a function of structural change in the international system. On the contrary, political outcomes, policy choice, and leadership matter. The British electorate’s decision to leave the European Union, Donald Trump’s election and his “America first” approach to statecraft, Russia’s interference in Western elections, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s more ambitious and nationalistic foreign policy—these contingent developments illuminate the potential for political choice to speed change in the international system and its ordering norms. By contrast, Joe Biden’s election, the ongoing strength of Europe’s political center, the EU’s commitment to liberal norms, and the continuing allure of liberal democracy and open trade in much of the world—these political outcomes suggest the durability of the liberal order that emerged after World War II. Choice matters.

The essays in this volume do not present mutually exclusive visions for how to advance international order.

To be sure, structural change—in particular, the rise of China and the shift of power to Asia—is a central issue of our time. But so, too, are Atlantic democracies’ capacity to revitalize the West and its liberal values and institutions. The 2020 elections in the United States represented one of the most important moments in the nation’s history. The same goes for upcoming elections in Europe, which will determine the European Union’s trajectory. Contingent choices will also determine the impact of China’s rise on the international system. Will Beijing try to remake the international order or, as Wang Dong suggests, accept the current order as long as the United States treats it as a coequal in the Asia-Pacific? Can China be peacefully integrated into the existing order, perhaps requiring the shifts in policy that Rana Mitter suggests for Beijing? Or are Haass and Kupchan right that significant innovation—such as a global concert—will provide the best chance of securing meaningful cooperation on the most consequential global challenges?

Another key choice that policymakers will need to make is how much priority to give democracy. Should the world’s leading democracies learn to live comfortably alongside China, Russia, and other nondemocracies, as Cooley and Nexon, Wang, and Haass and Kupchan recommend, or should they continue to predicate cooperative order on liberal convergence, as other authors maintain? The networks that Slaughter and LaForge identify and seek to incorporate into the order depend on open societies, and Niblett and Vinjamuri advocate for stronger ties between democracies and even advocate for new institutional mechanisms that would be open only to democracies. They see such forums as bulwarks against China’s and Russia’s increasing assertiveness, instruments for defending liberal societies, and vehicles for policy coordination among like-minded states. Whether the benefits of order-building initiatives open only to democracies outweigh the potential costs of increasing great-power competition across political dividing lines remains unclear.

Finally, policymakers will need to think carefully about how best to integrate nonstate actors and networks into the order-building effort. Are Slaughter and LaForge right that complex societies and global interdependence require much greater engagement of civil society and nonstate actors? Or are Haass and Kupchan right that the order must remain primarily state based, even as civil society becomes more integrated into deliberations and decision-making? Close integration between public and private actors could be the missing ingredient that would provide the international cooperation and public goods currently in such short supply. On the other hand, such integration could inadvertently lead to even greater political contestation within and among states or increased state efforts to control private networks.

The world has again entered an order-building moment. We hope that this compilation of essays provides food for thought and informs the debate essential to managing our era of global change and interdependence.

Acknowledgments

We join the other authors in this volume in thanking our generous colleagues who provided input on our draft essays. We held two workshops to solicit feedback on our work. Chatham House hosted the first workshop in London. For serving as discussants at that meeting, we thank Dana Allin, Anthony Dworkin, Yu Jie, Hans Kundnani, Mark Leonard, Jeremy Shapiro, Peter Trubowitz, and Heather Williams. Others who provided valuable feedback at that conference include Mary Kaldor, Sir David Manning, James Nixey, Christopher Sabatini, Marianne Schneider-Petsinger, and Etel Solingen. Courtney Rice provided vital logistical support throughout.

The Council on Foreign Relations hosted the second workshop. We would like to thank James Lindsay and Joel Hellman for chairing that meeting. Max Boot, Elizabeth Economy, Margaret MacMillan, Kate McNamara, Evan Medeiros, Abraham Newman, and Stewart Patrick kindly served as discussants. We are also grateful for the participation of other workshop participants: Lise Howard, John Ikenberry, Miles Kahler, Rebecca Lissner, Robert Lloyd George, Nuno Monteiro, and Mira Rapp-Hooper. The Studies team at CFR ably supported remote access across multiple time zones. The editor of Foreign Affairs, Dan Kurtz-Phelan, has been a partner on the project from the outset, and we thank him for his input and guidance.

Finally, we thank the family of Robert Lloyd George for making possible the Lloyd George Study Group on World Order. We hope that this volume duly honors the profound contributions of Prime Minister David Lloyd George to international peace as well as the joint centennials of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, Chatham House, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

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  • CHARLES A. KUPCHAN is Professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author of Isolationism: A History of America’s Efforts to Shield Itself from the World.

    LESLIE VINJAMURI is Director of the U.S. and Americas Programme at Chatham House and Associate Professor of International Relations at SOAS University of London.
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