At the close of World War II and around the midpoint of the 20th century, the United States was in the unrivaled position of wielding over half of the world’s GDP after Europe and Asia had largely collapsed due to the most egregious total war in the history of mankind. Thus, the United States was the only country in a position to establish global order amidst the ashes of World War II and to forever prevent the outbreak of total war in the international system, in addition to establishing common rules and norms for global governance and fostering economic interdependence and well-being on a global scale.
But America’s share of the global economic pie has now shrunk after the resurgence of Europe and Asia in the post-World War II era. According to McKinsey and Company, by the year 2040, Asia is set to wield about 50 percent of the world’s GDP and drive about 40 percent of the world’s consumption, with Europe spurring close to 20 percent of the world’s GDP, all while the United States sees its share of GDP drop to about 15 percent. Thus, the ‘relative decline’ of the West – despite its economic, military, and social superiority – and the relative rise of the ‘rest’ is real and undeniable. As Henry Kissinger wrote: “The rest of the world is pursuing science and technology and, because unencumbered by established patterns, with perhaps more energy and flexibility than the West, at least in countries like China and the ‘Asian Tigers.’”
Thus, the ‘unipolar’ world after World War II where America shaped and sustained global order based on maritime and physical security in addition to fostering a global currency and open markets has now given way to “multipolar regionalism” where America, Europe, and Asia are each developing into distinct centers of economic and social power. Therefore, the question is how does one go about managing an international order based on distinct regional differences and distinct power centers? For one, the American-led global order led to the creation of intergovernmental institutions like the United Nations, by which the major powers can consult with one another based on common rules and a common interest to preserve the global order between the world’s major powers. Although international institutions and international law are largely ineffective and unenforceable, “the benefits of routine and institutionalized consultation among the great powers outweigh the costs,” according to David Bosco.
Hedley Bull wrote the following about how both the common interest in preserving global order between the major powers and a common conception of there being ‘rules of the game’ contribute to the maintenance of global order:
“Order in any society is maintained not merely by a sense of common interests in creating order or avoiding disorder, but by rules which spell out the kind of behavior that is orderly. Thus the goal of security against violence is upheld by rules restricting the use of violence; the goal of the stability of agreements by the rule that they should be kept; and the goal of stability of possession by the rule that the rights of property, public or private, should be respected. These rules may have the status of law, of morality, of custom or etiquette, or simply of operating procedures or ‘rules of the game.’”
But due to the anarchic and chaotic nature of the international system, war is always likely, especially in a multipolar world. As Robert Kagan wrote: “It is premature for us to conclude, after ten thousand years of war, that a few decades and some technological innovations would change the nature of man and the nature of international relations.”
Yet, the main purpose of establishing global order is to prevent violence and war. There is no point in upholding a global order if America or any other major power allows or even fosters the circumstances for war. As Henry Kissinger wrote: “The goal of our era must be to achieve equilibrium while restraining the dogs of war.” Also, in creating a global order amidst an evolution in economic and social circumstances within the international system, a reckoning with reality is in order, which consists of acknowledging basic cultural and religious differences between the various nations of the world. Kissinger wrote: “In building a world order, a key question inevitably concerns the substance of its unifying principles – in which resides a cardinal distinction between Western and non-Western approaches to order.” Kissinger adds: “For the United States, the quest for world order functions on two levels: the celebration of universal principles needs to be paired with a recognition of the reality of other regions’ histories and cultures.”
Freedom and liberty are perhaps the universal ideals, principles, and values that Kissinger is referring to, and it is undeniable that Americans wholeheartedly promote them. Indeed, freedom and liberty are the most excellent operating and organizing principles for a society, and America’s espousal of these ideals, principles, and values is completely justified. But freedom and liberty are ideals, principles, and values that cannot be imposed by force upon alien societies, as we learned from our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. Freedom and liberty must develop indigenously within Asia through changing economic and social conditions which are in turn fostered by education and exposure to Western influence and ‘soft power.’
Moreover, liberalism – with its core elements of capitalism, constitutionalism, and individualism – is more than just an economic and political system. In reality, liberalism is an attitude or ontological state based on a bourgeoisie outlook towards the world that is fostered by economic prosperity, Western education, Western cultural influence and ‘soft power,’ leisure, sexual preferences, and travel. As Edmund Fawcett wrote: “As a practice of politics, liberalism has an outlook shaped by guiding ideas.” James Traub wrote the following about liberalism as an attitude or disposition rather than a tangible economic or political system: “Liberalism meant optimism, rationalism, pragmatism, secularism. It was not so much a political platform as a national disposition.”
However, when an individual or a group loses faith in liberalism, the loss of faith comes as a result of liberalism’s failure to enable economic and social progress for an individual or a group. Thus, the rise of Populist, Religious, or Marxist sentiment is essentially a referendum against liberalism’s promise of economic and social progress for all people. In reality, only a few individuals amidst the white elite – along with a handful of non-whites who have talked themselves into thinking that they are white – have prospered in a material sense as a result of adopting a liberal ontological state. Nevertheless, if liberalism is to be accepted as an economic and social program by non-whites, it must develop on its own in non-white societies and it must develop gradually and slowly, not by force, given that a liberal attitude is something fragile and psychological and has historically developed in an environment in the West that is different than the environments in the Middle East and Asia. Basically, there is very little – if not nothing – that the United States can do in order to affect the environment and thus the ontological state, cultures, religions, and politics of other nations.
Thus, liberalism is fundamentally different than its ontological counterparts such as Marxism, Populism, and Romanticism due to environmental and racial factors which impact economic and social conditions. One can argue that liberalism is an identity rather than a system, and identities cannot last long if they are imposed by force or are mimicked before being internalized. Any identity – but especially a liberal identity – must be cultivated through immense effort and time. There is also no guarantee that the cultivation of a liberal identity or ontological state by a non-white individual or group will lead to economic and social success or acceptance from white people. Someone from a Muslim or Asian background can legitimately contend that no matter how wealthy or educated I am, I will never be socially accepted by my white counterparts because of my race and religion. Individual or collective identities may in fact evolve over time, as it did in Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk” in the 1920’s.
In a sense, it all depends on an individual or group’s economic and social circumstances as well as life experiences. As Francis Fukuyama wrote:
“Despite the beliefs of certain advocates on both the left and the right, identities are not biologically determined; while they are shaped by experience and environment, they can be defined in terms that are either tightly focused or broad. That I am born a certain way does not mean I have to think in a certain way; lived experience can eventually be translated into shared experience.”
But the circumstances and experiences of an individual or a group will not favor the fostering of a liberal attitude or ontological state if violence is employed by a Western power to prompt a change in the aforementioned circumstances and experiences of Muslim or Asian nations. Yet, the spread of freedom, liberty, and democracy was the raison d’état of American foreign policy in the post-Cold War era by virtue of the American foreign policy elite leaning towards Francis Fukuyama rather than Samuel Huntington amidst the famous “Huntington-Fukuyama Debate” of the post-Cold War era within foreign policy circles. Essentially, neoconservatives proceeded with militarizing Fukuyama’s idea of the inevitable spread of liberalism and the subtle notion that everyone wants to be white without thoroughly considering the consequences of such actions, thoughts, and behavior.
With the trajectory towards ‘multipolar regionalism’ in America, Europe, and Asia, which cannot be thwarted by violence, all that remains outstanding from a foreign policy perspective is the amelioration of Israeli-Iranian tensions as well as the resolution of the long-standing conflict in Afghanistan, both of which can only be resolved diplomatically, not by force. Finding a diplomatic solution to these two conflicts, namely, the Israeli-Iranian conflict and the Afghan conflict, are the foremost challenges standing in the way of global order. By taking a cautiously laissez-faire approach to the rise of multipolar regionalism in America, Europe, and Asia, while remaining diplomatically engaged in the Middle East and Afghanistan in a largely constructive and self-restrained manner may perhaps foster a noble purpose for an otherwise purposeless American foreign policy apparatus.