Saturday, October 16, 2010

America's international order

Tom Barnett:

[S]o if India and China continue to rise peacefully, despite all the trappings of power that would suggest the high probability of conflict, then our system is much to be credited, because we're doing what the British colonial order was never able to accomplish--peacefully integrate rising great powers

"Our system" is of course America's liberal international order that we have been building and defending since WW2. This is one of America's great gifts to the world and one of the greatest civilizational achievements. It is common to point out Britain's empire as a precursor and that is true in a limited sense. The empire is a pre-modern organizational form and Britain's empire happened to coincide with a very unique liberal moment stretching from the 17th century to the early 20th century. This era was one of the most important in human history, and not only because the American Experiment was a spin-off from Britain's liberal empire. But the pre-modern empire was incompatible with modern liberalism. It was America's founders who created the the basic format for a modern liberal order: local rule in accordance with liberal principles operating within a larger system of liberal governance. It was only after WW2 with the collapse of the pre-modern imperial order and then in 1989 with the collapse of the competing socialist order that we began to see the extension of this liberal order internationally. There is no global government, but there is governance that is provided and enforced by the US and the institutions we have created. As other countries rise within this order we need to have an overall strategy for getting them to buy into the liberal international order so that their rise is compatible with and contributes to that order. The liberal international order is the realization of the American Experiment on a global scale. But for it to be successful other countries have to accept it as their own, which requires a persuasion campaign. Unfortunately America's anti-liberal left hates this order and the American right is trapped in a narrow national framework. Both ideologies work to delegitimize this uniquely American order and this is not good for the US or the world. The 21st century requires that we think with greater clarity.

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