The Future of Liberal World Order and American Leadership

The Future of Liberal World Order and American Leadership


Liberal world order depends to a every extent on American leadership and military. Foremost, it is mostly associated with former President of the United States Woodrow Wilson who suggested that the cause of instability in many regions of the world was the lack of democracy, especially in relation to foreign policy and power balance (Milan 2013).  The identification of the cause dilemma helps to point out the purpose of the new world order. It aim are expanding democratic space, promoting human rights, and increasing free trade. The order had gone through many phases, and given the interests of participants in the contemporary world order to uphold rule-based and open leadership and other similar principles, the next world order will resemble the current one in many ways, with a few exceptions. This means a decline in US power and international engagement does not foreshadow a different kind of international order.

The Role of United States in the Liberal System

By evaluating the role of the United States in the liberal system, it becomes apparent that the country is playing crucial role in making the order to be effective, and thus it depends on the US for its success. The United States has been the leading promoter and sponsor of the world order concept in the twentieth century. The nation spearheaded the creation of the new world order following the end of the World War II, and has led it since then. However, at each turn, the duty and responsibilities of the United States in the system has differed.  One of the essential factors that has shaped the character and logic of the liberal order is the manner in which the US’ preeminence geopolitical position has impeded and promoted the operation of a rule-based liberal and open order. In post World War II period, the US gradually assumed the role of a hegemonic organizer and manager of the world system. It soon became apparent that the American political system had been fused to the broader liberal order (Halperin 2007).

The US supported the rules and institutions of the order and had certain crucial privileges. During the Cold War period, the US became the “owner and operator” of the capitalist system. With time, its roles and functions have changed significantly, and many economic stakeholders question whether or not the system will continue to evolve. Observers are also interested to know how the US will respond in case the evolution will take a non-precedent route such as when it plays a less dominating role. The United States have not only enjoyed special privileges in the past, but also had a liberal order built on its specifications (Nye 2002) .

Three Versions of the Liberal World Order

The liberal world order had gone through three stages since its inception.  The versions show that a decline in US power and international engagement does not foreshadow a different kind of international order.  The order will remain the same, but come in different versions that reflect its success.

An evaluation of stages offers one an opportunity to foresee the future of the order. The first version of the liberal world order came in the aftermath of the First World War. Its ideas were famously promoted by President Woodrow Wilson. The membership was universal. It also had a flat political hierarchy. Another characteristic of the order was rules and norms that operated as international laws. The rules were enforced through global public opinion and moral suasion. The order had a policy domain that was restricted to open trade and collective security systems. It, however, ended in a crisis of failure (Rensen 2011).

The second version is distinctive as well, but it is facing a crisis today.  Some observers have referred to the dilemma that is faces as a crisis of success. It is Western –Oriented security and economy system that was created to give room for states to compromise legal independence to gain great state capacity. It is the American led liberal system that observers refer in many occasions. The hierarchical order that it adopted has given it hegemonic provisioning of public goods and voice opportunities. The order also promotes inter-governmental relations and enforcement of rules through bargaining and reciprocity. It is also characterized with expanded policy domains. The order is highly adapted to current realities, unlike that first one that was coherent, and did not fit the realities of the time (Rensen 2011).

The third version of internationalism will be universal in scope. The second one is in a crisis and must give room for something new. The new one must focus on accommodating the interests of all participants. It will, therefore, have to expand membership in core governing institutions to other non-Western states. The system will also need to increase intrusive and independent security and economic regimes, apart from expanding rule-based system and policy domains (Rensen 2011).

            The Future of International world order

The future of the international order is of great concern for the world given that there are indications that it might be affected by current economic shifts.  However, it will have several similarities with the current order.

Currently, power and wealth are shifting to the East and South from the North and West. Given this change, the old order dominated by the US and Europe might be forced to give way to the alternative that is shared with non-Western rising nations (Keefe n. d.; Stivachtis 2007).

The kind of political order that will eventually emerge, according to some observers, in the aftermath can be of various shapes. Some observers believe that the world will be less American and less liberal. The current open and rule-based international order will go away together with the preeminence of the US (Stivachtis 2007).

Given the possibility of the old order diminishing, the upcoming powerful states are starting to advance unique ideologies and agendas that they hope to characterize the new global order. If this happens, the United States will try to defend the old systems, but due to its increasing weakness, it will find itself unable to do so successfully. Consequently, a new system would emerge characterized with a fragmented system of blocs, regional rivalries, mercantilist networks, and spheres of influence (Long 1996; Anne 2004).

Today’s rising states, Brazil, India, China, and others,  have a distinctive set of political , cultural, and economic experiences, and according to critics, it will influence the future of the order to a great extent. According to some political experts, this uniqueness of the backgrounds means they will offer a unique leadership style. They will most likely see the world through   their anti-colonial and anti-imperial lenses. In addition, since they are still struggling with basic challenges relating to development, they cannot share the concerns of the highly developed capitalistic communities (Ikenberry 2014).

Another factor that may influence their leadership is the recent global economic shutdown.  The upcoming states are convinced that the US’s economy is under threat, and their model of liberal capitalism is no longer relevant. Many global economic stakeholders now doubt the ability of the US to be the global economic leader. Due to these reasons, it is possible that the world politics is experiencing both a change is guard and a transition in the concepts and models that underlie the global order (Fu 2012; Abjorensen 2007).

The cluster of liberal internationalist ideas can be questionable. This world view suggests that China will shape the future of the international order. China has gained preeminence because of its growing power and wealth. The nation has weathered the recent financial shutdown with much ease than its Western Counterpart (Ikenberry 2014; Fu 2012).

Some economic experts argue that an authoritarian capitalist alternative has already taken over from the Western neoliberal concepts. They say that emerging markets have begun combining market economies with traditional autocratic policies (Trent 2009).

Other experts, however, argue that the change of the position of the US in global system has no impact on the liberal world order. This school of thought considers that the struggle over international order that the world is experiencing today have nothing to do with fundamental principles. As a result, emerging great powers such as China have no interest in contesting the basic rules and principles of the world order. Their objective is to gain more authority and leadership space within the current system (Hall 2002).

However, I hold that the concept that old order is still serving its rightful purpose cannot be ignored. The power transition we witness today represents its ultimate ascendance, not defeat.  Rising states including China, Brazil, and India are already substantially prosperous and capable of operating inside the existing system successfully. According to research, these states can benefit incredibly by operating within the system. They can take advantage of the existing rules, practices, and institutions such as the G-20 and the World Trade Organization and become more economically triumphant. The economic success of these states and increasing influence are tied to the liberal world order. This hypothesis backs up the concept that these states have deep interest in preserving the current system (Merino 2010).

            The Liberal Ascendancy

The emerging states are not facing just a western system, but a broader international order.  We must remember that the American led order is a product of innovation and centuries of struggle, and is highly developed and deeply rooted in the economies of developing and capitalistic states. Currently as the hegemonic organization starts to change, the liberal aspects have persisted while the hierarchical aspects have begun to fade (Coates 2002; Norman 2007).

As a result, as the rising states contest the suitability of the United States’ leadership, and the struggle over the responsibilities, rights and privileges of the other states within the system continues, there are limited changes in the existing international order. Rising states are getting opportunities to integrate and engage with other states within the order, with the sole objective of promoting their interests.  This concept tries to show that the road to modernity for these states runs through the current order.

            Understanding the Future of the World Order

The ideal way of understanding the future of the order is evaluating the interest of the rising states.  Participants in any world order would embrace a system that helps them gain trading opportunities, frameworks for collective action, allied security guarantees, and resources in times of humanitarian and security crisis (Sobel 2013; Nakano 2010).

Besides, they have interest in an open and rule-based system, which gives them trade, knowledge sharing, and investment opportunities. The US lead initiate had embraced an open policy that has created room for many states to rise. China and the other rising states could prefer to remain in the system to benefit from these opportunities. In case they champion a different model of leadership, it would borrow greatly from the American –led order to make it attractive and increase their growth opportunities (Indyk & Jones 2015; Kagan 2003).          

Due to the advantages of the American –led world order, it would be impossible to have a different order. Pronouncements that America’s economic and power decline means will end up at the collapse of the current system miss the real concern of participants in the system. What is happening is a dynamic process that is making other states to growth up and become more connected.  It is a normal process in any open and rule-based international order. The intention of the liberal order was to create room for all states to rise and have a voice on global matters. The current divergent opinions on the global platform are an indication that the order has served its purpose well: market and democracy have spread and the US has more allied partners today than it did during the period of the Cold War (Mahoney 2010).


The rise of other nations is a mark of the success of the system. However, there is a need to get a solution for these problems. The world needs an agenda of renewal that can only be achieved by integrating rising powers and working together through tackling the problems facing the system. The anticipated division in world politics will not be between the West and non-Western rising states. The struggle will be between parties that want to expand the multilateral governance arrangements and those who prefer a less cooperative order constructed on spheres of influence. These shows the divisions have nothing to do these geographic locations, as there are champions of the UN and a rule-based international order in all parts of the world, just as there are isolationist and anti-internationalist groups in the West and other parts of the world. As the order of the hegemonic organization slowly gives way, more states will have influence and status. The US will not rule, but can still lead given the support it gains from different quarters.



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