The architects of the post-World War II international order began their work even before the shooting stopped. Reacting to a half century that had seen the most destructive conflicts in human history, the worst economic depression, and the rise of autocrats bent on conquest, U.S. leaders and their foreign partners saw fundamental flaws in the structure of international politics. In a moment of titanic ambition, they endeavored to transform the interactions among states, moving from a global structure based on the balance of power, spheres of influence, and exclusionary economic blocs to an open, liberal, and rules-based order favorable to capitalism and democracy.
They succeeded remarkably. In the seven decades since its inception, the post-war liberal order has generated profound benefits. Since World War II, military conflict among the great powers has been absent—the longest period of great-power peace in modern times. The global financial architecture has reduced both the frequency and severity of global banking crises, and the fall of protectionist barriers has produced a dramatic rise in trade and investment. In recent decades, billions of people have moved out of poverty’s ranks. Democracy, which in the early twentieth century was limited largely to a few European nations and their settler offshoots, now encompasses half of humanity.
Yet for all its benefits, a crisis is brewing for the liberal international order. Trade liberalization has stalled, freedom has contracted in recent years, and the integrity of national borders has become less respected. Increasing numbers of voters in key democracies see little concrete gain from supporting the order and are casting their ballots accordingly. Some observers, noting such negative trends, have already pronounced the era of liberal order over, a vestige of the unique power politics that shaped the latter half of the twentieth century.
Read the full article at the Journal of International Affairs.