Disrupting The International Order

It seems to me….

Since World War II, the rules-based international order created and maintained by the United States has benefited peoples around the globe and none more so than Americans here at home.”  ~ Mac Thornberry[1].

We are fortunate to be living in the most peaceful, most prosperous, most progressive era in human history.  It’s been decades since the last war between major powers.  More people live in democracies.  We’re wealthier, healthier, and better educated with a global economy that has lifted more than a billion people out of extreme poverty[2].

Over the past 70 years, the U.S. has underwritten international stability and prosperity by leveraging the capacity and willpower of the American people; a global network of bilateral and multilateral alliances; the gradual expansion of human freedom; and a global institutional architecture that has encouraged trade, growth, and the incorporation of rising powers.  Now the foundations of that U.S.-led global order are themselves at risk in this more challenging environment where many of our closest allies, including Japan and Australia, increasingly see the U.S. in decline.

Historically, by backing global institutions, the U.S. made itself and the world safer and more prosperous.  The last time the U.S. turned inward was after World War I and the consequences were calamitous.  At home, it tends to produce intolerance and to feed doubts about the virtue and loyalties of minorities.  It is no accident that allegations of anti-Semitism have once again infected the bloodstream of U.S. politics for the first time in decades.

The dreams of a new international order following the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the cold war never materialized and instead have given way to the pursuit of hyper-capitalist globalization, shaken by a deep financial crisis, income inequality, political instability, and threats of Muslim extremist terrorism.

The U.S.-led international order following the end of World War II in 1945 was built not only on U.S. power but on U.S. credibility.  Words matter because no country should ever need to resort to military force to prove it is willing to deliver on its promises.  But now, the reality is that U.S. allies, who have long depended on the U.S. for their security, are starting to doubt whether they can trust the U.S. to have their backs.

The condition of the new international system today is that its creator, upholder, and enforcer has withdrawn into self-centered isolation.  Trump has quickly destroyed the alliances and agreements which formed the foundation of the world order that resulted in an unprecedented period of global peace and prosperity extending from the end of World War II until present.  The second great supporter and advocate of the open, rule-based world, Europe, has not been able to act assertively on the world stage with any clear vision or purpose.  And in this period, China, Russia, and a host of smaller, illiberal powers are surging forward to fill the vacuum.

Democracy is facing its biggest crisis in more than a decade with the number of countries suffering net declines in political rights and civil liberties rising to nearly twice the number seeing improvement over the past 12 years[3].  Now, for the first time since the World War II, many of the major and rising powers are simultaneously embracing various forms of chauvinism[4].  Like Trump, leaders of countries such as Russia, China, and Turkey embrace a pessimistic view that foreign affairs are often a zero-sum game in which global interests compete with national ones making for a more dangerous world.

Current international challenges present a prime opportunity for neofascist conservatives to tilt the balance of global power toward conservative nationalism and away from the old liberal democratic order.  Trump’s actions indicate he is eager to do just that.  More people are willing to try to tolerate rising autocracies due in part to elected governments struggling to address new challenges: global migration, technological advances, transnational terrorism, international economic unrest….  Most of the world’s most developed countries still remain highly committed democracies; including Japan, Canada, France, Australia, and Germany; but are likewise facing internal challenges.

Perhaps worst of all, and most worrisome for the future, young people facing diminishing opportunities who have little memory of the long struggles against fascism and communism, may be losing faith and interest in democracy.  The very idea of democracy and its promotion has been tarnished contributing to a dangerous apathy.

The U.S. has recently begun withdrawing from its historical commitments promoting and supporting democracy.  At the same time, the world’s leading autocracies, China and Russia, have seized this opportunity not only to step up internal repression but also to export their malign influence to other countries, some of which are increasingly copying their behavior and adopting their disdain for democracy.  A confident Chinese President Xi Jinping recently proclaimed that China is “blazing a new trail” for developing countries to follow.  It is a path that includes politicized courts, intolerance for dissent, and predetermined elections.

Trump needs to realize how his policies will unfold in the context of other countries’ jealous nationalism.  Disengaging will not cut the U.S. off from the world as much as leave it vulnerable to the turmoil and strife that the new nationalism engenders.  If global politics are further sullied, the U.S. will be morally impoverished and its own anger will grow possibly trapping Trump in a vicious cycle of reprisals and hostility.  He hopefully will abandon his dark vision.  For the sake of our country and the world, he urgently needs to reclaim the enlightened patriotism of the Presidents who preceded him.

It is unfortunate that Trump’s election and the conditions accompanying it – a growing rejection of science and evidentiary fact, extreme political tribalism, the rise of conservative nationalist movements around the world, and a populist reaction to immigration and free trade – may offer final and conclusive proof that there is nothing exceptional about the U.S.

The largely successful foreign policy of the Obama administration was constantly criticized by right-wing extremists for having wisely refrained from exercising the military option they routinely advocated.  There admittedly were significant failures; e.g., drawing a “red line” and not reacting when it was crossed; but the U.S.’s international favorability rating significantly improved above what it had been under his predecessor but has subsequently dramatically declined.

Perhaps the greatest damage that Trump has done is to U.S. soft power.  He openly scorns the notion that the U.S. should stand up for universal values such as democracy and human rights.  This repels the U.S.’s liberal allies, in Europe, East Asia, and beyond.  It emboldens autocrats to behave more sordidly.  It makes it easier for China to declare U.S.-style democracy passé and more tempting for other countries to copy China’s autocratic model.

The idea that things will return to normal after a single Trump term is too sanguine.  The world is moving on.  Asians are building new trade ties, often centered on China.  Europeans are working out how to defend themselves if they cannot rely on Uncle Sam.  And U.S. politics are turning inward: both Republicans and Democrats are more protectionist now than they were before Trump’s electoral triumph.

For all its flaws, the U.S. has long been the greatest force for good in the world, upholding the liberal order and offering an example of how democracy works.  All that is imperiled by a President who believes that strong nations look out only for themselves.  By putting “America First”, he makes it weaker and the world worse off.

Recent changes in U.S. foreign policy are likely to hasten a return to the instability and clashes of previous eras as the U.S. is no longer willing to support an international alliance structure, no longer seeks to deny great powers their spheres of influence and regional hegemony, no longer attempts to uphold liberal norms in the international system, and no longer is willing to sacrifice short-term interests; e.g., in trade; in the longer-term interest of preserving an open economic order.

Republicans persist in viewing the world from the past trapped in a perspective where the U.S.’s primary adversary remains the Soviet Union failing to recognize that Russia is now only a second-rate power.  In 2012 John Huntsman was the only Republican Presidential candidate that acknowledged the new world order – none have since.  While there certainly will be areas of friction, our primary foreign policy emphasis should be Southeast Asia – especially the rising influence and affluence of China.  Now is the time to recognize that political shift and reach cooperative agreement with nations in that area rather than risk competition and possible future conflict.

The Global Peace Index[5] for 2018 released by the Institute for Economics & Peace indicated that the prospect for global peace had gone down for the fourth year in a row.  That refugees and internally displaced persons now account for nearly 1 percent of the world’s population; about 68 million people.  It found that conditions in the U.S. have declined for two consecutive years and now are at the worst level of any time since 2012 partly resulting from the political instability caused by partisan politics.  The U.S. earned the maximum (worst) possible score in incarceration, external conflicts fought, weapons exports, and nuclear and heavy weapons.

One of the most important foundations of the historic international order remains the capacity and willpower of the U.S. to lead.  Militaristic hawks assume that every crisis in the world can and should be solved by a vigorous assertion of U.S. power, preferably military power, believing failure to do so demonstrates passivity and weakness.  It should not be only utopian dreamers who fail to understand why international disagreements are frequently resolved only though armed conflict.  Overreliance on military strength undermines our security, imposes unnecessary costs, and forces all Americans to incur additional risks.   As such it then becomes a problem, one that only we can solve.

That’s what I think, what about you?



[1] William McClellan “Mac” Thornberry is a U.S. politician serving as a Republican Congressional Representative from the Texas Panhandle.

[2] Obama, Barack.  Speech in April 2016.

[3] Abramowitz, Michael J.  Democracy in Crisis, Freedom in the World 2018, Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2018?utm_source=Fareed%27s+Global+Briefing&utm_campaign=96eef8a281-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_01_16&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6f2e93382a-96eef8a281-85658801, 2018.

[4] The New Nationalism, The Economist, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21710249-his-call-put-america-first-donald-trump-latest-recruit-dangerous, 19 November 2016.

[5] Global Peace Index 2018, Institute For Economics & Peace, http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2018/06/Global-Peace-Index-2018-2.pdf?utm_source=Fareed%27s+Global+Briefing&utm_campaign=5acf1bf2d9-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_06_13_07_58&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6f2e93382a-5acf1bf2d9-85658801, June 2018.

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Australia, Barack Hussein Obama II, Canada, Canada, China, China, Donald Trump, France, France, Germany, Germany, Global Peace Index, Globalization, Institute for Economics & Peace, international order, Japan, Japan, Japan, Jon Huntsman, Obama, Russia, Russia, Soviet Union, Soviet Union, Trump, Turkey, Turkey, World War I, World War II, Xi Jinping, Xi Jinping and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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