Bound to Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Liberal International Order

Author
John J. Mearsheimer
Content Type
Journal Article
Journal
International Security
Volume
43
Issue Number
4
Publication Date
Spring 2019
Institution
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
Abstract
The liberal international order, erected after the Cold War, was crumbling by 2019. It was flawed from the start and thus destined to fail. The spread of liberal democracy around the globe—essential for building that order—faced strong resistance because of nationalism, which emphasizes self-determination. Some targeted states also resisted U.S. efforts to promote liberal democracy for security-related reasons. Additionally, problems arose because a liberal order calls for states to delegate substantial decisionmaking authority to international institutions and to allow refugees and immigrants to move easily across borders. Modern nation-states privilege sovereignty and national identity, however, which guarantees trouble when institutions become powerful and borders porous. Furthermore, the hyperglobalization that is integral to the liberal order creates economic problems among the lower and middle classes within the liberal democracies, fueling a backlash against that order. Finally, the liberal order accelerated China's rise, which helped transform the system from unipolar to multipolar. A liberal international order is possible only in unipolarity. The new multipolar world will feature three realist orders: a thin international order that facilitates cooperation, and two bounded orders—one dominated by China, the other by the United States—poised for waging security competition between them.
Topic
International Relations, International Relations Theory, Liberal Order
Political Geography
United States, China, Europe