Liberalism Issue in Essay by G. John Ikenberry

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International Relations Review Essay

“The Future of the Liberal Order,” G. John Inkenberry

Between the two essays, it is clear that Professor Inkenberry’s standpoint is of liberal optimism. He makes this point clear throughout his piece by citing the strength of liberal growth in recent centuries. He writes about the emergence of non-Western powers, and how there is concern that the center of power moving from North and West to South and East will lead to non-liberal international relations. The point made in Inkenberry’s opening statements is that liberalism is the way that these powers were able to emerge so successfully, and therefore international liberalism is stronger than the pessimist observers believe it to be. Pulling from historical developments and giving examples of the advancements of liberal tendencies, Inkenberry displays the idea that the strongly rooted traditions of cooperation and open trade internationally will continue to influence the relations between nation-states, even as new heads are emerging with power of their own. There is believed to be a rise in new ideas from the non-Western developing countries. Because their internal policies are different from those of the U.S. and the U.K., it is predicted by some that these internal orders will become the new international order. This is a scary concept to consider, since the internal policies in question are not liberal, do not center around free-trade, and are less known to the already developed world. In opposition to this, there is the notion that the emerging powers will recognize and respect the already in-place order and rules that have governed the way nation-states have interacted for decades now. While the shift in centralization and the growth of new powers is absolutely in effect, Inkenberry makes the argument that this does not mean the upheaval of the international order that has been the way since the 20th Century.

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Liberalism is apparent in Professor Inkenberry’s article. Not only does he specifically mention it throughout the piece, but the ideas that he promotes in the essay are undoubtedly liberal. A general definition of this international relations paradigm is the conceptual acceptance of anarchy, but looking for and working towards cooperation as the outcome of interactions. Whereas realism expects a somewhat selfish anarchical world, liberalism allows for optimism, expecting nation-states to find a way to compromise so that there is a Non-Zero-Sum-Game. Inkenberry talks about how this type of policy has been developing since Westphalia, in fact, and with every conflict and war, there has been an eventual step forward in the advancement of liberal interactions. To make his point, he references treaties since Vienna in 1815, to the early 1990’s negotiations that brought an end to the Cold War. With each settlement, there was an ascendance of the way that countries worked with each other liberally. Going back all the way to Vienna in 1815, there was the construction of a multi-nation congress, the purpose of which was to deal with international problems, should they arise. This type of establishment continued to evolve with each war and treaty. After World War I, Inkenberry points out, there was the League of Nations, which ultimately failed. However, after the Second World War, the United Nations learned from the League’s fatal mistakes, and this institution is still alive today. Because of the long and continuing advancement of liberalism on the international level, Inkenberry argues that it will not be demolished or forgotten easily, even though the new nations coming into power do not have these traditions.

While it is a valid point to say that developing nations like China, Brazil, and India will dissolve the current orders that are in place as they rise to be more powerful than previous influences, Inkenberry shows a different conceptual approach. After the histories that these countries have gone through, it is natural to assume that they will reject Western ways. Being conquered, colonized, ruled, broken down internally, and defeated for many centuries by Western states that made poor attempts at justifications for their doings left a bad taste in the mouths of these countries. Now that they have risen from under the grasps of Western powers, they have made their way into the international field as forces to be reckoned with. Being that these states have advanced in time for the Western powers to be experiencing financial difficulties, internally and externally, could be seen as worrisome. The argument made in this essay is that these new state powers will adhere to the policies in place, because these were the ways in play that allowed them to advance and develop. Inkenberry even says, “But the underlying foundations of the liberal international order will survive and thrive. Indeed, now may be the best time for the U.S. and its democratic partners to update the liberal order for a new era, ensuring that it continues to provide the benefits of security and prosperity that it has provided since the middle of the twentieth century.” While the United States and other Western powers are falling from the height of power and influence, Inkenberry recognizes a new chance to even further develop international relations in the liberal tradition. The pessimist observers may believe that this idea will fall through, because of the history of Western influence in the East and South, but there is hope that these new powers will accept the ways that have governed the international-scale world for quite some time.

The old order that is in question has provided too many benefits, advancement opportunities, and cooperation to be ignored and left behind. Without the free-trade, investment, and intelligence sharing that happens between nations under this system, the developing nations being discussed would not yet be relevant. Their progress would be hindered due to lack of outside involvement, as much as it was the source of conflict and suppression in more distant history. It is obvious to the nations that are dealing with this system that it is in fact a vital system to uphold in order to continue their path towards prosperity and power. Inkenberry proceeds to bring up China’s work towards making the yuan an internationally recognized and accepted currency. He discusses that the U.S., because of stabilized internal economic and political institutions, was able to make the U.S. dollar an international currency. Because of these apparent necessities, it is possible that in China there may even be a domestic move towards more liberal and open policies. Even with a distaste for Western influence, there is an undeniable Eastern desire for what the West has been able to achieve and get its hands on. Until proven wrong, it is natural to adopt what successful countries have done to gain all they have. And this is where China, India, and Brazil stand; in an international world that uses different order than they do within their-selves, reaching for power that had previously been obtained by other countries that used different policies domestically.

There is no absolute way to predict what could happen in the future. There are only guesses and ideas, with theories and examples to back and support them. Realists would look at the current situation of power movement and see conflict on the horizon. It is not misplaced to expect Eastern countries like China and India, and Southern countries such as Brazil, to reject and oppose the order that is in place internationally. However, there is much to support the notion that there might be acceptance and cooperation among the falling powers and the newly-rising states. In order to maintain the rate of progress, the emerging powers will have to adapt to what is already in place, as it is the reason they were able to develop at such a speed. There are also simply too many benefits that are in place due to the setup of the liberal order on the internal level. At this point in time, it seems like it will be impossible to trash all that has been developing since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Frankly there is a chance that Professor Inkenberry and others who support this concept could be wrong. There is certainly a chance of an overturn in the system. But it seems unlikely, given the history and traditions that have led to so much change and betterment for many nations. To scratch everything and begin with no system seems counterproductive, and the new powers are aware of this. As opposing as the international order is to their domestic beliefs and practices, it is what has allowed them to get to where they are now. In fact, there may be the realization that the non-liberal policies of countries are hindering forward motion, so there is even the possibility that domestic practices of Eastern and Southern countries that are trying to develop and gain an international presence will move towards liberal tendencies. All in all, liberalism is by no means losing influential ground, nor is it being disregarded and thrown aside. If anything, it is clear by Inkenberry’s essay that it will continue to be a prominent force in the international world.

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