Options for advancing democracy in a new international order


We may be facing the end of the West, with dictators and demagogues intent on destroying the international system, according to Harvard University’s Yascha Mounk.

The Russian political class has chosen to make the “end of the West” the premise of its foreign policy strategy, says analyst Lilia Shevtsova. While in the West itself, populists of different political stripes join hands against the liberal world order and refuse to take the side of democracy against authoritarianism, notes the FT’s Philip Stephens.

The principal Western democracies face a combination of internal political pressures and external threats of a magnitude not seen since the Cold War, raising questions about the security of the Transatlantic realm itself, notes Andrew A. Michta, dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. What is urgently needed is a new strategic dialogue in the West in light of the impending tectonic shifts in the global power distribution, especially in Asia and Eurasia, he writes for The American Interest:

A new Transatlantic grand strategy requires not only that the United States and Europe establish what their shared threats are but also that they speak clearly to issues where they differ in emphasis. Governments need to be direct and specific, rather than falling prey yet again to ideological flights of fancy and grandiose but unworkable pronouncements. Amidst the differences between the United States and Europe on a range of issues, one key principle to be kept in focus is this: globalization, as the intersection of international politics, markets, culture and technology, has to take a back seat to the nation-state and state action in the realm of security and foreign policy.

Since 1945, the United States has pursued its global interests through creating and maintaining international economic institutions, bilateral and regional security organizations, and liberal political norms – in short, the international order, notes a new RAND analysis. In recent years, rising powers have begun to challenge aspects of this order, says the report, Alternative Options for U.S. Policy Toward the International Order by Michael J. MazarrMiranda PriebeAndrew RadinAstrid Cevallos.

The report distills ongoing debates about the U.S. role in the world and identifies four strategic visions of order that the United States could pursue and focuses on the potential of each option to achieve four enduring U.S. goals for order: 1. Prevent major-power conflict and manage competition. 2. Promote economic stability and development. 3. Facilitate collective action on common challenges. 4. Promote liberal values and democracy.

Coalition Against Revisionism

This vision of order is primarily designed to deter revisionist great powers—that is, challengers to the current, U.S.-led set of international rules and norms:

Although the United States would seek to promote liberal values in this vision of order, democracy promotion and enforcement of liberal norms might be uneven depending on the states involved. Because this vision of order is based primarily on shared threat perceptions, not shared values, states with weaker commitments to democracy could also be included in U.S.-led military and economic institutions. As long as states shared similar views about which other states constituted threats to the international status quo, the United States would likely tread lightly on issues relating to their domestic politics.

Democratic Order


As with the previous vision of order, Democratic Order seeks to maintain the United States as system leader and primary rulemaker:

It differs in that it places greater priority on promoting deeper collaboration among democratic states that meet high standards of governance and Alternative Visions of International Order 25 human rights protections. Within institutions and groups composed largely of these trusted states, the United States would agree to restrain itself within agreed-upon rules and decision-making processes. In this order, greater collaboration and shared decision-making among trusted democracies promotes ever-closer cooperation, greater prosperity, and improved mutual defense.

Different versions of this order would have different models for how liberal states approach relations with nondemocracies, RAND contends:

Some approaches might envision the group of democracies undertaking aggressive steps to deter and transform nondemocracies. Other versions could adopt a more patient, live-and-let-live approach that builds cooperative connections with them where possible while aspiring for democratic transformation in the future. Either way, the primary focus of the Democratic Order vision would be on networks of collaboration and exchange among democracies.

Great-Power Concert 2.0

Unlike the previous two visions of order, the basis for this order would be shared leadership with other great powers. It would give other great powers greater influence over the rules of the order. Although this order would include avenues for cooperation among the powers and even formalized global institutions, great powers would not voluntarily commit to restraint within rules when their key interests were threatened, the report contends:

This order does not put short-term promotion of liberal values in the forefront, but it supports their long-term promotion in a specific way. This vision assumes that coordination among the great powers will reduce tensions and the defensiveness of great powers and thus create an environment conducive to greater domestic reform and the flourishing of civil society. Reduction of geopolitical tensions, it contends, is a sine qua non for greater U.S. influence over domestic events in other parts of the world. Supporters of this vision of order assume that outright democracy promotion against the interests of other great powers tends to generate blowback and may even undermine democracy promotion efforts.

Global Constitutional Order

As in the Great-Power Concert 2.0, the United States would cede more influence to other great powers in setting rules in a Global Constitutional Order:

A key difference from the Great-Power Concert 2.0 is that the rules apply equally to all states, including the great powers. This is a vision of an order that is even more shared, rule-bound, and thickly institutionalized than the current one. It is an order in which all the major powers have agreed to substantially binding rules and their arbitration by independent bodies. …This vision of order is based on the assumption that liberal values will spread over time and creates a context in which that is more likely.

“No single order offers the United States a way to equally prioritize its four goals for order,” RAND concludes. “The specific visions outlined in this report illustrate a number of key dilemmas—between outright advocacy of liberal values, for example, and seeking good relations with other great powers. As a result, the United States will need to establish clear priorities among these goals as it decides which vision of order to pursue.”


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