Can the U.S. Lead the Global Liberal Order?
di A. Altieri D’Angelo
For over a hundred years, the U.S. and other democratic countries have had a vision of an international system based on the rule of law, human rights, and collective security. This system, known as the Global Liberal Order or GLO, established the United Nations, WTO and provided open markets and cooperation. The U.S. always played a leading role in defending the GLO. However, U.S. leadership has come into question given several bad policy decisions made in the last 20 years. As a partner, the U.S.’s reliability is suspect because the American people elected Donald Trump, a man who openly challenged the need for the country to be part of multilateral organizations.
Unfortunately, the world needs the U.S. to lead the GLO. No country has the economic and military power to defend the Liberal Order from China, Russia, Iran, and other totalitarian regimes. The good news is that President Biden has promised that he will return the U.S. to its traditional global role. But despite his willingness to work with allies, the fact remains he may be president for just four years. In 2024, the American people could elect Trump, or another isolationist, as president. This possibility will cause U.S. allies to not fully commit to U.S. leadership, particularly when facing China’s expansionary tactics. This uncertainty will weaken and possibly, collapse the GLO.
The key to creating long-term U.S. dedication to the GLO is to cause the American people to commit to defending the Order. They must understand that the very concept of the GLO and what it stands for is an existential threat to China and other autocratic governments. These regimes must destroy the GLO and democratic forms of governance (the U.S. being the prime target) to survive. However, changing American attitudes will be problematic. Since the founding of the republic, Americans have always had an isolationist bias. The geographical separation of America from Europe and Asia encourages such an attitude. It is true that when the American people see a need to get involved and are united, as was the case of WW ll, the country leads the way to victory. But sadly, a divided America fails to achieve its goals. Yet even when we are united, Americans look at active interventions (WW ll) as short-term, exceptional events and quickly seek to return to being inwardly looking. The challenge is to make Americans embrace a containment policy that will last decades.
Biden must follow a multi-pronged approach to mobilizing public opinion. Domestically, the Biden Administration must create jobs, jobs, and jobs; this is his most important task. Creating jobs will make Americans feel less threatened by foreign competition. Americans will be more favorably disposed to supporting the GLO if they have jobs. Also, Biden must implement his plan for substantially increasing the R&D budget so that the U.S. can maintain its leadership position in the emerging areas of quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and other vital areas. The U.S. must continue to expand its military budget so that the country will have the capability to stand up to totalitarian forces. Lastly, the U.S. administration must continue to help U.S. companies move their supply chains out of China. ( U.S. allies must do the same).
The timing of these actions is critical. Currently, the Democrats hold a majority in the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Presidency. In November 2022, the Republicans could take back the House and possibly the Senate. Therefore, it would be better to have any agreements or actions requiring Congress’s approval to be processed while the Democratic Party holds a majority in all government branches.
Biden’s international short-term strategy should be to settle all trade issues with GLO partners. The U.S. and all GLO partners must eliminate primary and secondary tariffs. But the allies must understand that any compromises must be mutually acceptable and that resolution must enhance cooperation and security.
Long term, the U.S. and its allies must develop a common position on all issues in dispute with autocratic governments. The GLO allies must negotiate as one entity; there can be no separate country negotiations or engagement in projects that could weaken the GLO; the Nord Stream ll project is a prime example.
(Also, Americans will recognize that they are the largest economy and must bear a burden proportionate to its size. They know the U.S. share will be much higher than any other partner. But they will expect GLO partners to pay their fair share of the cost of protecting the Liberal Order.)
If Biden is successful, the American people will develop a long-term commitment to defend the GLO. Any future President will need to take into account the people’s will. Such a commitment should inspire global confidence in U.S. leadership.