The End Of American World Order
The age of Western hegemony is over. Whether or not America itself declines or thrives under President Trump's leadership, the post-war liberal international order underpinned by US military, economic and ideological primacy and supported by global institutions serving its power and purpose, is coming to an end. But what will take its place? A Chinese world order? A re-constituted form of American hegemony? A regionalized system of global cooperation, including major and emerging powers?
The End of American World Order
In this updated and extended edition of his widely acclaimed book, Amitav Acharya offers an incisive answer to this fundamental question. While the US will remain a major force in world affairs, he argues that it has lost the ability to shape world order after its own interests and image. As a result, the US will be one of a number of anchors including emerging powers, regional forces, and a concert of the old and new powers shaping a new world order. Rejecting labels such as multipolar, apolar, or G-Zero, Acharya likens the emerging system to a multiplex theatre, offering a choice of plots (ideas), directors (power), and action (leadership) under one roof. Finally, he reflects on the policies that the US, emerging powers and regional actors must pursue to promote stability in this decentred but interdependent, multiplex world.
Written by a leading scholar of the international relations of the non-Western world, and rising above partisan punditry, this book represents a major contribution to debates over the post-American era.
A Multiplex World is a more regionalized world, not necessarily with stronger formal regional intergovernmental organizations, but with more regional level interactions of all kinds, formal, informal and featuring both state and non-state actors. Some of this will complement, while others will challenge the authority and role of the old global institutions.
An American president can do better by recognizing the realities of the Multiplex World, where different countries and actors have varying influence in different issue areas. China plays a vital role in stabilizing the world economy, while the U.S. remains the key actor in the global security management, although there is a danger that Trump will use it recklessly or responsibly. The emerging powers are increasingly influencing global trade and climate negotiations, relative to the traditional West.
No power can impose its will or lead across all areas. China has more ability to shape the global economy than global security. The United States has more influence on global security than on global trade or climate change negotiations. The EU is a major norm-setter in world politics. This also ensures that no great power, in pursuing its interests and approaches in one issue area, can ignore the interests and initiatives of another in the same or other issue areas without inviting backlash and undermining success in areas where cooperation is needed.
The nature of cooperation might change; formal alliance-like groupings like NATO or like-minded groupings like the G7 might give away to more issue-based and ad hoc coalitions. The United States and China compete in East Asia for security, but cooperate on the world stage in ensuring economic stability and climate protection.
In this world, the United Sates has to lead with, rather than dictate to, other nations. It should find creative ways to share leadership, rather than insist on leading in every area. I want to stress that shared leadership is not the same as self-reliance, whether on the part of the U.S. or its allies, or disengagement, as Trump seems to advocate, although it remains to be seen how he goes about conducting foreign policy. But it is a more complex, nuanced, engagement, which I would call strategic decentering, the term first used in my recent The National Interest article.
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In The End of American World Order, Amitav Acharya proposes that the world may never again see the US dominance which characterised the 20th and early 21st centuries. His proposed multiplex solution, a multi-screened cinema of global governance, offers a compelling vision of the post-American world, writes Lauren Young.
Acharya goes on to examine the proliferation of regional cooperation post-WW2. He argues that the US selectively supported regional cooperation, particularly in Europe through institutions such as NATO or the EU, when it coincided with its own political agenda, and opposed regional cooperation in Asia and Africa or selectively on issue-driven agendas such as regional trade agreements. Acharya also argues that Regionalism has also been less effective in the developing world which is resource-constrained. While he cites a variety of regional organizations, particularly with regard to transnational issues, as an important diversification of the global governance model away from the US and European dominated norms, he does not believe that the regional policy formula can sustain the post-liberal world order, precisely because of its inability to transcend the limits of its regional focus.
Acharya proposes that the world may never again see the US dominance which characterised the 20th and early 21st centuries. His proposed multiplex solution, a multi-screened cinema of global governance, offers a compelling vision of the post-American world. With the potential scenarios which would replace it, from a Chinese dominated world order to a resuscitation of the previous American hegemon, Acharya contends that the key lies in the interdependence of global interests and the policies they must promote in order to achieve stability in the multiplex world.
However, it is the two great powers, China and Russia, that pose the greatest challenge to the relatively peaceful and prosperous international order created and sustained by the United States. If they were to accomplish their aims of establishing hegemony in their desired spheres of influence, the world would return to the condition it was in at the end of the 19th century, with competing great powers clashing over inevitably intersecting and overlapping spheres of interest. These were the unsettled, disordered conditions that produced the fertile ground for the two destructive world wars of the first half of the 20th century. The collapse of the British-dominated world order on the oceans, the disruption of the uneasy balance of power on the European continent due to the rise of a powerful unified Germany, combined with the rise of Japanese power in East Asia all contributed to a highly competitive international environment in which dissatisfied great powers took the opportunity to pursue their ambitions in the absence of any power or group of powers to unite in checking them. The result was an unprecedented global calamity. It has been the great accomplishment of the U.S.-led world order in the 70 years since the end of the Second World War that this kind of competition has been held in check and great power conflicts have been avoided.
Coming as it does at a time of growing great power competition, this new approach in American foreign policy is likely to hasten a return to the instability and clashes of previous eras. These external challenges to the liberal world order and the continuing weakness and fracturing of the liberal world from within are likely to feed on each other. The weakness of the liberal core and the abdication by the United States of its global responsibilities will encourage more aggressive revisionism by the dissatisfied powers, which may in turn exacerbate the sense of weakness and helplessness and the loss of confidence of the liberal world, which will in turn increase the sense on the part of the great power autocracies that this is their opportunity to reorder the world to conform to their interests.
In The End of American World Order, Amitav Acharya engages in core debates of International Relations; hegemony and world polarity. This is, needless to say, an extremely complex subject, and consequently, a formidable academic challenge. Perhaps the main strength of the book is that Acharya is not intimidated by the daunting challenges he faces. One of the main virtues of the book is that his deconstruction of the American World Order (AWO) myths is serene and rigorous without resorting to simplifications and without employing the often dogmatic anti-imperialist metanarrative.
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