Andrew Lebovich is a research intern with the New America Foundation’s American Strategy Program.
Is Liberal Internationalism dead? Professors Charles Kupchan and Peter Trubowitz certainly seem to suggest as much in a thoughtful paper published last year. Keeping in step with the ongoing Mahbubani/Ikenberry/Slaughter debate held here at The Washington Note, the authors postulate that changing domestic and external circumstances have brought about a fundamental change in the international system. These changes have rendered an American-led liberal internationalist order — one based on multilateral cooperation and institutions backed up by a willingness to deploy American military power — obsolete.
Domestically, they blame the collapse of the political center and the subsequent drastic decrease in bipartisan cooperation for making internationalism untenable. Democrats will favor international institutions but not support military force, while Republicans will tend to support the unilateral use of military force, but shortchange the value of institutions. Without bipartisan support, the authors argue, there can no longer be agreement on the kinds of pragmatic foreign policy that favored the emergence of liberal internationalism in the first place.
Internationally, the death of the Soviet Union helped solidify the decline of liberal internationalism. Without a clear external threat, Kupchan and Trubowitz contend, there has been no impetus for cooperation in Washington, and the parties have responded by becoming more extreme. There is also no reason for the average citizen to get involved; unlike World War II or the Cold War, the September 11 attacks engendered a small-scale military and covert intelligence response, and not a sustained citizens’ contribution, whether it is in the military or industry.
The authors seem to sidestep (though perhaps not discount) the tectonic shifts in the global order cited by Steven Weber, Parag Khanna, Fareed Zakaria, et. al. that have problematized the liberal internationalist model as rising powers seek to modify or add new rules to the game. Because of this, it seems some of the proposals Kupchan and Trubowitz offer — such as more restrained internationalism employing flexible rather than formal institutions — will still encounter resistance, coordination problems, and counterbalancing efforts like the Shanghai Cooperation Council.
For those interested, the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program is hosting a debate tomorrow, June 10 at 5:30pm, with Kupchan, Trubowitz, John Ikenberry and Daniel Deudney entitled “The Presidential Election and U.S. Foreign Policy: Is Liberal Internationalism on the Ropes?” (Steve Clemons will moderate.)
— Andrew Lebovich