By Daniel Kliman
The international order forged after the Second World War has advanced economic prosperity, kept the peace among the great powers, and promoted democracy and human rights. The order is imperfect and today unrepresentative – it accords disproportionate weight in global governance to Western nations. But the “rise of the rest” will not inevitably lead to the order’s downfall.
Unlike Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, no ascendant nation today is ideologically committed to building a new order that will displace the old. The challenge posed by the “rise of the rest” is less direct: selective undermining by some and free riding by many. This, coupled with the West’s financial difficulties, will render the existing order increasingly brittle.
But the United States is not simply a passive observer of this process; it can take actions that will rejuvenate the international system. Aside from China, the world’s leading rising powers – Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey – are all democracies. These four have yet to fully embrace the existing order, reject it, or offer a detailed alternative. All bring considerable capability and legitimacy to any international endeavor.
If the United States can successfully enlarge the order’s current circle of supporters beyond its longtime democratic allies in Europe and Asia to include these “global swing states,” today’s power shift will not culminate in the end of the Western world. Rather, the United States can realize an adapted and renewed international system that enshrines the principles and practices that have enabled the current order to benefit the West and also the rising rest.
Daniel Kliman is a Transatlantic Fellow for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.