The End of American World Order
Insights from Amitav Acharya.
Explain the difference between “U.S. decline” and “the end of American world order.”
By “end of American world order,” I specifically refer to the crisis and erosion of the international order that the United States had built and maintained after World War II, which some call the liberal hegemonic order, meaning a liberal order under U.S. dominance. As I have argued in my book, The End of American World Order, whether the United States is declining as the world’s No. 1 power or not is a matter of much debate, although this has less to do with who is in the White House than long-term structural shifts in the global economy and politics. The United States still leads in the world in terms of the overall military power, and relative economic power (defined more comprehensively than just overall GDP, and taking into account the role of the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency). So we don’t have agreement on whether or to what degree the United States itself is declining. You can find equally persuasive arguments and evidence from both sides of the debate. But the United States is less and less able to get its way with the international community and shape and control the agenda of global multilateral institutions that it helped to create. U.S. leadership in the world has declined.
Hence the real question about world order today is not whether America itself is declining, but that the American world order is coming to an end. I think it’s a very important distinction and that the latter is happening. Furthermore, Brexit and Donald Trump, and the rising tide of nationalism and protectionism they represent, along with the erosion of liberal democracy in the West , signals the decline not only of liberal ideology but more surely of the liberal international order .
What key factors underpin the demise of the American-led liberal hegemonic world order?
The first thing that everyone thinks of in answering this question is the rise of other powers, especially China and India. But they are not the only reason. We put too much focus on the so-called emerging powers. In reality, the developing countries, or what many call the Global South, are rising. According to the UNDP’s Human Development Report of 2013, which is provocatively entitled The Rise of the South, the Global South accounts for half of world GDP, compared to one-third in 1990. The OECD has projected that by 2060, the GDP of the developing world, including China and India, would exceed that of developed OECD and non-OECD countries: 57.7 percent to 42.3 percent.
Another factor is the rise of new threats. American remains and will continue to remain the world’s leading military power. But today’s threats are much more complex and challenging to the United States than the old-fashioned military threat posed by nations. These include terrorism, ethnic conflicts, as well as conflicts induced by climate change. These threats are transnational in nature and no nation, however powerful can handle them on its own. The United States has to share #leadership and resources with other nations, which necessarily undercuts its dominance.