Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III is greeted by U.S. Mission to NATO Chargé d’Affaires ad Interim Richard A. Holtzapple, Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 21, 2021. Austin was attending the NATO defense ministerial where leaders conducted their first in-person defense ministerial since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. (DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley)
How to Build A Better Order

This piece was co-written by Dani Rodrik.

The global order is deteriorating before our eyes. The relative decline of U.S. power and the concomitant rise of China have eroded the partially liberal, rules-based system once dominated by the United States and its allies. Repeated financial crises, rising inequality, renewed protectionism, the COVID-19 pandemic, and growing reliance on economic sanctions have brought the post-Cold War era of hyperglobalization to an end. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have revitalized NATO, but it has also deepened the divide between East and West and North and South. Meanwhile, shifting domestic priorities in many countries and increasingly competitive geopolitics have halted the drive for greater economic integration and blocked collective efforts to address looming global dangers.

The international order that will emerge from these developments is impossible to predict. Looking ahead, it is easy to imagine a less prosperous and more dangerous world characterized by an increasingly hostile United States and China, a remilitarized Europe, inward-oriented regional economic blocs, a digital realm divided along geopolitical lines, and the growing weaponization of economic relations for strategic ends.

But one can also envision a more benign order in which the United States, China, and other world powers compete in some areas, cooperate in others, and observe new and more flexible rules of the road designed to preserve the main elements of an open world economy and prevent armed conflict while allowing countries greater leeway to address urgent economic and social priorities at home. More optimistically, one can even imagine a world in which the leading powers actively work together to limit the effects of climate change, improve global health, reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction, and jointly manage regional crises.

Establishing such a new and more benign order is not as hard as it might sound. Drawing on the efforts of the U.S.-China Trade Policy Working Group—a forum convened in 2019 by New York University legal scholar Jeffrey S. Lehman, Chinese economist Yang Yao, and one of us (Dani Rodrik) to map out a more constructive approach to bilateral ties—we propose a simple, four-part framework to guide relations among major powers. This framework presupposes only minimal agreement on core principles—at least at first—and acknowledges that there will be enduring disagreements about how many issues should be addressed. Rather than imposing a detailed set of prescriptive rules (as the World Trade Organization and other international regimes do), this framework would function as a “meta-regime”: a device for guiding a process through which rival states or even adversaries could seek agreement or accommodation on a host of issues. When they do not agree, as will often be the case, adopting the framework can still enhance communication among them, clarify why they disagree, and offer them incentives to avoid inflicting harm on others, even as they seek to protect their own interests.

Read the full piece in Foreign Affairs.

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