Is Rules-Based International Order a Myth?

Much of the world is looking on in horror as Russia invades Ukraine to try to turn it into a puppet state.  We don’t yet know if Russia will get away with this aggression or how long, and to what extent, the brave Ukrainians are able to resist.  Some claim that even a Ukrainian victory is likely to be temporary because there is no such thing as international order.

Here is a more optimistic view by Joshua Muravchik in the Wall Street Journal:

  • The idea of a peaceful world resting on just rules as a practical program for statecraft began in 1914 with Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points.  Wilson’s approach was unprecedented.  Never in history has so much potential power whetted so little imperial appetite.  But Wilson’s League of Nations failed disastrously and the second world war followed.
  • The United Nations, unlike its predecessor organization, has endured. But America’s newfound internationalism and dominant power are what have really created the first traces of global order.  America’s exertions were rewarded with victory in the Cold War, against Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, and against Slobodan Milosevic in Croatia and Bosnia.
  • Presidents Obama, Trump, and Biden have all appeared weak on the world stage. On February 4, 2022, Russia and China issued a manifesto hailing the “redistribution of power in the world” and the “transformation of the global governance architecture and world order.”
  • Then Russia invaded Ukraine, hoping to absorb it into a reconstituted world empire. Its success would clearly tempt China to make good on its longstanding threat to invade Taiwan.
  • But two things may be thwarting their plan. First, much of the world responded as if the rules-based order is real.  Germany is raising defense spending and beginning to wean itself from Russian energy.  Other NATO members have rushed arms to Ukraine.  Japan and Switzerland joined economic sanctions.  Second, the Ukrainians have defended their country gallantly and with an effectiveness confounding the experts.
  • The century-old American-created vision of world order now hangs in the balance. The outcome of the Ukrainian conflict will help determine the fate of world order.  If Russia is clearly defeated the vision of world order will become more real than ever.

Conclusion.  Right now the outcome of the Russian-Ukrainian struggle is unknown.  Is world order merely a pipe dream that too few others took seriously or is it real and still offering much hope for the future?  Only time will tell!

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4 thoughts on “Is Rules-Based International Order a Myth?

  1. In essence, will a social-economic-political connection with the common good or a Machiavellian world order win out? I suspect we will most likely just endure another period of global detente. ‘So not much’ for meaningful progress during the Anthropocene.

    • The common good is never going to automatically dominate forever. But I think you’re being too pessimistic! Ever since the end of WWII there is huge momentum going for democratic government around the world. Russia lost the Cold War. Putin should be working to straighten out Russia itself rather than trying to expand its empire. We need to send him that message loud and clear.

  2. Any semblance of a new world order reminiscent perhaps of “Pax Romana,” but based on international agreement and stated law is doomed to failure unless the United Nations undertakes action to send Russia to its own “time-out corner” where it would be shorn of its veto power in the Security Council until reinstated by a 2/3 votes of the General Assembly. Failure of the United Nations to act forcibly in support of Ukraine and to block any thoughts of future military aggression by either Russian or China will turn the UN into a 20th Century League of Nations.

    • You’re being too pessimistic! If the brave Ukrainians are able to hold out against Russia (with strong Western support, of course), then the U.S. world order has strongly prevailed.

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