Europe on the Sidelines

MUNICH – The liberal international order that has helped stabilize the world since the end of the Cold War is under strain. A revanchist Russia, chaos in the Middle East, and simmering tensions in the South China Sea are all symptoms of a system that is beginning to fray.

The drivers of instability are many. They include a shift in economic power from the West to the East, the weakening of formal institutions, and widespread disaffection in Western democracies. But, above all, two key developments that have been eroding the liberal international order: the United States’ withdrawal from global leadership and Europe’s prolonged crisis.

Recently, there have been signs that the US is beginning to reassert itself. After six years of “leading from behind” and drawing meaningless red lines, US President Barack Obama has started to seek out innovative, flexible arrangements – diplomatic and military – to respond to global threats.

In 2015, the Obama administration was instrumental in bringing about the Paris climate agreement and a deal to rein in Iran’s nuclear program. And, last week, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter unveiled a proposed military budget for 2017 that signaled plans for a muscular global stance. The request included funding for naval operations in Asia, a restocking of the military arsenal depleted in the fight against the Islamic State, and a commitment to technological innovation.