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Russian Police forces seen arresting a protester during the demonstration Victor Kruchinin/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Human Rights and the Fate of the Liberal Order

According to “realist” international-relations theorists, one cannot sustain a liberal world order when two of the three great powers – Russia and China – are anti-liberal. There are several problems with this argument.

CAMBRIDGE – Many experts have proclaimed the death of the post-1945 liberal international order, including the human-rights regime set forth in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The cover of Foreign Policy recently displayed the white dove of human rights pierced by the bloody arrows of authoritarian reaction.

According to “realist” international-relations theorists, one cannot sustain a liberal world order when two of the three great powers – Russia and China – are anti-liberal. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa argue that the era when Western liberal democracies were the world’s top cultural and economic powers may be drawing to a close. Within the next five years, “the share of global income held by countries considered ‘not free’ – such as China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia – will surpass the share held by Western liberal democracies.”

There are several problems with this argument. For starters, it relies on a measure called purchasing power parity, which is good for some purposes, but not for comparing international influence. At current exchange rates, China’s annual GDP is $12 trillion, and Russia’s is $2.5 trillion, compared to the United States’ $20 trillion economy. But the more serious flaw is lumping countries as disparate as China and Russia together as an authoritarian axis. There is nothing today like the infamous Axis of Nazi Germany and its allies in the 1930s.

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