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Re-Envisioning the Liberal International Order

As the atrocities and costs stemming from Russia’s war show, the international order certainly does not need revisionism. However, it does urgently need a “re-envisioning” of key institutions, processes, and frameworks, so that it can better uphold the liberal principles upon which it was founded.

MUNICH – While the world’s powers may not agree on much these days, most recognize that the world is at a critical juncture. US President Joe Biden’s National Security Strategy calls this the “decisive decade” in the contest for the future of the international order. Similarly, Russian President Vladimir Putin argues that the world is entering “the most dangerous, unpredictable, and at the same time most important decade since the end of World War II.” For German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the Russian invasion marks a Zeitenwende (watershed), which means “that the world afterwards will no longer be the same as the world before.”

But despite the widely shared perception that the international order is at a turning point, no one yet knows what it is turning toward, or which fault lines and strategic visions will most decisively shape it in the future.

Among liberal democracies, Russia’s brutal war against its democratic neighbor (and China’s tacit support for Russia’s aggression) has reinforced the impression that autocratic revisionists represent the most serious threat to the rules-based international order. Democracies in the Indo-Pacific region fear that “Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow,” as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has put it. Autocrats are not only trying to establish new spheres of influence; they are also posing new challenges to international rules and norms concerning human rights, global infrastructure and development, energy security, and nuclear stability.

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