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Atlantic Council Strategy Paper Series October 30, 2019

Present at the re-creation: A global strategy for revitalizing, adapting, and defending a rules-based international system

By Ash Jain and Matthew Kroenig

The Take

  • In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the United States and other leading democracies built an international system that ushered in an almost 70-year period of remarkable peace and prosperity.
  • After three decades of largely uncontested primacy, however, this rules-based system is now under unprecedented challenge, both from within and without.
  • We need a new strategy— one ambitious enough to meet the moment, and one innovative enough to fit the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

Across the West, there is a loss of confidence in its own political model. Growing inequalities are leading many to question open-market economics and provoking a backlash against global engagement.

The global distribution of power is shifting. Revisionist, autocratic states seek to disrupt or displace the existing system. Authoritarian state capitalism is challenging the Western model of free markets and politics as the best way to order society. In addition, new issues, such as emerging disruptive technologies, have arisen for which the original system was never designed.

To respond to this changing world, we need a new strategy—one that is both ambitious and innovative, geared towards meeting the challenges and opportunities that the new decade brings. In this Atlantic Council Strategy Paper, Present at the Re-Creation, Ash Jain and Matthew Kroenig propose exactly that: a visionary but actionable global strategy for revitalizing, adapting, and defending the rules-based international system.

Delegates protesting against the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich

Their starting point is the Declaration of Principles for Freedom, Peace, and Prosperity (link), launched in March 2018 by the Atlantic Council to reinvigorate support for seven core tenets at the foundation of the rules-based international system. The Declaration, which captures the common aspirations of the human spirit and acts a rallying point for global citizens, is transformed into a “north star” for a broader strategy to deal with a global system in transition.

This Strategy Paper advocates for the revitalization, adaptation, and defense of a rules-based international system. Instead of retrenchment, the United States and its allies and partners around the world must double down and seize the current moment as an opportunity to expand and deepen a rules-based international system, grounded in liberal norms and values.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) speaks during the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool via REUTERS

This strategy will succeed if it is able to convince all major states that their interests are best pursued within a rules-based system. Not only can they expect substantial benefits for participation within the new system, but they will know that any significant efforts to challenge or undermine the system will be futile.
Link Global Risks 2035