October 19, 2017
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If the twentieth century could be characterized as the “Trans-Atlantic Century,” the twenty-first century may well become known as the “Trans-Pacific Century.” According to some projections, the majority of all global economic activity could take place within Asia by 2050. Military might often follows economic power, and Asian countries are already spending more than European states on defense. Both of these developments reflect a broader shift in global power from West to East.


At the end of World War II, Washington and its allies established an open, rules-based international order that has governed the international system ever since. This order helped to create a world that is more peaceful, wealthy, and free than at any point in human history. In Asia, however, the foundation of that order has been creaking under the weight of: shifting power balances; questions about whether existing power structures serve broadbased popular interests beyond a narrow globalized elite; a fracturing consensus on some key global and regional values; disruptive technological change; and other major, emerging trends. In the face of these challenges, one could be tempted to stubbornly cling to a rigid system in the face of changing underlying conditions. On the other hand, one could reduce the post-World War II order to its lowest common denominator, or abandon it altogether. However, there is also a third way.

This Atlantic Council Strategy Paper makes several concrete policy recommendations to move from broad principles to practical steps. By following these steps, the United States and its Asian and European partners can begin to work together to revitalize the rules-based order in Asia and better secure their interests in the “Trans-Pacific Century.”

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