Doing so is especially important at this time because what we call the international order is under strain. He is not breaking down by any means, but the American leadership faces challenges, and if it is divided and unstable at home, it will be much more difficult to respond appropriately.
What is the international order? It is essentially the set of structures and values that have evolved during the twentieth century to resolve disputes, promote trade and free trade, support economic development and investments, foster contacts and exchanges. between nations and their citizens and protect human rights. It is based on mutually negotiated rules and initiatives which, in a well-functioning world, are promoted by institutions such as the UN, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the Organization world health and others.
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These days, however, it’s fair to say that there isn’t any aspect of the order that we once took for granted that doesn’t at least raise questions. This is in part because, at the moment, China and Russia are asserting their interests and, often, actively working to undermine ours. At the same time, the role of the United States is less important than it once was. Our allies, especially after four years under the Trump administration, are uncertain of our commitment to global leadership as we have questioned long-standing alliances, withdrawn from institutions, withdrawn from international agreements and In general, we have withdrawn from the network of alliances and had helped shape the previous years. Naturally, our friends and allies wonder how much they can count on us, and our opponents are eager to test us.
At the same time, forces beyond the control of any government are reshaping the world situation. Nationalism is stronger, conflicts between countries appear to be escalating, and many societies grapple with increasing diversity, declining tolerance and a shift towards authoritarianism. Overall, international power is less concentrated and more widely distributed, which presents challenges for global institutions and makes it more difficult to pursue much-needed reforms within them.
In this situation, it is crucial that democracies such as the United States, Europe, Japan and Canada recognize the important role they play in maintaining and revitalizing international order. It is by no means a given that it can last, but democracies have an advantage: For many people around the world, more authoritarian alternatives are not particularly appealing.
Even so, the work of strengthening the world order will require a concerted effort that combines both cooperation and firmness. We must of course strengthen our alliances, as well as consolidate and expand arms control efforts. The fight against authoritarianism in all its facets will be a permanent challenge. And we must constantly assess how best to be a benevolent world power, helping to resolve conflicts and slow to use the force without excluding it, but relying on it wisely and only when necessary.
Finally, as I suggested at the start, our strength on all these fronts will come from making sure that we are strong at home: that our economy is robust, that our finances and our debt are manageable, that our elections are fair and well managed, as our infrastructure is revitalized, we are investing in the future of our businesses through R&D, and we are investing in the future of the American people by focusing our attention on education and skills development. If we can do all of this, then we will have earned the right to rule the world to meet the challenges facing the international order.
Lee Hamilton is Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar from the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the United States House of Representatives for 34 years.
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