Reversal of Liberal International Order

by Dr Rahman Dag*

Rise of leftist and rightist populist movements and political parties, the reluctance of international cooperation over climate change, perceived refugee threats in the Western world and the most recently Corona Virus have changed states’ understanding of international order. Nations are now taking precautions for external security issues, and these lead to degenerate core principles of liberalism, which are global economic and political integrations. These two pillars of liberalism are practised via free-market economy and encouraging liberal democratic systems against the statist closed economy and autocratic political systems, respectively.

In economic terms, Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”, is self-reflective. He has been forcing influential American companies to re-invest in the US and foreign companies that selling their products to make more investment in the US. This is an overt intervention into a liberal international economic system and caused tax wars with the EU and China. Additionally, military presence of the United States (US) troops has been conditioned with payment (or the US has been asked to make new deals to compensate) for the presence. Until the last decade, the US has been the country that benefited the most from the international liberal economic systems. However, the Trump Administration assumed that the US did not benefit enough from the international liberal economic systems, so it has taken steps to change them.  The US is actually breaking the rules and tendencies, which it previously led and protected.

* Associate Professor of Politics, Deputy-Director of CESRAN International

In political terms, also associated with economic conditions, people have adopted protective measures for their liberties; but they are seemingly under threat. Domestically, the populist-nationalist discourse has arisen and is now potentially influential in important decision-making institutions in all three branches of the state.  An increasing number of members of the European Parliament have advocated dismemberment of European institutions, which can be a prime example. Chinese leadership can rule the country until the leader is alive; Putin’s Russia is working on an act, which will let him, to rule the country for two more terms; Prince Salman is arresting possible rivals and attempting to cripple them to ensure he becomes the next king economically. These political developments should be opposed by international societies and used as leverage for economic and political relations.

However, nothing happens to pressure these autocrats. Generally, domestic political issues have been now left to the national level, and so a faster deviation from democracy is on the way. Internationally, the idea of bringing democracy to the people living under autocratic regimes seems to be failing. The Middle Eastern, North African and Latin American countries are left to the autocratic regimes; those countries which once were on the way to democracy a decade ago. Western liberal democracies initially looked like they supported their democratic cause but later did not side with the people but military coup d’états and autocrats. Latest Statements of Trump regarding abandoning regional issues and the Europeans’ unwillingness to involve in regional issues are a significant indication. It has been seen in relation to Libya and Syrian.

The liberal international order (LIO) is kept alive by international norms and laws, which prevent non-liberal actions from taking place. NATO, the UN, the ECHR, the ICC, the WTO and the WHO are all components of the liberal international order reproducing daily liberal activities among nations. However, failure of those international Organizations in bringing peaceful solutions to a national, regional and international crisis can be added to the list of why the liberal international order is getting reversed. Disagreements among the permanent members of the UN Security Council is a classic example but is not enough to prove the failure of the liberal international order, as for some it has been an ideal way of keeping international balance. There have to be more indicators to make such a bold claim. First of all, closing a number of borders regardless of whether there have been security or health concerns is the first and most significant indicator to start with. While the US tries to build walls along with Mexican border, Turkey has built security walls throughout Syrian border, Israel has almost completed the walls in Gaza, and finally, members of the European Union are thinking of closing borders because of irregular refugee flows and the most recent threat of coronavirus. These precocious policies might originate from security concerns, but the LIO should be able to intervene and solve the issues, which are transcending national borders. Moreover, to keep the engine of the LIO, members of these Organizations should financially fuel it. Nevertheless, it does not seem that it happens in effective ways as before. The founder, and, if I May say, protector of the LIO, has been now cutting the budget for international Organizations and asks others to share the financial burden.

There are emerging (and rising) alternatives to the LIO. Once most of the ethnic or religious conflicts had been resolved or at least eased in centre of the LIO: politically in New York, Geneva, London or Brussels; and economically in London and New York. Now nations are looking at Astana, Sochi, Moscow, and Istanbul for political help and at Beijing and Moscow for economic (and political) support to come up with solutions to an international crisis.

I would like to finish this short opinion paper with the cases of refugee crisis and coronavirus. Turkey’s repeated demand to solve Syrian Crisis peacefully with the assistance from Europe and the US has not been taken seriously, and Turkey has been left no option, but military intervention in Syria, where the ISIS and irregular refugees originate and have become international security issues. When Turkey changes its mind on the agreement with the EU on refugees and lets refugees leave Turkey, the EU (even a single member of the Union) could not or did not want to follow a common policy to tackle the issue. On the other hand, Italy’s cry for assistance to deal with the coronavirus was not properly responded by international Organizations, especially the EU; Italy now asked for help from Russia, which is not considered as a liberal country. Due to national insufficiencies in terms of health security, we have witnessed several cases in which medical supplies are lost or taken by the third states on the way to the destinations. Trade routes are the bloodstream of the LIO. If the security of those routes is not provided, then it can be argued that the LIO is bleeding; and if it loses too much blood, then it might be argued the time has come to intervene — and intervene at the earliest opportunity.

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