Liberal international order

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In international relations, the liberal international order, also referred to as the rules-based international order[1] or the US-led liberal international order[2], describes the notion that contemporary international relations are organized around principles of international cooperation through multilateral institutions like the United Nations and World Trade Organization, open markets, security cooperation, promotion of liberal democracy, and leadership by the United States and its allies.[3][4] The order was established in the aftermath of World War II, led in large part by the United States.[5]



The debate about liberal international order has grown especially prominent in International Relations.[6] Influential scholars Deudney and Ikenberry list five components of this international order: security co-binding, in which great powers demonstrate restraint; the open nature of US hegemony and the dominance of reciprocal transnational relations; the presence of self-limiting powers like Germany and Japan; the availability of mutual gains due to "the political foundations of economic openness"; and the role of Western "civil identity."[7] The more supportive views of scholars such as Ikenberry have drawn criticism from scholars who have examined the imperial and colonial legacies of liberal international institutions.[8][9] The contributions of non-Western actors to the formation of the liberal international order have also recently gained attention from scholars advancing global International Relations theory.[10] In the case of Latin America, for example, "From as far back as the 1860s, Latin American jurists have made prominent contributions to international jurisprudence, the ‘mortar’ that binds international order. ... However, in other ways, historically the LIO has been—and remains—superficial in its reach in Latin America."[11]

International organizations play a central role in the liberal order. The World Trade Organization, for example, creates and implements free trade agreements, while the World Bank provides aid to developing countries. The order is also premised on the notion that liberal trade and free markets will contribute to global prosperity and peace. Critics argue that the liberal order has sometimes led to social problems such as inequality and environmental degradation.[12]

Critics also argue that the liberal order tilts the scales in favour of the United States and its Western allies, as seen in voting shares in the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.[citation needed]

Relations with individual countries[edit]


Some see China as a potential challenger to the liberal order, as its initiatives such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and One Belt One Road Initiative appear to compete with existing international institutions.[13]

Van Niewenhuizen is categorical that Xi Jinping, then General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, seeks to supplant the LIEO. Xi distinguishes his own concept "国际关系法治化", which can be translated as "rule of law in international relations", from international law "国际法" and international rule of law "国际法治". Van Niewenhuizen writes that

Xi’s use of the character hua (化) here is instructive: it signifies a change in state, meaning the Chinese government does not believe international relations are characterised by the rule of law, and this requires revision.

Rühlig asks in his March 2018 paper why China under Xi would seek to change a system by which it earns enormous profit,[14][15] but Anoushiravan Ehteshami says:[16]

China sees Iran as its Western gateway, where not only is it a big market in itself, but it will also be the gateway to the rest of the Middle East and ultimately to Europe for China.

Nisha Mary Mathew remarks that the quest for dominance of the Eurasian land mass in which China finds itself causes Iran to be a favourite.[16] In 2017 alone, the Chinese signed deals for Iranian infrastructure projects worth more than US$15 billion. Joint projects include "high-speed rail lines, upgrades to the nation’s electrical grid, and natural gas pipelines". From 2019 to 2025 the two nations seek to increase bilateral trade to US$600 billion.[16]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ "G20 leaders reaffirm 'rules-based international order'". POLITICO SPRL. 1 December 2018.
  2. ^ Parmar, Inderjeet (2018). "The US-led liberal order: imperialism by another name?" (PDF). International Affairs. 94 (1): 151–172. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 May 2020 – via University of London City Research Online.
  3. ^ Kundnani, Hans (3 May 2017). "What is the Liberal International Order?". The German Marshall Fund of the United States. Archived from the original on 2 June 2020. Retrieved 23 July 2020.
  4. ^ Ikenberry, G. John (2018). "The end of liberal international order?" (PDF). International Affairs. 94 (1): 7–23. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 July 2020 – via OpenScholar @ Princeton.
  5. ^ Wright, Thomas (12 September 2018). "The Return to Great-Power Rivalry Was Inevitable". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 2 July 2020. Retrieved 23 July 2020.
  6. ^ Ikenberry, G. John; Parmar, Inderjeet; Stokes, Doug (2018-01-01). "Introduction: Ordering the world? Liberal internationalism in theory and practice". International Affairs. 94 (1): 1–5. doi:10.1093/ia/iix277. ISSN 0020-5850.
  7. ^ Deudney, Daniel; Ikenberry, G. John (April 1999). "The nature and sources of liberal international order". Review of International Studies. 25 (2): 179–196. doi:10.1017/S0260210599001795. ISSN 0260-2105.
  8. ^ Jahn, Beate (2018-01-01). "Liberal internationalism: historical trajectory and current prospects" (PDF). International Affairs. 94 (1): 43–61. doi:10.1093/ia/iix231. ISSN 0020-5850.
  9. ^ Mazower, Mark. (2009). No enchanted palace : the end of empire and the ideological origins of the United Nations. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-13521-2. OCLC 319601760.
  10. ^ Acharya, Amitav (2018-03-22). Constructing Global Order: Agency and Change in World Politics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-316-76726-9.
  11. ^ Long, Tom (2018-11-01). "Latin America and the liberal international order: an agenda for research". International Affairs. 94 (6): 1371–1390. doi:10.1093/ia/iiy188. ISSN 0020-5850.
  12. ^ "All About: Developing cities and pollution". Retrieved 17 March 2019.
  13. ^ VAN NIEUWENHUIZEN, SIMONE (1 August 2018). "China's "rule of law in international relations"". THE LOWY INSTITUTE. The Interpreter.
  14. ^ Rühlig, Tim (March 2018). "China's international relations in the new era of Xi Jinping – implications for Europe" (PDF). European Institute for Asian Studies.
  15. ^ Rühlig, Tim (2 March 2018). "A "New" Chinese Foreign Policy Under Xi Jinping?". Institute for Security & Development Policy.
  16. ^ a b c "Oil tanker attacks: did Iran's ties with China just go up in smoke?". South China Morning Post. 15 June 2019.