CSS Hosts Democracy Forum Talk on the Liberal International Order

The Center for Strategic Studies hosted a Democracy Forum event addressing the status of the liberal international order on October 22. CSS Director Monica Toft moderated a panel featuring Fletcher Professors Alan Henrickson, Antonia Chayes, John Shattuck, and Barbara Kates-Garnick. Interim Dean Ian Johnstone provided introductory remarks, focusing on populism’s complicated relationship with democracy and the democracy promotion mandate held by many international and regional organizations.

Opening the panel discussion with a look back at the historical nature of the international liberal order, Henrickson pondered the question of whether the international liberal order ever represented or would ever represent a global order. He noted that the economic and political dimensions underlying the concept of liberty make regionalism an attractive complement or alternative to a single global conception of order.

Chayes transitioned away from history and toward a comparative perspective of the organizations underlying the international liberal order. She maintained that the international organizations that work best are those that are narrow in scope but universal in coverage, such as the World Health Organization. Ultimately, she equated successful international organizations with vessels filled with proper funding and staffing, accepted as legitimate and recognized for the critical role they play in solving international problems.

Shattuck provided a contemporary perspective of international organizations, making the case for “a proper burial.” He argued that the international liberal order was a myth of the post-Cold War world, now succumbing to the forces of disintegration represented by failed states, ethnic and religious conflict, and mass migration. Shattuck believes the international liberal order is in the midst of a crisis of democracy in which institutions have taken over, states are becoming Darwinian, and the international rule of law is no longer respected. He recommends four practical steps to navigate the crisis: 1) use the tools of democracy to fight populism, 2) galvanize civil society, 3) identify ways to decrease polarization, and 4) recognize the windows of opportunity presented by great global challenges.

Kates-Garnick concluded the panelist commentary by questioning whether the institutions underlying the international liberal order are strong enough to deal with disruption. She asked if populations and states can or should try to depend on these institutions to address the host of local crises that have quickly morphed into transnational crises. Kates-Garnick recommended the international community look at the private sector as a model for becoming more democratic, as the private sector is responsive to a broad set of stakeholders, rather than the narrow set of state interests (“stateholders”) that are the focus of the existing international liberal order.

The event was the second of three panel discussions in this semester’s Democracy Forum series. The Fletcher School will be announcing a final Democracy Forum event on the impact of social media on democracy soon.

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