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Professor presents on changing landscape of international relations

| Wednesday, September 12, 2018

University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer delivered a lecture Tuesday for the Notre Dame International Security Center’s Seminar Speaker Series. 

The lecture focused on the changing state of international relations and politics, specifically on the rise and fall of the liberal international order and its future implications.

The “liberal international order” is a term which refers to U.S. international goals and doctrine following the fall of the Soviet Union, and the unipolar political landscape which developed as a result. Mearsheimer defined the key terms and concepts that make the liberal international order. 

“An order is a cluster of institutions that help with the general governance of states,” he said. “These institutions are set up so that governments can coordinate activities in rational, legal ways”

Examples of such institutions would include organizations like NATO or the International Monetary Fund.

Mearsheimer also discussed what qualifies as international orders, which contrasts with what is known as bounded orders. International orders include all great powers, while bounded do not. 

For the term liberal international order, liberal refers to an ideological stance of an order based on spreading liberal democracy around the world, promoting economic openness and incorporating states into the institutions which compose the liberal order. 

Mearsheimer said after the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. emerged as the world’s top power and began to spread the liberal international order to countries previously incorporated into the bounded Soviet order.

“The name of the game is to get these countries in Eastern Europe hooked on capitalism, integrate them into the international system,” Mearsheimer said.“The name of the game here is to spread democracy across the globe.”

While the liberal international order has governed world politics since the Cold War ended, Mearsheimer said its future is now uncertain.

“Once you transit from unipolarity to multipolarity, you can’t have a liberal international order,” he said. “We’re moving into a multipolar world now — you can kiss the liberal international order goodbye.”

Mearsheimer said that the liberal international order is fundamentally flawed in ways that will inevitably lead to the rise of a multipolar political landscape.

There are several reasons for Mearsheimer’s belief in this shift, one being that the liberal international order is motivated by an ideology of spreading liberal democracy around the world, a goal sometimes at odds with countries who do not see democracy as their best option.

“There are countries around the world that are perfectly happy being soft authoritarian states,” Mearsheimer said.

This goal of spreading liberal democracy to countries also leads to wars with minor powers, as the U.S. tries to install democratic governments, he said.

“We have fought seven wars since the Cold War ended, and we have been at war for two out of every three years since the Cold War ended, and this is despite the fact that we lose all those wars,” Mearsheimer said. 

The order also affects U.S. relations with major powers like Russia and China.

“The United States has worked very hard to promote democracy in China and in Russia since the Cold War ended,” he said. “Well, the Chinese and the Russians do not like this one bit.”

Mearsheimer predicts that a souring in relations between the U.S. and China will ultimately lead to the end of the current liberal international order. This is in part due to the ideological differences between the two powers in regards to governing principles.

“I think it’ll be somewhat similar to the Cold War orders, but different in some important ways,” Mearsheimer said. 

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