Identifying the Weak Spots of the Liberal World Order

Endast inbjudna · Arkadiankatu 23, entrance H (inner courtyard), Helsinki · 16.03.2018 10:30 - 12:00

Endast inbjudna

The liberal world order encompasses norms, institutions and practices. Different components of the liberal order face different challenges. Some of these components must be considered more essential for the key values embraced by the order. In this seminar, some of the findings of an ECFR project are presented concerning the vulnerabilities of various parts of the liberal order, in particular in the areas of trade, migration, security and warfare, and the Internet. The project is funded by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.



Opening Words and Chair

Teija Tiilikainen

Director, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

The future of the United States (US) –led liberal world order is the number one topic among foreign policy and International Relations scholars. At the core of the order lie common institutions, norms, and practices. The order was incepted after the Second World War and has evolved and matured ever since, but is now facing a host of new external and internal challenges.

The FIIA Seminar “Identifying the Weak Spots of the Liberal Order” examined this order under challenge. After the opening comments by Teija Tiilikainen, the Director of FIIA, Mark Leonard, the Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and Anthony Dworkin, ECFR’s Senior Policy Fellow, spoke about the vulnerabilities of the different components of the liberal world order. Lastly, before a lively discussion, FIIA’s Visiting Senior Fellow Sophie Eisentraut gave comments on the two presentations.

Mark Leonard

Director, European Council on Foreign Relations

According to Mark Leonard, after the end of the Cold War, the liberal world order expanded significantly. The “thinner” Cold War 1.0 order became a “thicker” and more global liberal order 2.0. The expansion was underpinned by US global predominance; democracy spread, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) enlarged and new norms, such as responsibility to protect, emerged.

Today, the 2.0 order is facing three serious but evident challenges. First, economic, military, and political power is shifting towards the East, namely to China. Second, Western societies are undergoing a reordering of their societies in the form of populism and identity politics. Lastly, new global issues are appearing and the existing order is inadequate to address them.

Leonard outlined two possible scenarios for the future. The optimist one predicts the return of the liberal world order from the utopian 2.0 version to the realistic 1.0 variety. The pessimist scenario draws a bleaker picture where sovereigntist powers rise and the global order becomes even thinner than during the Cold War.

Anthony Dworkin

Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations

In his presentation, Anthony Dworkin provided some possible solutions and tools for the Europeans to shape the reordering of international politics and respond to the waning of the liberal world order. According to Dworkin, the EU has three potential frameworks for action: multilateralism, building coalitions of the willing, and acting alone.

Dworkin highlighted that the EU is facing a significant task, given how multidimensional the liberal world order is. It needs to address multiple questions ranging from security, justice, trade and economics to environment, cyber and migration.

To give a few examples in the areas of security and justice, the EU must go back to the basics and focus on priorities such as standing against blatant aggression and defending non-intervention sovereignty. In international conflicts, imposing an ideal solution will be difficult and, instead of state building, the EU should emphasize de-escalation. In trade, the EU needs to build anew its own social compact that is the organization of its societies. It must also prioritize multilateral solutions, but, on demand, it can build coalitions and trust the magnetic effect of its internal markets.


Sophie Eisentraut

Visiting Senior Fellow, Finnish Institute of International Affairs

In her comment, Sophie Eisentraut envisioned a more optimist future, and did not share the rather bleak visions of the previous speakers. Eisentraut explained that the liberal order is not necessarily overreached but rather facing a typical challenge by emerging great powers who want to organize the order according to their own visions. Moreover, there are state and non-state actors who care deeply about the future of the existing order such as small nations and transnational movements. Lastly, Eisentraut argued that the order has not yet had time to adapt to new global challenges such as migration, and this might well happen in the future.