, Volume 94, Number 1

Doug Stokes
Through its ambivalence towards its global security alliances, abrogation of free trade treaties and questioning of globalization, the Trump administration has argued that the United States-led liberal international order is too burdensome. How accurate is this portrayal? Drawing on theories of hegemonic leadership, the paper argues that the US national interest became globalized in the postwar international system and the US-led liberal order has given it enormous positional advantages. These include the capacity to shape the international preferences of other states, externalize domestic economic crises and construct the kind of international economy it wanted. Despite growing international competition, the US still has essentially the same global interests. However, neo-liberal globalization has weakened the domestic consent for American leadership among large sections of the American working class, who have rationally rejected continued US commitment to a system that has deepened economic inequality in the US. Trump has ridden the wave of this discontent, and although US elites may wish to return to the status quo after President Trump, these structural issues will remain. Trump may well do irreparable damage to the liberal order and thus, more broadly, to the West. While imperfect, the liberal order is still the ‘best of a bad bunch’ in terms of forms of systemic order on offer, and if the luxury of choice remains after Trump, a new domestic and international social contract is needed to revive US global leadership.

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