Foreign policy specialist Robert Kagan warns that the “liberal world order” established by the United States after World War II is in trouble. The author, who served in the Reagan State Department, believes “the liberal order is like a garden, artificial and forever threatened by the forces of nature.” He purports that the current world order is a seven decade aberration that can only be maintained by a “persistent, unending struggle against the vines and weeds that are constantly working to undermine it from within and overwhelm it from without.”
Kagan argues that the “vines and weeds” that attack democracy come mainly from the political right—from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and from conservatives in the U.S. who long to subvert globalism and reinforce nationalism. They are citizens who yearn for strong authoritarian leadership.
Kagan contends that the current hostile competition and escalating militarism among nations have their origins in some of the undesirable elements of human nature. All the deadly clashes that typify modern history are the result of humanity’s desire to dominate and control others, he explains.
The United States, with its exceptional economic and geographic strengths, induced and nurtured the relatively peaceful world order that has existed for the last 70 plus years, but the current world order, “is as unstable as it is valued. It is a garden that needs constant tending less the jungle grow back and engulf us all.”
As America pulls back from Europe, and Asia and becomes more nationalistic, the political alliances and agreements created after World War II will end and the world will become more dangerous, Kagan worries. “World order is one of those things people don’t think about until it is gone.” Kagan encourages those who want “world peace” to step up now in order to preserve a safe world for our children and grandchildren.
Kagan, a neoconservative, supports using military force to maintain liberal values. He argues against the United States’ recent withdrawal from global conversations. It is critically important to buttress America’s commitment to the “ideals of freedom and cosmopolitanism” and to reclaim the “will and determination” to prevent others from destroying what has been painstakingly created.
Kagan’s 179-page warning presents a bleak future. His criticism of the pull back of U.S. responsibility from maintaining a stable world order is astutely stated. However, with the current nationalistic-leaning leadership in many Western nations today, his wise words will probably be ignored or at least disparaged.
Robert Kagan is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a columnist for The Washington Post.