Overview: What Fate for Liberal Order in a Post-Western World?

by Ash Jain and Daniel Twining


Over the next two decades, the relative power of major international actors will shift markedly.  Around 2030,  after nearly a century as the preeminent global economic power, the United States will be surpassed by China as the world’s largest economy. With its trade in goods expected to nearly double that of the U.S. and Europe, China’s international economic clout will reach new heights.  By 2030, India will become the world’s most populous country and third-largest economy, while Brazil’s economy will rank fourth in size.  India and Brazil will join China at the high table of 21st century international politics alongside the United States, even as the relative weight of Russia and Japan diminishes.  The European economy will remain in the top tier, but it is not clear whether Europe will be able to act with common purpose to leverage this source of strength.


With its enhanced economic base, Beijing could rival Washington in overall military spending, even as a slowing Chinese economy and internal political conflict complicate China’s ability to lead internationally.  The United States will remain primus inter pares in light of its continued advantages across the full spectrum of national power and the legacy benefits of its leadership.  It will, however, be operating in a post-Western world in which the bulk of global economic power is held by countries whose per capita incomes are far below those of the traditional great powers.  This reality will leave China, India, Brazil, and other players focused on internal development and domestic challenges, torn between their desire to be global powers and their interest in free-riding on Western management of the interna­tional system.


How will the rise of the rest impact the international system?  The National Intelligence Council’s draft Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds maps out three broad scenarios:


Reverse Engines. Under this scenario, the international system would consist of several powerful countries — but no single state or bloc of states would have the political or economic leverage to drive the international community toward collective action. Such a world, characterized by a global vacuum of power, assumes that the United States will no longer be willing or capable of sustaining the predominant leadership role it has assumed since 1945.   With no other country able to step in to replace the U.S. as a global leader, the resulting diver­gence of interests would lead to fragmentation and the inability of great powers to work cooperatively to solve global issues.  Mercantilism and protectionism could lead economic globalization to go into reverse, constraining technological breakthroughs required to manage scarce global resources.  Conflict and disorder would follow.


Great Power Convergence.  An alternative scenario is what the NIC calls a “fusion” world, in which major powers work together to adopt and enforce a set of globally accepted rules and norms. As U.S. predominance over the international system recedes, other emerging powers would step in to assume greater responsibility for the management of international affairs commensurate with their swelling economic might.  Emerging powers emerge as full stakeholders in a global order that is transformed by power shifts but remains liberal and pluralistic.  Great power concert (perhaps enabled by democratization in China) to meet global challenges increases the stability of the international system even as power is diffused within it.  U.S. resilience enables it to create enduring partnerships with rising powers to sustain the basis of liberal order.   Technological advances create new possibilities for joint management of key global challenges, rewarding positive-sum behavior by the great powers.


Multipolar Divergence—U.S. Primacy.  A third scenario, one the NIC calls “fragmentation,” involves a multipolar system characterized by a divergence of views among great powers that challenges global governance.  The United States would continue to maintain disproportionate global influence and leverage that influence to address global challenges by working through coalitions of like-minded states.  A multispeed global economy accelerates the diffusion of power but an alternative coalition to the West does not form, with developing giants consumed by their domestic challenges – even as the global middle class explodes in ways that transform politics within the rising powers.  With inclusive global institutions effectively stalemated, the United States instead turns to its old and new allies in Europe and Asia, who would continue to see Washington as their partner of choice in advancing the norms and rules of a liberal order.  The risk of conflict increases with the continued rise of new powers like China and the rapid pace of technological change.


One key conclusion of the NIC study is that the future role of the United States in the international system is a decisive variable in determining what kind of “alternative world” will exist in 2030.  The choices U.S. leaders make – about how to marshal (and preserve) domestic resources, how vigorously to assert U.S. military and economic leadership overseas, and how much to invest in alliances old and new – will be central to determining which of the above pathways the international system will follow over the coming 20 years.  To a certain extent, the answer to the question of how the “rise of the rest” impacts the U.S.-led international system is that it is not up to them… so much as it is up to us.



16 comments on “Overview: What Fate for Liberal Order in a Post-Western World?

  1. We are a gaggle of vorneteuls and starting a brand new scheme in our community. Your web site provided us with useful information to paintings on. You’ve performed an impressive process and our whole group will likely be grateful to you.

  2. I beievle it’s true, but I also beievle that the Earth goes through heating and cooling spells every so often. We have sped up this process due to the Industrial Revolution. There is evidence that during the 1700s, North America and Europe had much harsher winters. However, there is no evidence supporting or disproving that this warming has happened in the past. Don’t worry, Earth has it’s way of adapting to the circumstances given to it.

  3. A comment from Sweden. If U.S really want to be number one on this planet, they have a fair chance. The whole planet suffers from a deeply egocentric society with so many side effects that only a very few people realize the whole picture. A transformation into an empathic society would place U.S way ahead of all the other countries in so many ways, that the others would appear as medieval. Look at http://www.empathiccivilisation.com and you will find out more. Please take your time to read and think carefully before making up your mind. It’s way ahead of present thinkers!

  4. It seems that the US is stuck in this mindset that military strength is what counts. The Chinese don’t believe this at all. China is forging strong economic links in Africa and the US responds by setting up and warning African nations to be wary of becoming too close to China. It would be much better if the US kept its military out of Africa and devoted those resources to helping the African people overcome their problems of poverty and disease. Expanding scholarships for African students to study in the US would be important too. This soft power is how to gain friends and influence people in the 21st century.

    In Asia, While the US was bogged down in two very expensive, destructive, and ill conceived wars, China has become very influential beacause of booming trade with the countries in the area. China is even making deals in Afghanistan. They make money there while the US has poured hundreds of billions of dollars. down a rat hole there.

    Now of course China has developed a certain political influence which the US now seeks to counter. But the strategy is all wrong. The “pivot” has a much too obvious military component too. There is far too much emphasis on moving the navy to the Pacific and ensuring “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea, which is not under any threat. Everyone knows that the US is trying to drive a wedge between the countries of SE Asia and China. This cannot succeed because the the countries of the region NEED the trade with China and don’t want to see it disrupted and the US cannot replace that trade because all our manufacturing has gone to China.

    The US needs to get its house in order. Its cities have all crumbled, Its economy has been gutted and dominated by finance and people’s income has stagnated since the 70s. Meanwhile, China has just announced that it will double per capita income by 2020. The US needs to get serious about rebuilding its real economy, raising people’s standard of living and above all resist the temptation to engage in expensive counterproductive wars.

  5. None of the above.

    Rapidly emerging decentralisation and dis-intermediation are the consequenc of the pervasive spread of direct instantaneous ‘Peer to Peer’ communication.

    We will see the end of existing Institutions-As-Organisations – ie monolithic (profit centric) Private corporates and monolithic power-centric Public States – and a new generation of people-centric Institutions-As-Agreements.

    This means the emergence of what is essentially a networked and resilient participative State integrated with a ‘Profit for Purpose’ networked Market.

    Neither the State nor the Market will own anything; do anything; employ anyone or contract with anyone. They will simply be networked consensual agreements.

    This will mean the end of Parties creating Policy according to an ideology, and the beginning of ‘reality-based’ politics (‘what works’) where the Policy creates the Party (or rather, the networked social movement).

    These framework agreements will leads to collaboration and transparency, and a global economy based upon energy economics based upon the only absolute value there is, rather than deficit-based dollar economics.

    The process of Transition is already well under way. The $ economy and intermediated markets configured around the $ died in late 2008, and are now in zombie mode.

    Banks have already moved to an adjacent possible through offloading and mis-selling market risk on unsuspecting ‘inflation-hedging’ risk averse muppet investors who are the complete antithesis of the risk taking speculators who get the blame for the current bubbles in equities, commodities and oil in particular.

    When these bubbles collapse, we will see a move to the next ‘adjacent possible’, which consists of methods and instruments which pre-date the banking system, but which are already (stealthily) in use.

    The reason why this ongoing dis-intermediation is in the interests of risk intermediaries such as banks and traders is that it is ‘capital lite’. ie they need only the finance capital to cover operating costs.

  6. Futurism has its muses and the unpredictable is its own reward. Ignorance is a gallantry the West can not afford. Globalization has made itself the niche highly suited to continue to bring benefits best under a multipolar framework. While 2030 may be the jumping-off point for a newly-defined source of global influence, it is more likely to come in the form of an emerging confederation of nations than merely of a single state. Unless curtailed by the repressive influences of some national ego, the impact of mass communications on the further emergence of the borderless state should see further gains equalizing the variances in the social landscape. The optimist in me continues to ponder the possible while considering the alternatives such as are pointed out by smarter reporters on the subject of why societies survive, thrive or disappear altogether as chronicled by academics like Jared Diamond. One can only hold to the hope that those with the wisdom and rigor to make the best of all options available do so.

  7. Freedom loving people of all countries will continue to drive the advances across international boundaries. Entrepreneurs and educated people will eventually overwhelm autocrats and ignorant, dogmatic extremists. The USA will continue to attract the boldest, bravest, and brightest lights from all nations. That has always been our strength. It is gratifying to see small, but growing, centers of enlightenment in various nations, all over the world.

    Last year, I was part of a team that trained over 1000 Africans (Ugandans & Kenyans) and 300 Peruvians. It is inspiring to see these young people hungry for the challenges and changes of democracy & capitalism. Eventually the Islamic terrorists and other hate groups will be overwhelmed by the growth of tolerant people of good will.

  8. This is disgusting and horrifying. A new world order? Is this a joke? Who wants there to be one global superpower? That would be an authoritarian regime, no doubt, you’re all insane.

  9. Pingback: “Global Trends”- CIA: Asia will as before be the center of economich development – Europa and US will losse their postions. Middleclass will be soon most important globally, but consume more and more, which will be a big problem for envi

  10. i would think in the years to come the big conflicts are to between china and india
    both have huge populations and are sucking up all the resources i think they will actually go to war over some of them. the technology the west has over the two is fading fast and eventually their sheer numbers and advancements will surpass the west

  11. Pingback: “Global Trends”-Prognose der US-Geheimdienste: Asien überflügelt USA und Europa. Zum ersten Mal überhaupt wird eine Mehrheit der Erdenbewohner 2030 nicht mehr in Armut leben, “erstmals wird die Mittelschicht in den meisten Ländern da

  12. Surely, if the US elites and policymakers would content themselves more with endeavouring to build real partnerships for mutual benefits with the other countries, rather than insisting on the track of struggling to assert “leadership” (specially by military means), the path to 2030 would be far less uncertain and troublesome for the whole world, US included. It’s a tragedy that you do not seem to be able to live without this outdated impulse.

  13. As it is ‘YET’ about to happen that U.S. would no longer dominate as SUPERPOWER 20 yrs from now..however since its still 20 years to look forward to..WHAT if Philippines would become part of the UNITED STATES and with Philippines’ vast NATURAL TREASURES..oil, gold and food with STRAIGHT GOVERNANCE AND U.S.INFLUENCED is China can prevail as one of the economic superpower? I dont think so.

    • Mark Twain famously opposed the war by using his influence in the press. He said the war betrayed the ideals of American democracy by not allowing the Filipino people to choose their own destiny.

      “There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it—perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands—but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector—not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now—why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I’m sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation.”[81]

      In a diary passage removed by Twain’s first biographical editor Thomas Bigelow Paine, Twain refers to American troops as “our uniformed assassins” and describes their killing of “six hundred helpless and weaponless savages” in the Philippines as “a long and happy picnic with nothing to do but sit in comfort and fire the Golden Rule into those people down there and imagine letters to write home to the admiring families, and pile glory upon glory.”

  14. es interesante como china ha sabido aprender de occidente el control que ejercen las inversiones en un pais , ello a producido un cambio en el pensamiento de algunos paises , estos han visto en china a un nuevo aliado desplazando poco a poco a paises como Estados Unidos lo que encuentro muy peligroso para la economia ,hoy se comercia en dolares y mañana ???

  15. Pingback: GT2030: Alternative Worlds – primo input | Silendo

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