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Can Middle Powers Save the Liberal World Order?

James Ferguson Web

Can Middle Powers Save the Liberal World Order?

Turn the expressions of concern into concerted action

Aftab Abbasi

With major powers such as China, Russia, and now also the United States, chipping away at the foundations of the liberal international order, it falls to middle powers to sustain and reform some of its key elements. While middle powers may not single-handedly be able to prevent the disintegration of the liberal international order, they can at least slow its erosion. To achieve this, middle powers need to define their priorities, assemble issue-specific coalitions with clear goals, and coordinate their efforts effectively. Existing ‘plurilateral’ initiatives offer a model for issue-specific coalitions. Some may consist solely of states, while others might also include non-governmental actors such as corporations, private foundations and advocacy networks.

At a joint press conference on 2 April, the foreign ministers of Germany and France announced that they would launch an ‘alliance for multilateralism’ that is sorely needed to ‘protect international norms, agreements and institutions when they come under pressure’ at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly that will open on will open on 17 September this year. They have, reportedly, discussed the proposal with representatives from Argentina, Australia, Canada, the EU, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, South Korea and the United Kingdom. This is, however, not the first call for mid-sized states to assume greater responsibility for sustaining the ‘liberal world order’. In December 2016, the then vice-president of the United States, Joe Biden, met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and delivered him a pointed message: ‘The world’s going to spend a lot of time looking to you, Mr Prime Minister, as we see more and more challenges to the liberal international order than any time since the end of World War II.” Prominent international commentators have also issued similar appeals. Gideon Rachman, a Financial Times columnist, has proposed a ‘middle-powers alliance’ to ‘preserve a world based around rules and rights, rather than power and force’. Two eminent American foreign-policy experts, Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, have also called on US allies to ‘leverage their collective economic and military might to save the liberal world order’.

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