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After Liberal Hegemony: The Advent of a Multiplex World Order*

  • Amitav Acharya

While the West woke up to the threat to the liberal international order when Donald Trump was elected U.S. president, its decline was apparent even at the height of the Obama-Clinton era. What follows the end of the U.S.-dominated world order is not a return to multipolarity as many pundits assume. The twenty-first-century world—politically and culturally diverse but economically and institutionally interlinked—is vastly different from the multipolar world that existed prior to World War II. China and India are major powers now; and globalization will not end, but will take on a new form, driven more by the East than the West and more by South-South linkages than North-North ones. The system of global governance will fragment, with new actors and institutions chipping away at the old UN-based system. Liberal values and institutions will not disappear, but will have to coexist and enmesh with the ideas and institutions of others, especially those initiated by China. This “multiplex world” carries both risks and opportunities for managing international stability. Instead of bemoaning the passing of the old liberal order, the West should accept the new realities and search for new ways to ensure peace and stability in partnership with the rising powers.

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This essay is based on the second edition of the author's book The End of American World Order (forthcoming).

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1 Keohane, Robert O., After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), p. 46 .

2 A prime example is the special issue under the cover heading Out of Order? The Future of the International System,” Foreign Affairs 96, no. 1 (January/February 2017), See also Anne-Marie Slaughter, “The Return of Anarchy?” Journal of International Affairs, March 15, 2017,

3 Acharya, Amitav, The End of American World Order (Cambridge: Polity, 2014), p. 37 .

4 Nye, Joseph S., “Will the Liberal Order Survive? The History of an Idea,” Foreign Affairs 96, no. 1 (January/February 2017).

5 Barry Eichengreen, “Globalization's Last Gasp,” Project Syndicate, November 17, 2016,

6 This term refers to the documented phenomenon of when the rapidly growing economy of a country stagnates after reaching a per capita income level of roughly $10,000 to $15,000 as it loses the initial advantages that had led to high growth, such as abundant cheap labor and high investment rates, to low-wage competitors.

7 Edward Alden, “The Biggest Issue That Carried Trump to Victory,” Fortune, November 10, 2016,

8 “7 Point Plan To Rebuild the American Economy by Fighting for Free Trade,”

9 Micklethwait, John and Wooldridge, Adrian, The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State (New York: Penguin Press, 2014).

10 “Democracy the Loser in U.S. Vote,” China Daily (USA), November 9, 2016,

11 Volker Perthes,“President Trump and International Relations,” Point of View, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, November 18, 2016,

12 He Yafei, “China's Role in Steering the Future of Globalisation,” Telegraph, May 10, 2017,; Zheng Bijian (former permanent Vice-President of the Central Party School), “China's ‘One Belt, One Road’ Plan Marks the Next Phase of Globalization,” Huffington Post, May 18, 2017,

13 Bruce Stokes, “Unlike the West, India and China Embrace Globalization,” Yale Global Online, October 18, 2016,

14 World Bank Global Macroeconomics Team, “Global Weekly: Sources of the Growth Slowdown in BRICS,” January 11, 2016,

15 Suzanne Nossel, “The World's Rising Powers Have Fallen,” Foreign Policy, July 6, 2016,

16 The OBOR, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is a massive Chinese economic aid and investment program worth over a trillion U.S. dollars over the next decade. Launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013, it focuses on infrastructure development in Eurasia and beyond. China's motives behind the initiative are both economic (such as expanding markets for its surplus production capacity, new business for Chinese companies, and promoting the economic development of its western provinces), and strategic, especially enhancing Chinese influence in the region and the world. See Scott Cendrowski, “Inside China's Global Spending Spree,” Fortune, December 12, 2016,

17 Amitav Acharya, “Emerging Powers Can Be Saviours of the Global Liberal Order,” Financial Times, January 18, 2017.

18 Acharya, End of American World Order. Interestingly, a recent essay in Foreign Affairs also argues for developing a “mixed order” to cope with a “pluralistic world.” See Mazarr, Michael J., “The Once and Future Order: What Comes After Hegemony?Foreign Affairs 96, no. 1 (January/February 2017).

19 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Human Development Report 2013. The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World (New York: UNDP, 2013), p. 2 .

20 Ibid; Joakim Reiter, Deputy Secretary-General of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), “UNCTAD and South-South Cooperation,” March 10, 2016.

21 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, World Investment Report 2015 (Geneva: United Nations, 2015), pp. 5, 89 ,

22 Henry Kissinger, “Henry Kissinger on the Assembly of a New World Order,” Wall Street Journal, August 29, 2014,

23 ASEAN +3 refers to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus China, Japan, and South Korea.

24 Bremmer, Ian and Roubini, Nouriel, “A G-Zero World,” Foreign Affairs 90, no. 2 (March/April 2011),

25 On June 1, 2017, Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement. However, far from signaling the collapse of the agreement, the reaction to U.S. withdrawal perfectly illustrates the dynamics of the multiplex world, where global cooperation on critical challenges does not necessarily rely on a leading power. No other country followed the United States; and at a meeting in Hamburg in July 2017, the other nineteen members of the G-20 reaffirmed their “strong commitment” to the Agreement, calling it “irreversible.” Trump’s decision paradoxically also prompted a wave of domestic support for the Agreement, including from U.S. businesses, states, and cities, which are especially crucial to climate action. See Oliver Milman, “G20 leaders’ statement on climate change highlights rift with US,” The Guardian, July 8, 2017,

26 Slaughter, “The Return of Anarchy?”

27 For a detailed discussion and debate, see Acharya, Amitav, ed., Why Govern? Rethinking Demand and Progress in Global Governance (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

29 Pettersson, Therése and Wallensteen, Peter, “Armed conflicts, 1946–2014,” Journal of Peace Research 52, no. 4 (2015), p. 537 .

30 Global Terrorism Index 2016 (Sydney and New York: Institute for Economics and Peace, 2016), p.3 , This data is derived from the Global Terrorism Database of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence at the University of Maryland.

31 The International Institute for Strategic Studies, The IISS Armed Conflict Survey 2015, Press Statement, Arundel House, London, May 20, 2015, pp.1–2,

32 These Latin American initiatives included the Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace, attended by nineteen Latin American nations and held in Mexico City, February 21–March 8, 1945 (the Chapultepec Conference). Three years later, twenty Latin American and Caribbean countries as well as the United States signed the American Declaration of Rights and Duties of Man at Bogota, Colombia, in April 1948—seven months before the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. See Sikkink, Kathryn, “Human Rights,” in Why Govern, ed. Acharya, Amitav (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016) pp.125133 . See also Acharya., Amitav‘Idea-Shift’: How Ideas from the Rest Are Reshaping Global Order,” Third World Quarterly 37, no. 7 (2016), pp. 1156–170; Principles from the Periphery: The Neglected Southern Sources of Global Norms,” Global Governance 20, no. 3 (2014); and The UN and the Global South, 1945 and 2015: Past As Prelude?Third World Quarterly 37, no. 7 (2016).

33 Allison, Graham, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap? (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). Although Allison popularized the phrase “Thucydides's Trap,” the underlying logic of the term reflects realist theories of international relations, especially “power transition” theory, which is precisely about how a rising power and a status-quo power might get into conflict.

* This essay is based on the second edition of the author's book The End of American World Order (forthcoming).

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Ethics & International Affairs
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