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Why the Liberal World Order Will Survive

  • G. John Ikenberry


The crisis of the American-led international order would seem to open up new opportunities for rising states—led by China, India, and other non-Western developing countries—to reshape the global order. As their capacities and influence grow, will these states rise up and integrate into the existing order or will they seek to overturn and reorganize it? The realist hegemonic perspective expects today's power transition to lead to growing struggles between the West and the “rest” over global rules and institutions. In contrast, this essay argues that although America's hegemonic position may be declining, the liberal international characteristics of order—openness, rules, and multilateralism—are deeply rooted and likely to persist. And even as China seeks in various ways to build rival regional institutions, there are stubborn limits on what it can do.



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1 See Obama administration, “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” Washington, D.C.: The White House, September 2002.

2 For an overview of the “rise and fall” of rising states during the Obama years, see Suzanne Nossel, “The World's Rising Powers Have Fallen,” Foreign Policy, July 6, 2016,

3 For a survey of debates about rising states and global governance, see Acharya, Amitav, ed., Why Govern? Rethinking Demand and Progress in Global Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

4 Carr, E. H., The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919–1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations (London: Macmillan, 1951); Gilpin, Robert, War and Change in World Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Kennedy, Paul M., The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (New York: Random House, 1987); and Wohlforth, William, “The Stability of a Unipolar World,” International Security 24, no. 1 (1999).

5 See Strange, Susan, “The Persistent Myth of Lost Hegemony,” International Organization 41, no. 4 (1987), pp. 551–74; and Strange, Susan, States and Markets: An Introduction to International Political Economy (London: Pinter Publishers, 1988).

6 For a discussion of the goals and interests of rising states, see Schweller, Randall, “Managing the Rise of Great Powers: History and Theory,” in Johnston, Alastair Iain and Ross, Robert S., eds., Engaging China: The Management of an Emerging Power (Abingdon, U.K.: Routledge, 1999), pp. 131 .

7 Kissinger, Henry, World Order (New York: Penguin Press, 2014), p. 27.

8 Ikenberry, G. John, Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011).

9 Piccone, Ted, Five Rising Democracies and the Fate of the International Liberal Order (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2016), p. 5.

10 Ruggie, John G., ed., Multilateralism Matters: The Theory and Praxis of an Institutional Form (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p. 11.

11 Miles Kahler, “Conservative Globalizers: Reconsidering the Rise of the West,” World Political Review, February 2, 2016. See, also, Miles Kahler, “Who Is Liberal Now? Rising Powers and Global Norms,” in Acharya, Why Govern?

12 See G. John Ikenberry and Darren Lim, “China's Emerging Institutional Statecraft: The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Prospects for Counter-Hegemony,” Brookings Institution Report (Project on International Order and Strategy), Washington, D.C., April 2017.


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Why the Liberal World Order Will Survive

  • G. John Ikenberry


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