Walter Russell Meade: The year's biggest loser...

Walter Russell Meade has penned a perceptive editorial in the Wall Street Journal, picking the biggest losers of 2018.

China, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and Emmanuel Macron are on the list – all for obvious reasons if you've been following the news.  But Meade chose the "Liberal International Order" – the global trade and security system set up after the end of the Cold War – as the biggest loser.

The biggest loser of 2018 was the post-Cold War system that the U.S. and its closest allies hoped would shape global politics.  The idea was that liberal democracy, market-based economic systems and the rule of law would spread from the West into the postcommunist East as well as into the Global South.  International institutions would increasingly replace the anarchic competition of states by developing rules-based approaches to issues from trade to climate change.

Great powers like Russia and China never liked this approach, seeing it as a thinly disguised form of U.S. hegemony and a threat to their illiberal political systems.  The aspiration for a liberal world system has faced growing headwinds for many years; in 2018 it buckled further under stress.

Even Japan, long a zealous upholder of the rules-based order, exited the International Whaling Commission; Russia solidified its hold on southeastern Ukraine; China fortified its artificial islands in the South China Sea; the U.S. flouted WTO procedures in pursuit of what the Trump administration calls "fair trade"; and one country after another failed to comply with its commitments under the Paris climate agreement.  A modern Voltaire might quip that the old system was neither liberal nor international nor an order, but its absence will be felt if it disintegrates.

International institutions have been failing for decades – some, like the U.N., were designed to fail.  But the rise of China as an economic superpower is upsetting the "new world order" like nothing else.

Along with that economic power, China is quickly building a military that can challenge the U.S.  Right now, the Chinese ability to project power beyond their immediate sphere of influence is limited.  But their self-confidence is growing and within a few decades, many experts predict, China will surpass the U.S. in establishing a global military presence.

All that we see around us – unrest in France, political upheaval in the E.U., British ambivalence about their place in Europe, Saudi foreign policy missteps – all of this is evidence that the rickety structure upon which the modern world has been built and managed by elites is crumbling as a result of their arrogance in ignoring the will of the people. 

It's likely 2019 won't be any better.

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