World Order in the Age of Trump

The future world order will resemble a multiplex cinema involving a larger audience and multiple stakeholders. The world will be pluralistic with cultural and political diversity but fragmented international governance modules, rather than being directed by a global hegemon.

What does the United States President Donald Trump’s presidency mean for the geopolitical world, and how will his steps affect the international liberal order, were some of the questions that the Boeing Company Chair in International Relations at the Schwarzman Scholars Program, Tsinghua University, Beijing –  Professor Amitav Acharya discussed during his public lecture, titled ‘World Order in the Age of Trump.’ He began his talk by highlighting that the western dominated world order has already been on a decline, and Trump will not be able to reverse that decline. His actions so far have been unpredictable and what he can or will do is yet to be seen. Acharya stated a few main trends to underline this argument and projected a different geopolitical trajectory.

Firstly, Trump is the consequence of the current world crisis and not its cause. The U.S. has had a role to play in reversing the advancement of international liberal order in recent times. It is evident from the slowing down of the rate of increase in world trade in the past four years as well as the fragmentation that international institutions associated with the U.S. such as the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been undergoing  in recent times. These three factors are considered the pillars of the U.S.’ idea of liberal order and President Trump is taking steps to further weaken these pillars in the name of harnessing the national strength of his country. Examples of this can be seen through his recent actions such as  disbanding the Trans – Pacific Partnership (TPP), having an inward-looking approach to economic globalisation, threatening liberal alliances like North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and bilateral relations with South Korea and Japan, thereby challenging the foundational elements of the liberal order.

Secondly, emerging powers like China and India can act as the defenders of the liberal world order. Elements within the scope of BRICS such as South Africa’s recession, China-India tensions over One Belt One Road Initiative (over the disputed territory of Kashmir in India), withdrawal of BRICS fund by Goldman Sachs in 2015, are trends which render emerging powers’ capacity to protect the liberal order weak. However, China has shown efforts to defend globalisation while countries like United Kingdom through Brexit and US through Trump’s protectionist agenda, have threatened it. Thereby, in the coming times, these emerging powers will act as protectors of the western initiated order.

Thirdly, globalisation in the current times will be different but not defunct. It will be headed by the East than by the West, focused on more South-South than the previous North-South links, and will draw more attention to development over trade. Acharya demonstrated this by using a few historical examples of the brief period of western trade dominance in the entire world history, showing the influence of the Arab world on world economy. He further stated the importance of China and India in respecting state sovereignty, cultural and political diversity and keeping their capitalist ambitions intact in this new age. All these factors will define the diversity in economic and political ideology laying the basis for globalisation. The global power shift ‘shows the rise of the rest than just the rise of the BRICS,’ as developing countries will account for 57% of the world’s GDP by 2030 (as per KPMG predictions).

President Trump will aggravate these trends through his non-recognition of the stakes of multiple alliances in the U.S.- led international order, which encompass nations, institutions and trade. This may lead to the destruction of the present order which has been key to America’s greatness so far. It is yet to be seen what President Trump promotes as his foreign policy, in terms of his one-to-one trade deals as opposed to the multilateral ones, among others. Recent survey (Pew Research 2016) claims that globalisation is taken in a positive light, with majority populations in China and India agreeing that it is vital for a healthy economy, their children’s welfare and their countries’ role in the future.

Acharya concluded his lecture by stating that the future world order will resemble a multiplex cinema involving a larger audience and multiple stakeholders. The world will be pluralistic with cultural and political diversity but fragmented international governance modules, rather than being directed by a global hegemon. 


This is an event coverage piece by Master in Public Policy student Mariyam Raza Haider.