Research event

The wilting liberal order: Can and should it be saved?

A presentation by Jeff D. Colgan (Brown University). This event is part of the CISP colloquium.

The liberal international order has been an extraordinary success in certain ways, but it has also become self-defeating – partly by contributing to deepening economic inequality and the politics of outrage that follow from it, and partly because of missteps by self-satisfied elites. Three broad visions have emerged about what to do about it. The first is to cling to yesterday’s liberal order; the second is to rip it down, following populists like U.S. President Trump and Brexit proponents; and the third is a progressive counter-revolt. Each of these visions is incomplete, because they fail on at least one of three criteria for long-term political sustainability. A robust international order must meet all three criteria: share the wealth within liberal societies; harness international cooperation to address global challenges like climate change; and respect national communities. One way to meet these goals, perhaps the only way in the current environment, is to pursue differentiated, multi-speed cooperation. With the passing of the post-Cold War unipolar moment, the United States and its allies cannot afford a monolithic vision for world order.

Jeff D. Colgan is the Richard Holbrooke Associate Professor at the Political Science Department of Brown University, and the Director of Security Studies at the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs. His research interests include international order, oil and energy politics, climate change, and international security. His most recent book is Petro-Aggression: When Oil Causes War (Cambridge University Press, 2013). His research has been published in Foreign Affairs, International Organization, International Security, International Studies Quarterly, World Politics, and other journals. He frequently writes for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog. Professor Colgan has a Bachelor’s degree in engineering physics (nuclear) from McMaster University, a Master’s in Public Policy from UC Berkeley, and a Ph.D. from Princeton University. He taught at the School of International Service of American University in Washington DC 2010-2014, and was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 2012-13. Previously, Dr. Colgan worked with the World Bank, McKinsey & Company, the Brattle Group, and Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd.