The United States took the lead in establishing this system, often called the liberal world order because it is grounded in a set of norms, rules, and institutions that reflect liberal principles. Its foundations include open, market-based economies, democratic communities, collective security, and shared sovereignty.
In the security realm, a working forum is needed to discuss urgent challenges and develop ways to resolve or manage them. Repeated efforts to reform the UN Security Council to perform this task have made little headway and prospects are bleak. In this light, consideration should be given to launching an informal great-power concert for this purpose. It would have to include China, Russia and the United States, today’s three most active geopolitical players. India should be included as a rising power, as well as some, if not all, of the following countries with long great-power traditions: France, Germany, Great Britain, and Japan. This concert would not have the formal authority of the Security Council, but it might have more influence because it would bring together the leading powers with the resources necessary to have a practical impact on global security.
Regional security fora also need to be revitalized or created. In Europe, the OSCE and the NATO-Russia Council are the primary fora. Both were created during a more hopeful period and now have to be rethought to deal with an agenda less focused on building positive cooperation than on responsibly managing competition. In East Asia, various platforms are already in place—the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum—while a new forum, perhaps a variation of the Six-Party Talks on North Korea, should be created to deal with the situation in Northeast Asia. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization provides a promising security forum for Central Eurasia, while an adequate structure for the Middle East remains to be established.
In the economic realm, the readjustments of voting weights in the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and development banks will continue, decreasing the influence of Western powers in favor of rising powers, especially in East Asia. In addition, the three regional trade and investment hubs of global significance, East Asia, Europe, and North America, will continue to consolidate institutionally. Meanwhile, the World Trade Organization needs to be revitalized to prevent these hubs from congealing into rival protectionist blocs.
The final challenge is not so much one of institutional structure as of theoretical accommodation. In a world in which the leading powers are guided by different value systems, a key question is how we can make a world of diversity safe and secure. This will require that China, Russia, and the United States, among others, reconcile their diverging worldviews to create some common vision of a legitimate world order. This will not be easy because the worldviews lie at the core of national identity and purpose. Nevertheless, without some accommodation, which will entail compromises on what major countries consider core values and principles, the world will face growing disorder. But the task is not impossible. Europe found a means of doing so to end the Wars of Religion in the 17th century, and the great powers did the same after the end of the Second World War. We need to repeat that feat today.