Universiteit Leiden

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A world without American domination?

America’s dominance of the world stage is coming to an end. These were the words of Professor Amitav Acharya in his guest lecture in The Hague on 5 February. ‘But the world really won’t be plunged into immediate chaos.’

The year 2014 was a strange time to release a book about the decline of the liberal world order. Barack Obama was in his second term of office, Hillary Clinton was his obvious successor and Donald Trump was dismissed as a loony yelling from the sidelines. But it was in precisely that year that Acharya – a professor at the American University in Washington DC – published his book The End of American World Order. For a moment he was a lone voice in the wilderness.

Wobbling liberal order

That was short-lived, however: alarm bells began to ring after Trump’s victory. With his slogan America first, Trump questioned old alliances, started trade wars and withdrew from nuclear treaties. The liberal world order – which had been established under the Americans – soon began to waver. Acharya’s book was suddenly more topical than ever.

‘There was no sense of discontinuity before Trump’s election,’ said Acharya in a jam-packed room at Campus The Hague. He had been invited to speak by the LeidenAsiaCentre and Beatrix Campbell, Assistant Professor of International Relations at Leiden University College. ‘But it soon became clear that multilateralism, international relations and mutual economic dependence were being curbed.’

The Global South

But is it such a bad thing that this liberal order and American domination are starting to crumble? Not necessarily, said Acharya. For a start, this order was by no means as liberal as the name might suggest. America itself has regularly chosen autocracies rather than democracies, for instance by supporting juntas in Latin America. And this did not make the world order particularly orderly either.

Below this ‘flat’ American domination lies a liberal order that we have created together, said Acharya. It was non-Western countries that regularly made the world a bit better, for instance by placing liberal principles on the agenda in UN treaties. ‘The global south was partly responsible for creating today’s world, so there is no reason to suppose that a more-fragmented world that isn’t dominated by America will descend into chaos.’

European Union

After the lecture Acharya faced a grilling, not just from the few hundred students in the room but also from the panel of academics from Leiden and The Hague. One of the questions that Karen Smith, Maxine David and Karoline Pomorska asked the Indian-born academic related to the European Union’s place in this narrative. Acharya answered by comparing the EU with America. ‘The EU can sometimes be arrogant. It wants to export its liberal ways to other countries, just like America has done. That causes resentment in other countries. The EU is an enormous inspiration to other countries, but it tries too hard to be a role model.’


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