The previous issue discussed some of the tangible and terrifying realities of the world before FDR and Churchill laid the foundations for the liberal international order. In this issue, we explore what the world could look like if this liberal order is allowed to collapse.

China and Russia
The most serious challenge to the liberal international order is posed by powerful authoritarian states, especially China and Russia. Simply put, if Xi’s China and Putin’s Russia gain the upper hand, world order will be characterized by might-makes-right lawlessness between nations and the triumph of statism over individualism within nations.

Just weeks ago, Xi declared that “Resolving the Taiwan question and realizing China's complete reunification is a historic mission and an unshakable commitment of the Communist Party of China.” He vowed to “accelerate the modernization of national defense and the armed forces,” called for furtherance of “socialist revolution” and has concluded that “capitalism is bound to die out.”

In short, Xi’s China has no interest in joining an international system premised on free government, free markets and the rule of law—only to supplant it. To understand what an international system run by Xi’s China would look like, just look at Xi’s China. China has constructed an Orwellian surveillance state, absorbed Hong Kong, increased its menacing pressure on Taiwan, used technology and money to expand its insidious influence over American culture and education, conducted a relentless cybersiege of the Free World, interfered in free elections, increased its suppression and mistreatment of Christians, unleashed a genocide against Uighur Muslims, exploded military spending by 517 percent since 2000, built the world’s largest navy, massively expanded its nuclear arsenal and nuclear strike capabilities, claimed a vast swath of the South China Sea and erected illegal islands to back up those claims, launched unprovoked military attacks in the Himalayan border region, unleashed though incompetence or intent a crippling global pandemic, and hosted Russian troops for large-scale strategic exercises.

That brings us to Putin’s Russia, which also seeks to undermine the international system and fracture the Free World. During Putin’s reign, Russia has waged wars to annex parts of Ukraine and occupy parts of Georgia, conducted cyberwar against Estonia, armed Taliban forces waging war against NATO personnel operating under UN mandate, hacked and attacked the U.S. power grid, used chemical weapons abroad and smothered dissent at home, violated arms and propped up regimes that gas (Syria) and starve (Venezuela) their own people. Russia is using intelligence agencies and cyber-pirates to wreak havoc inside Free World economies; sway public opinion via manipulation of traditional media; and exacerbate racial tensions and religious divisions via social media. Equally chilling: Putin has unveiled a military doctrine pledging the use of force “to ensure the protection of [Russian] citizens outside the Russian Federation.” Given that there are five million Russians in Ukraine and a million in the Baltics—and that Putin has reserved for himself the right to determine when, where and whether they need to be protected—this is a recipe for something much uglier and much more complicated than a new cold war.

Business-suit autocracy is not the only threat to the liberal order FDR and Churchill began building in 1941.

Iran’s constitution openly calls for the spread of Islamist “revolution at home and abroad,” “formation of a single world community” under Shiite teachings, and “liberation of all deprived and oppressed peoples.” The leaders of Sunni al-Qaeda and Sunni ISIS rally their followers to “strike blows against American interests all over the world” and “destroy the idol of democracy.” The Taliban is committed to enforcing strict Islamist sharia law. These organizations and regimes may not be allied in a technical sense, but they are aligned in their means (terrorism), ends (upending the international system) and main enemy (America).

That explains why Iran’s leaders continue their drive to build a nuclear bomb, why they are fomenting revolution in Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen, why they planned to attack Ft. McNair, why they continually interfere with international shipping in the Gulf, and why they have the blood of 603 American troops on their hands. Given that they allowed al-Qaeda to use Afghanistan as a launchpad for 9/11, Taliban leaders have the blood of thousands of Americans on their hands—and now have returned to power. Al-Qaeda is active in 21 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. ISIS, too, has set up shop in the Taliban’s Afghanistan.

If these mass-murderers masquerading as holy men have their way—recall that they take literally Muhammad’s injunction “to fight all men until they say, ‘There is no god but Allah’”—world order will be characterized by theocratic totalitarianism, or perhaps no order at all.

Just as the Free World must fight against the conformity of a world dominated by authoritarian states, it must prevent the chaos of a world literally out of order.

Even as we strive to defend the liberal international order from its enemies, we have to defend and explain its benefits to the American people. The primary benefit, as discussed in the previous issue, is that it prevents great-power war—the kind of war that kills by the millions, the kind that destroys cities, the kind that devours entire nations. But that’s not the only benefit for the American people of the liberal international order.

Open sea lanes ensure not only the dependable movement of goods to and from America’s shores, but also the security of undersea cables that connect America’s digital-dependent financial and communications systems with the world. Freer trade promotes American prosperity. A constellation of mutual-security arrangements is not a drain on America’s treasury or a chain dragging us into wars, but quite the opposite: Our alliances serve as outer rings of our security, diplomatic cover for pursuing our interests, force multipliers of our military-economic-technological power. Indeed, encouraging free governments and free markets, buttressing an open trading system connected by open sea lanes, transforming Europe from an incubator of world wars into a partnership of prosperity, maintaining a stable Asia-Pacific, ensuring the free flow of oil through the Persian Gulf, building and maintaining an architecture of alliances—all of this is in the national interest. Consider the findings of a RAND study: “A 50-percent retrenchment in U.S. overseas security commitments could reduce U.S. bilateral trade in goods and services annually by as much as $577 billion…The resulting annual decline in U.S. gross domestic product would be $490 billion.”

Defending and supporting the liberal international order doesn’t mean we have to make the world “safe for democracy.” Instead, it means having the resources to ensure that America’s democracy can deter the world’s autocracies. (Sequestration limited those resources, and Washington’s COVID19 stay-at-home relief programs threaten to consume them). It means maintaining hard-earned gains by remaining engaged. (Pulling out of Iraq in 2011, erasing “red lines” in Syria in 2014 and quitting Afghanistan in 2021 jeopardized those gains). It means leading the alliance system America built. (Reneging on commitments to Poland and Czechoslovakia in 2009, trying to “lead from behind” in Libya in 2011, withdrawing deterrent assets from Europe in 2013, and calling into question our security guarantee to NATO in 2017 and to Japan in 2019 represent the very opposite of leadership). It means recognizing that America is a force for good in the world. (Too many in the media, academia and even in Congress say otherwise). And it means understanding that while the liberal international order isn’t perfect, it’s unquestionably better than the alternative being pushed by Xi and Putin.