Europe and the Liberal Order

March 21, 2019
2 min read
Photo Credit: Donfiore​​ / Shutterstock

Current debates on world order and its liberal subset largely elide the role of Europe, treating it as a bystander, a battleground or a source of problems. Insofar as Europe is cast as a global player, some have advocated retrenchment and narrowly defined interests, others neutrality and accommodation. Yet, as the liberal order is fraying, Europe has a vital interest in defending it, and can muster the political will and resources to do so – with like-minded allies if possible and alone if necessary. The liberal order is under attack both outside and within the West. For the first time since 1989, authoritarianism – primarily in China and Russia, but also in parts of the West – has been proffered as an attractive alternative to democracy, human rights and a social market economy. The disruptiveness of the Trump administration’s foreign policy has further shaken the foundations of the West. The new U.S. National Security Strategy conspicuously excludes the liberal order as a core U.S. interest, departing from a tradition that dates back to NSC-68, the foundational blueprint for Cold War national security adopted by the Truman administration in 1950. At the last G7 summit, the U.S. sought to delete any references to the rules-based international order. These developments have challenged Europe – through the European Union and its member states – to develop a strategy for preserving liberal values against illiberal forces, particularly in front-line states such as Ukraine. Above all, European decision-makers need to take a broader view of the core interests at stake and devote greater time and resources to serving them in the cause of saving the liberal order.

Bart M.J. Szewczyk serves as Adviser on Global Affairs at the European Political Strategy Centre, the European Commission’s in-house think tank; teaches at Sciences Po in Paris; and was on the Policy Planning Staff at the US Department of State. The views expressed herein are personal, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Commission.