The liberal, rules-based international order did not take shape predominantly as a consequence of highmindedness, but as a sphere of influence. That, moreover, was to a great extent inspired, and sustained, by a comprehensive cold war with the Soviet Union (or Second World, as it was once called). The sphere of influence known as the West played a significant part in European integration, spurred phenomenal global investments in science and research, gave additional impetus to desegregation and civil rights in the U.S, and more. Above all, the formation, consolidation, and maintenance of a sphere of influence disciplined American power. It even made possible an American grand strategy. Is any of that possible anymore? Will we now see the successful construct of enduring alternative spheres of influence, alongside a permanent decline of the Western one? Or are we overreacting to a misunderstood historical conjuncture?
The Chip on the Shoulder
Stephen Kotkin is the Birkelund Professor of History and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University. He directs the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, and the Program in the History and Practice of Diplomacy. He is also a Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.