"The Liberal Order Needs An Upgrade" - A US News Op-Ed

I have a new op-ed running in US News this morning timed to the President’s important UN speech tomorrow. You can read it in full below or at the US News site here

The Liberal Order Needs An Upgrade

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama will address the United Nations General Assembly. We know the speech will focus on a very full slate of immediate global challenges, including the Islamic State group and U.S. airstrikes in Syria, as well as Iranian nuclear ambitions, Russia’s adventurism and Ebola. But it is my hope that the speech also finds time to discuss a subject very appropriate for the U.N. on the cusp of its 70th anniversary: the need to reinvigorate and modernize an aging liberal international order.

The world as we know it is going through a truly profound and historic set of changes in demographics and in the distribution of economic and political power. A long 500-year run of Western preeminence is giving way to a world where power and opportunity will be far more distributed among the people of the world. More than 50 percent of the world's population is under the age of 30 today, and it is those emerging leaders who will do much to determine the fate of their countries and the rest of the world. Much more must be done to help create a sense of ownership in the current liberal order for these emerging powers and leaders, so they can become powerful stewards of what has been built.

Over the coming generation, the American president should become a champion of this process of reinvigoration. What exactly a project like this looks like is hard to know at this point, but I offer up four areas the president could address this week to start a conversation in earnest:

1) The Middle East: It is long past time to put on the table what is obvious to all: The greatest threat to world peace today is the chaos emanating from the Middle East and North Africa. No other part of the world is so actively resisting modernity and the core values of the United Nations as the despotic governments of the region. Anti-modern radicals, funded and aided by regional elites, have exported their barbarism far beyond the region itself. And with a vast wave of young people coming into adulthood in the region over the next decade, the opportunity for a dramatic escalation of this radicalism is staring the entire world in the face.

In exchange for ridding the region of the latest dangerous set of radicals, the developed world, backed by the U.N., should demand the region’s leaders begin to engage in a conversation about how to bring an end to this era of chaos. Plans for investing in everyday people, as well as for creating a regional Marshall plan, should to be discussed. A forum for forging a regional Sunni-Shiite détente should be established. All countries in the region should commit to ceasing the arming of proxies and investing in institutions of radicalization like Wahhabi madrassas, which have done so much to fuel extraordinary levels of violence.

Additionally, the president should identify the very real global threat of the “oil curse,” or of our learned experience that much of the chaos the world is seeing today is a result of the reckless behavior of oil producing nations. A plan to create a totally different global energy paradigm should be articulated, with the goal of universal energy independence for all nations by 2050 through investments in renewables and other technologies put on the table for debate.  

2) Modernizing the global trade system: The president should also offer a full-throated defense of the two major trade agreements his team is negotiating now. Affecting two-thirds of the global economy, these two big trade agreements will usher in a period of renewal and modernization of our global trading system. The last period of structural reform took place before the advent of the Internet and our recent wave of globalization. For this system to remain relevant, it will need an extended period of modernization, as new innovations like 3-D printing and peer-to-peer banking will challenge the current, very 20th century, orientation of our global trade system; new voices from the developing world will need to have far greater influence in shaping a more modern system.

3) Keeping the Internet open and free: There has perhaps never been a tool as powerful for advancing the global liberal order as the Internet. It should be a far more important priority of the president to ensure the Internet stays open and free for the people of the world in the years ahead. A combination of factors – increasingly powerful cybercriminals, efforts by despotic nations to seize control over Internet governance, growing censorship and very legitimate fears about privacy – all have made the Internet far more fragile an undertaking than is commonly understood. In his speech this week, the president should offer an aggressive defense of the Internet, make clear he will oppose greater governmental control over it, and reaffirm his commitment to the current multi-stakeholder system of Internet governance.

4) Expansion of the Security Council: The president should acknowledge that the current structure of the United Nations Security Council no longer represents the world as it is today. He can begin by suggesting that the three largest countries in the world not on the permanent council – India, Indonesia and Brazil – be added. More reforms should be considered.

Like an old building needing an upgrade, the liberal international order, now almost 70 years old, needs to go through a period of renewal and reform. The president should lead this effort. This order has helped usher in a remarkable period of prosperity and relative peace in the world. As the world changes, and a long period of Western dominance of world affairs comes to an end, the need to modernize and maintain this order is perhaps the greatest responsibility the American president has today. I hope our president can begin this conversation in his speech to the U.N., and begin a discussion that will ensure the values articulated in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “four freedoms” prevail in this uncertain but promising century.


Related writings/videos:

An Enduring Legacy: The Democratic Party and Free and Open Trade, January 21st, 2014, Huffington Post.  The global system created by Presidents FDR and Truman has done more to create opportunity, reduce poverty and advance democracy than perhaps any other policies in history. 

Forward, or Backward? October 25th, 2012, Letras Libres.  The English language version of my major essay about the 2012 elections which originally appeared in the October issue of the Mexico City based Spanish language journal, Letras Libres.

Video: The Age of Possibility,  April 29th, 2011, Tisch College, Tufts University. Simon Rosenberg explores the notion that we are entering an era of unprecedented opportunity and possibility, and that more is possible today for the people of the world than ever before.

Crafting an American Response to the Rise of the Rest, January 21, 2010, Salon.com. In this essay written for Salon, Simon lays out three strategies for the Obama Administration to craft a comprehensive response to the new politics of the 21st Century.

Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century, July 24, 2009, Demos.  An essay which ran as part of a leading British think tank's series of essays on the future of center-left politics.

Obama: No Realist He, June 16, 2009, Huffington Post. Simon offers some thoughts about Obama's global brand in the early days of the Iranian uprising. The essay drew many comments in its more than 24 hours on the front page of Huffington Post.