27 August 2016

"Choose Your Own Adventure: The Future of the World"

Author: Stephen M. Walt, Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Affairs; Faculty Chair, International Security Program
August 21, 2016

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security

It's not just the U.S. presidential platforms that will shape global politics in the years ahead — it's Americans' theories of how the world works.

However tempting it is to keep writing about Donald Trump, I'm going to move on to less bizarre topics. Last week I participated in a panel at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on the implications of the Brexit vote (along with Leslie Vinjamuri of the University of London and Barry Posen and Francis Gavin of MIT). Their comments got me thinking — and not for the first time — about where the world is headed these days.

It's easy to understand why people think the current world order is rapidly unraveling. Despite steady reductions in global poverty, the continued absence of great power war, and mind-boggling advances in science and technology, world politics doesn't look nearly as promising as it did a couple of decades ago. It's still possible to offer an upbeat view of the foreign policy agenda — as Joe Biden recently did— but the vice president is not exactly the most objective judge. He thinks the next president will be able to build on the Obama administration's successes, but a more candid evaluation would conclude that the next president — whoever it might be — is going to face some serious challenges.

Because none of us can predict the future, both our expectations about it and the policy choices we would recommend today depend in good part on our core beliefs about the basic nature of global politics, the identity of the key actors, and the most important factors that shape their behavior....

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