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Research Questions

  1. Given that international dynamics are shifting, how should the new order look?
  2. Which vision of order is most feasible, given domestic and international constraints and U.S. interests?
  3. Which states should make the rules?
  4. How binding should rules be on the rulemakers?

Since 1945, the United States has pursued its global interests through creating and maintaining international economic institutions, bilateral and regional security organizations, and liberal political norms; these ordering mechanisms are often collectively referred to as the international order. In recent years, rising powers have begun to challenge aspects of this order.

This report examines options for future U.S. policies with respect to the order. To do so, it distills ongoing debates about the U.S. role in the world and identifies four strategic visions of order that the United States could pursue. These visions differ primarily in the characteristics of the rules of the order: who makes the rules and how binding those rules are on state behavior. The report then considers the fundamental assumptions that would motivate a U.S. choice between these alternatives, and it concludes by outlining policies that the United States would need to pursue to promote each vision of order.

Key Findings

Alternative Visions of Order Present Different Strengths, Weaknesses

  • Each of the prospective orders has specific implications for economic and defense policy.
  • An outright coalition against revisionism has significantly distinct implications from each of the other possible orders.
  • An order's character will likely flow from its strategy for achieving great-power peace.
  • No single order offers the United States the ability to place equal value on all four goals of order.
  • Preferences of other states will affect the viability of each vision.
  • Coherent views about the international order can strengthen U.S. policy — but only so long as different strands of U.S. foreign policy are consistent with the desired vision of order.

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Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Key Choices About the Rules of the International Order

  • Chapter Three

    Alternative Visions of International Order

  • Chapter Four

    U.S. Policies for Alternative Visions of Order: International Economic Policies

  • Chapter Five

    U.S. Policies for Alternative Visions of Order: Great-Power Relations

  • Chapter Six

    U.S. Policies for Alternative Visions of Order: Defense Strategy

  • Chapter Seven

    Lessons and Implications

  • Appendix

    Origin Stories for Visions of Order

This research was sponsored by the Office of Net Assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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