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Research Questions

  1. What is the value of the international order?
  2. What is its role in promoting U.S. goals and interests, as well as shared global objectives?

Since 1945, the United States has pursued its interests through the creation and maintenance of international economic institutions, global organizations including the United Nations and G-7, bilateral and regional security organizations including alliances, and liberal political norms that collectively are often referred to as the "international order." In recent years, rising powers have begun to challenge aspects of this order. The purpose of this report is very specific: to evaluate the order's value — to assess its role in promoting U.S. goals and interests, and to measure its possible economic benefits in a number of specific areas. To answer the question of the order's value, we first had to define the components of the order that we proposed to evaluate for possible value to U.S. interests. We then reviewed broad assessments of the order, as well as detailed empirical work on its specific components. The resulting analysis produced five major findings: the postwar order offers significant value to U.S. interests and objectives; specifically in quantifiable and return-on-investment terms, the order contributes to outcomes with measurable value and appears to have a strongly positive cost-benefit calculus; the postwar order represents a leading U.S. competitive advantage; if the United States wants to continue to lead globally, some form of order is vital; and a functioning multilateral order will be essential to deal with emerging security and economic issues.

Key Findings

The Postwar Order Offers Significant Value to U.S. Interests and Objectives

  • The order has such value for the United States in part because its outcomes strongly support the goals and processes of the U.S. grand strategy.

The Order Contributes to Outcomes with Measurable Value and Appears to Have a Strongly Positive Cost-Benefit Calculus

  • To the extent that the institutions, relationships, norms, and communities of the order have played a necessary role in avoiding even one major negative outcome, the value dwarfs the investments the United States makes in the order.

The Postwar Order Represents a Leading U.S. Competitive Advantage

  • The advantage comes not in terms of relative advantage over others but rather in the support it has provided to the overall U.S. grand strategy.
  • Others are more likely to support U.S. efforts and less likely to take steps to balance U.S. power — thus potentially saving the United States tens of billions of dollars in additional defense expenditures that would have been necessary had others sought to balance its power more aggressively.

If the United States Wants to Continue to Lead Globally, Some Form of Order Is Vital

  • Without the benefits and legitimacy conferred by such an order, vibrant U.S. leadership would likely become financially and strategically unaffordable.

A Functioning Multilateral Order Will Be Essential to Deal with Emerging Security and Economic Issues

  • At a time of growing rivalry, nationalism, and uncertainty, a functioning multilateral order will be essential to provide stabilizing ballast to an increasingly unruly global environment.

This project was sponsored by the Office of Net Assessment, 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.

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