Cooperative Security, Arms Control and Disarmament

Reconstituting or Replacing the Liberal International Order?

May 21 - 23, 2023

Tokyo, Japan

Toda Peace Institute Policy Retreat

“Reconstituting or Replacing the International Liberal Order?”

21-23 May 2023

Tokyo, Japan


An international policy retreat with the aim of identifying new research directions for institutes concerned with world affairs and global governance, was held in Tokyo from 21-23 May 2023. The workshop was attended by sixteen experts from across the globe, drawn from academia and NGOs.

For several years now, analysts have commented on the possible demise of the liberal international order. As the centre of gravity of world affairs shifts to the Asia Pacific and China continues its dramatic rise, questions have been raised about the capacity and willingness of Western powers to adapt to a new order which may have more Sinocentric characteristics. At the same time, the emphasis on the Indo-Pacific highlights the rise of India as a great power. These changes in the power constellation augur a world order in which Western liberal democracies, free market economies and the Anglosphere may lose their dominance. In both Europe and Asia, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the sharpening disputes over Taiwan, the South China Sea and the Korean peninsula, the security architecture is in contention. These developments coincide with the crumbling of the international arms control order and the partial eclipse of global and regional institutions. International institutions appear to lack sufficient capacity to manage challenges like pandemics and climate change, as well as the new global security challenges. What new norms and policy measures and institutional changes can bend the arc of history away from confrontation and towards a more desirable future?

Several major themes emerged in the discussion.  The decay of post-1945 international order provided a background to an examination of the shifting constellation of power. While we lack the analytical tools to anticipate shifts in world order, it is clear, that the actors are changing, the issues are changing and the institutional arrangements required to manage these changes cannot stand still.

The issues that world order has to manage are growing more complex and more interconnected. They include the changing nature of security (including human security as a result of climate change), the growth of inequality, the question of racism, the arms control challenge, the fraying of democracies, and the growth of polarisation.

Changes to global governance and global norms, and the emergence of the Global South as normative actor with its own distinct approach, are having a profound impact. The High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism has prepared a detailed report to feed into the UN Summit for the Future which defines six shifts in norms which require a commitment to a discussion about the long-term future.

State sovereignty has revived in ways that recall the past. We are back in an era of territorial conflicts. International war is no longer seen as a thing of the past. States have asserted their authority forcefully, especially in the context of the pandemic. Populism and nationalism are endemic.

The policy retreat suggested the need to sustain the consensus on the foundational norms of the international order, and to develop new norms which are underpinned by a recognition of the universality of human needs, human dignity and human rights. At the same time, it is prudent to acknowledge the differences in distinct systems of governance and norms, and to accept a pluralist approach to living with different systems with mutual respect. A rules-based international order is needed, but it must be one that is based on principles of equity, dignity, tolerance, a people-centred approach, and an ethic of care for all living things.

Access the Summary Report here: 

Summary Report No.161: Reconstituting or Replacing the International Liberal Order?