Bryan H. Druzin


This Article argues that a policy of containment directed at China could have disastrous consequences on the stability of the global system. The liberal international order, created to promote international coordination and structure global trade, comprises key institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. It is possible that much of the strength of these institutions stems from the fact that nations are "locked" into them simply because they are the only game in town. Put another way, the liberal order is, for lack of a better word, a "monopoly."

The problem with monopolies is that it is difficult to assess their true strength because it may simply be due to the absence of competition. This Article introduces the term "brittle order" to describe an institutional system where the lack of competition gives the impression of stability, but it is, in fact, fragile and primed to collapse. This Article argues that the current global system may be a brittle order. The risk in trying to isolate China is that it can destabilize the liberal order it seeks to protect because it will force China and its partners to establish parallel institutions, which will weaken the "lock-in effect" of the existing international order. If the liberal order is indeed brittle, disaffected countries will then begin to abandon its institutions, and it might quickly unravel. The Article thus concludes that the most effective way to ensure the liberal order survives is to maintain the strength of its lock-in effect, and the best way to do this is to discourage institutional competition by not isolating China from the global system.

Included in

Law Commons