Supporting a Rules-based World Order

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6772.htm)

There are agreed international economic regulations ( and there is a system of international law (5.3.6).  These rules require respect for other countries as equals and a willingness to comply with the requests of international organisations.  Joseph Nye acknowledged the value of supporting the UN:

“…countries, including the United States, should find it in their self-interest to work with and through the UN, because they need that legitimacy for their own soft power.”[1]

Norway and some of the smaller EU countries support a rules-based world order.  The ex-colonial powers, though, have not yet come to terms with the idea of treating other countries as equals – and they are even less comfortable with accepting UN rulings.

A policy of avoiding coercion can open the way for cooperation and fruitful trade relationships – and it has been argued that this is what America’s founding fathers would have intended, for example.[2]  Politicians should be able to explain to the people that support for a rules-based world order is a policy of strength and legitimacy, and one that is conducive to peace.  There is evidence that this would be popular: “A new poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org found large majorities (74 percent) believe the United Nations should play a stronger role in the world”.[3]

Compliance with agreed rules does not imply abandoning the pursuit of national interest.  Economic competition, within a framework of free trade (3.5.4), can be proactively pursued by ensuring that a country’s industries and services can be efficient and competitive.  And a policy of ‘playing by the rules’ strengthens a country’s influence, for example when negotiating with others on environmental challenges (6.7.5).

A rules-based system could be stable, as demonstrated by the EU for example, but internationally it has been undermined by weaknesses with the structure of the UN as a legal system (, by politicisation and disagreement in the UN Security Council (, and by UN failures to keep the peace in practice (7.4.4).

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014



[1] Joseph Nye, in response to a question at the end of a lecture on 13 April 2004 entitled Soft Power: the Means to Success in World Politics, said:

“The UN has a great deal of soft power of its own.  In other words, it is attractive, and that gives it a certain amount of power.  What the UN can convey that is particularly important is legitimacy, an important part of soft power.”

The transcript of this lecture was available in April 2018 at http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/studio/multimedia/20040413/index.html#section-10815.

[2] Ron Paul wrote an article entitled I advocate the same foreign policy the Founding Fathers would, and asked:

“by what superior wisdom have we now declared Jefferson, Washington, and Madison to be “unrealistic and dangerous”? Why do we insist on throwing away their most considered warnings?

A non-interventionist foreign policy is not an isolationist foreign policy.  ….  The real isolationists are those who impose sanctions and embargoes on countries and peoples across the globe because they disagree with the internal and foreign policies of their leaders.  The real isolationists are those who choose to use force overseas to promote democracy, rather than seek change through diplomacy, engagement, and by setting a positive example.”

This article was published in the Manchester Union-Leader on 8th October 2007 and was available in April 2018 at http://www.lewrockwell.com/paul/paul413.html.

[3] On 4 June 2007, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, quoted the survey results in an article entitled Why the World Has Changed in the U.N.’s Favor; the article was available in April 2018 at https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/articles/2007-06-04/why-world-has-changed-uns-favor.