Summary by Keith McCormick
The DACOR Bacon House Foundation’s annual conference, held October 6 in its historic mansion near the White House, explored ‘The World After the War: Rebuilding an International Order After the Conflict in Ukraine.’ Instead of focusing on the war itself, its panelists tried to think ahead to what comes next. A period of chaos like the 1930s? The restoration of the current international order? Or some new system that will have to accommodate the interests of a range of countries including Russia, China, and the so-called Global South?
The following summary is drawn from both the presentations and the question-and-answer sessions. In accordance with DACOR’s Chatham House rule, this summary does not identify the views of individual speakers.
Effects on the Current World Order
There was little doubt among the speakers that the war has brought cooperation on global issues to a halt. From climate change to nuclear stability, there has been a breakdown in international dialogue. Several speakers pointed to the unintended consequences for developing countries of American sanctions, aimed at Russia but disrupting trade, financial flows, and the management of debt. The war has weakened food security, since much of the Middle East and Africa depends on grain from Russia and Ukraine. The future of institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, even the UN itself, looks suddenly less clear.
The conflict in Ukraine has also exposed the US to a risk of simultaneous wars in Europe and Asia. It has distracted the US from East Asia, conferees were told, and depleted Western stocks of arms. If China were to attack Taiwan while the US is bogged down in Europe, it would be extremely difficult to respond.
Can It Be Recreated?
The conference saw a lively debate over how and whether Russia, China and other revisionist powers could be drawn back into a rules-based international order when the conflict ends. Do Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping prefer a world of greater instability? More freedom to pursue their sovereign interests at the expense of world order as a whole? Or a new international order that would challenge and replace the Western-dominated Pax Americana – what Putin refers to as a ‘post-West order’?
Drawing Russia back into the kind of positive collaboration that we once enjoyed on issues such as safe disposal of nuclear waste and nonproliferation will not be easy. Cooperation on climate change may be equally difficult, as a hotter planet could benefit cold Russia in some ways. One place to start might be the UN system and its agencies, including agreed-on goals for sustainable development assistance. This would appeal to the many countries in the global South that feel our focus on Ukraine distracts from the issues they care more about, including climate damage, debt relief, humanitarian assistance, and migration.
Prospects for Arms Control, Ukraine and the Global South
The conferees saw little prospect of an early resumption of progress in nuclear arms control. China has embarked on a massive military buildup and shows little interest in a new, trilateral agreement limiting warheads. Russia has retreated from a number of agreements, though the expiration or renewal of New Start in 2026 will be a key test of intentions. Yet the US would not benefit from a new Cold War or a return to Cold War thinking. To restore stability, the US needs to think outside old doctrines and devise new strategies that take more account of Russian and Chinese determination to be treated as peers.
Despite the danger of returning to the old Cold War division of Europe, which our allies would be loath to support, the conferees heard a sobering warning that NATO may have to admit Ukraine — not only to assure its postwar security, but to restrain it. Whatever territory it concedes, Ukraine seems likely to emerge from the war the strongest military power on the continent, one that will need to be anchored firmly in a stable postwar order of some kind.
At the same time, running throughout the conference was a theme of the dissatisfaction of the so-called BRICS and others with a return to the prewar order. Not many welcome Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but many are glad to see US hegemony challenged. The conference heard repeatedly that the US and its Western allies no longer have the economic power to impose an international system as they did in 1945 or 1991. To return to a rules-based international order, they may need to create a new one with a greater role for India, Brazil, and other members of the global South.
Catherine Bertini, chair of the board of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and board chair of the Global GOP Diversity Trust, recipient of the 2003 World Food Prize Laureat while serving as leader of the World Food Program, and a former United Nations Under Secretary General
Dr. Christopher Ford, visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a visiting professor in Missouri State University’s Graduate School of Defense and Strategic Studies
Raj Kumar, president and editor-in-chief of Devex
Maria Longi, coordinator of the Department of State’s office of the coordinator for US assistance to Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia
Dr. John W. McArthur, senior fellow and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at the Brookings Institution
Julien Schopp, vice president of Humanitarian Policy and Practice at InterAction
Ambassador Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., former under secretary of state for political affairs
Dr. Angela Stent, senior advisor to the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, professor emerita of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and senior nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution
Dr. Stephen Wertheim, senior fellow in the American Statecraft Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace