Will the Liberal World Order Survive?

That’s the topic for the thirty-third annual EPIIC Symposium March 1-3 at Tufts, with participants from around the world

large sculpture of a globe

The rise and continuing strength of authoritarian regimes the world over has been a visible trend for much of this decade. It’s something that is so striking that Abi Williams, F85, F86, F87, the director of the Tufts Institute for Global Leadership, was moved to teach his first course at Tufts around the question “Is the liberal world order ending?”

Now the students in his class have organized the thirty-third annual Norris and Margery Bendetson EPIIC Symposium around that exact question. The symposium, which is free and open the public, takes place March 1 to 3 at Tufts. It features a wide variety of panels and speakers, with participants ranging from United Nations officials and university professors to government ministers and think-tank experts from here and abroad.

The liberal world order, Williams said, “emphasizes the rule of law, international institutions, open and fair trade, and nations working together to deter aggression.” That order is threatened by “authoritarian and illiberal regimes, and the rise of populism and nationalism,” he said. “And what is particularly dangerous is that we not only have those threats from non-liberal states, but now we are seeing threats within liberal states.”

The end of the liberal world order is not inevitable, he said, “but it is unclear if states that were instrumental in founding the liberal world order, notably the U.S., will have the political will and the capacity to prevent its demise.” The future of the liberal world order “is arguably the most important strategic issue of our time,” he said.

The goal of the symposium is to provide a forum “for dialogue and debate between the thinkers, practitioners, and leaders of today and the thinkers, practitioners, and leaders of tomorrow,” Williams said, noting that students will moderate the seven panel discussions, whose topics range from “A Loss of Faith: The Rise of Populism and Nationalism” to “The Global Nuclear Dilemma: Power, Stability, and Proliferation.”  

Amina J. Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, will be giving a keynote address at the symposium. Photo: United NationsAmina J. Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, will be giving a keynote address at the symposium. Photo: United Nations
Two keynote speakers will highlight different aspects of the symposium topic. Amina J. Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations and former minister of environment in Nigeria, will speak at 11:30 a.m. on March 3 on “Repositioning the United Nations: Reinforcing Multilateralism in a Challenging Global Context.”

Mohammed is “uniquely placed to discuss the importance of multilateralism, which is important for the liberal world order, and both the challenges and the opportunities that multilateralism presents,” said Williams. At the U.N., she was instrumental in getting agreements on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Allan Rock, president emeritus of the University of Ottawa and former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, speaks at 6:30 p.m. on March 2 on “Is the Liberal World Order Ending?” Rock, who is former minister of justice and attorney general and former minister of health in Canada, “particularly helped get support for the responsibility to protect norm, which was endorsed by U.N. member states in 2005, to prevent mass atrocity crimes,” said Williams.

Rock will also receive a Dr. Jean Mayer Award from the Institute for Global Leadership, as will panelist Radosław Sikorski, former minister of foreign affairs and minister of national defense in Poland. Sikorski was invited to participate because it was “very important to have a perspective from Europe and on the trans-Atlantic relationship,” said Williams. “Poland is now a key battleground for liberal values in Europe, and we see the rise of illiberalism within Poland.”

The two award recipients “exemplify the qualities that the Jean Mayer Award recognizes—a devotion to peace and justice, and an ethical concern for those in distress,” he said.  

For Williams, the EPIIC Symposium is something of a homecoming. He was a student at the Fletcher School during the first symposium in 1986, which focused on international terrorism, and working with the students now to organize this symposium “has been wonderful,” he said.

For more information on the symposium, which is free and open to the public, go the symposium website.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu.

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