Liberalism and protectionism are two different theoretical paradigms. Liberalism implies for free trade, individual freedom and deregulation policies. Free trade policy lies at the core of liberal economic order. It is the policy where the governments impose minimum trade barriers on imports or exports. They promote global competition which forms the basis of globalization. On the contrary, Protectionism is defined as the practice of safeguarding the industries of a country from foreign competition. This protection is enforced by different means like border security, tariffs on imports, trade barriers, and different other measures by the governments. In a nutshell, liberalism is outward-oriented policy; whereas, protectionism focuses on inward.

Many authors are of the view that liberalism never implemented in its entirety in the world. According to them, the very proponents of the idea did not practice those values of freedom and free trade etc. However, they did preach those values to the world for global good. A shrewd analysis explains that irrespective of the fact those values implemented or not, it is very much clear that they constituted the post-1945 global order. So, their importance can never be denied.

In the recent years we have seen a departure from democratic norms, particularly in the US and Europe. This has unleashed a new era of protectionism, which is endeavouring to deconstruct the existing world order, liberal economic order. Many countries, whether European or others, have moved inwards. First, America, once champion of democratic norms and values at global level, has diverted from her foundational bases in the post-Trump era. Second, Europe is challenged with the anti-EU and anti-globalization campaigns. The threats are imminent from Brexit, Catalexit and such other campaigns. These movements have deteriorated prospects, if there were any, for the revival of globalization. Similarly, most of the nation-states have opted for nationalist, protectionist and anti-globalist rulers which endanger the liberal political order.

Such events also pose severe threats to the democratic values at global level. As, now, the very proponents of the idea have gone a step ahead to destroy the existing order. As Aristotle described that every political structure is self-destructor. We can say, every political system have built-in destructive power. In other words, it is the very excess of a system that ultimately destroys it. These daunting challenges to democratic norms have not only threatened the nascent and immature democracies in the developing countries but also the world order, liberalism. Now, free trade, human rights, and immigration policies are facing survival threats from protectionism and nationalism.

Specifically speaking, the existing order is facing a bipolar threat; from outside by revisionist powers, and from within by protectionists and nationalists. First, the revisionist powers include Russia, China and others, those who have continuously been challenging the US- led world order. Also, the revisionists have propagated their views on which they wish to construct a new world order. Also, the antagonistic powers are resurging to fill the vacuum created by the American isolationism. Many are predicting that the existing order would be annihilated sooner or later. Second, the protectionist and nationalist waves across Europe and America have posed grave threats to the existing world order. The post-trump US has drawn away from its foundational principles; liberalism, globalization etc. President Trump’s “America First” policy has isolated the US. Resultantly, the US has withdrawn from many liberal-oriented agreements like Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which included those leading economies of the world which contributed 40% of global economic output and 33% of global trade which ultimately threatens the liberal economic order. As regards the imposition of tariffs, the US has imposed tariffs on $34 b of Chinese technology goods and $3b of Chinese steel and aluminium, with another $16b in the offing. China retaliated with the countermeasures to impose tariffs on $16b of American goods. The imposition of such tariffs on imports by different countries have ignited a trade war, particularly between America and China. Resultantly, world peace is endangered.

We also examine the construction of existing world order. Meaning how and why it was orchestrated in the first place and what were the objectives behind? A retrospective look reveals that the world order is destroyed, constituted, preserved and modernized by wars. It is the war that destroys an existing order; and then the victors of war decide to form a new world order. Also, that new order is sustained by war. Later on, if any improvement is needed in the structure of order it also invokes war. To substantiate our argument take the example of Post-WWII scenario when the League of Nations failed in achieving peace and WW-II destroyed the League. Post war victors established a new organization called United Nations Organisation to pacify the whole world. However, in the late 1940s the world faced another catastrophic event called cold war. This modernized the existing structure of world order and formed the basis of globalization to establish peace in the world. Now, after a quarter of century has passed the existing order, liberal economic order, is severely challenged by different internal and external forces.

To conclude, it is destructive that the US has withdrawn from most of the US-centric agreements which promoted liberal economic order. Also, the US imposition of trade tariffs to curtail imports from different countries is counterproductive. Those measures have already threatened a trade war, particularly, between US and China.

Now, with the rising threats to existing world order and the prospects of war becoming evident, it is the responsibility of world powers to save themselves from the hazardous outcome. This time, the dynamics have changed and nature of war would, perhaps, be different. Now, the trade war is looming at global strategic chess board. If not countered with proper measures and sincere efforts from all stakeholders the war would be a catastrophic event.


The writer is serving in Punjab Police. He holds masters in International Relations from Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad. He is also a visiting fellow at Pakistan House, an Islamabad based think tank.