A historic change is underway in the global security system. As Harvard political scientist Stephen Walt wrote, the world is witnessing “a sharp decline in America’s ability to shape the global order.” In the future, Walt and others believe, “the United States simply won’t have the resources to devote to international affairs that it had in the past.” Christopher Layne of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University is even more blunt: “The epoch of American dominance is drawing to a close, and international politics is entering a period of transition: no longer unipolar […]

In early September, the U.S. executed a stunning volte-face in its declared policy on dealing with the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war. Backing away from enforcing a self-imposed presidential “red line” with an already announced military intervention, Washington instead embraced a Russian-developed diplomatic plan that turns Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from a military target into an essential partner in ridding Syria of its WMD stockpiles. The reversal may not have marked “the worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy since records began,” as one retired British diplomat saw it, but the shift definitely raised questions […]

Winston Churchill, the storied politician and former prime minister of the United Kingdom, once said, “I think I can save the British Empire from anything—except the British.” Churchill’s quote cleverly points out that great power decline is not just a function of external factors; often the worst wounds are self-inflicted. In recent weeks, observers around the globe watched with alarm as a dysfunctional American political system pushed the world’s most powerful economy to the brink of default. How could a country with so much global prestige and power risk both over petty partisan squabbling? Why would policymakers choose to squander […]

Post-conflict states have to deal with many difficult issues. Drafting a constitution that maximizes the prospects of political stability is just one. Recently, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia have found this element of the transition process particularly problematic. Other countries, too, have had varying degrees of success. In 2012, Nepal’s constituent assembly collapsed before a constitution could be agreed on, whereas Fiji has just promulgated a new constitution. One of the issues that is always hotly debated is the best form of executive-legislative relations. Is political stability more likely under a presidential system, a parliamentary system or some mix of the […]

Over the past 25 years, the Muslim world has witnessed constant struggle between liberals and conservative Islamists. Liberals want a state that will generally be democratic, but will not permit majorities to discriminate against less powerful groups in society or violate basic human rights; liberal Muslims among them are able to reconcile twin commitments to both liberalism and Islam. Conservative Islamists generally want a state that is democratic but is constitutionally barred from adopting policies inconsistent with their understanding of Islam, which they interpret in a manner that is irreconcilable with liberal principles. The state advocated by conservative Islamists must […]

The past decade has seen an explosion of creative institutional design in new democracies. From Indonesia to Iraq, scholars and policymakers interested in the management of ethnic conflict have engaged in overt “political engineering” with the aim of promoting stable democracies in deeply divided societies. Among advocates, several contrasting approaches to political engineering for the management of social cleavages have been evident. One is the scholarly orthodoxy of consociationalism, which relies on elite cooperation between leaders of different communities, as in Switzerland. Under this model, specific democratic institutions—grand coalition cabinets, proportional representation elections, minority veto powers and communal autonomy—collectively maximize […]