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The rules-based order isn’t working. It’s time for an alternative

Yet double standards have persisted. This shows that the rules-based order is not just imperfect but fundamentally flawed. Countries such as China have called for “an international order based on international law”, based on the view that the Western framing of the rules-based order goes against the spirit of the rule of law by embodying unilateralism and power politics rather than multilateralism and democratic justice.

Yet in the aftermath of World War II when this rules-based order was forged, many areas of the Global South were colonised and largely illiterate. Their representation was deeply compromised.

The concepts that underpin the rules-based order, such as respect for sovereignty and human rights, have remained largely unchanged. But the world has dramatically changed. Given the distrust and diverging values among today’s major powers, it’s unlikely that new rules can be developed fast enough to resolve conflicts.

Besides, what precisely constitutes this order remains poorly defined and subject to interpretation, and there are different ideas about which rules should take precedence. Western leaders have pointed out that Russia violated agreements guaranteeing Ukraine’s security and borders, and that territorial integrity is fundamental to the rules-based order.

When people refer to the rules-based order, they’re actually expressing support for a preferred set of values, such as the importance of sovereignty and human rights. Both proponents and detractors argue that this is just another way of referring to the liberal international order based on Western values.

From Western condemnation of human rights violations to Chinese insistence on development, it is clear that while countries around the world emphasise