International Order

… a core concept in Global Context and Atlas105

Concept description

The World Economic Forum (2017, reference below) defines international order as the body of rules, norms, and institutions that govern relations between the key players on the international stage.

This definition might be better characterized as the “liberal international order.” Randall Schweller (2016, reference below) describes a broader uses of the term international order and sets out three types:

“What do we mean by an international order? A system exhibits “order” when the set of discrete objects that comprise the system are related to one another according to some pattern; that is, their relationship is not miscellaneous or haphazard but accords with some discernible principle. Order prevails when things display a high degree of predictability, when there are regularities, when there are patterns that follow some understandable and consistent logic. Disorder is a condition of randomness – of unpredictable developments lacking regularities and following no known principle or logic. The degree of order exhibited by social and political systems is partly a function of stability. Stability is the property of a system that causes it to return to its original condition after it has been disturbed from a state of equilibrium. Systems are said to be unstable when slight disturbances produce large disruptions that not only prevent the original condition from being restored but also amplify the effect of the perturbation. …

“There are essentially three types of international orders:

  1. A negotiated order. A rule-based order that is the result of a grand bargain voluntarily struck among the major actors who, therefore, view the order as legitimate and beneficial. It is a highly institutionalized order, ensuring that the hegemon will remain engaged in managing the order but will not exercise its power capriciously. In this way, a negotiated rule-based order places limits on the returns to power, especially with respect to the hegemon. Pax Americana (1945–present) and, to a lesser extent, Pax Britannica (19th century) are exemplars of this type of “liberal constitutional” order.
  2. An imposed order. A non-voluntary order among unequal actors purposefully designed and ruled by a malign (despotic) hegemon, whose power is unchecked. The Soviet satellite system is an exemplar of this type of order.
  3. A spontaneously generated order. Order is an unintended consequence of actors seeking only to maximize their interests and power. It is an automatic or self-regulating system. Power is checked by countervailing power, thereby placing limits on the returns to power. The classic 18th century European balance of power is an exemplar of this type of order.”

See also, Balance of Power.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of Global Affairs and International Relations (core topic) in Global Context and Atlas105.


World Economic Forum (2017), The Liberal International Order – a health check, at, accessed 10 March 2019.

Randall L. Schweller (2016), The Balance of Power in World Politics, Oxford Research Encyclopedias, at, accessed 10 March 2019.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 10 March 2019.

Image: Maritime Issues, at, accessed 10 March 2019.