Kingston Conference on International Security

KCIS2019: A Changing International Order Banner

Key Insights

The 14th annual Kingston Conference on International Security (KCIS) theme, A Changing International Order? Implications for the Security Environment, examined indicators of change across three regions (Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the Americas), explored trends in an attempt to predict a transforming international order, and debated the security implications associated with that change.  

  • International order undergoes constant change.  It is difficult to determine if current changes constitute a fundamental inflection point, or a natural adaptation of the existing system and relative leadership roles over that system.
  • The international order is transitioning back to a multi-polar dynamic, with a commensurate return of great power politics.
  • China’s ascendency as a global economic power (and as a result, military power) is challenging U.S. leadership over the international order, and China is replacing the U.S. as a regional hegemonic influencer in Asia.
  • The U.S. is the manager and enforcer of the current international order.  If the U.S. role changes, the status quo order is likely to change.
  • Resurgence of nationalism and populism in domestic politics around the world is altering international relationships, which are trending towards issue-specific, bi-lateral partnerships, and away from comprehensive, multi-lateral agreements.
  • Institutions of international order are an important component of the international order system. Existing institutions reinforce and manage the status quo order, new and emerging institutions may pose a significant challenge to the status quo.
  • Arguably, it is the inability to manage a smooth transition, not the change in international order leadership, which poses the greatest threat to peace.

This year’s conference theme emerged from a discussion among conference organizers following the Trump-Trudeau exchanges surrounding the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Quebec in June 2018. Conference organizers on both sides of the border wondered if the Trump administration represents an aberration, or an inflection point indicating a fundamental shift in the norms of international relations, perceptions of national interest, and the foreign policies used to pursue those interests. The discussion quickly turned global.  Other populist-nationalist movements, such as Brexit in Britain, the Five Star Movement in Italy, the Arab Spring – in Anbar, Egypt, and the Maghreb; and the emergence of nationalist leaders around the globe, such as President Vladimir Putin (in Russia), President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (in Turkey), Prime Minister Andrej Babis (in the Czech Republic), President Jair Bolsanaro (in Brazil), and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (in India) suggest the populist-nationalist trends extend well beyond the U.S., and Western politics. Currently 20 countries around the globe are under some form of populist government. A general dissatisfaction with the status quo order, spurred by fears of persistent conflict, economic instability, divisive ideologies, mass migration, and societal demographic shifts indicate the world may be on the cusp of a fundamental shift in the international order.



  • The World Order Today: Ben Rowswell, President, Canadian International Council
  • The Erosion of the US-Led Order: Dr. Daniel Drezner, Professor, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University (Presentation)
  • Challenges in Meeting Changes on the Ground: Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre, UNC Deputy Commander, United Nations Command, Korea

Panel 1: Drivers of Change 

This panel looked at the hypothesis that the international order is in transition. Factors driving change, including: interstate competition, geo-political relationships, global economics, populist movement influence, and the international order's structural power institutions that enforce norms were addressed.

  • Prof. William G. Braun, III,  Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College (Presentation)
  • Dr. Sara Bjerg Moller,  School of Diplomacy and IR, Seton Hall University 
  • Dr. Carol Evans,  National Security Affairs Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College (Presentation)

The following three regional panels presented evidence-based analyses of the transformation of the international order as it affects the Americas, the North Atlantic area, and the Indo-Pacific: identifying indicators of a changing international order by examining the evolution of dissonance between U.S. policies and the demonstrated behavior of the U.S. in each region. Of particular interest was the degree to which American policy has evolved in a way that casts doubt on established U.S. norms and commitments to the region. Does changing U.S. policy and behavior in the region suggest a growing reluctance on the part of the American public, a withdrawal from leadership, or a new set of international order norms? Each panel also looked at key American partners in the region. Do we see worries about the United States as a reliable security partner? Are key American allies hedging, particularly with other major powers? How resilient are the norms of the liberal international order in the region? Are they capable of being maintained within the region without American leadership? Who might take a leadership role in the region? Finally, what tentative insights might be offered about potential alternative international order futures and their security implications?

Panel 2: The Americas

  • Ferry de Kerckhove, Canadian Global Affairs Institute
  • Dr. Kathryn Fisher, College of International Security Affairs, National Defense University (Ft Bragg) 
  • Dr. Sara McGuire, University of Pennsylvania 

Panel 3: North Atlantic

  • Dr. Marc Ozawa, Research Division, NATO Defense College (Presentation)
  • Robert Baines, NATO Association of Canada  
  • Prof. Stephen M. Saideman, Norman Paterson School of Internaitonal Affairs, Carleton University 

Panel 4: Indo-Pacific

  • Ali Wyne, RAND Corporation 
  • Prof. Sumit Ganguly, Indiana University Bloomington 
  • Dr. Christopher Ankersen, NYU Center for Global Affairs 

Panel 5: Commonalities and Security Implications

The closing panel synthesized previous panel and speaker insights, to distill overarching security implications. Panelists discussed relevant security implications by assessing the impact of security competition, geopolitics, economics, and populist factors of change; organizational change within the institutions that facilitate or resist that change; a summary of critical U.S. dissonance and partner hedging; and an assessment of official and emerging legitimacy narratives. The discussion will establish the contours of international order transitions affecting military and policy practitioners.

  • Dr. Anna Geis, Helmut Schmidt University 
  • Major General John Kem, U.S. Army War College