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About this book

The end of the Cold War gave rise to much talk of a 'new' global order and debate about just how new or orderly it was and would be. Attempts to analyse the nature of this order have been many and various. This important new text assesses the main approaches and offers its own analysis arguing that, while chaos and raw anarchy are not on the cards, each of the major domains of power - security, economics, institutions and values - contains elements of potentially major instability. Interstate war may be receding, but there are no simple solutions to comprehensive violent conflict inside fragile states, and the non-democratic great powers continue to have major regional ambitions. There is a global liberal market economy, but it is increasingly unequal and its financial infrastructure remains fragile and crisis-prone. There is a comprehensive set of international institutions but they are rather weak and in need of reform. Liberal values are nominally endorsed by most states but they are in internal conflict and make up no firm basis for a stable world order. Finally, world order is threatened from within because the social compacts, political infrastructures, and national economic capacities of many states will decline. This will have negative consequences for the willingness to bring about effective global governance. The result may be a destructive dynamic which might take us towards a Hobbesian world in ways which Hobbes himself had never imagined.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Argument

The end of the Cold War was also the end of global or world order as we knew it: a bipolar standoff between two superpowers and their respective allies. The dissolution of the Soviet Union effectively terminated that order and gave way to–what exactly? It was certainly not clear at the time; surprisingly, it is not clear today, more than a quarter of a century later. The first reaction, understandably, was one of liberal optimism; if anything, the events marked the unabashed victory of political and economic liberalism. Liberal democracy and the liberal market economy would now encompass the whole world and peace, cooperation, security, order, common values, welfare and even the good life for all would eventually follow (Fukuyama 1989, 1992). The next reaction was much more pessimistic and sceptical; it came early in the 1990s even though that decade was a liberal honeymoon period of high hopes. Realist scholars predicted that old friends. Liberal optimism was not to be frustrated; an analysis from the late 1990s argued that ever more sophisticated economies would need to enter into ever closer networks of cooperation. Nation states would remain major units in international politics but would be compelled to cooperate in order to provide a protective umbrella for a globalized economy.
Georg Sørensen

1. Debating the Post-Cold War World Order

The debate about world order has been dominated by events: the fall of the Berlin Wall; the dissolution of the Soviet Union; the break-up of Yugoslavia; the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; the financial and economic crisis; the severe violence inside and around fragile states, including Syria, Libya and the Congo. But events do not speak for themselves; in order to evaluate their real significance, and their relative importance in relation to a myriad of other events, we need theory. Theories, however, disagree both about which events are important and about how certain events must be understood. And theories alone cannot tell us which theory to prefer among competing theories. Since there is no objective way of choosing the best theory, our choice will be influenced by our personal values and political priorities. That is why the debate about a subject such as world order is never-ending: analysing the world from the perspectives of different theoretical traditions can be broken down into three interrelated components: what goes on out there in the real world, the theoretical insights we employ in our study, and the values and priorities upon which these tools are based.
Georg Sørensen

2. The Fragility of States

This chapter turns to domestic developments within states. The ambition of world order today is to provide the good life for all people, as emphasized in the Millennium Declaration. In order to assess whether those conditions are present or not, international relations are important but we cannot merely look at international relations; we must also focus on domestic developments because the prospects for ordinary people deeply depend on the conditions inside the states where they live their lives. It is the interplay between international and domestic developments which determines what kind of world order we have at any given time. In relation to the overall debate between liberals and realists, this chapter is a warning against an overemphasis on liberal optimism. Many students of world order disregard domestic developments and focus only on international relations. But what states can do in international relations depends heavily on domestic conditions. If the home front is in order, with an effective and well-functioning political system, a contented and relatively well-to-do population and a sound national economy, states are free to focus on the international sphere.
Georg Sørensen

3. The Decreasing Importance of Interstate War

The world is full of violent conflict today. Civil war rages within a number of the most fragile states, including Syria, Sudan, the Central African Republic, the Congo and elsewhere. In relation to that, there has been a resurgence of international terrorism. But there is one hugely significant area where the level of violent conflict is historically low, namely when it comes to interstate war, that is, war between independent states. Sceptical realists are not impressed by this development; liberal optimists are much more encouraged. I argue that the liberals have the upper hand on this issue. This chapter makes the claim that interstate war is of significantly decreasing importance in world politics. For realists, the history of world politics is the history of war; their argument is connected to the existence of anarchy among states. The international system is a system of independent political units, the sovereign states. There is no central authority above the states, no overarching government; in that sense, the system is anarchic. Because of anarchy, war is always a possibility and peace must always be momentary.
Georg Sørensen

4. The Distribution of Power and World Order

The two previous chapters have outlined the basic international and domestic parameters for the present world order. Interstate war is becoming increasingly obsolete; at the same time most states have major problems with socio-political cohesion leading towards increased fragility. This chapter is about the third and final framework condition in the present study of world order: the distribution of power in today’s world. The issue is important because a stable and effective world order needs to be backed by sufficient economic, military and other forms of power. Under present international and domestic conditions, where does power lie in the international system and what are the implications for world order? These are core contested issues and there is little agreement about them. On one hand, power has been a central concern of IR at least since Thucydides and Machiavelli; on the other hand, concepts of power have seen systematic scrutiny only over the last several decades (Berenskoetter and Williams
Georg Sørensen

5. Security: Intervention, Order and Legitimacy

We want to know what kind of security agenda emerged from the end of the Cold War and what the consequences are for world order. For four decades the global security structure was defined by the Cold War. Two superpowers, heavily armed with nuclear weapons, confronted each other; they were backed by networks of alliances and bent on taking their confrontation to all corners of the world. The Cold War ended when Mikhail Gorbachev ceased to support the communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe; they fell one by one. In his own country, the reform policies of glasnost and perestroika eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. As noted earlier in this book, there was no agreement on the magnitude and wider significance of the end of the Cold War. Some commentators thought it was pretty much business as usual because the state system endured with all its well-known problems of international relations. Others embraced notions of much more radical change. Today, 25 years later, the debate lingers on (Lundestad 2013: 9).
Georg Sørensen

6. Economics: The Dynamics of Globalization

The principal characteristic of the economic structure is the ongoing process of globalization. Globalization is the intensification of economic, political, social and cultural relations across borders (Holm and Sørensen 1995: 4). The focus in this chapter is on economic globalization in all of its aspects, for example trade, production, investment and financial flows. The aim is to identify the major features of current processes of globalization and to evaluate their consequences for world order. During most of the Cold War, it was relevant to think of the economic world in terms of three areas: the industrialized capitalist countries; the developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America; and the centrally planned economies of the communist world. But in 1979, China (and Vietnam) began a move away from central planning and towards international markets; the Soviet Union began a similar move by the mid-1980s and when the Cold War ended the entire Eastern Bloc followed suit. Developing countries had focused on domestically driven economic development in the 1960s and 1970s; with the debt and oil crises of the late 1970s they chose, or were pushed by donors, in the direction of economic openness. A severe balance of payment deficit took India in the same direction in 1990.
Georg Sørensen

7. Institutions: Governance or Gridlock?

Institutions are sets of rules, formal and informal, that states and other actors play by. In the international realm, such sets of rules have for some time been labelled ‘global governance’. Government in the strict sense is not taking place because there is no world government. But nor do we live in a world of raw anarchy where states are always at each other’s throats. Therefore, global governance is a ‘halfway house’ between anarchy at one extreme and a world state at the other (Weiss and Wilkinson 2014: 213). The third significant development is the expansion of transnational relations, that is, cross-border relations between individuals, groups and organizations from civil society. International non-governmental organizations (INGOs) are active in all major areas of regulation activity, including trade policy, the environment, disarmament or human rights, where they often work alongside governments. INGOs help pave the way for global public policy networks, defined as loose alliances of government agencies, international organizations, corporations, and elements of civil society such as nongovernmental organizations, professional associations, or religious groups that join together to achieve
Georg Sørensen

8. Values: A Victory or Crisis of Liberalism?

The liberal vision at the end of the Cold War concerned a world order increasingly held together by liberal values. Such a world would emerge because material and ideational forces were pushing towards transforming more and more countries into liberal democracies. Processes of modernization would lead to material changes that supported the emergence of democracy. Equally important, the basic ‘human desire for recognition’ would secure that liberal democracy would actually be the end result (Fukuyama 1992). A large number of democracies would make for a peaceful and cooperative world order, based on a common belief in liberal values and principles. So who, if anyone, wins the discussion? We should first take note that this is not a simple soccer game where we can count goals and pronounce a winner. Each of these perspectives illuminate some aspects of a complex reality and puts others in the dark; in that way liberals paint a rather optimistic picture of the present world order while realists are much more pessimistic. We can always find something that supports each of these facets of world order; it is helpful to briefly set forth a liberal and a realist picture of what is going on.
Georg Sørensen

9. Conclusion: Rethinking the New World Order

We began with the claim that the division between liberal optimists and sceptical realists is the major fault line in the debate about world order. For liberals, the future looks bright: liberal political and economic values are increasingly dominant and that makes for a cooperative world based on common values and aspirations. For realists, anarchy remains a core feature of the international system; in a context of several emerging powers this points to intensified conflict and rivalry, even interstate war. Additional theoretical positions were surveyed in Chapter 1; they make several contributions to the debate but the liberal and realist positions define the overarching theme in the discussion of world order.
Georg Sørensen
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