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Sunday, April 1, 2012

New World Order

The term "new world order" has been used to refer to any new period of history evidencing a dramatic change in world political thought and the balance of power.

One of the first and most well known Western usages of the term surrounded Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points and call for a League of Nations following the devastation of World War I. The phrase was used sparingly at the end of World War II when describing the plans for the United Nations and Bretton Woods system, in part because of the negative association to the failed League of Nations the phrase would have brought. However, many commentators have applied the term retroactively to the order put in place by the WWII victors as a "new world order."

The most widely discussed application of the phrase of recent times came at the end of the Cold War. Presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and George H. W. Bush used the term to try to define the nature of the post Cold War era, and the spirit of great power cooperation that they hoped might materialize.


Political scientists and diplomatic historians have long been interested in the question of world order.

Concert of Europe

European nation-states and their governments sought ways to establish international order in Europe following the destructive wars of the 19th century. That is, they sought to establish guidelines, practices, and international institutions that would ensure peace and order in Europe and in the rest of the world, much of which was under European colonial rule.

League of Nations,Woodrow Wilson’s Fourtien point Principles

Attempts to maintain world order failed, and World War I ensued from 1914 to 1918. At the end of the war, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson led the international effort to establish a new world order that would guarantee world peace and stability. Central to this process was the creation of the League of Nations, an inter-governmental organization (i.e., an organization based on a formal agreement between three or more governments of nation-states) whose primary function was to keep peace in the world through ordered relationships among the member nations.

United Nations

However, the plans laid by the League of Nations were not able to bring about a lasting peace, and in 1939 World War II broke out. The Second World War ravaged many parts of Europe and East Asia until it ended in 1945. The widespread destruction experienced by so many countries during the war contributed to far-reaching support for new efforts to establish the United Nations, which succeeded the League of Nations in its efforts to bring about peace and stability internationally. The United Nations Charter institutionalized the key principles upon which the world order would be based: national sovereignty, non-intervention and international cooperation.

Bi-polar World Order

At the same time, the rise of two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, following World War II led to a new bi-polar world order. To describe this world order in very general terms, the nations of the world were split into two camps: liberal democratic countries in the West, and communist countries in the East. Antagonism between these two power blocs was intense but never developed into open conflict. However, the Cold War played out in a number of "hotspots" throughout the world. For example, the locally devastating wars in Korea and Vietnam, as well as Angola, Congo, and Ethiopia/Somalia, were all fought by opposing factions backed to varying degrees by the Soviet Union and the United States.

The bi-polar global "cold peace" was preserved by the tremendous nuclear capabilities that each power bloc's military alliance (the North American Treaty Organization [NATO] and the Warsaw Pact) maintained during this period. Each alliance realized that any attempts to change the world order could lead to a nuclear conflict and mutually assured destruction (MAD). With such a threat constantly looming, both sides were wary of any moves to offset this balance of world power.

Uni-polar World Order

The demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact in the early 1990s radically changed the configuration of global power relationships. The world order that emerged has been described by some as uni-polar; it was dominated by a single power, the United States. In this new world order, questions arose as to how to create a "balance of power," or maintain stability around the world. Debate focused on the role the United States should play in bringing about world peace.

With the end of the Soviet threat, many commentators, especially in the United States, have argued that there is no longer a need for the US to remain involved in other regions of the world — that it is not the role of the United States to play "policeman" in world affairs. Others have maintained the contrary — that it is both a moral duty and in the strategic interest of the United States to become involved in regions where there is unrest, and stand as a leading force in international organizations, especially the United Nations. This is a debate that continues in national and international politics today, and greatly influences the extent to which the United States is focused on foreign relations.

Post–Cold War "new world order"

The phrase "new world order", as used to herald in the post–Cold War era, had no developed or substantive definition. There appear to have been three distinct periods in which it was progressively redefined, first by the Soviets, and later by the United States before the Malta Conference, and again after Bush's speech of September 11, 1990. Throughout the period of the phrase’s use, the public seemed to expect much more from the phrase than any politicians did, and predictions about the new order quickly outraced the rather lukewarm descriptions made in official speeches.

  1. At first, the new world order dealt almost exclusively with nuclear disarmament and security arrangements. Gorbachev would then expand the phrase to include UN strengthening, and great power cooperation on a range of North-South, economic, and security problems. Implications for NATO, the Warsaw Pact, and European integration were subsequently included.
  2. The Malta Conference collected these various expectations, and they were fleshed out in more detail by the press. German reunification, human rights, and the polarity of the international system were then included.
  3. The Gulf War crisis refocused the term on superpower cooperation and regional crises. Economics, North-South problems, the integration of the Soviets into the international system, and the changes in economic and military polarity received greater attention.

Social scientists have offered various theories to explain the current and future world order. In the field of international relations, there are several theories that are well known and relate to discussions following end of Cold War. While some theoreticians aim to predict the future world order, others consider what the world should look like, and suggest approaches that can be taken to achieve these ends. Below are some examples of different views that scholars of international relations have express on the topic of new world order.

· Conflicts of culture shaping the world order:

In his influential and controversial work, Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996), Samuel Huntington theorized that in the post-Cold War world order, cultural divides would be the source of conflict in the world. He identified eight "civilizations" in the world and argued that the new world order would be threatened by clashes between these groups.

· Dominance of western liberalism shaping the world order:

One of the theories that is often cited in opposition to Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" is Francis Fukuyuma's "end of history" as articulated in The End of History and the Last Man (1993). Fukuyama considered that the demise of the Soviet Union and the discrediting of communism demonstrated the triumph of western liberalism. He foresees that in time all societies will evolve to a point that they will adopt liberal democratic institutions. In turn, the resulting new world order will be characterized by international cooperation through market economies and liberal democracy.

Other social scientists reject Fukuyama's claim that these western values will be accepted universally. Citing the resistance to western ideology exhibited by groups in various parts of the world -- of which Al Qaeda is the most visible example -- critics argue that Fukuyama's theory oversimplifies the complexity of cultures, values and "evolution" around the world.

· International law and institutions shaping the world order:

Some social scientists, including David Held and Mary Kaldor (whose essays are included in the Globalization and New War? subject areas, respectively), maintain a cosmopolitan perspective of the way the world can be ordered. Cosmopolitans consider that human well-being is not defined by geographical and cultural locations; that national or other boundaries should not determine the limits of rights or the satisfaction of basic needs; and, that all human beings require equal moral respect and concern. Based on these principles, they call for strengthened international legal and regulatory institutions that would be charged with the responsibility and the means to maintain security around the world through the enforcement of human rights and global justice.

David Held argues that international legal institutions offer an alternative to unilateral military responses to international crimes like those committed on September 11. He and others who share his view look towards the International Criminal Tribunals of Rwanda and Yugoslavia, and other criminal cases tried under international law as proof of the international community's capacity to prosecute serious crimes. By relying on these international institutions rather than acting independently, countries like the United States could uphold the principles of universal international law, and put an end to the cycle of fear and hatred that is generated by military attacks.

Polarity redefined

Polarity in international relations is any of the various ways in which power is distributed within the international system. It describes the nature of the international system at any given period of time. One generally distinguishes four types of systems: Unipolarity, Bipolarity, Tripolarity, and Multipolarity, for four or more centers of power. The type of system is completely dependent on the distribution of power and influence of states in a region or internationally.

In the post cold war world ,the major question faced in the academic and political circle is that whether there exist any possibility of redefinition to polarity.


Bipolarity is a distribution of power in which two states have the majority of economic, military, and cultural influence internationally or regionally. Often, spheres of influence would develop. For example, in the Cold War, most Western and democratic states would fall under the influence of the USA, while most Communist states would fall under the influence of the USSR. After this, the two powers will normally maneuver for the support of the unclaimed areas.


Unipolarity in international politics is a distribution of power in which there is one state with most of the cultural, economic, and military influence. This is different from hegemony since a hegemon may not have total control of the sea ports or "commons".


Multipolarity is a distribution of power in which more than two nation-states have nearly equal amounts of military, cultural, and economic influence.

Opinions on the stability of multipolarity differ. Classical realist theorists, such as Hans Morgenthau and E. H. Carr, hold that multipolar systems are more stable than bipolar systems, as great powers can gain power through alliances and petty wars that do not directly challenge other powers; in bipolar systems, classical realists argue, this is not possible. On the other hand, the neorealist focus on security and invert the formula: states in a multipolar system can focus their fears on any number of other powers and, misjudging the intentions of other states, unnecessarily compromise their security, while states in a bipolar system always focus their fears on one other power, meaning that at worst the powers will miscalculate the force required to counter threats and spend slightly too much on the operation. However, due to the complexity of mutually assured destruction scenarios, with nuclear weapons, multipolar systems may be more stable than bipolar systems even in the neorealist analysis. This system tends to have many shifting alliances until one of two things happens. Either a balance of power is struck, and neither side wants to attack the other, or one side will attack the other because it either fears the potential of the new alliance, or it feels that it can defeat the other side.

Age of non polarity

Critics of this perspective do not consider that this internationalist vision is a realistic one. They argue that the competing interests that exist among nation-states are too divided, and nation-states' insistence on sovereignty is too strong to allow such a shift of power from nation-states to international institutions. According to some critics, the inadequacies of current institutions, such as ineffective bureaucracy and inefficient spending, are indicative of the flawed nature of international organizations in general. They maintain that this ideal would be impossible to implement.

The principal characteristic of twenty-first-century international relations is turning out to be non-polarity: a world dominated not by one or two or even several states but rather by dozens of actors possessing and exercising various kinds of power. This represents a tectonic shift from the past.

The twentieth century started out distinctly multipolar. But after almost 50 years, two world wars, and many smaller conflicts, a bipolar system emerged. Then, with the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union, bipolarity gave way to unipolarity -- an international system dominated by one power, in this case the United States. But today power is diffuse, and the onset of non-polarity raises a number of important questions. How does nonpolarity differ from other forms of international order? How and why did it materialize? What are its likely consequences? And how should the United States respond?

New World Order

In contrast to multipolarity -- which involves several distinct poles or concentrations of power -- a non-polar international system is characterized by numerous centers with meaningful power.

In a multipolar system, no power dominates, or the system will become uni-polar. Nor do concentrations of power revolve around two positions, or the system will become bipolar. Multipolar systems can be cooperative, even assuming the form of a concert of powers, in which a few major powers work together on setting the rules of the game and disciplining those who violate them. They can also be more competitive, revolving around a balance of power, or conflictual, when the balance breaks down.

Lecture notes prepared by Gayathri O,Assistant Professor in Political Science,Government College Madappally,Vadakara.

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