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New world orders

Monday, 14 December 2020
This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.

Throughout history, every region cemented its own kind of order. China, for instance, saw itself as the center of the universe, the leading world power in 18 out of 20 centuries.

Similarly, Islam created an order from the seventh century onwards, subjugating the Middle East, and parts of Europe, and Asia under its rule.

When the Puritans crossed the Atlantic, they envisioned a new beginning, away from Machiavellian Europe, entrapped in conspiracies, and rivalry. Emblematically, during the darkest days of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine penned “Common Sense“, and advocated “to begin the world over again“.

In revolutionary France, the brainchild of the enlightenment period heralded a new order, essentially challenging the Westphalian system. During the revolutions of the late 18th, and 19th century, liberals across Europe had their hopes to renew the continent for the better rekindled. Yet, the Concert of Europe restored the Bourbon dynasty in France, and denigrated the emerging liberal order – a threat to European monarchies.

Even if these attempts were largely defeated, it set in place aspirations, and standards for a future in freedom.

The League of Nations

When the meticulously designed balance of power modus operandi ended with the onset of World War I, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, championed establishing the League of Nations – essentially a forerunner of, and stepping stone to, the creation of the United Nations (UN) in particular, and the liberal international order in general.

The Wilsonian triangle of international institutions, economic interdependence, free markets, and liberal democracy echoed the enlightenment thinkers‘ Immanuel Kant notion of institutions, and perpetual peace, drafted centuries earlier.

Nowadays, most scholars would concur, it wasn’t the UN, and much less the World Trade Organization, but American power, that ensured the materialization, and perseverance of the liberal international order after the horrors of World War II, and throughout the Cold War.

By the time the Soviet Union and its communist satellites collapsed, the liberal international order began to spread far beyong the West, and America’s “unipolar moment” reinforced the liberal international order throughout the rest of the world.

Over and above, in “The End of History”, international relations scholar Francis Fukuyama argued that humanity reached “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”.

In marked contrast, the late Samuel Huntington, best known for his theory “The Clash of Civilizations“, based upon the enchanting book of the same name, refuted Fukuyama‘s thesis. Instead, based on scientific evidence, Huntington illustrated at least three distinct pathways: Rejectionism, Kemalism, and reformism. Correspondingly, in a Voltaire-esque fashion, the historian Niall Ferguson recently opined that the “liberal international order is neither liberal, nor international, nor very orderly.“

Ferguson went on, and asked the audience whether the international order can be liberal if the main benefactor, China, is a one-party communist state. He continued to raise doubts as to whether it is truly international. Lastly, he singled out the Syrian Civil War, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and scrutinized our perception of order.

The German-American political scientist and venerated Republican statesman Henry Kissinger noted in his influential publication “World Order“, “Every international order must sooner or later face the impact of two tendencies challenging its cohesion: either a redefinition of legitimacy or a significant shift in the balance of power.“

Indeed, the unipolar moment, when the liberal West exercised dominance over world order, has come to a provisional end. China, at the center of this inflection point, is gaining more power over an international system which is increasingly under pressure. Supporting this view, Lee Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore determined, “the size of China‘s displacement of the world balance is such that the world must find a new balance. It is not possible to pretend that this is just another big player. This is the biggest player in the history of the world.“

Alternatively, in November 2020, the Policy Planning Staff at the Office of the U.S. Secretary of State published a pamphlet in many ways reminiscent of George Kennan‘s Long Telegram, and determined, “The CCP aims not merely at preeminence within the established world order, but to fundamentally revise world order.“

Globalization and interdependence

Coincidentally, the values underlying international arrangements have been fundamentally altered. In particular, globalization has led to significant controversy in policy-making circles around the world. By their very nature, states strive to preserve their national sovereignty and ensure their territorial integrity.

The revolution in communication technologies and the development of infrastructure led to an unprecedented level of world integration and influences every aspect of life, such as the economy or culture. The sceptics of globalization criticize the impact of events such as economic crises, political instability, and the dispersion of a disease – all of which may spread out rapidly across the world without the ability to insulate oneself from it.

According to a 2020 globalization survey by the Bertelsmann Foundation, we see a rapid decline in support of globalization in the West, while emerging economies are more positive about it.

Unsurprisingly, at the 2017 World Economic Forum, Chinese President Xi Jingping asserted, “The point I want to make is that many of the problems troubling the world are not caused by economic globalization.“ While the Party of Davos rejoiced to hear it, 4200 miles away in Washington D.C., President Donald Trump delivered his inaugural address, and announced, “The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world. But that is the past.“

At the 74th session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, Trump reiterated, “The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots. As jobs were outsourced, a small handful grew wealthy at the expense of the middle class. Globalism exerted a religious pull over past leaders, causing them to ignore their own national interests.“ The other day, an influential German news portal observed, “Germans are moving away from globalization.“

Thomas Kuhn, one of the most important science theorists of the 20th century, renown for his work “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions“ reckoned that intellectual, and scientific progress encompasses the substitution of an outdated paradigm, by a new one. To put it in Kuhn‘s words, “to be accepted as a paradigm, a theory must seem better than its competitors, but it need not, and in fact never does, explain all the facts with which it can be confronted.“

Now, the drama of world politics, very similar to a Tolstoy novel, is structured around non-linear parallel stories, which do not follow a chronological order, but jump around separate narratives, and protagonists. Most importantly, a new order paradigm will depend on Chimerica relations. Contrary to wisdom, economic interdependence does not necessarily lead to more peace, and stability – Norman Angel can tell you a thing or two about it.

As the plot is leading up to the climax, and despite marked differences to its predecessor, the polarisation of the world into spheres of influence dominated by the United States and China has been designated Cold War 2. At any rate, “Cold War“ sounds better than “(Hot) War“. But please, let’s not be totally submissive to our cognitive biases.

Strikingly, what behavioral economists dubbed the anchoring effect, a “Cold War 2“ label causes concern. As the COVID-19 pandemic slowly, but surely is drawing to an end, and despite the fact world leaders enthusiastically envision a new, or even better world order, it would be remiss not to urge caution. Huntington highlighted moments of euphoria after exhausting periods as illusions of harmony. He emphasized, “the world became different…but not necessarily more peaceful.“

Artiom Hildebrandt