The variable geometry of the new world order

The u.S. Has failed as the sole international leader of the world. But who will succeed them?

In 1992, three years after the fall of the iron curtain, all was still well with the world for american presidents. George bush had no doubts that "with god’s help" he had won the cold war and could now reap the global fruits of a grueling labor.

A world once divided into two armed camps now recognizes a single and preeminent power, the united states of america. They appreciate this and are not afraid. Because the world trusts us with all its strength – and rightly so. She trusts us to be fair and full of mab. She trusts that we are on the side of honor. She trusts us to do the right thing.

George bush sr.

16 years have passed since this "address to the nation," which has shaken american self-confidence to its foundations and radically changed the world. The plan of salvation of bush sen. Is not only to blame for the attacks of 11 september. September 2001 or the wars in afghanistan and iraq failed. The severe economic problems, the huge national deficit and the catastrophic situation of the health and social systems make more and more observers doubt that america is able to act as the sole international regulatory power in the coming years. Even neoconservative political advisors like robert kagan now recognize "the return of history and the end of dreams" and have to be brought back on track by german translators (die demokratie und ihre feinde).

Only 51 percent believe in the west

A recent survey conducted by the opinion research institute forsa on behalf of the magazine internationale politik consequently arrives at unsurprising answers to the question of who could rule the world in the future, which has become leaderless. Only 51 percent of all germans believe that the west will continue to play a dominant role. 19 percent of respondents are already betting on the economic powers of the future, i.E. China and india. 10 percent trust the major suppliers of raw materials with leadership qualities and expect decisive impulses from russia, iran or saudi arabia. A further 10 percent ame that in the course of the 21. That a multipolar world without a dominant power center will emerge at the end of the twentieth century.

Adam roberts, who until last year taught "international relations" at oxford university, looks at the global political options for the near future in a separate article. For him it is clear that even the united nations is at best only partially able to fill the power vacuum, so for the scientist there are only two alternatives: either there will be a "fight of all against all", or a "stable equilibrium" will develop that does not depend on a strategic center with global guiding principles and concepts of order.

Roberts seeks to approach a solution by answering four crucial questions:

  1. "How far has the world progressed towards a non-polar world??
  2. How fragile is the current world order??
  3. Which states have the leadership role in the current order??
  4. What is the role of international organizations in the non-polar world??"

Epoch of non-polarity

In roberts’ view, the u.S.’s departure from its claimed leadership role began well before the 11th hour. September 2001. He therefore does not consider it to be the exclusive result of the countless wrong decisions in the era of george w. Bush, even though during this time america was "discredited around the world" and its leadership role was tarnished "as never before.".

Already with the invasion of somalia in 1993, the failure of the peace plan for the middle east, the non-signing of the kyoto protocol or the permanent use of the veto power in the un security council, the united states had not fulfilled a constructive and perspective-oriented leadership task, while europe had negotiated much more successfully with the successor states of the soviet empire. Gleichzeitig hatten china und indien wirtschaftliche und politische interessen entwickelt, die inzwischen weit uber das ohnehin betrachtliche territorium beider staaten hinausweisen und die ideologischen grenzziehungen des kalten krieges endgultig ad absurdum fuhren.

The sense of polar thinking could always be doubted. The states of the world are not iron spans aligned according to the strongest magnetic field. Each has its own interests and political culture. The story of the cold war, and its end, is in part the story of states and people who did not want to slip into the ideological straitjackets that were tried to be put on them.

Adam roberts

Richard n. In this sense, haas, director of the planning division at the u.S. Department of defense, already speaks of an "epoch of non-polarity" that will present the actors of world politics with particularly difficult and extremely dangerous challenges.

The durability of the non-governed order

Despite the obvious weakening of the u.S., the rest of the world – with the exception of a few regions – still has an astonishing array of shared values that now and then penetrated reality. For roberts, there is even clear evidence that international cooperation works well without a central power center. As an example, he cites the about-face in libyan aubenpolitik, the un peace missions, regional action groups such as those that came together in the dispute over north korea’s nuclear policy, but also nato and the eu.

Moreover, the scientist considers the threat to world peace to be insignificant. Terrorist groups or so-called rogue states had "little foothold outside their rather narrow circles" and hardly any realistic chance of broadening their radius of action.

They are simply not as dangerous as the german-italian-japanese revisionism of 1930 to 1945, and they also lack the attraction that international communism repeatedly exerted between 1917 and 1989.

Adam roberts

New guardians of order

Roberts is convinced that world politics is still dominated by coarse powers, even if they no longer want to be so, and the term seems to have been largely banished from political theory. The fact that "roughnecks disguised as social workers" were active in the former yugoslavia, calling themselves the "contact group," only proves the virulent need to enforce certain principles.

However, the will for order is currently distributed among several actors and, moreover, geographically. Individual states or organizations ame regional responsibility and inevitably take considerable risks in doing so.

At best, this situation can be called an "anarchic society" in which order is maintained by the common interests of states, especially coarser states. At worst, it is full of dangers and sources of conflict. Full of opportunities for governments to conspire with each other against the people, for great powers to act by proxy, and for regional hegemons to rise without being challenged by another greater power. In addition, of course, there is the risk that governments will not function and that regional conflicts will always have to be resolved with the help of pigeons.:adam roberts

The role of international organizations

Such a complex, unclear and threatening situation would be the ideal starting point for the salutary intervention of international organizations striving for consensus and solidarity. But they usually lack a clear structure, a precise allocation of tasks, and the political or military mandate to intervene in smoldering conflicts at an early stage and prevent disputes between rival groups or states from escalating in the first place. Roberts derives a debatable theory from this – undoubtedly regrettable – circumstance at last:

In the absence of an effective international solution, circumstances sometimes require unilateral action – at least in the sense of "not sanctioned by the un security council". For all the merits of the united nations, 60 years of experience with this organization have shown us that it cannot solve all problems. Any attempt to understand the nature of the current international order must include a clear and realistic assessment of the un’s strengths and weaknesses.

Adam roberts

For a long time to come, roberts argues, one central truth will define international relations: in various regions and crisis areas, individual states or alliances are slipping into the role that for decades the cold war antagonists, and later the united states alone, amed. They resolve conflicts, redefine power relations, and formulate principles of order that will endure in their part of the world until the next conflict.


Variable geometry" is the commandment.

Adam roberts

The united states, europe and the global community

Robert’s ideas are much more than the single opinion of a scientist. If the alfred herrhausen society has its way, they constitute a contribution to a "worldwide discourse" in which "the futures of different countries are compared with one another and points of departure for a common shaping of the future world order" are sought. To this end, the herrhausen society intends to organize a series of conferences with the london policy network and to present the most promising proposals for discussion.

Whether the vision of a non-polar world, which does not subscribe to international organizations and leaves the resolution of conflicts to the most powerful regional power in each case, is one of them, may be seriously doubted on closer consideration. And in fact there are other considerations as well – to turn the center of the former leading power america. Strobe talbott, who served as u.S. Deputy secretary of state from 1994 to 2001, calls on the new american president to make a clear commitment to europe as an alliance partner and to demonstrate support for international organizations and laws.

At the heart of any attempt to restore confidence in the united states must be one thing above all others: america’s rearance that its commitment to international law and multilateral institutions is part of the bedrock of u.S. Policy. The most urgent concern of the next president, shortly after taking office, should be to reaffirm full compliance with the geneva convention and the un convention on torture, to reinstate the habeas corpus for people in u.S. Custody, and to "reaffirm" the international criminal court treaty.

Strobe talbott

In talbott’s view, these measures, beyond their intrinsic importance, also restored the credibility of the u.S. On two key multilateral ies. Finally, both "saving the nuclear nonproliferation regime" and "preventing catastrophic climate change" are among the most important tasks facing the global community in the future.

Ulrich beck, director of the institute of sociology at the university of munich and professor at the london school of economics and political science, also thinks along the same lines. Now that the fall of the iron curtain has created "hostile states in search of new enemy images," it can no longer be a matter of solving genuine political, military and economic problems, or of finding new solutions. To let a supreme power of order take care of a decision in controversial questions. Beck sees europe in particular as having a duty to put further ies on the agenda of the "world risk society.

In this respect, the problem of global warming could bring about a change in the central political paradigm, turning cosmopolitanism into realpolitik and nationalism or national politics into backward-looking idealism. Climate change, more than any other global problem, legitimizes the search for a rules-based system of international governance and offers an opportunity to find approaches to safeguarding security and global public goods.

Ulrich beck

Further contributions to the discussion can be found in the recently published july/august ie of the journal "international politics".

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