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The Emerging
World System

The Global Order Remains in Transition
The World is Dividing into Market Democracies, Transitional States, and Troubled States
Some See the World Splitting Along Lines of Economic Political Blocs, Spheres of Influence, or Civilizations
The Most Likely Conflicts in the Emerging World System are the Least Dangerous to the U.S.

The Global Order
Remains in Transition

There have been five world orders since the U.S. became an independent state. These have been defined by the character of relations among the great powers: the Napoleonic period, the Congress of Vienna system, Germany's drive to become a leading power (concurrent with the division of Africa and Asia among colonial powers), the League of Nations era, and the Cold War (concurrent with the end of colonization). We are now entering a sixth period, one in which European concerns may not dominate the world as they have for the past several centuries.

Transitions between periods have typically lasted several years. The transition now under way is likely to take longer than most because there was no definitive, cataclysmic end to the old order: the Soviet Union disintegrated on its own, rather than being defeated in war and occupied. The emerging order may not fully reveal itself until after the end of the decade. The fluid character of that order is a major reason why recent administrations in Washington have had such difficulties articulating a U.S. policy vision. The final shape of the emerging world order will depend crucially upon such factors as:

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The World is Dividing
into Market Democracies, Transitional States, and Troubled States

At the height of the Cold War, there was a generally industrialized and free First World, a communist Second World, and an underdeveloped, largely non-aligned Third World. By the late 1980s, these divisions were beginning to erode, as some communist lands began to develop freer institutions and some underdeveloped nations evolved into industrial democracies.

The emerging order also involves a division of the world into three parts. Those parts, however, differ from the three Cold War worlds in important ways. Ideology is no longer the basis of the division. The non-aligned states are no longer an important category. Some countries of the Third World have become prosperous market democracies, such as South Korea and Chile.

The emerging lines of division appear to be the following:

Some very important countries combine characteristics of two or even three groups. For instance, China can be considered a transitional country; economically, it is evolving in the direction of the market democracies. On the other hand, its politics still resemble those of a troubled state, and many analysts fear that political disarray after the death of Deng Xiaoping could push much of China back into the troubled camp. Likewise, India, which appears to be in transition economically, incorporates elements of both the market democracies (parliamentary democracy) and the troubled states (explosive ethnic and religious hatreds).

Despite the indefinite character of the dividing lines, the general trend is for a growing gap between market democracies and troubled states. The gap shows up in differences in economic growth, political stability, and adherence to international human rights standards.

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Some See the World Splitting Along Lines of Economic/
Political Blocs, Spheres of Influence, or Civilizations

Three other lines of division are emphasized by national security thinkers. In what we see as decreasing order of impact, they are:

Economic/political blocs. Regional blocs based on trade and political cooperation seem to be emerging in Europe, the American hemisphere, East Asia, and to some degree in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In the early 1990s, there was a burst of enthusiasm for economic integration and political cooperation in both Europe and the Americas, resulting in the Maastricht Treaty and two American trade organizations (the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] and Mercosur), as well as tentative steps in the Pacific (with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation [APEC] summits). Russia is strengthening its economic and political ties with the sometimes reluctant states of the CIS.

The implications for the world order of such blocs, were they to be consolidated, depend upon the extent to which they are open to trade and political cooperation with states outside of their region. Open blocs can contribute to reducing global trade barriers and improving world political cooperation--for example, facilitating international negotiations by reducing the number of players.

The danger of tensions, possibly escalating into conflict, is greatest in the case of blocs that jealously guard themselves from outside influence and that see world trade and politics as zero-sum games. With the possible exception of the CIS, we do not see such closed blocs emerging in the next few years. Therefore, at this time we do not judge the development of economic and political blocs to be as important for understanding national security interests as bilateral relationships and the split among market democracies, transitional states, and troubled states.

Spheres of influence around a great power. Closely related to the emergence of economic and political blocs has been the concentration of military attention by the great powers in their own neighborhoods and areas of historic and strategic interest. Peacekeeping operations provide a good illustration of this trend. For example, U.N. Security Council debates on Rwanda, Haiti, and Georgia in mid-1994 made clear that the major powers are beginning to accept that each should take responsibility for its areas of historic and strategic interest, with France, the U.S. and Russia taking the lead. Similarly, Japan played a major role in Cambodian peacekeeping.

As with economic blocs, the implications of this development depend upon how open or closed the system is. If a great power accepts responsibility for acting in the common interest of the world community, then its involvement in troubled states within its area of historic and strategic interest can help those states develop more normal relations with all countries, including the other great powers. But if a great power seeks to exclude the influence of other powers and to compel its weaker neighbors to act against their own interests, then neo-empires could develop, and great powers could clash over the boundaries between their exclusive spheres.

The U.S. public has historically not accepted a national security policy based simply on great power geostrategic maneuverings. U.S. policy has been most successful and acceptable when it is based on both U.S. values and interests. Although the U.S. must be watchful for the development of spheres of influence, U.S. security policy for the present is more likely to be linked to values and broader interests than to spheres of influence politics per se.

Civilization. Centuries-old divisions among cultures and religions seem to have retained more of their political importance than many would have suspected a few years ago. The thousand-year-old fault line between Catholicism and Orthodoxy very nearly approximates the line of conflict between the warring parties in the former Yugoslavia and, more generally, the line of division between the East European states that are doing well economically and politically and those that are floundering. In many regions where the Islamic world runs up against other civilizations and cultures--northern India, the Levant, the Balkans, North Africa, the Caucasus--violent conflict has erupted.

Cultural and religious factors seem to primarily exacerbate and lend emotional depth to strife caused by concrete historical grievances, political disputes, socio-economic imbalances, and geostrategic factors. In many instances, these factors are deliberately exploited by elites to bolster their own ambitions. Furthermore, some of the deepest cultural-political splits are within civilizations. Witness the vigorous debate at the September 1994 Cairo U.N. International Conference on Population and Development: the issues of abortion and reproductive rights are at least as divisive within civilizations and individual countries as they are between civilizations.

In addition, civilizations generally lack central decision-making bodies, and are therefore unlikely to displace states as the key actors in international strategic matters. A stateÕs appeals for the defense of the civilization to which it belongs can be a powerful instrument for mobilizing support at home and abroad, but the key actor remains the state and its politics, not the civilization. We are therefore skeptical about using civilization divisions as a primary basis for understanding the emerging world order.

Moreover, to emphasize differences among civilizations could create the impression that those with different cultural and historical backgrounds are enemies, or at least cannot be our allies. That could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, thereby creating new enemies or losing current allies among countries culturally profoundly different from the U.S. but now friendly to it.

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The Most Likely Conflicts
in the Emerging World System are the Least Dangerous
to the U.S.

Within this system of market democracies, transitional states, and troubled states, three main types of conflict that correspond loosely to the three groups of states can be distinguished:

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