Printer Friendly

The New World Order: Rethinking America's Global Role.

How should scholars and policy makers be thinking about conflict, conflict resolution and national security on the eve of the twenty-first century? The Cold War is over and the assumptions about the world and world politics that prevailed throughout the lifetimes of virtually all the readers of this journal are open to question. Though the United States did not realize a decisive victory in defeating the Soviet Union, the collapse of the USSR must be. counted as at least a technical knock-out. Like most prize fighters who win on points, however, the United States sustained injuries in the battle and is now dazed and disoriented. Having amassed major budget and trade deficits, in part because of a preoccupation with maintaining military superiority, the United States must now rethink its priorities. It is hard to celebrate a victory that seems to have entailed so much self-inflicted pain.

The Arizona Honors Academy, a summer program in national security for college students, has collected in The New World Order: Rethinking America's Global Role a representative sampling of the assessments of the dilemmas and opportunities of the new world order that are being proffered by American academics and policy enthusiasts. It is a disquieting book: There are few genuinely innovative or enlightening essays, and the exceptions all warn of challenges for which the United States and the world seem quite unprepared.

The book is divided into three sections. The first part, "National Security: New Challenges for a New Era," includes eight general essays on American national security and its relationship to the world order. In the second section, "Regional Security Issues: The Gulf Crisis and Beyond," six analysts examine the role of ideology, religion, history and military forces in the recent Gulf War and security issues in East Central Europe and Central America. The seven essays in the concluding portion, "Emerging Security Issues: People, Politics, Proliferation and the Environment," address what are often taken to be the novel dilemmas of the post-told War world: the environment, human rights, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and poverty. Most of the essays are written by respected academic policy analysts, although they are not always at their best here.

Indeed, with the notable exception of John Mearsheimer's brilliant and almost berserk distillation of the so-called realist theory of international relations in "Why We Will Soon Miss the Cold War,"(1) most of the general essays are uninspired and uninspiring. Although Mearsheimer makes the intriguing argument that the end of the Cold War and the reversion to what he calls the multipolar anarchy that had previously prevailed will be marked by heightened conflict, this reviewer is among the many who will remain unconvinced. This reservation reflects not an expectation of an outbreak of sweetness and light but a certain skepticism about his premise that "it is the character if the state system, not the character of the individual units composing it, that drives states toward war."

Consider the benign role that Mearsheirner assigns nuclear weapons. His statement that "nuclear weapons favor peace" because they are too dreadful to use, and therefore contribute to mutual deterrence among nuclear powers, reflects his basic assumption that the character of the individual states does not matter - or rather that the same strategic calculation can be attributed to all states. He asks, "Who would dare use these weapons of unimaginable destructive power?" This question cannot be considered merely rhetorical: One can now anticipate the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction - including nuclear weapons - into states whose governments face little domestic accountability, whose economies are barely worthy of the name and whose populations harbor more or less warranted, but always heartfelt, grievances against the international system. In view of the numerous nuclear, chemical and biological weapons development and procurement programs worldwide, it is far too easy to identify rulers who would have probably used such weapons in the last twenty years had they been available, and will likely do so at the first opportunity in the future.

The appearance of militant nationalism in the old East Bloc and the emergence of environmental and human rights challenges to national sovereignty would seem to constitute genuine challenges to the state system itself, as well as to the constitution of the individual units, no matter how many poles are postulated. Thus the assumption that the comfortable bipolarity of the Cold War will be missed simply because it was bipolar seems misplaced. Scholars and policy makers will no doubt wax nostalgic over the capacity of world powers to impose order - the end of the French and British imperial age is still bemoaned by some - but that is not because it was bipolar. Nonetheless, it is quite true that, as Mearsheimer puts it, "the world is about to conduct a vast test of the theories of war and peace put forward by social scientists." He must be congratulated for putting his theoretical cards on the table.

By contrast, most of his co-authors seem to have been struck dumb by the events of the last five years. After reiterating his long-standing arguments against the contention that the United States is in decline, Joseph S. Nye, Jr. remarks that

[t]he new world order will depend upon American choices ... One cannot derive the answer about the world order from looking at he structural situation alone. Much will depend on what Americans decide to do with their strength.

This observation might seem self-evident to most readers of the daily newspaper, but recall that Nye is speaking as much to the Mearsheimers among his colleagues as to ordinary folk. Unfortunately, and unlike Mearsheimer, whose gloomy predictions are quite explicit, Nye has few substantive predictions at all. He instead takes refuge in the difficulty all foreign affairs experts have in assessing U.S. politics to conclude that "the shape of the new world order is uncertain. It will depend on American choices, and American choices are open." This is probably true, but it is not an insight for which many Americans are prepared to pay good money.

Indeed, one of the disturbing qualities of this book is its almost inadvertent demonstration of how far from ordinary common sense some of the debates in political science have drifted. Though Mearsheimer's willingness to put his hypotheses to the test is laudable, it is also almost laughable. The proposition that domestic politics, particularly in the world's sole remaining superpower, are unlikely to be a critical element in shaping world order is quite implausible; only the most devoted model-builder would expend resources to test it. Social scientists would do better to put their time and talents to more productive uses, developing and testing more consequential insights. Although political scientists are wont to claim that the rigor of the discipline permits counterintuitive findings, this volume suggests that scholars have merely lost the capacity to recognize intuitive findings when they encounter them.

Although an empirical reality test is presumably built into discussions of regional security issues because of the focus on particular times and places, the treatment of regional questions in this volume is hardly more enlightening than those of the general issues. In fact, Allen Howard Podet's discussion of "The Gulf War: Religious and Cultural Considerations" is a profoundly insulting reprise of nineteenth-century cliches about "remote cultures." He argues, for example, that Arabic and Hebrew are "oriental languages built for poetry" and are "essentially untranslatable into European languages." Any reader of the Greek classics - which were originally introduced to Renaissance Europe in Arabic - as well as the Hebrew Bible, should find this statement absurd. Unfortunately, Podet reports that he is basing his remarks on two documents, "Some Qu'ran References on Doctrine" and "Resources on Islam," which were prepared for the U.S. Naval Chaplaincy. If this nonsense is what is being fed to the U.S. military establishment then one can only fear for the future, for it reeks of the complacent, self-righteous tracts of the French and British imperial establishments of the nineteenth century.

Perhaps this similarity is not mere coincidence, for one possible shape of the new world order entails a revival of the imperialism-in-the-guise-of-international-cooperation-and-tutelage that characterized the League of Nations. In some respects, that era seems to be reappearing, with its combination of good intentions, ignorance and its projection onto the world arena of the American conviction that what is good for business is good for everyone. Anthony H. Cordesman's excellent essay, "Regional Security Options in the Middle East: The Politics of Reality versus the Politics of Hope," considers many of the dilemmas encountered in the efforts of a newly unconstrained superpower to ensure what is good for the United States by doing what is good for the rest of the world.

As Cordesman points out, the reality of the Gulf War was that it was fought to restore the status quo antebellum and was not, as many within and outside the region had hoped, to initiate sweeping changes in the politics and structure of the Middle East or the world. As he puts it, "Radical change would only have been achieved by an Iraqi victory." Indeed, he warns against excessive optimism about the opportunities presented by the American triumphs in the Gulf War as well as the Cold War. Speaking of the U.S. role in the Middle East, he argues that "there are severe limits on how much power it can use, and it has no power to change the fundamental political and economic realities in the region." The Middle East's stagnating economies, exploding and increasingly resentful populations and fearful and avaricious governments generate security dilemmas that cannot be resolved by either American goodwill or American force.

One might go a step beyond Cordesman's arguments to consider the extent to which the United States is actually interested in seeing change in the Middle East or elsewhere. World powers are, virtually by definition, status quo powers. Even those nations born of revolutions, such as Napoleonic France or Soviet Russia, settle quickly into pragmatic support for the world system as soon as they achieve disproportionate power. This fact is neither surprising nor in principle objectionable. What makes the phenomenon notable today is that change has been an integral part of the formulae for political legitimacy throughout much of the world for at least 100 years. From the former Soviet government's appeal to world revolution and communist triumph, to the anti-imperialist and developmental goals of Third World nationalist movements, politics has been about how best to change the world. Even the United States jumped on the bandwagon, with its somewhat half-hearted but quite discernable efforts to justify its foreign policy in less-developed countries as not merely protecting democratic nations, but also contributing to so-called modernization and development. As elites have known since the beginning of time, however, the problem with supporting change is the possibility of its success.

Political eras as different as Europe's enlightened despotism and America's New Deal have been characterized as elite-led reform designed to stave off revolution. Most of the beneficiaries of the status quo, however, are profoundly reluctant to endorse change if their immediate interests are not served. This is the quandary facing the United States today. Though this dilemma is not new, it has been heightened by the disappearance of Cold War rationales for opposing change that might have encouraged communism. How can the United States be open to - indeed, perhaps even encourage - change in the international system to benefit most of the globe if it threatens to cost Americans even a little? Can the United States develop a rationale for permitting small-scale change, perhaps tolerating some erosion in its exclusive power, to ensure the maintenance of the system as a whole? Or will the sole superpower feel compelled to meet every challenge and put out every fire? Choosing the latter course, whether by conviction or default, will put the United States at the risk of being engulfed by the challenges to come.

These challenges may be regional security threats, with which the world has considerable though not particularly reassuring experience, or they may involve the world's new social movements: environmentalism, human rights activism, religious fundamentalism and movements to end poverty and prohibit weapons proliferation. The pressures to effect such social change - pressures that are, in part, reflections and beneficiaries of the growing international importance of mass media and of international networks of non-governmental support - will not be diminished by military missions to restore law and order. Indeed, the problems they illustrate do not seem amenable to military solutions unless the mission and the command structures of the world's military establishments are fundamentally redefined, beginning in the United States.

According to William Schneider's essay on American public opinion, "The Old Politics and the New World Order,"(2) the conclusion that the solutions to most of the world's problems are beyond the reach of the United States would not surprise an ordinary sample of Americans:

A fundamental shift has taken place in the way Americans think about national security. Sometime during the late 1980s, people started to consider nonmilitary issues a more serious threat to our national security than military issues.

Americans now believe that economic challenges may be more serious than military threats to continued enjoyment of the standard of living they grew accustomed to in the decades after the Second World War. Ordinary Americans seem at least as acutely aware as the country's intellectual and policy elite that the budget and trade deficits that developed during the Cold War may now prevent the United States from enjoying the spoils of its victory.

The essays in this volume can be considered a representative sample of elite thinking about the challenges that face the United States in the new world order. Unfortunately, the collection reflects a lack of original thinking in considering the dilemmas and opportunities presented by this new system. In contrast, Schneider's data suggest that the ordinary American is at least as savvy - and probably well ahead - of that intellectual elite in diagnosing the problems that the United States is facing in the emerging international system.

(1.) John Mearsheimer, "Why We Will Soon Miss the Cold War," The Atlantic Monthly (August 1990) pp. 35-50. (2.) Adapted from William Schneider, Eagle in a New World (New York: Harper Collins, 1992).
COPYRIGHT 1993 Columbia University School of International Public Affairs
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Anderson, Lisa
Publication:Journal of International Affairs
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Intermediaries in International Conflict.
Next Article:Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters