Bill Clinton's New World Order Takes Shape

By Fretz, Lewis | New Zealand International Review, November-December 1997 | Go to article overview

Bill Clinton's New World Order Takes Shape

Fretz, Lewis, New Zealand International Review

Lewis Fretz predicts success for President Clinton's quest for a grand confederation of Western democracies.

Six years have elapsed since Soviet-style communism died in its bed and the Soviet Union itself became history. The Cold War ended sometime between the collapse of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe during 1989 and President Boris Yeltsin's dissolution of the Soviet Union during 1991. Since the end of the Cold War, politicians and scholars have sought to make sense out of the post-Cold War international order and to hazard some predictions about the direction in which the international community is heading as we prepare to enter the 21st century.

At this particular historical moment, the l United States is the key to whatever new international order will emerge or fail to emerge. In a recent issue of Time, Charles Krauthammer summarises the reasons for America's current pre-eminent position in today's world:

By every measure, the extent of America's dominance astonishes. Militarily, there has never in the past thousand years been a greater gap between the No. 1 world power and the No. 2. Not even the British Empire at its height displayed the superiority shown by American arms today. Economically? The American economy is more than twice the size of its nearest competitor. We enjoy, almost uniquely, low inflation, low unemployment and vigorous growth. Culturally? ... There has been mass culture. But there has never before been mass world culture. Now one is emerging, and it is distinctly American .... Diplomatically? Nothing of significance gets done without us. True, we are not interested in doing terribly much except enjoying our success and getting even richer. But that just makes the point. Until the Americans arrive in Bosnia, the war drags on. When America takes to the sidelines in the Middle East, nothing moves. We decide if NATO expands and who gets in. And where we decide not to decide, as in Cambodia--often held up as an example of how the U.N. and regional powers can settle local conflicts without the U.S.--all hell breaks loose. All right then. We all . . . agree on the premise: the bipolar world of the cold war begat not, as predicted, a multipolar world but a unipolar one with the U.S. standing alone at its apex.(1)

Three types

According to Joseph Nye, a pre-eminent United States will face three types of conflicts in the future--great power conflicts, major regional conflicts, and communal conflicts in peripheral states. Great power conflicts are the least likely because nuclear weapons are involved; however, they are not unthinkable, as conflict could still occur at the conventional level. Major regional conflicts, especially in the Middle East and East Asia, are far more likely to occur, as regional powers seek to become regional hegemons by either challenging the United States or challenging one another. Communal conflicts in peripheral states, located predominantly in the developing world, will be the most common problem facing the United States and its allies as they seek to maintain order and stability in a world where the law of the jungle still counts for more than the rule of law. Nye concludes his analysis with these words:

Leadership by the United States, as the world's leading economy, its most powerful military force, and a leading democracy, is a key factor in limiting the frequency and destructiveness of great power, regional, and communal conflicts. The paradox of the post-cold war role of the United States is that it is the most powerful state in terms of both 'herd' power resources (its economy and military forces) end 'soft' ones (the appeal of its political system and culture), yet it is not so powerful that it can achieve all its international goals by acting alone ....The U.S. role will thus not be that of a lone global policeman; rather, the United States can frequently serve as the sheriff of the posse, leading shifting coalitions of friends and allies to address shared security concerns within the legitimizing framework of international organizations. …

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