The end of the Cold War witnessed the final demise of the bipolar boundaries of power and prompted a fundamental redefinition of international relations. For nearly five decades, the U.S.-Soviet standoff served as a benchmark for national interests, the standards that defined conflict, and the diplomacy necessary to resolve it. All were provided a collective coherence by the potential for any one to lead to a final escalation into thermonuclear war between the two superpowers.
During the 1990s this basic framework had diminished and was increasingly displaced by an array of problems apparent throughout the Cold War, but unaddressed by it. One clear dilemma present in the decade was a global economic recession. Characterized by Thomas J. McCormick as the “quiet depression, ” it represented a twenty-year trend, initiated by the oil crisis of 1973, that continued well after the Gulf War. For major industrial nations in both the West and the former Soviet Bloc, the period was marked by economic retrenchment of varying degrees of success. For peripheral countries dependent on raw material exports, the handicaps of debt and fluctuating commodity prices continued to undercut growth. 1 While the Pacific Rim experienced dramatic gains during this period, these did not offset the systemic limitations of the global economy, and were themselves largely negated by the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s. 2
The end products of this global recession extended far beyond the difficulties of debt and prosperity. Economic nationalism bordering on xenophobia gained considerable traction in countries where obsolescent industries and expensive labor were overtaken by corporations intent on moving production to lower cost areas of the world. The protests that greeted the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and surrounded the more recent 2000 meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle, Washington, reflect a resurgence of autarky. Other integration measures have faced similar difficulties. The 1993 Maastricht Treaty of European Union was ratified with a bare majority,