New Post-Cold War Paradigm Emerging in Wake of Attacks: Multinational Effort to End Terrorism Could Herald Better World Order of Non-Imperialistic Pax Americana. (Essay)

By Donahue, Bernard F. | National Catholic Reporter, October 19, 2001 | Go to article overview

New Post-Cold War Paradigm Emerging in Wake of Attacks: Multinational Effort to End Terrorism Could Herald Better World Order of Non-Imperialistic Pax Americana. (Essay)


Donahue, Bernard F., National Catholic Reporter


Earthshaking events appear in many forms. Some are as natural as earthquakes; some are as manmade as terrorist attacks and some are paradigm shifts. Paradigm shifts? In 1962 Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions introduced the idea of the paradigm as an accepted set of principles by which the world is viewed.

A paradigm shift occurs when one paradigm replaces another paradigm. For example, such a revolution occurred when Copernicus asserted that the earth existed in a heliocentric universe, not the geocentric one of Ptolemaic theory. This produced a paradigm shift of cosmic proportions. Humankind was no longer the center of the universe, at least spatially. The need for a profound reorientation of one's ideas about the world one lives in becomes obvious and necessary in such a situation. As can be expected, revolutions bring real and serious problems for people, as Galileo, for one example, encountered in his appearance before the Inquisition. Old "absolutes" die hard; new "realities" are difficult to understand.

Many of us have lived long enough to have experienced two paradigm shifts of, to my way of thinking, "cosmic" proportions. One was the shift from the paradigm of World War II to the paradigm of the Cold War, from a balance of power system to a bipolar world dominated by two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. It was a conflict to determine whether the principles of a Pax Americana or a Pax Sovietica would govern the world. It was a surreal world in which former mortal enemies became allies and former allies became mortal enemies. Weapons of mass destruction that had ended one war became the means of mutually assured destruction in a Cold War. This produced a nuclear stalemate between the superpowers, but did not prevent local wars. It was a world in which a global "balance of terror" supported "peaceful coexistence."

The other paradigm shift many of us have experienced began with the end of the Cold War and its paradigm. The "accepted set of principles" by which nations, principally the United States and the U.S.S.R., viewed the world of that era fell apart with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. The national security concerns that attended the ideologically based bipolar struggle of the two superpowers underwent a profound transformation.

Foreign policies going by the names of containment and wars of national liberation became obsolete, as did the Truman Doctrine, Eisenhower Doctrine, Nixon Doctrine, Reagan Doctrine and Brezhnev Doctrine that spawned them. Terminology such as First World, Second World and Third World lost coherence. Alliances such as the Warsaw Pact and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization ceased to exist. And so it went.

However, its successor paradigm did not have the benefit of a cosmic theory or a body of doctrines to provide an accepted set of principles to fashion a new "architecture" of the international system. The paradigm of world politics today is not the balance of power system of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which ended with World War II. It is not the bipolar system of the Cold War. The fact is, there is no clear-cut, generally accepted post-Cold War paradigm to provide insights into the twists and turns of today's international politics, particularly in the wake of the terrorist actions of Sept. 11.

Same old geostrategies

However, it now appears certain that the United States will focus its foreign policy and national security concerns on the War Against Terrorism that has been declared by the Bush administration, a turn of events that could produce a post-Cold War paradigm of international relations. Given this situation, one can fall back upon some old and basic principles that have guided the United States in meeting previous national crises. During my teaching career over the last 35 years, geopolitics served that purpose. It is still a useful tool of analysis for providing insights into the present and the future of American foreign policy. …

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