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August 17, 2022

World Order: Whereto?

According to the norms of international relations, we are living in the world order established almost in detail after the end of the Second World War. The functioning architecture of this “global order 2.0,” as it has been called in order to distinguish it from the global order established in 1919 in Versailles, after the First World War, includes regulations in what concerns the political arrangement of the international system – the creation of the UN, whose structure has been almost unchanged ever since –, economical – international institutions such as the IMF and World Bank –, as well as in other domains – international cooperation, trade, settlement of disputes. Of course, over the decades, additions, refinements, optimisations were brought to this global order, in order for the fluency of systemic functioning to keep up with the new challenges and to avoid the catastrophe of general war as seen in previous generations. Two conflagrations started in Europe and spread globally in the 20th Century alone. Gradual changes were also registered in what concerns systemic management – that was the case, for instance, of the establishment of “the group of 7 most industrialised states” in the 1980s, or the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which regulates international trade, but also when it comes to the avoidance of global conflicts, extremely dangerous especially in the nuclear age, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (1968) being signed. The most important amendment to the world order occurred at the end of the Cold War, when the collapse of the USSR (1991) and the previous USSR-U.S. agreements – the planet’s strongest states – made it necessary. It took the form of security regulations in the Euro-Atlantic space – the Treaty of Paris in November 1990 – and the consecration in the OSCE Charter of 1994 of the principles of the Helsinki Act of 1975 concerning relations in this region. EU integration, which gained in the post-Cold War era a massive development given the post-communist states’ desire/will to accede to it, was a phenomenon that, coming after the Second World War, was the object of codifying meant to give this new European continental actor (comprising 28 states) the global weight it claimed.

Among the principles that regulate international relations today, in this post-Cold War or “Pax Americana” world order – as it is called from another standpoint, that of the hegemony exercised –, there are those concerning interstate relations. Thus, one state’s aggression against another is not allowed – the aggressor being subjected to the punishment set and legitimised by the UN, like the First Gulf War of 1991, when Iraq, which had annexed Kuweit, was the target of a UN coalition –, the annexation of another state’s territory is not accepted, being considered an act of aggression, the non-interference in the domestic affairs of a state is sacrosanct (the codifying of the right to intervene if the population concerned is subjected by state leadership to genocide of various forms is recently making headway, as was the case in Libya in 2011, but with UN mandate), as well as others.

It is known in detail who imagined and regulated these principles and where the debates took place. Historians often pause over the systemic significance of the “Big Three” conferences in Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam (1943-1945), when the architecture of the post-war era was established. The imposition of these principles however is the result of a long development over the centuries, in which the analysis of the causes of war and of international instability determined the emergence of international institutions – the UN being the latest such endeavour – consecrated to the member states’ joint management of crisis situations and of systemic fluidity. The great powers had a major and ultimately decisive role in this process, and according to the hegemonic theory in fashion in political science, the victors in global wars imposed their own interests in devising the global order following their military victory over their challengers. That is why there is talk today, from this angle, of “Pax Americana,” challenged by the USSR during the Cold War but becoming a fact at the end of the Cold War, or of the hegemonic challenge of militant Jihad, triggered in strategic stages after 11 September 2001. That is why when the U.S. seeks to take on another grand strategy to replace the one implemented during the Cold War, experts talk of “offshore balancing,” while competitors do not cease stating – like Russia or China do – that a multipolar global order would be better. What is happening today in Syria is interesting from this last standpoint. Prey to a devastating civil war, Syria has registered the emergence of a so-called “Caliphate,” known as Daesh or ISIL, which initially controlled areas of Iraq too, which plans to change the political-territorial order in the Middle East, an order established since the end of the First World War. ISIL’s statement of intent on its emergence in 2014 even included the following goal: “killing” the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, which drew the current map of the Middle East. Russia’s intervention in Syria in the autumn of 2015, in order to take part in the defeat of ISIL, was preceded by Russian President Putin’s statement at the UN, on Russia’s role in the establishment of the current world order and the need to uphold it. It has to be said that the current U.S. – Russia cooperation in the fight against ISIL is based on a UN Security Council decision (December 2015) which sets an itinerary for peace, a “roadmap” for solving the crisis in which this country has been mired for well over five years.

In this context, the statements made by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, about the foreign policy he plans to promote if elected, spark concern about the path the U.S. could be taking. For instance, several days ago, D. Trump stated that he is ready to accept Russia’s annexation of the Crimea if that were to lead to better relations between Russia and the U.S. and to closer cooperation in the fight to eliminate ISIL. As known, as a result of Russia’s annexation of this Ukrainian territory, in March 2014, a flagrant violation of the principles of the current world order – regardless of the technique used to carry it out, namely invoking the will of the peninsula’s population, expressed in a referendum disavowed by the legitimate authorities in Kiev and in contradiction to Ukraine’s constitution – both the U.S. and the European Union adopted economic sanctions against Moscow. U.S. and EU leaders have repeatedly condemned Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, most recently at the NATO Summit in Warsaw too (July 2016), and a mechanism dubbed “the Normandy format” (the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine) is in operation in order to solve the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine, which occurred during the annexation of Crimea, a mechanism that has led to relevant solutions too (the Minsk-2 agreement in February 2015). In this context, statements such as the one mentioned above cannot be justified solely through the incandescence of the electoral competition – more heated than usual in the U.S. this year – or by the candidate’s lack of preparation in the foreign policy domain.

Instead, it foreshadows, we are yet to know to what extent, a paradigm shift in American foreign policy – in case D. Trump wins the White House in November –, with huge consequences in the defining of the current international system. We can only fully agree with the position expressed in the ‘NYT’ (30 July 2016) by the former U.S. ambassador to Russia: “America is roiled by strong isolationist currents and aggravated by demagogy that would have us disengage from multilateral institutions like NATO, cut our overseas security commitments and stop defending human rights abroad. This is Mr. Trump’s argument. ‘When it comes to civil liberties, our country has a lot of problems, ‘he said this month, ‘and I think it’s very hard for us to get involved in other countries when we don’t know what we are doing and we can’t see straight in our own country.’” With D. Trump President of the U.S. in November, we could ask ourselves, rightfully so, where would the current world order be heading to.

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