This split reflects a serious identity crisis that plagued and continues to plague the US in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of what I would call Phase I of the Cold War, since I believe that the Cold War is still very much with us having only transitioned from a mostly bipolar to a clearly multi-polar confrontation, involving the EU, Russia, China, and to an extant Japan, on the global stage, various regional powers, such as turkey, Iran, Indonesia and India, and the continuingly enigmatic Canada and Australia, still in search of global role and identity.
For, indeed, the identity crisis seen in the US has its equivalent elsewhere in the world, and not only among First World states, but also throughout the “nether” regions of the world, with Islamic terrorism being one manifestation of it. And all sides are, in effect, busy exporting their particular identity crisis and many of its necessary consequences to the world at large. In the absence of the institutional framework upon which the emerging New World Order can be based, this export commodity is having a devastating effect upon the peoples of the “nether” world.
The need for launching new processes and embarking on building a New World Order was considered in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990. It is very telling, however, that the US administration at that time was unwilling to pursue its victory to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime for fear that this will create serious problems and rifts within the international coalition that was established at the time. This was symptomatic of the fact that while the world could agree on a coalition to return to a certain status quo ante, it would have major problems when force is used to effect regime change, regardless of the justifications involved. There was something missing in the existing equation, the rules of the UN themselves, to allow for that, and no one wanted to venture something new.
The peace process launched in the Madrid conference in 1991 and which lasted until 2000 was another way for trying to create new realities in the Middle East that ended up in failure, for a variety of reasons. But one of the most important reasons, yet least studied ones, is the fact that Europe, Russia, and the US have failed to cooperate together effectively in this matter, and occasionally seemed to compete and to undermine each other’s various initiatives. This helped drag out the talks and gave much leeway for radical forces and spoilers to intervene. The reasons for this inability to coordinate between even allies, old and new, was the fact that similar processes or need for such processes to take place existed elsewhere in the world, and the interests of the various international powers involved often conflicted and the UN, in its current format, did not provide the adequate avenue for arbitration between the different parties.
For this reason, different powers acted, directly or inadvertently, as spoilers with regards to each others ambitions and designs. The US and Europe opposed Russia in Chechnya, and competed with Russian interests elsewhere in the Caucasus and Central Asia, so Russia opposed US and European plans in the Middle East. China wanted the world to agree with its stance with regard to Taiwan and to accept China as a new superpower and all the trimmings involved, the US and the EU are having a hard time accepting this with all its ramifications, so China opts to act as a spoiler on a variety of issues.
Different powers have long staked their territories long before the emergence of China, but now, China wants in. China wants a share of the spoils and of the international decision-making process. This situation is eerily reminiscent of the position of Germany in the early 20th Century, but there are many differences as well. The current forms of hegemony and territoriality are fare more subtle than they used to be, and China’s role as a spoiler is also more subtle.
The failure of existing international institutions to help provide a new way for the international decision-making process and international arbitration encouraged recourse to such new institutions as the G8 summits or expanding old ones such as NATO. It also encouraged the formation of temporary coalitions and recourse to unilateral actions when a situation warranted.
Obviously this state of affairs is creating many problems and is impeding the resolution of so many conflicts around the globe. What the world today needs in order to create a New World Order worthy of the name is to create the suitable conceptual and institutional framework for it. Indeed, before we can speak about new Marshall plans for this or that region, or new Madrid or Barcelona processes, not to mention effectively contemplate engagement processes that can actually deliver the desired fruits and not backfire and blow up in all our faces, the world needs a new world conference similar to the ones that took place of yore at Versailles and Yalta.
The conference should focus on the need to agree on a new set of rules, arrangements and institutions that can help establish the overall framework of the desired and needed New World Order. We cannot keep on stumbling on from one crisis to another in this manner. This state of affairs does not augur well for the future at all, and will not hold for long. Indeed, the conceptual vacuum that exists today in the realm of international affairs will surely pave the way for large-scale confrontations, several of which are bound to take place in our region, and one seems to be in the offing indeed for the very near future. Nuclear weapons and the greater subtlety of contemporary politics notwithstanding, world wars are not completely out of the equation yet, as we like to believe, so we cannot yet afford to rest on our laurels. Hell, when it comes to peacemaking, we don’t really have that many of them.