WHAT NEW WORLD ORDER?
he 1991 Persian Gulf War was, according to President Bush, about "more than one small country; it is a big idea; a ^ h new world order," with "new ways of working with other nations . . . peaceful settlement of disputes, solidarity against aggression, reduced and controlled arsenals and just treatment of all peoples." Not long after the war, however, the flow of White House words about a new world order slowed to a trickle. Like Woodrow Wilson's fourteen points or Franklin Roosevelt's four freedoms, George Bush's grand rhetoric expressed the larger goals important for public support when a liberal democratic state goes to war. But after the war, when reality intruded, grand schemes turned into a liability. People were led to compare the war's imperfect outcome with an impossible ideal. The proper standard for judgment should have been what the world would look like if Saddam Hussein had been left in possession of Kuwait. The victory lost its lustre because of an unfair comparison that the president inadvertently encouraged, and recession shifted the political agenda to the domestic economy. The White House thus decided to lower the rhetorical volume. U The administration faces a deeper problem than mere political tactics. The world has changed more rapidly in the past two years than at any time since 1945. It is difficult to keep one's conceptual footing within such fundamental shifts in politics. Familiar concepts fail to fit a new reality. It is worth recalling that it took Americans several years to adjust to the last great shift in the late 1940s. But the Bush administration, famous for eschewing "the vision thing," added to the confusion because it had never really thought through what it meant by the concept it launched. Neither the administration nor its Joseph S. Nye, Jr., is Director of the Harvard Center for International Aiiairs and author of Bound To Lead: The Changing Nature oj American Power.
critics were clear about the fact that the term "world order" is used in two very different ways in discussions of world politics. Realists, in the tradition of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, see international politics occurring among sovereign states balancing each others' power. World order is the product of a stable distribution of power among the major states. Liberals, in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter, look at relations among peoples as well as states. They see order arising from broad values like democracy and human rights, as well as from international law and institutions such as the United Nations. The problem for the Bush administration was that it thought and acted like Nixon, but borrowed the rhetoric of Wilson and Carter. Both aspects of order are relevant to the current world situation, but the administration has not sorted out the relation between them. From the realist perspective there is definitely a new world order, but it did not begin with the Gulf War. Since order has little to do with justice, but a lot to do with the distribution of power among states, realists date the new world order from the collapse of the Soviet empire in eastern Europe in the autumn of 1989. The rapid decline of the Soviet Union caused the end of the old bipolar order that had persisted for nearly half a century. The old world order provided a stability of sorts. The Cold War exacerbated a number of Third World conflicts, but economic conflicts among the United States, Europe and Japan were dampened by common concerns about the Soviet military threat. Bitter ethnic divisions were kept under a tight lid by the Soviet presence in eastern Europe. A number of Third World conflicts were averted or shortened when the superpowers feared that their clients might drag them too close to the nuclear abyss. The various Arab-Israeli wars, for example, were brief. In fact some experts believe that a stronger Soviet Union would never have...