Reshaping the International Order for the Coming World
The international order born after the Second World War has brought the best period of peace and prosperity known to mankind.
International organizations, led and designed by the West, have fostered a multilateral framework based on values of universality, uniformity, and equal treatment for all States; a dense array of institutions, intergovernmental relations, and joint management built around economic openness and political reciprocity. The West anchored this liberal international order amid a balance of forces as measured in the Cold War and the feared “great war” among the great powers ultimately never took place. To a greater or lesser extent, this international multilateralism was decisive in order to handle crisis and regional conflicts of second half of the 20th century, albeit it could not avoid perpetration of Genocide and Human Rights violations. Additionally, since the aftermath of the Second World War, multilateral organizations, conceived in order to create a better world, started to proliferate with their focus centered on issues such as justice, economics, finance, the environment, poverty, or health. Bodies as the International Court of Justice ICJ,) the World Health Organization (WHO,) the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO,) the World Trade Organization (WHO,) formerly known as the General Agreement over Tariffs and Trade (GATT,) the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as support financial institutions, aggregated the entire world as an area to share the West’s values via a wide range of rules and entities created to ensure stable relations and the spread of economic ties; a Western-backed international architecture aimed to keep the peace, to enable economic growth, and to advance human rights.
Throughout the years, the fulfillment of the West-ruled multilateral realm also contributed to the establishment of the European Union (E.U.) The EU was conceived as a major project formed by economic- and military-strong democracies in Europe that, among other purposes, would protect and extend Western values alongside the United States – an exportable mega-democratic structure to other regions such as Asia.
The fall of the Soviet Union, ensued by a presupposed fear of separation in the Western bloc due to the lack of a common threat, ultimately yielded a democratization wave that spread over the following years to East Europe, Asia and South America. The post Cold War era was thus marked by global economic growth thanks to safe free-trade policies applied in many countries and regions. Inspired by the free-market formula, Western democracies boosted innovation, which led to the wider development of Internet and information technologies (IT), creating a networked world that has encouraged higher involvement of civil society.
Globalizing was the Western way and there was a quasi consensus that it would be the paradigm to follow by all nations on Earth. In 1996, in his speech accepting the nomination for vice president, Jack Kemp highlighted the triumph of liberal democracy after the fall of the Berlin Wall: “With the end of the Cold War, all the ‘isms’ of the twentieth century—Fascism, Nazism, Communism, Socialism and the evil of apartheid-ism—have failed, except one. Only democracy has shown itself true to the hopes of all mankind.”
In the same optimistic vein, philosopher and policy theorist Francis Fukuyama posited in 1989 that, “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” Later on, in 1996, Gilford John Ikenberry stated that, “the world has seen an explosion in the desire of countries and peoples to move toward democracy and capitalism.”
Nonetheless, the twenty-first century has been witness to new developments and challenges that have reversed the trend. The decline of Western economies, the rise of emerging powers, the threat of global terrorism, among others daily destabilizing factors, have consequently produced a power shift. Nowadays, liberal democracy is as a minority in retreat and it is likely to lose its international power in the years to come.
Along these concerns, the current challenges for the future of Western democracies are many: Human rights (Responsibility to Protect), peace upkeep, safe and free trade, energy and resources security, financial instability, global terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the rise of populism, the spreading of Islamism in several countries, global warming… and, according to Ivo Daalder, “world bodies often respond with too little and too late.” These challenges have to be faced by liberal democracies in concert, by a binding institution formed by like-minded states confident in mutual commitments. Today there is no institutional vehicle, which may enable democracies to cooperate jointly in order to achieve their goals; and it is increasingly necessary —even though there is no special interest to form a New World Order in the West, as Joschka Fischer recently asserted.
As a result, the world is reaching a turning point; the tectonic change in international relations is inevitable. The West has to be ready to confront it and the current international order cannot serve as a proper system any longer. The State of the International Order report published in February 2014 by the Brookings Institution also went along those lines explaining that the international system to this day lacks a genuine ability to bind security and economic policy. Thus, the liberal international order has become obsolete.
In view of the situation, the consensus is widespread among scholars, pundits and intellectual elites regarding the coming multipolarity on the global stage. Political scientists Ian Bremmer and David Gordon have predicted that the world is heading to global anarchy with several centers of power: the G-Zero world. According to Bremmer and Gordon’s theories, there will be a power vacuum in the international order, provoked by the decline of the West, the rise of emergent powers, and the lack of strong leadership to bear great and lasting change. As International Relations Professor Charles Kupchan puts it: No one’s world.
In fact, the new international order to emerge will be an amalgam of different political cultures embracing different approaches of international order. Hence, Western democracies have to form closer ties through cooperation to guarantee a future where liberal values will not be forced to retreat. A new international framework must replace an outdated remnant of the Cold War in order to allow sufficient relevance of Western ideas and thoughts so that real progress and freedom prevail.
Admittedly, the United States and the EU, which are the democratic great powers and the centers of power in the liberal international order, seem unwilling to lead. They are also facing a struggle from within. The financial crises, the progressive cut on defense budgets, the high influence of populism, the rising polarization, the lack of trust on politicians, are leading the liberal anchors through tough times, where they find themselves totally incapable of handling global changes and challenges. As British historian Niall Ferguson has argued, it seems that we are witnessing “the end of 500 years of Western predominance.”
Therefore, it is necessary to establish an institutionalized meeting point, many times set out by leaders and theorists, to serve as an international tool for liberal and Western democracies to achieve common coordination and support.
This new tool will not be formed only by politicians, but also by outstanding and prominent Western leaders who believe in a better future for democracy, such as entrepreneurs, philosophers, journalists, scholars, and more brilliant leading figures committed to Western values. Civil society, the main asset of Western civilization, must be represented in international governance.
Democracies, in sum, must unite to face common challenges and to support each other. Currently the United Nations, NATO and the G-20, as typical examples, are not covering Western needs. A global world requires global initiatives.
After having sailed through the terrifying twentieth century to safety, the West and its institutions, , face now a crucial change of the international order. The Forum of Western Democracies is the answer to manage the future to come.