Is the old world order breaking down? Perhaps
Those who were born after the Second World War knew that they were in the cusp of a new world order. Europe, the colonial power, was losing its economic and political clout. The USA was emerging like a Phoenix and taking over world leadership. The then Soviet Union was only challenging it. Asian and African nations were shaking off their dependence on colonial masters and were planting their first seeds of independence. The United Nations was groping its way and started addressing the challenges being faced in broader economic and social perceptive. The World Bank and the IMF were the footboards where nations stepped to maintain economic stability and to seek growth. Later, with the breakup of the Soviet Union, the world order became less complicated and simpler. The USA was the single most powerful country and unofficially became the policeman of the world.
The US, with its omnipotence, brought its western values before the world and sought compliance of all emerging nations to follow universal human rights, democratic dispensation in their governance and to spread civil liberties. The world order seemed to be settling down. The talk was of a 'peace dividend' at hand.
But then the world seemed to begin to unravel again. Iraq and Iran fought a bloody war for eight years and old Yugoslavia was being splintered. The Balkans went up in flames. However, it did not spread and no mega conflict was in sight. In Asia and Latin America nations seemed to struggle to upgrade their economies. China, which was in a slumber, was waking up and India too joined the race to grow. Peace and prosperity hinted to be breaking out again.
However, as Henry Kissinger pointed out recently, things are going the way they should not have. The Middle East is now in flames. Libya, after the fall of its leader Gaddafi, is caught up in a civil war. Armies with no known flag but carrying a fundamentalist ideology have declared a caliphate across Syria and Iraq. The young democracy in Afghanistan 'is on the verge of paralysis.' To this is added the US 'resurgence of tensions with Russia' over Ukraine. China, which maintained good relationship with the USA and the West, 'is divided between pledges of cooperation and public resentment.' New conflicts are likely to take place between China and Japan as well as some countries of South East Asia. Suddenly, a cauldron has started to bubble. No one can guess where these will lead the world. The order that was evident after the fall of the Soviet Union has suddenly put the modern world into a crisis. The world order which is 'composed of a set of American idealism and European concept of statehood and balance of power' now seems to be standing at a turning point.
There are several cogent reasons which analysts cite as being behind this turnaround. The question that agitates the people is the nature of the state itself. Take the case of Europe. Many of the members of the European Union have subsumed parts of their sovereignty into a composite whole. But they have not been able to design a political strategy that Europe can use in the world order.
In turn, the Middle East, after the so-called 'Arab Spring,' got enmeshed in sectarian and ethnic conflicts. Thus, militias and powers openly interfere in each country's sovereignty at will. There is no single power in the world that wants to take up the burdensome task of restoring balance of power and establishing order.
There is no doubt that the wind of globalisation has blown through all states and territories in the world. But in spite of the world economic system being global, the politics of each country is rooted in the nation state. The dilemma is that globalisation ignores national frontiers, but the foreign policy of every nation state affirms them. The world order is, therefore, in a paradoxical situation.
The final reason for the breakdown of the present world order is that the big powers do not always work in tandem and are, most of the time, working at a tangent with each other. Apart from the US and the UK, take the case of Japan and China or even India. France and Australia and Russia also have diverse interests which tend to create divisions in a unified world order.
So it is assumed that a new world order may slowly replace the old. Unless there is a coherent strategy to establish a world order within regions, there is likely to be chaos and world disorder. How can this happen? Are the top policy makers thinking about it?
In South Asia, India being a preponderant power, we in Bangladesh are likely to look towards it for the shape of a future world order. But how much of India's concept of an international world order will be in consonance with the concept and values of all South Asian countries is debatable. It is, therefore, important that our regional organisation Saarc discusses the matter of world order in future. We cannot afford to ignore this geo-strategic matter at the cost of our own peace and prosperity. Can we?
The writer is a former Ambassador and a commentator on current affairs.