New World Order and its Alternatives: Introduction

By David V.J. Bell | 1991-05-01 12:00:00

The phrase "New World Order" takes on different meanings depending on which word is stressed. Is it a new world order? Not according to feminists like Sandra Whitworth, who find the same male-dominated processes and institutions pursuing the same machismo, militaristic agenda of "state, power and anarchy," characteristic of international realpolitik. Is it a new world order? This formulation directs our attention to global forces -particularly economic-that are shaping the future in ways not easily anticipated (much less controlled) by policy makers.

Stephen Gill helps us understand the nature of these forces. Is the emerging global reality a new world order? This is questionable as far as the Middle East is concerned, for reasons explained by David Dewitt. The Gulf war did not resolve the internal problems that make the achievement of "positive peace" distant and elusive, according to Thorn Workman.

Alternatively, we might think of it as a new world order, noting that recent events have confirmed a shift of power from Europe to America. Or we may see the future in terms of a new world order featuring strengthened global political structures and perhaps eventually a "global civic culture" (Elise Boulding's phrase). Jack Yost assesses the likely role of the United Nations in the aftermath of the Gulf War.

Taking the phrase New World Order in its entirety reminds us it was part of a concept that expressed the hopeful aspiration that North-South economic inequalities would be reduced by a redistribution from wealthy to poorer nations. Instead of seeing their meagre share of world wealth further depleted through transfers to the leading capitalist countries, third world countries would begin to achieve economic development in the context of a New International Economic Order.

This concept in turn gave rise to a parallel aspiration for a more equitable balance between North and South in the sphere of communications and information that would strengthen the voice of third world countries and usher in a New World Information Order. In his essay, Vincent Mosco explains how the NWIO fell victim to relentless attacks led by the United States, which regarded it as a Communist inspired assault on "freedom of information."

All of this pessimism can make us forget that one year ago a series of events had inspired unprecedented optimism for the decade of the 1990s and presumably the forseeable future. The Cold War was over, glasnost and perestroika were still highly credible, the Berlin wall had been torn down (and with it the iron curtain), the liberalization of Eastern and Central Europe was proceeding with unstoppable momentum, Nelson Mandela was free, and democracy was breaking out all over.

These revolutionary breakthroughs in practice had their counterpart in the conceptual transformations that were sweeping through the field of

international politics. Realism and neorealism were in retreat, postmodern and critical theory were in the ascendancy. Everywhere one could find critiques of the nation state as the primary actor in international politics and essays about the new meaning of security which expanded the definition beyond its traditional military connotations to embrace environmental and economic concerns.

Theory and practice came together in new policies for peace, especially massive disarmament and reduced military spending. We eagerly awaited the resulting "peace dividend" and the new sense of cooperation and responsibility of which it was a long overdue harbinger.

Against the hopeful backdrop of last year's developments, we need to assess carefully George Bush's New World Order. Bush used the phrase in the title of his address to a joint session of Congress on September ii, 1990. After outlining the four objectives of U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf; Bush announced as the fifth objective the attainment of a new world order, "a world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle, a world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice, a world where the strong respect the rights of the weak." The invasion of Kuwait of Iraq constituted "the first assault on the new world that we seek, the first test of our mettle." A strong response from the U.S. was absolutely crucial to send a "signal to actual and potential despots around the world."

What followed is by now familiar to everyone. Bush's supporters claim a triumphant victory for the doctrine of "collective security," and look forward to a revitalization of the United Nations (albeit under the strong leadership of the U.S. and assuming what Time calls "Soviet compliance"). Skeptics point out that as recently as last August, Time described the U.S. as the "U.N.'s biggest deadbeat" for failing to pay more than half a billion dollars in overdue fees and peacekeeping assessments. To critics U.N.-led collective security is no more than an opportunity for the U.S. to play "Globo Cop" financed by tribute from the allies. (See the April 1,1991 issue of Time.) Predicting which scenario more accurately describes the future is impossible at this early stage in the unfolding of the NWO. More obvious is the demise of the peace dividend, despite staggering problems of social decay, infrastructural deterioration, and massive debt in the U.S., and equally urgent economic and environmental problems around the globe. Meanwhile the arms industry and the military industrial complex have been revivified and the ecology of the Middle East has been destroyed.

So much for the New International Economic Order. The outcome is similarly disastrous for the NWIO. One of the many casualties of the Gulf War has been the sensibility of the bulk of the American people. Far from developing a "global civic culture," they have been led to unprecedented frenzies of national enthusiasm over what amounted to a slaughter of tens of thousands of Iraqis. Thank God the Iraqi people were "not the enemy" of the Americans! (One is reminded of the sentence from the poem 'The Grey Squirrel': "The gamekeeper who shot him/Is a Christian and loves his enemies/ Which shows/ The squirrel was not one of those.") With approval ratings of 91%, the American leadership has indeed dispelled the ghost of Vietnam and can confidentially undertake future versions of this type of "Third World War" (the phrase used prophetically by Richard Nixon in his book, The Real War). This presupposes, of course, that the war can be won quickly, with few "casualties" (always measured in terms of American losses); that the peace movement can again be silenced; and that the media will once again take on the role of cheerleader.

As for George Bush's stirring rhetoric about the role of law, freedom, and justice, and respect for the rights of the weak, perhaps the Kurds may be permitted the last word on that: ____.

David VJ. Bell is a Professor of Political Science at York University and Coordinator of Alternative Security Studies for the York Centre for International and Strategic Studies.

Peace Magazine May-Jun 1991

Peace Magazine May-Jun 1991, page 14. Some rights reserved.

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