Case Study

The New World Order and why it failed

The idea of a New World Order (NWO) emerged after the end of the Cold War. It focused on the idea that now the Cold War was over the international community could now focus its efforts on improving cooperation to resolve persistent problems including: international conflict, underdevelopment and human rights abuses. The following topics and issues were often mentioned in this context:

  1. An important role in the NWO should be played by the United Nations – reformed and adapted to the new world balance of power, and to new challenges and threats. The New World Order should be equipped with an effective instrument in the form of an international military force. That force must constitute a reliable deterrent to any potential aggressor who might think of using his army as a tool for pursuing political objectives.
  2. The NWO would also mean an improved, more significant role for diplomacy and diplomatic techniques of international conflict resolution. It implied shifting the emphasis from military to diplomatic methods. Arms reduction would also continue to comprise an important component of the NWO agenda.
  3. It was widely although by no means universally accepted that the most effective way of ensuring world peace and stability was by the universal introduction and embedding of liberal free-market capitalism. The then US president, George H.W. Bush, often stressed the importance of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in this context.
  4. The NWO was envisaged as a way of providing the world with improved stability and security. Yet democratisation and the growing struggle for sovereignty in various parts of the world appeared in many countries to be contributing more to a rise of tension and conflicts, more often internal than international (as in Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union and Africa), than to a stabilisation of the situation.
  5. The aim of an improved global security system under the auspices of the United Nations was often noted to be desirable yet problematic, given how the United Nations had struggled to establish its pre-eminence. As a result, some suggested that it was more plausible to look to regional security systems as a key component in the attempt to produce better security. At present, we only have one effective Euro-Atlantic security system, based on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). But that system does not even cover all of Europe. Regions such as Asia, Africa and Latin America, which are less stable than Europe, have not established any regional security structures. The establishment of regional security and cooperation systems remains a desirable yet problematic mid-term objective.

The aims and aspirations of the NOW were both novel and ambitious. Yet, none has clearly been achieved. This failure reflects the fact that the brief window of opportunity which the end of the Cold War seemed to provide was not the necessary foundation for states to work together in pursuit of improvements in relation to international conflict, underdevelopment and human rights abuses. This was largely because states’ national interests concerns still predominate and these rarely synchronise to the extent that the big global issues receive sufficient concerted attention towards their resolution.