New World Chaos: World Order That Never Started


The contemporary world order finds its roots in the post-World War II environment when the victorious powers designed the international institutions and norms that went on to define the new rules of the game. 2016 marked the endpoint of this 70-year-long era that carried through the Cold War and went into the following quarter century period following the collapse of the USSR.

Ironically, the Cold War period guaranteed more international stability and order than what we observe today. Both superpowers were entrenched in a tough constant confrontation, but at the same time both were well aware of their limitations. Middle powers in possession of weapons of mass destruction would largely bandwagon with one of the sides of the system rather than play all alone and/or against the superpowers. After the collapse of the USSR, the only “hyperpower” – as the former French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine defined the United States[1] – tried to spread its ideological principles over the rest of the world. In this period, newly-independent Russia could not resist foreign pressures and its silence was taken as an absolute acceptance of the modified rules. As a result, the United States stood on the world stage with an unshakable confidence in its ability to unilaterally shape global politics.

But with the rise of neoliberal thought in the 1990s, the role of governments in politics decreased substantially. Their role also decreased in the conduct of international relations and influencing global processes. The so-called 21st century world order, which survived until 2008, came to an end as a result of the international financial crisis greatly affected the United States and Europe. It was not the financial crisis alone, but also the crisis of political imagination. As Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard noted, Europeans mistook Russia’s weakness in the post-Cold War period to block the ongoing processes to an assent[2]. The crack created after the international financial crisis continued to widen in 2014, showing the incapability of the existing governments and forms of institutions to handle problems in the new globalized reality.

  • The Globalization Paradox

Globalization delivered diametrically opposite results than expected. As Dani Rodrik wrote in his book “The Globalization Paradox,” [3] it showed the incapability to “simultaneously pursue democracy, national determination, and economic globalization”. He argues that for further globalization you either have to give up the nation-state or democratic politics. To strengthen democracy you then have to choose between the nation state or international economic integration. And if self-determination is the priority then either deepening democracy or globalization is required. “Democracies have the right to protect their social arrangements, and when this right clashes with the requirements of the global economy, it is the latter that should give way,” writes the Harvard professor. In pursuit of mass expansion and orientation on external problems, governments often forget to refer to their domestic issues and listed to their populations.

As a result, we witness the rise of protectionist sentiments and not just in the economic sphere. Europe is facing tumultuous times now; for the first time since the formation of the European Union the tendencies to separate from the “huge machine” prevail over the further EU expansion. Switzerland and Iceland withdrew their applications to join EU last year. Britain went further – it decided to leave the union altogether after 43 years of membership. Donald Trump commented on Brexit, “They took their country back, just like we will take America back.”[4] Perhaps Brexit was a forced measure of the British people to bring back control over their lives and security, especially in the era of rising radical Islamic terrorism.

Modern world sees globalization as a process that has facilitated global terrorism that now poses the biggest challenge to globalization itself. According to the statistics, the number of deaths due to Islamic terror attacks from the late 1970s to 1990s accounted for 1,950 people. Since 2000, there has been over five-fold increase in the number. Only in 2013 more than 17,000 deaths were caused by terrorism.[5] And the number of victims remains high as ISIS maintains power and control over parts of Syrian and Iraqi territories.

World structure is less and less organized. NATO, WTO, and Bretton Woods institutions are not able to handle modern challenges. NATO – the initial purpose of which was to contain the communist expansion – de jure lost its purpose after the collapse of the USSR. Although the Alliance tried to spread its authority outside the Western world, it failed facing the multiplicity of tasks. Today there is friction among its members, and first of all this applies to Turkey. There are number of contradictions on various issues: European position on the refugee crisis, American support for Kurdish fighters, and Turkey’s support to ISIS against which NATO is trying to fight.

Failure of World Trade Organization brought the question of future fragmentation of global trade to the top of the agenda. Since the Doha agreement back in 2001, WTO did not deliver the promised pro-development changes to its members. Some of the biggest issues, including agriculture tariffs and farming subsidies, remain unresolved.[6] Developing countries remain sidelined by the economic and political interests of the global powers.

International Monetary Fund being one of the principle endorsers of neoliberalism, last year released a paper titled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?”. The paper, written by IMF Deputy Director Jonathan D. Ostry, Division Chief Prakash Loungani, and economist Davide Furceri, doubts the efficacy of the neoliberal economic policies that have been the basis of mainstream economic policy in most of the Western countries since the end of the Cold War. “Instead of delivering growth, some neoliberal policies have increased inequality, in turn jeopardizing durable expansion,”[7] the paper states. Universal forms and institutions of Bretton Woods era are no longer universal and have come to an end giving way to new regional organizations.

  • What is next?

When the Cold War ended, the West had a right of choice: either to act according to its ongoing interests or to pursue visionary goals, sharing power with countries in less favorable conditions. And the Western world made its choice. States did not pay much attention to Russia: they never involved the country in institutional structures in the 1990s and never thought that the Russian political and economic crisis would recover quickly. As a matter of fact, there is still no full coherence between West and Russia, as the latter feels resentment and alienation mixed with the feelings of distrust (e.g. NATO’s promises to never expand eastward).

It is interesting that China too was seen as a country that sooner or later will join the Western community and its standards. Expectations that market economy development will inevitably bring China to political liberalization did not meet the reality. And official Beijing began to be concerned as it simultaneously observed the tendency of the United States on the international arena endorsing forced regime changes.

“Justice” means a lot in our times as much as “freedom” meant for people thirty years ago. Main questions remain unanswered. Will the political systems be able to meet modern needs? Will the transformation be constructive and affirmative? Or will it be held under the auspices of destructive radical powers? Today’s world shows that yesterday’s unsolved problems – power imbalance, absence of hierarchy, and world disorder – will bring everyone back to the old models of behavior. Until these problems are solved none of the powers will be able to overcome new challenges in our constantly changing and complex world.


[1] To Paris, U.S. Looks Like a “Hyperpower”. The New York Times, Feb 5, 1999.  []

[2] The New European Disorder. Ivan Krastev & Mark Leonard. European Council on Foreign Relations, November, 2014. []

[3] The Globalization Paradox. Democracy and the Future of the World Economy. Dani Rodrik, W.W. Norton & Company, New York-London, 2011

[4] Britons ‘took their country back’ in Brexit vote: Trump. CNBC, Friday June 24th, 2016 []

[5] Global Terrorism Index 2014. Measuring and Understanding the Impact of Terrorism. Institute for Economics and Peace. []

[6] Doha WTO Ministerial 2011: Ministerial Declaration. WT/MIN(01)/DEC/1. November 20, 2001. []

[7] Neoliberalism: Oversold? By Jonathan D. Ostry, Prakash Loungani, Davide Furceri. Finance & Development, June 2016 []

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About the Author 

Catherine Markaryan holds M.A. degree from Lomonosov Moscow State University. Her research interests include Eurasian politics, big Caucasus, and history. She also writes for the Russian Council website.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ERA Institute.

This article is produced by the Eurasian Research and Analysis Institute, Inc. (ERA Institute), a public, 501(c)(3) nonprofit institution devoted to studying Eurasian affairs. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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