The Current Debate Over the Future of the International Order
The Current Debate Over the Future of the International Order
V. Lance Tarrance, Jr.
presented to
The Raleigh Tavern Philosophical Society
February 27, 1997
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The 20th Century and the Second Millennium AD will soon come to a close. The 21st Century, but more importantly the Third Millennium AD, is upon us. Characteristically, human being have always examined, reexamined, and offered visions for the next 100 years as the "century turns." Knowing that we are embarking on another thousand year segment of time as well, it is also common for intellectual elites in society to reflect on the social, political, and economic imperatives facing society. As the first thousand years came to a close by Western Civilization standards, certain intellectuals, mainly monastic scholars in 10th Century churches, attempted to project the 11th Century future, even prophesizing the absolute demise of mankind by God. It is a unique point in time that we all find ourselves in 1997 as the new millennium approaches.

In addition to the march of millennial time and the attendant societal concerns, we are faced also with the end of one very significant half century era, "The Cold War." The cold war term was first used in the early 8th Century to signify the warring interludes between the Spanish and the Moors. Our cold War was between the Western and Eastern blocs of countries, a bipolar world of competing political ideologies in which the balance of power was constructed with rational terror as the fulcrum (i.e., mutually assured mass nuclear destruction). However, and somewhat comforting, the Western bloc of nations, led by the Americans was the historic winner. Symbolically, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down (1989), Germany converged and became reunited (1990), and the Soviet Empire, led by Muscovite Russians became infected by divergent forces and lost in historic proportions. The former Soviet Union disaggregated "country by country," the ideological construct to their society (i.e. "communism") became discredited and discarded worldwide.

More importantly their economic system of Marxist Socialism (i.e., central control of the marketplace) lost also in global proportions as free-market capitalism spread quickly to the former Eastern bloc; specially notable were such countries as Vietnam, China, and even Russia itself.

Now we must ask ourselves - what will be the remaking of the "New World Order" for the 21st Century?

Or, will our world really be in for more irritatingly multi-polar "disorder" and regional conflicts? Additionally, will the world shift to cultural and civilizational conflicts between Western Society, the Islamic countries, and the Confucian Culture? Clearly, the world's political balance of power has shifted and time is marching on. Will modernization continue with or without Westernization in the next century? Or, as some say, it will all come down the "West versus the Rest?"

Since people have inquiring minds, there has been of late a plethora of intellectual debates in various elitist journals as to which model or paradigm will be the right one for the leaders of the West. Do we discard our conventional models in the post Cold War era and construct a new paradigm for the next one? Or, should our thinking simply adjust accordingly as the US is the one remaining superpower left in the world?

For this analysis, there must be new or more data for intellectual input if we are to rationally discuss whether new transnational forces require a new paradigm. There are three overwhelming transnational forces that must be taken into consideration for a 21st century model for international behavior. One is the force of population as "demography is destiny." There exists today a powerful surge of population that is exploding in underdeveloped countries that will have a far ranging impact by about the middle of the 21st century. Many consider overpopulation in these specific areas of the world as a time bomb which threatens others with mass migrations.

The second is a new and aggressive economic nationalism that is occurring in the East Asian world which threatens the Western-controlled financial structure of the world. Thirdly, the telecommunications revolution sweeping across the globe has created "expanded expectations." Some say this will set off a global conflict between the equatorial "North" (i.e. developed/high technology countries) against the equatorial "South" or less developed part of the world. Already today, the DC's are blaming the LDC's for overpopulation and environmental damage, particularly to the Rain Forests; the LDC's are now blaming the developed countries for overuse of natural resources for the high technology industries.


First, let's look at the demographic time bomb which is a powerful transitional force in the LDC part of the world. Example, The African Continent: The international census estimates for the year 2000 are for Africa to contain about 800 million people, 20% in Northern Africa and 80% in sub-Saharan Africa). The projections for the year 2050, only a half century away, is for a 2 billion population. The sub-Saharan population (discounting tribal wars and plague-like viruses) is for a tripling of their people to 1.8 billion. Ethiopia triples, Zaire and Somalia likewise and Nigeria quadruples!

Consider that the developing countries of "North" are doubling every 35 years.1 Typically, overpopulation is associated with the powerful "forces of divergence" which include ethnic tribalism/nationalism, religious fundamentalism, racism, poverty, increasing competition for natural resources, declines in nation-state's ability to shape their futures and grand scales of dependency. From a population point of view, there are already in existence "two worlds on one planet" - the North (richer, industrialized DC's with lower birth rates) and the South (poorer, peripheral LDC's with higher birth rates). This divergence parallels much of the domestic political discourse in the USA where rich, mostly white, suburbs continue to develop and the mostly African-American center cities continue to decline with increased dependency.

In Paul Kennedy's 1993 book entitled Preparing for the 21st Century, he retells the debate among European elites 200 years ago when the 18th century was drawing to a close. They, like today were "deeply troubled" by the social and political trends - especially the surge in population and the growing mismatch between people and resources. It was Thomas Malthus in 1798, who ignited the debates and it made him world famous. He postulated that Great Britain's food demands and the land's capacity to meet them were at such potential variance that starvation, famine, and mass deaths from diseases were on the near horizon.

His optimistic opponents, by contrast, countered that "breakthroughs in knowledge" and "human self understanding" toward perfectibility would win out. They were in the end correct, if not lucky, for the following reasons: (1) people in the British Isles left in vast numbers (between 1815 and 1914, about 20M emigrated) in seeking better conditions (USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa),(2) agricultural technology improved and new refrigerated steamships imported products into England, and (3) the Industrial Revolution created so many engineering breakthroughs (that boosted human productivity) that economic purchasing power outran the rise in numbers of people (during the 19th Century, England increased 4 times in population but 14 times in GNP). Thus, as Kennedy states, the "power of population" was answered not so much by the "power of the earth" itself but by the "power of technology".

Today, as we witness similar debates about how to approach the next century, we have "neo-Malthusians", "declinists","technologists" and "modernists" among others, all positions for intellectual greatness with their forecasting and vision. How comparative is 1997, the situation of today, with that of 1797? And what paradigm should we believe in to order our thinking for future international events and global changes? We evaded the Malthusian Trap 200 years ago, but will we be able to do it again?

One key point observed by Kennedy that is different from the time of Malthus is that our planet is indeed two worlds apart and that there is a geographical disjunction. The technology explosion is taking place overwhelmingly in the economically advanced societies (i.e., North of the equator), many which possess slow-growing populations. The demographic boom is occurring in countries with limited technological resources and cultural patterns antithetical to change (i.e., the LDC's in the south). This is vastly different than what happened in 19th Century Europe as there was geographical overlap with high technology and change in outlook.

As Kennedy suggests, history is once again producing its list of "winners" and "losers" and that today's global or transnational forces are moving us "beyond our traditional guidelines (and) into a remarkable new set of circumstances - one in which human social organizations and political leaders may be unequal to the challenges..."


The so-called modern world has been largely driven by Europe, the world's most brilliant economic force, for nearly half a millennium. Europeans subjected the world to many transformations and dislocations, engineered by feudal-royalist empires old and new, colonialization and mercantilism, ideological blocs, world wars, and the political nationalism of the "nation-state" among others. As we approach the 21st Century, the second transnational force that seems to concern us today is the heightened economic nationalism, located in the revivalistic Pacific Rim of East Asia. Any new paradigm must take into consideration that the Atlantic community of nations, long the center of economic power, is being supplanted by the nations of Asia and the Pacific Rim. In the coming century, the Americans' business future will most likely not lie with our traditional European trading partners, but with the rising nations of East Asia. Domestically, American society itself is going through a similar process of de-Europeanization as Asian-Americans constitute the largest source of legal immigrants. Pessimists predict the US will follow Europe's decline and by the year 2050 China will emerge as the dominant economic force in the world. Moreover, many Americans, as tested in nation surveys, have shown a declining confidence in the "superiority of the West." Thirdly, the Asian Pacific region currently holds about two-thirds of the world's population. And by the year 2000, six of the ten largest cities in the world will be on the Pacific; none will be European. Succinctly said, by some, Europe is vanishing and is relinquishing its role as a world power.

According to Huntington, the economic development of East Asia has been the most significant development in the world in the second half of the 20th Century. This process began in Japan in 1950 - spread to the "Four Tigers" (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea) - and then to China. The World Bank in 1993 declared that the Chinese economic area has already become the world's "Fourth Pole" along with the US, Japan, and Germany. By the year 2020 Asia will have four of the five largest economies in the world. This is now called the "Asian Affirmation."

The West's own econometric models are today confirming the above trends in such detail that the US Defense Department has been forced to reprogram their own military strategies years ahead of schedule. Asians themselves also report that they think East Asia will soon surpass the West and they are destined to be increasingly powerful in world affairs. Asians believe their economic success is largely a product of Confucian Culture which is superior to that of the West. In a word, there is a mounting self-confidence in East Asians that is giving rise to an emerging Asian universalism.

Where does America position itself for the next century vis a vis East Asia? Is not America geo-politically and geo-economically at the absolute center point between Asia and Europe, much like the Arab traders were when they were the "go between" to an emergent Europe and the Silk Road and Spice Islands some five hundred years ago? We should not forget that President Thomas Jefferson's words to Lewis and Clark's mission to the mouth of the Columbia River about two hundred years ago was to find a direct route "for the purposes of commerce with Asia." Moreover, the United States took actual possession of the Pacific Coast, about half a century later, with the full expectation of furthering its Asian trading relationships.


"While Asians, and especially the Chinese have become increasingly assertive as a result of economic development, Muslims in massive numbers were simultaneously turning toward the Islamic religion as a source of identity...power and hope. This 'Islamic Resurgence' is an effort to find the 'solution' not in Western ideologies but in Islam. It embodies acceptance of modernity, rejection of Western culture, a recommitment to Islam as the guide to life in the modern world." According to Huntington, the Islamic resurgence is similar to the 16th Century Protestant Reformation that swept Europe but will prove far more pervasive.

The world today contains 1 billion Muslims - Northern Africa to Indonesia, Nigeria to Pakistan. "Overall, Muslims will constitute about 20% of the world's population in the year 2000 but 30% in 2025."2 Even Eurasia's fulcrum of Turkey, constitutionally obligated to a non-sectarian Western-like existence, is now suffering disequilibria with Islamic fundamentalism in government policy.

At the polar opposite of Turkey is Sudan, a nation divided between cultural Arabs and black Africa; yet, its Muslim government had embarked of a course of "unifying Islamization." Algeria's Islamic militants intend to force their country to replicate Iranian fundamentalism, and these examples go on and on. One must conclude that if "Westernization" is a universal, surely "Islamization" is one as well. However, a central Islamic element is that it is not merely an effort at religio-cultural purification, but also that it is necessary to capture "civil society" with Islamic groups. This means social organizations, schools, and youth groups; in effect, a total revolutionary movement which the secular West is having trouble understanding. A "negative-active personality" is difficult to deal with.

As already established, Muslim population growth had reached astounding levels and will become a destabilizing force. It is believed that this "people surge" will propel Muslim militancy, extension of territory against neighbors, and mass migrations to different parts of the world. Most importantly, Islamic leaders believe their culture and religion more pure than in the West and Westernization has become a corrupting influence that must be rejected if not eliminated.

The "New Islam" bears striking resemblance indeed to the Protestant Reformation - a movement that at the time put fear in the hearts of every Roman-Catholic bishop and imprinted an important legacy on the history of the world. The Muslim movement afoot today, from the perspective of history, most likely will create a similar legacy. How does America position itself strategically vis a vis Islam? This is not an easy question to answer as many Muslim leaders view the West somewhat like the Vatican must have been viewed by Martin Luther. As Benard Lewis states so well, "A more accurate expression of how the Western impact is perceived by those who oppose it was given by Khomeini when he spoke of the US as 'the Great Satan.' Satan is not an imperialist; he is a tempter. He does not conquer; he seduces."


From the perspective of history, the Cold War had suddenly ended, the Soviet "Evil Empire" had dissolved, and the post-Cold War ensuing vacuum was filled for a short time with predictions of a "New World Order". However, the only thing that is clear about this pronouncement is that there was no consensus as to what the New World Order was to look like.

In the summer of 1993, Samuel Huntington sought to spell out the new base for future world conflict and to supply a model for international behavior strategies. His article, "The Clash of Civilizations" caused great controversy among foreign policy elites, most of whom rejected his unwelcomed proposal. Huntington essentially "asserted a broader vision of a world divided into major conflictual civilizations - within each are one or more 'core states' - that power was shifting from the Western to non-Western world, that decline would be a slow process, about 400 years, and will not proceed in a straight line." Huntington concluded that the "most dangerous clashes of the future are likely to arise from the interaction of Western arrogance, Islamic intolerance, and Sinic assertiveness."

The strongest criticism of Huntington came from pro-European policy elites, especially those seeking to expand NATO into Eastern Europe (perhaps their prize for winning the Cold War). Others criticize Huntington's academic rejection of the West's model of "nation-states" which has been the conventional model since World War II. As Paul Kennedy states, "With the two great wars of this century fought by developed economies and organized by modern bureaucracies, the triumph of the nation-state seemed complete...the nation-state is still at the center of things, engaged in a ceaseless jostling for advantage against other nation-states, even if recourse to war is no longer regarded as an option."

Jeanne Kirkpatrick also politely rejected the Huntington thesis as neo-xenophobic and that modernity and global communications will reshape the mindsets of the future. In effect, Huntington had underestimated the "tenacity of modernity and secularism." In summary, most elites still hold to the primacy of the nation-state model and that the major phenomenon in the world is the heterogeneity of state units, not supranational aggregations. In essence they were all saying that civilizations do not control states, but states control civilizations.

The academic foreign policy community, a half decade from the collapse of the Soviet Union, seems to have now agreed that a single overarching framework likeHuntington's civilizational model may be premature (that's putting it politely). They seem to have

generated a consensus that the U.S. international strategy should have as its top priority the "management of relations" with the quasi-superpowers of Japan, Russia, China, and Europe. After that the second tier of strategy should be to invoke the "pivotal states" paradigm (which looks like the old domino theory dusted off).

Focusing on pivotal states, Paul Kennedy believes, "might help the conceptual and political divide in the national debate between 'old' and 'new' security issues."5 Incidentally, that list of strategic or pivotal nation-states that could "turn the world up or down" were Egypt, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, Algeria, Turkey, India, and Pakistan. In summary, the Kennedy intellectuals (Yale), in opposition to the Huntington intellectuals (Harvard), postulate that by identifying pivotal states in "hot regions", the U.S. has a greater chance to bring coherence and predictability to tomorrow's world. Huntington disputes this as he believes that model is "statist" and not long-term orientated.

This reaction grew even stronger when John Ikenberry ("Foreign Affairs, May 1996)authored an essay entitled "The Myth of Post Cold War Chaos." He stated that the world order created out of the 1940's is still with us, that it is stronger than ever, and that "the task is not to discover a new order, but to reclaim the old." Furthermore, he felt that the end of the Cold War was less the end of a world order than the collapse of the communist world into an expanding Western order. "If that order is to be defended and strengthened," he continued, "its historical roots and accomplishments must be reclaimed."

One must conclude from all of the above that Huntington touched and academic sensitive nerve as scholarly criticisms keep flowing in. Basically, the statues quo elites reject the notion that history, important for the future than geopolitical and geoeconomic differences. And they certainly and vehemently rejected the notion of a "borderless world" that was incorporated into Huntington's new model.

Part V: The Agony & The Ecstacy

To understand Huntington, we must remember that he was intellectually reacting in the early 1990's to the now legendary 1989 article by Francis Fukuyama entitled "The End of History?". In that article, Fukuyama postulates from the communist collapse that "we may be witnessing --- the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy."1 Huntington, we can imagine, was so greatly incensed at this perceived over-reach and Western hubris (calling Fukuyama's idea "misguided, arrogant, false, and dangerous") that he wrote his now own legendary essay, "The Clash of Civilizations" (1993) while his recent book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996) surely will become a major intellectual treatise.

Huntington believes strongly that the U.S. is entering a completely new stage of conflict, that there are three distinct majro civilizations on the planet today (Arabs, Chinese, and Westerners) and that the fault lines between these civilizations will in the future replace current political and ideological boundaries. This new age may be called a "War of Cultures" as 21st Century religious and ethnic will inevitably come into conflict. This new stage (in his view), was preceded by the 20th Century "War of Ideologies" (Worldwide alliance of nation-states with common belief systems), further preceded by the 19th Century "War of Peoples" (nationalism proliferated) and the 16th-18th Century "War of Kings" (empires and colonizations). Huntington concedes that his book is not intended to be a work of social science but an interpretation of the evolution of global politics after the Cold War, an "alternative paradigm" if you will, to the current nation-state status quo. His view of the West's indecision and international confusion over the Bosnia Situation is proff to him that a new paradigm is needed. He expects that all the Cold War alliances built across these fault lines will unravel in the 21st Century as the imperatives of different civilizations come to dictate international relations.

So, what does all this tell us? Simply put, we now have two contrasting models of international behavior before our nation. Huntington believes he has slapped our faces into a wake-up call for our leadership. This disintegration of the Soviet Union, in his view, has provided us with a false sense of security. His "second picture" of the 21st Century is very different from the current "should the West go East" theme of many (NATO) European-oriented establishment types. Huntington may be a "declinist" but he writes with more real politic than most today.

Huntington's bottom-lined assessment: economic power is rapidly shifting to East Asia, India is on the verge of economic take-off, the Islamic World is increasingly hostile toward the West, the West's self confidence is slipping, there is an exhaustion in the West that naturally follows a 50 year Cold War, there is slow economic growth in Europe, the U.S. has an enormous federal budget deficit, as well as social disintegration (drugs, the family, crime, etc.) which has not been curtailed, and China seems ready to emerge as the challenger to the West for global influence.

However, the first picture of the 21st Century by the status quo elites believe much differently in their bottom-line assessment: the U.S. is the one remaining superpower, the West (U.S.A./G.B./Fr.) still make all the crucial decisions on the world's security issues, the West (U.S.A/Ger./Japan) still makes all the crucial decisions on the world's economic issues, the West "owns and operates" the international banking system and controls all hard curencies, is capable of massive military interventions, controls all the sea lanes, dominates access to space, and dominates international communications.

So, is the West fading or consolidating its power? If you were leading the United States into the 21st Century, which lens would you look through, which model would you study or which paradigm would you embrace intellectually? As the leaders of the world undertook the same sort of exercise at the end of the 18th Century, so must we at the end of the 20th Century.