Ever since the ‘cluster of Copenhagen’ ended in open disarray I’ve been blogging about the breakdown of the movement to fight climate change through the negotiation of an international treaty. These days, I’m increasingly wondering whether the climate meltdown is just one aspect of something much bigger. It’s beginning to look as if the whole New World Order project could be breaking down.The “New World Order” is an American-led, European- and Japanese-influenced attempt to build a single worldwide network of institutions and laws that would govern most aspects of the emerging international system. From the World Trade Organization to the International Criminal Court, the thickening network of institutions and agreements would shape politics, investment, trade and energy use around the world. The movement to monitor and regulate the world’s energy use would have been the capstone of this effort. Energy is the lifeblood of the modern economy; establishing an international authority with the ability essentially to allocate energy use among the world’s countries would be an extraordinary historical development.In American foreign policy, the effort to build a new world order reflected the ambitions of a globalist coalition including both the Hamiltonian and Wilsonian foreign policy schools. Modern Hamiltonians want the United States to build a world order that promotes the interests of American business and anchors the security interests of the United States in a global network of alliances. Wilsonians want this Hamiltonian world order to reflect American ideals; Hamiltonians get excited about the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, but Wilsonians focus on international law, arms control and human rights.
For both Wilsonian and Hamiltonian globalists, the end of the Cold War was an opportunity to build the kind of international system they have wanted for a very long time. During the first Bush administration and the Clinton years, this vision dominated American foreign policy. George W. Bush was never much of a globalist; after 9/11 he set the globalist agenda aside to fight the War on Terror. That put him at odds with most of the foreign policy establishment which continued to see the creation of the ‘New World Order’ as the most important strategic challenge facing the United States. For globalists, it was vital to avoid polarizing world politics or alienating potential partners while the work of building the foundations of the world order went on. By elevating the ‘strategic threat’ of international terror over the ‘strategic opportunity’ of building the New World Order, Bush in their view fundamentally misunderstood American interests.Partly as a result of Bush’s failure to generate a politically sustainable base of support at home or abroad for his war policy, most of the foreign policy establishment is solidly united behind either the Hamiltonian or the Wilsonian vision of the globalist project and the Obama administration came into office determined to reinvigorate the quest for the New World Order.There is, however, a yawning gap between what the American foreign policy establishment mostly wants and what the world can or will do. It isn’t just climate change. The Doha Round of trade talks at the World Trade Organization shows no sign of coming to a conclusion. The difficulties that the United States has encountered in trying to get Security Council support for tough sanctions against Iran suggest a continued decline in the effectiveness of the United Nations.For better or worse, I’m beginning to think that the whole sweeping and daring new world order project may have reached its limits. It’s not simply that the complex and intrusive nature of any effective international climate change agreement makes it virtually impossible to negotiate a binding international treaty (much less get that treaty through the US Senate); it’s that the global economy is becoming too dynamic and complex, and world history is moving too quickly for the architects of the international system.The New World Order is an artifact of the 1980s and it looks back rather than ahead. (more…)