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Among practitioners and scientific observers, it is widely believed that the global international order is in dire straits (Duncombe & Dunne 2018; Alexandroff 2017). There is much to suggest that the old, Western-dominated world order ended in the last years at the latest and will be replaced by a, in the words of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, "post-West world order” (Stent 2018) whose contours are still too indeterminate to be able to characterize them unambiguously. Against this background, I pursue three main objectives in this review: In the second chapter, following the introduction, I will reflect on what is understood as global international order and why we need to look at it. The third chapter will give an overview of the old order and its development. Chapter four sketches trajectories of a newly emerging order with the help of two observable trends. In the fifth chapter I will finally focus on the impacts of the described changes in the world order on the process of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals from the Agenda 2030.
In social science1 the term global international order (or world order (see Kissinger 2015)) is used to describe a specific and at the same time the geographically and socially most comprehensive form of political order. It locates international politics in the larger context of world politics as a continuum that reaches from the smallest political unit, the commune, to the largest, the United Nations. International politics is closely intertwined and interlocked with other dimensions of politics, especially with state domestic politics. The global international order enables the state-constituted world society to shape its coexistence and its future in a self-determined way on the basis of a common draft, however loose and non-binding it may be. This means that each political order contains specific principles and values, which form the basis of this joint draft of society. Political orders also contain rules, procedures and institutions for implementing this draft. If it finds broad approval in the respective social context, the order can be regarded as legitimate, if it succeeds in sufficiently implementing the draft, the order is effective. Legitimacy and effectiveness are the two pillars on which political authority can be permanently built and thus become power. Power is limited by institutions and primarily by the principle of sovereign equality of states, which continues to determine international politics. (Maull 2018; Ikenberry 2010; Bull 2012; Hurrell 2005).
According to the British political scientist Andrew Hurrell, every political order has three basic tasks to accomplish that can be used to evaluate the order: dealing with power, enforcing common interests, and mediatizing conflicts (2005). Dealing with power can mean restricting its exercise or, alternatively, bringing together and pooling power resources where power has become too diffuse and has thus lost its ability to shape policy. Due to growing international interdependence, states are increasingly only able to assert many of their interests jointly with other states. Enforcing common interests means overcoming the well-known problems of collective action, such as the temptation to free ride and mediatizing conflicts is the possibility of resolving conflicts in an international order without military force. (Hurrell 2005).
In international relations, the term liberal international order (LIO) means the idea that current international relations are organised around the guiding principles of open markets, multilateral institutions, human rights, liberal democracy, and with leadership by the United States and its Western allies. International organisations play a central role in the LIO. The World Bank provides aid to developing countries, while the World Trade Organization creates and implements free trade agreements. The legitimacy of the order is based on the notion that liberal trade and free markets will contribute to global prosperity and peace, while for many years critics argue that the LIO is a system that favours the Western countries as seen in voting shares in the World Bank and the International Monetary fund. (Ikenberry 2011; Mazarr 2018).
Many scientists regard the LIO to be established in the aftermath of World War II, and it is often associated with the idea of Pax Americana. A closer historical look, however, shows that the LIO, whose foundation was laid in 1941 with the Atlantic Charter, only existed for a short time in the post-war period. The alliance of the victorious powers quickly disintegrated, with the result that from 1947 the LIO was increasingly overshadowed by the Cold War and thus displaced by the East-West conflict order, which did not end until 1990. Whereas the LIO had previously regulated relations between Western states and between them and most developing countries as a partial order, it became the sole international order after the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the Soviet Union itself. (Maull 2018; Ikenberry 2010).
Today, there is a surprisingly wide shared agreement among scholars from very different schools of thought such as realism or liberalism that the LIO is in decay (Duncombe & Dunne 2018). Although the LIO is still hugely shaping world politics and the emergence of a new order has only begun, some characteristics of it can be recognised by looking at the trajectories of change today. In the following chapter I want to examine two developments in order to sketch a draft of the characteristics of a new world order.
The LIO emerged when China and India were weak, when the European Union less powerfull, when the developing world was regarded as universally poor and unstable, and when the United States’ economy was the dominant economy in the world. Two trends outside the Western nation states can be observed today. First, there is a shift of power between states. While still being the strongest military power on earth, the US lost its unique, hegemonic power positing due to the relative catch up of other nations. Especially China is now increasing its military strength in addition to its economic power. Other states such as Great Britain that formed pillars of the ILO are falling behind in power. The dominance of the West is already gone in population, partly in economic power and will consequently diminish in military power in the near future. (Mazarr 2018).
In addition to that, many small and mid-size states develop global interests due to a continuing globalisation and a more integrated world in which the interdependence of states and problems such as climate change are increasing. There is first a shift of power from almost hegemonic US or NATO centred power to other powerful nations such as China and second, a broader distribution of power among more states. This leads to a decay of the power of the formal intergovernmental organisations such as the World Trade Organization that are constituting elements of the LIO, because these organisations do not represent today’s power distribution. Vabulas and Snidal show that especially “weak-but-rising-power states utilize IIGOs [informal intergovernmental organisations] to work around institutional constraints that favor existing great powers” (2013, p. 214), which leads to new global actors.
The development does not stop at the national level. Sub-state actors are more and more part of and affected by the global system and develop ways of influencing it. The Global Climate Action Summit 2018 in San Francisco is an example for non-state actors tackling challenges and influencing changes on the global level.
The current international order is already a multi-level order in which national, regional or functional suborders and the international order are closely interwoven and interact. States still play a special role, both in regional and functional suborders beyond the nation-state and at the global level. It is predominantly government representatives who take the decisions and thus confer national authority on them. The future order, however, will be characterised by a significant increase in the number of relevant state and non-state actors, more diversity and heterogeneity of interests in global society, a rapidly increasing number and density of interactions and a different, more multipolar, distribution of power (Mazarr 2018).
1 This view differs from a system-theoretical view primarily by the assumption that the analysis of international politics can be meaningfully based on a world society or a state society. See also Bull (2012).
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