In this three-part series, the author describes the benefits of the world order created by the U.S. after World War II. Picking out the shortcomings, he suggests how to shape a new world order. The world order created by the U.S. is termed ‘The Wonderful World’ and its biggest shortcoming was the ‘Superpower Rivalry and Proxy Wars’.
The Wonderful World
Towards the end of World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only U.S. president to have served three terms in office, and Cordell Hull, the longest-serving U.S. Secretary of State, laid the foundations for a new world order. Called the Liberal World Order (LWO), it was a blueprint for relations amongst people, societies, and nations in the emerging post-war world. Though not formally documented, the LWO was built on three fundamental principles. First, the active encouragement of representative self-governance, resulting in creation of new independent countries like India, Pakistan, China, Korea, Vietnam, Israel, among others. Second, the encouragement of multilateralism in international affairs, resulting in the creation of the UN, IMF, World Bank, WTO among other global institutions. Third, promotion of human rights resulting in the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the UN in December 1948.
Assessment: For 75 years (1945 to 2020), the US-led LWO served the people of the world very well indeed. Not only were institutions of apartheid and colonialism formally dismantled, human attitude towards these abhorrent systems changed from tolerance and denial to outright rejection and shame. Former colonies gained independence and also voices in international institutions to determine the common fate of mankind. The 30 articles of individual rights described in the UDHR have been recognised the world over, promoted by nations and international institutions and forms the bedrock legislation for the protection of the human species from tyranny and oppression. The UDHR has received widespread praise and even been described as, “… an international Magna Carta for all men everywhere…” and also as,“… one of the highest expressions of human conscience, in our times...”. There is also statistical evidence to confirm these achievements, in terms of the indices of human development (life-expectancy, education, and per-capita income)
Where did the US-led LWO fall short?
Shortcoming 1: Superpower rivalry and proxy wars
Soon after World War II, the Cold War began between the U.S. and the former USSR, creating a division between the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. Though the superpowers avoided direct confrontation, the antagonism was manifest in proxy wars. Here is a summary analysis of proxy wars, during the Cold War and in its aftermath:
(a) During the Cold War. In 1962, the former USSR used Cuba as a proxy to deploy nuclear-armed missiles in proximity to the North American continent. Since the creation of Israel, in 1948, there have been several Arab – Israel wars. The U.S. and western allies invariably supported Israel, while Arab nations continued to support Palestine groups. During the 1971 India – Pakistan war, the U.S. supported Pakistan, while the former USSR supported India. By 1991, the USSR had disintegrated, leading to the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and for a short while, the world veered unipolar, demonstrated during the first Gulf War in 1990-91.
Assessment: In hindsight, 1991 was a missed opportunity. The collapse of the Warsaw Pact, was an opportune moment to dismantle the NATO or evolve the organisation into a more impartial form. NATO could have evolved into the armed forces of the UN, which to date remains bereft of an armed force to implement its mandates.
(b) Post-Cold War. Despite the reduction in threat after the Cold War, mistrust between nation states was exploited by opportunist interests, to create even more divide. The U.S. continues to directly support parties to the conflict in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. Russia directly supports parties to the conflict in Crimea, Ukraine, and Libya. Following the example of world powers, Saudi Arabia provides direct support to anti-Houthi groups in Yemen; the EU provides direct military support in Mali; Pakistan provides direct support to militant groups in India; and Iran provides direct support to groups in Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Turkey.
Assessment: Described by strategists, as 4th Generation Warfare, subversive conflict has affected the lives of millions across the globe. Non-state actors, receiving support from unidentified benefactors, have inflicted death and destruction on civilians in South-East Asia (the Philippines, Indonesia); South-Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka); Middle-East (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Libya); Africa (Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Mali); and South America (Columbia, Peru, Venezuela).
Analysis: In 1648, after the 30-Year War, many countries of Europe saw wisdom in signing the Treaty of Westphalia. The treaty introduced the concept of sovereignty in international relations, which even after 372 years continues to remain a guiding principle, at least on paper. Sovereignty is the recognition of the legitimate and supreme authority of a government over its’ people. A proxy war is indeed a violation of the principle of sovereignty, but while powerful nations violate national sovereignty with impunity, smaller nations like Pakistan and Iran, mask their involvement with ‘plausible deniability’.
Recommendation: In our increasingly integrated and connected world, national sovereignty also needs to adapt. In the globalised world, we should continue to encourage the free movement of people, capital, goods, services, and information. The protection that national sovereignty requires is from masked threats across borders. In the new world order, we need to distinguish between engagement and interference in international affairs. Support to armed groups in another country definitely constitutes interference, while financial support in election campaigns could be legitimate, if accompanied with full disclosure.