The term "new world order" has been used to refer to a new period of history evidencing a dramatic change in world political thought and the balance of power. The first usages of the term surrounded Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points and call for a League of Nations following the devastation of World War I. The phrase was used sparingly at the end of the Second World War when describing the plans for the United Nations and Bretton Woods system, in part because of the negative association to the failed League of Nations the phrase would bring. In retrospect however, many commentators have applied the term retroactively to the order put in place by the WWII victors as a "new world order."
The most widely discussed application of the phrase of recent times came at the end of the Cold War. Presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush used the term to try to define the nature of the post Cold War era, and the spirit of great power cooperation that they hoped might materialize. Gorbachev's initial formulation was wide ranging and idealistic, but his ability to press for it was severely limited by the internal crisis of the Soviet system. Bush's vision was, in comparison, much more circumscribed and pragmatic, perhaps even instrumental at times, and closely linked to the Gulf War. Perhaps not surprisingly, the perception of what the new world order entailed in the press and in the public imagination far outstripped what either Gorbachev or Bush had outlined, and was characterized by nearly comprehensive optimism.
The phrase "new world order" was explicitly used in connection with Woodrow Wilson's designs in the period just after World War I, during the formation of the League of Nations. The "war to end all wars" had been a powerful catalyst in international politics, and many felt the world could simply no longer operate as it once had. The first world war had been justified not only in terms of U.S. national interest but in moral terms—to "make the world safe for democracy." After the war, Wilson argued for a new world order which transcended traditional great power politics, instead emphasizing collective security, democracy, and self-determination. However, the United States Senate rejected membership of the League of Nations, which Wilson believed to be the key to a new world order. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge argued that American policy should be based on human nature "as it is, not as it ought to be."
The term fell from use when it became clear the League was not living up to the over-optimistic expectation, and as a consequence was used very little during the formation of the United Nations. Former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim felt that this new world order was a projection of the American dream into Europe, and that, in its naïveté, the idea of a new order had been used to further the parochial interests of Lloyd George and Clemenceau, thus ensuring the League's eventual failure. Although some have claimed the phrase was not used at all, Virginia Gildersleeve, the sole female delegate to the San Francisco Conference in April 1945, did use it in an interview with the New York Times.
The phrase was used by some in retrospect when assessing the creation of the post-World War II set of international institutions: the United Nations; the U.S. security alliances such as NATO; the Bretton Woods system of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development; and even the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan were seen as characterizing or comprising this new order.
H.G. Wells wrote a book published in 1940 entitled The New World Order. The book addressed the ideal of a world without war in which law and order emanated from a world governing body and examined various proposals and ideas.
The phrase "new world order", as used to herald in the post-Cold War era, did not have a developed or substantive definition. There appear to be three distinct periods in which it was progressively redefined, first by the Soviets, and later by the United States before the Malta Conference, and again after Bush's speech of 11 September 1990. Throughout the period of the phrase’s use, the public seemed to expect much more from the phrase than any politicians did, and predictions about the new order quickly outraced the rather lukewarm descriptions made in official speeches.
Three days later, a Guardian article quotes NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner as saying that the Soviets have come close to accepting NATO’s doctrine of military stability based on a mix of nuclear as well as conventional arms. This, in his opinion, would spur the creation of "a new security framework" and a move towards "a new world order."
But the principal statement creating the new world order concept came from Mikhail Gorbachev’s 7 December 1988 speech to the United Nations General Assembly. His formulation included an extensive list of ideas in creating a new order. He advocated strengthening the central role of the United Nations, and the active involvement of all members—the Cold War had prevented the UN and its Security Council from performing their roles as initially envisioned. The de-ideologizing of relations among states was the mechanism through which this new level of cooperation could be achieved. Concurrently, Gorbachev recognized only one world economy—essentially an end to economic blocs. Furthermore, he advocated Soviet entry into several important international organizations, such as the CSCE and International Court of Justice. Reinvigoration of the UN peacekeeping role, and recognition that superpower cooperation can and will lead to the resolution of regional conflicts was especially key in his conception of cooperation. He argued that the use of force or the threat of the use of force was no longer legitimate, and that the strong must demonstrate restraint toward the weak. He foresaw, as the major powers of the world, the United States, the Soviet Union, Europe, India, China, Japan, and Brazil. He asked for cooperation on environmental protection, on debt relief for developing countries, on disarmament of nuclear weapons, on preservation of the ABM treaty, and on a convention for the elimination of chemical weapons. At the same time he promised the significant withdrawal of Soviet forces from Eastern Europe and Asia, as well as an end to the jamming of Radio Liberty.
Gorbachev described a phenomenon that could be described as a global political awakening:
We are witnessing most profound social change. Whether in the East or the South, the West or the North, hundreds of millions of people, new nations and states, new public movements and ideologies have moved to the forefront of history. Broad-based and frequently turbulent popular movements have given expression, in a multidimensional and contradictory way, to a longing for independence, democracy and social justice. The idea of democratizing the entire world order has become a powerful socio-political force. At the same time, the scientific and technological revolution has turned many economic, food, energy, environmental, information and population problems, which only recently we treated as national or regional ones, into global problems. Thanks to the advances in mass media and means of transportation, the world seems to have become more visible and tangible. International communication has become easier than ever before.
In the press, Gorbachev was compared to Woodrow Wilson giving the Fourteen Points, to FDR and Churchill promulgating the Atlantic Charter, and to Marshall and Truman building the Western Alliance. His speech, while visionary, was to be approached with caution. He was seen as attempting a fundamental redefinition of international relationships, on economic and environmental levels. His support "for independence, democracy and social justice" was highlighted. But the principle message taken from his speech was that of a new world order based on pluralism, tolerance, and cooperation.
For a new type of progress throughout the world to become a reality, everyone must change. Tolerance is the alpha and omega of a new world order. — Gorbachev, June 1990
A month later, Time Magazine ran a longer analysis of the speech and its possible implications. The promises of a new world order based on the forswearing of military use of force was viewed partially as a threat, which might "lure the West toward complacency" and "woo Western Europe into neutered neutralism." The more overriding threat, however, was that the West did not yet have any imaginative response to Gorbachev—leaving the Soviets with the moral initiative, and solidifying Gorbachev’s place as "the most popular world leader in much of Western Europe." The article noted as important his de-ideologized stance, willingness to give up use of force, commitment to troop cuts in Eastern Europe (accelerating political change there), and compliance with the ABM treaty. According to the article, the new world order seemed to imply: shifting of resources from military to domestic needs; a world community of states based on the rule of law; a dwindling of security alliances like NATO and the Warsaw Pact; and, an inevitable move toward European integration. The author of the Time article felt that Bush should counter Gorbachev’s "common home" rhetoric toward the Europeans with the idea of "common ideals," turning an alliance of necessity into one of shared values. Gorbachev’s repudiation of expansionism leaves America in a good position, no longer having to support anti-communist dictators, and able to pursue better goals: the environment, nonproliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, reducing famine and poverty, and resolving regional conflicts. Similarly, in A World Transformed, Bush and Scowcroft’s concern about losing leadership to Gorbachev is noted, and they worry that the Europeans might stop following the U.S. if it appears to drag its feet.
As Europe passed into the new year, the implications of the new world order for the European Community surfaced. The EC was seen as the vehicle for integrating East and West in such a manner that they could "pool their resources and defend their specific interests in dealings with those superpowers on something more like equal terms." It would be less exclusively tied to the U.S., and stretch "from Brest to Brest-Litovsk, or at least from Dublin to Lublin." By July 1989, newspapers were still criticizing Bush for his lack of response to Gorbachev’s proposals. Bush visited Europe but "left undefined for those on both sides of the Iron Curtain his vision for the new world order", leading commentators to view the U.S. as overly cautious and reactive, rather than pursuing long-range strategic goals.
In A World Transformed, Bush and Scowcroft craft a strategy of flooding Gorbachev with proposals at the Malta Conference to catch him off guard, preventing the U.S. from coming out of the summit on the defensive.
The Malta Conference of 2-3 December 1989 reinvigorated discussion of the new world order. Various new concepts arose in the press as elements on the new order. Commentators expected the replacement of containment with superpower cooperation. This cooperation might then tackle problems such as reducing armaments and troop deployments, settling regional disputes, stimulating economic growth, lessening East-West trade restrictions, the inclusion of the Soviets in international economic institutions, and protecting the environment. Pursuant to superpower cooperation, a new role for NATO was forecast, with the organization perhaps changing into a forum for negotiation and treaty verification, or even a wholesale dissolution of NATO and the Warsaw Pact following the resurrection of the four-power framework from WWII (i.e. the U.S., United Kingdom, France, and Russia). However, continued U.S. military presence in Europe was expected to help contain "historic antagonisms", thus making possible a new European order.
In Europe, German reunification was seen as part of the new order. However, Strobe Talbott saw it as more of a brake on the new era, and believed Malta to be a holding action on part of the superpowers designed to forestall the "new world order" because of the German question. Political change in Eastern Europe also arose on the agenda. The Eastern Europeans believed that the new world order didn’t signify superpower leadership, but that superpower dominance was coming to an end.
In general, the new security structure arising from superpower cooperation seemed to indicate to observers that the new world order would be based on the principles of political liberty, self-determination, and non-intervention. This would mean an end to the sponsoring of military conflicts in third countries, restrictions on global arms sales, and greater engagement in the Middle East (especially regarding Syria, Palestine, and Israel). The U.S. might use this opportunity to more emphatically promote human rights in China and South Africa.
Economically, debt relief was expected to be a significant issue, as East-West competition would give way to North-South cooperation. Economic tripolarity would arise with the U.S., Germany, and Japan as the three motors of world growth. Meanwhile, the Soviet social and economic crisis was manifestly going to limit its ability to project power abroad, thus necessitating continued U.S. leadership.
Commentators assessing the results of the Conference, and how the pronouncements measured up to expectations, were underwhelmed. Bush was criticized for taking refuge behind notions of "status quo-plus" rather than a full commitment to new world order. Others noted that Bush thus far failed to satisfy the out-of-control "soaring expectations" that Gorbachev’s speech unleashed.
Bush started to take the initiative from Gorbachev during the run-up to the Gulf War, when he began to define the elements of the new world order as he saw it, and link the new order’s success to the international community’s response in Kuwait.
Initial agreement by the Soviets to allow action against Saddam highlighted this linkage in the press. The Washington Post declared that this superpower cooperation demonstrates that the Soviet Union has joined the international community, and that in the new world order Saddam faces not just the U.S. but the international community itself. A New York Times editorial was the first to assert that at stake in the collective response to Saddam was "nothing less than the new world order which [Bush] and other leaders struggle to shape."
In A World Transformed, Scowcroft notes that Bush even offered to have Soviet troops amongst the coalition forces liberating Kuwait. Bush places the fate of the new world order on the ability of the U.S. and the Soviet Union to respond to Hussein’s aggression. The idea that the Gulf War would usher in the new world order began to take shape. Bush notes that the "premise [was] that the United States henceforth would be obligated to lead the world community to an unprecedented degree, as demonstrated by the Iraqi crisis, and that we should attempt to pursue our national interests, wherever possible, within a framework of concert with our friends and the international community."
A pivotal point came with Bush’s 11 September 1990 "Toward a New World Order" speech (Toward a New World Order) to a joint session of Congress. This time it was Bush, not Gorbachev, whose idealism was compared to Woodrow Wilson, and to FDR at the creation of the UN. Key points picked up in the press were:
These were the common themes that emerged from reporting about Bush’s speech and its implications. Critics held that Bush and Baker remained too vague about what exactly the order entailed.
Does it mean a strengthened U.N.? And new regional security arrangements in the gulf and elsewhere? Will the U.S. be willing to put its own military under international leadership? In the Gulf, Mr. Bush has rejected a U.N. command outright. Sometimes, when Administration officials describe their goals, they say the U.S. must reduce its military burden and commitment. Other times, they appear determined to seek new arrangements in order to preserve U.S. military supremacy and to justify new expenditures.The New York Times observed that the American left was calling the new world order a "rationalization for imperial ambitions" in the Middle East, while the right rejected new security arrangements altogether and fulminated about any possibility of UN revival. Pat Buchanan predicted that the Gulf War would in fact be the demise of the new world order, the concept of UN peacekeeping, and the U.S.'s role as global policeman.
The LA Times reported that the speech signified more than just the rhetoric about superpower cooperation. In fact, the deeper reality of the new world order was the United States’ emergence "as the single greatest power in a multipolar world." Moscow was crippled by internal problems, and thus unable to project power abroad. The United States, while hampered by economic malaise, was militarily unconstrained for the first time since the end of WWII. Militarily, it was now a unipolar world, as illustrated by the Gulf crisis. While diplomatic rhetoric stressed a U.S.-Soviet partnership, the U.S. was deploying troops to Saudi Arabia, a mere 700 miles from the Soviet frontier, and was preparing for war against a former Soviet client state. Further, U.S. authority over the Soviets was displayed in 1) the unification of Germany, withdrawal of Soviet forces, and almost open appeal to Washington for aid in managing the Soviet transition to democracy, 2) withdrawal of Soviet support for Third World clients, and 3) Soviets seeking economic aid through membership in Western international economic and trade communities.
The Economist published an article explaining the drive toward the Gulf War in terms presaging the run-up to the Iraq War of 2003. The author notes directly that despite the coalition, in the minds of most governments this is America's war, and Bush that "chose to stake his political life on defeating Mr Hussein." An attack on Iraq would certainly shatter Bush’s alliance, they assert, predicting calls from Security Council members saying that diplomacy should have been given more time, and that they will not wish to allow a course of action "that leaves America sitting too prettily as sole remaining superpower." When the unanimity of the Security Council ends, "all that lovely talk about the new world order" will too. And when casualties mount, "Bush will be called a warmonger, an imperialist and a bully." The article goes on to say that Bush and James Baker’s speechifying cannot save the new world order once they launch a controversial war. It closes noting that a wide consensus is not necessary for U.S. action—only a hard core of supporters: Saudi Arabia, Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Egypt, and Britain. The rest need only not interfere.
In a passage with similar echoes of the future, Bush and Scowcroft explain in A World Transformed the role of the UN Secretary General in attempting to avert the Gulf War. UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar arrived at Camp David to ask what he could do to head off the war. Bush told him that it was important that we get full implementation on every UN resolution. "If we compromise, we weaken the UN and our own credibility in building this new world order," I said. "I think Saddam Hussein doesn’t believe force will be used—or if it is, he can produce a stalemate." Additional meetings between Baker or Pérez and the Iraqis are rejected for fear that they will simply come back empty-handed once again. Bush fears that Javier will be cover for Hussein’s manipulations. Pérez suggests another Security Council meeting, but Bush sees no reason for one.
Following the Gulf conflict—which was seen as the crucible in which great power cooperation and collective security would emerge the new norms of the era—several academic assessments of the "new world order" idea were published.
John Lewis Gaddis, a Cold War historian, wrote in Foreign Affairs about what he saw as the key characteristics of the potential new order: unchallenged American primacy, increasing integration, resurgent nationalism and religiosity, a diffusion of security threats, and collective security. He casts the fundamental challenge as one of integration versus fragmentation, and the concomitant benefits and dangers associated with each. Changes in communications, the international economic system, the nature of security threats, and the rapid spread of new ideas would prevent nations from retreating into isolation. In light of this, Gaddis sees a chance for the democratic peace predicted by liberal international relations theorists to come closer to reality. However, he illustrates that not only is the fragmentary pressure of nationalism manifest in the former Communist bloc countries and the Third World, but is also a considerable factor in the West. Further, a revitalized Islam could play both integrating and fragmenting roles—emphasizing common identity, but also contributing to new conflicts that could resemble the Lebanese Civil War. The integration coming from the new order could also aggravate ecological, demographic, and epidemic threats. National self-determination, leading to the breakup and reunification of states (such as Yugoslavia on one hand, and Germany on the other) could signal abrupt shifts in the balance of power, with a destabilizing effect. Integrated markets, especially energy markets, are now a security liability for the world economic system, as events affecting energy security in one part of the globe could threaten countries far removed from potential conflicts. Finally, diffusion of security threats requires a new security paradigm involving low-intensity but more frequent deployment of peacekeeping troops—a type of mission that is hard to sustain under budgetary or public opinion pressure. Gaddis calls for aid to Eastern European countries, updated security and economic regimes for Europe, UN-based regional conflict resolution, a slower pace of international economic integration, and paying off the U.S. deficit.
However, statesman Strobe Talbott wrote of the new world order that it was only in the aftermath of the Gulf War that the United Nations took a step toward redefining its role to take account of both interstate relations and intrastate events. Furthermore, he asserted that it was only as an unintended postscript to Desert Storm that Bush gave meaning to the "new world order" slogan. But, by the end of the year Bush stopped talking about a new world order. His advisers explained that he had dropped the phrase because he felt it suggested more enthusiasm for the changes sweeping the planet than he actually felt. He wanted, as an antidote to the uncertainties of the world, to stress the old verities of territorial integrity, national sovereignty and international stability. David Gergen suggested at the time that it was the recession of 1991-92 which finally killed the new world order idea within the White House. The economic downturn took a deeper psychological toll than expected while domestic politics were increasingly frustrated by paralysis, with the result that the United States toward the end of 1991 turned increasingly pessimistic, inward and nationalistic.
In 1992, Hans Köchler published a critical assessment of the notion of the "new world order," describing it as an ideological tool of legitimation of the global exercise of power by the US in a unipolar environment. In Joseph S. Nye, Jr.'s analysis (1992), the collapse of the Soviet Union did not issue in a new world order per se, but rather simply allowed for the reappearance of the liberal institutional order that was supposed to have come into effect in 1945. This success of this order was not a fait accomplis, however. Three years later, G. John Ikenberry would reaffirm Nye's idea of a reclamation of the ideal post-WWII order, but would dispute the nay-sayers who had predicted post-Cold War chaos. By 1997, Anne-Marie Slaughter produced an analysis calling the restoration of the post-WWII order a "chimera... infeasible at best and dangerous at worst." In her view, the new order was not a liberal institutionalist one, but one in which state authority disaggregated and decentralized in the face of globalization.
Despite the criticisms of the new world order concept, ranging from its practical unworkability to its theoretical incoherence, Bill Clinton not only signed on to the idea of the "new world order," but dramatically expanded the concept beyond Bush's formulation. The essence of Clinton's election year critique was that Bush had done too little, not too much. Following the rise of Boris Yeltsin, eclipsing Mikhail Gorbachev, and the election victory of Clinton over George H.W. Bush, the term "new world order" fell from common usage. It was replaced by competing, similar concepts about how the post-Cold War order would develop. Prominent among these were the ideas of the "era of globalization," the "unipolar moment," the "end of history," and the "Clash of Civilizations."
A 2001 paper in Presidential Studies Quarterly examined the idea of the "new world order" as it was presented by the Bush administration (mostly ignoring previous uses by Gorbachev). Their conclusion was that Bush really only ever had three firm aspects to the new world order:
These were not developed into a policy architecture, but came about incrementally as a function of domestic, personal, and global factors. Because of the somewhat overblown expectations for the new world order in the media, Bush was widely criticized for lacking vision.
The Gulf crisis is seen as the catalyst for Bush’s development and implementation of the new world order concept. The authors note that before the crisis, the concept remained "ambiguous, nascent, and unproven" and that the United States had not assumed a leadership role with respect to the new order. Essentially, the Cold War's end was the permissive cause for the new world order, but the Gulf crisis was the active cause.
They reveal that in August 1990, U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles W. Freeman, Jr. sent a cable to Washington from Saudi Arabia in which he argued that U.S. conduct in the Gulf crisis would determine the nature of the world. Bush would then refer to the "new world order" at least 42 times from the summer of 1990 to the end of March 1991. They also note that Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney gave three priorities to the Senate on fighting the Gulf War: prevent further aggression; protect oil supplies; and, further a new world order. The authors note that the new world order did not emerge in policy speeches until after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, maintaining that the concept was clearly not critical in the U.S. decision to deploy. John H. Sununu later indicated that the administration wanted to refrain from talking about the concept until Soviet collapse was more clear. A reversal of Soviet collapse would have been the death knell for the new order.
Bush and Scowcroft were frustrated by the exaggerated and distorted ideas surrounding the new world order. They did not intend to suggest that the U.S. would yield significant influence to the UN, or that they expected the world to enter an era of peace and tranquility. They preferred multilateralism, but did not reject unilateralism. The new world order did not signal peace, but a "challenge to keep the dangers of disorder at bay."
Bush’s drive toward the Gulf War was based on the world making a clear choice. Baker recalls that UNSCR 660’s "language was simply and crystal clear, purposely designed by us to frame the vote as being for or against aggression". Bush's motivation centered around 1) the dangers of appeasement, and 2) failure to check aggression could spark further aggression. Bush repeatedly invoked images of World War II in this connection, and became very emotional over Iraqi atrocities being committed in Kuwait. He also believed that failure to check Iraqi aggression would lead to more challenges to the U.S.-favored status quo and global stability. While the end of the Cold War increased U.S. security globally, it remained vulnerable to regional threats. Furthermore, Washington believed that addressing the Iraqi threat would help reassert U.S. predominance in light of growing concerns about relative decline, following the resurgence of Germany and Japan.
The Gulf War was also framed as a test case for UN credibility. As a model for dealing with aggressors, Scowcroft believed that the United States ought to act in a way that others can trust, and thus get UN support. It was critical that the U.S. not look like it was throwing its weight around. Great power cooperation and UN support would collapse if the U.S. marched on the Baghdad to try and remake Iraq. However, practically, superpower cooperation was limited. For example, when the U.S. deployed troops to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze became furious at not being consulted.
By 1992, the authors note, the U.S. was already abandoning the idea of collective action. The leaked draft of the (Wolfowitz-Libby) 1992 Defense Guidance Report effectively confirmed this shift, as it called for a unilateral role for the U.S. in world affairs, focusing on preserving American dominance.
In closing A World Transformed, Scowcroft sums up what his expectations were for the new world order. He states that the U.S. has the strength and the resources to pursue its own interests, but has a disproportionate responsibility to use its power in pursuit of the common good, as well as an obligation to lead and to be involved. The U.S. is perceived as uncomfortable in exercising its power, and ought to work to create predictability and stability in international relations. America need not be embroiled in every conflict, but ought to aid in developing multilateral responses to them. The U.S. can unilaterally broker disputes, but ought to act whenever possible in concert with equally committed partners to deter major aggression.
The most recent usage of the phrase came from United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who called for a "new world order" in a 2007 speech in New Delhi, to reflect the rise of Asia and growing concerns over global warming and finance. Brown said the new world order should incorporate a better representation of "the biggest shift in the balance of economic power in the world in two centuries." He then went on, "To succeed now, the post-war rules of the game and the post-war international institutions -- fit for the Cold War and a world of just 50 states -- must be radically reformed to fit our world of globalisation." He also called for the revamping of post-war global institutions including the World Bank, G8 and International Monetary Fund. Other elements of Brown's formulation include spending £100 million a year on setting up a rapid reaction force to intervene in failed states.