Post Cold War World Order

Notes taken primarily from Andrew Heywood's book on Global Politics - no copyright infringement intended. 

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Post-Cold War Global Order
World Order: The distribution of power between and amongst states and other key
actors giving rise to a relatively stable pattern of relationships and behaviours.
The most prominent feature of the Cold War period was bipolarity ­ that two major power
blocs confronted one another; a US-dominated West and a Soviet-dominated east. In the
aftermath of WWII the USA and Soviet Union emerged as `superpowers'.
What were the implications for the international system of Cold
War bipolarity?
Neorealists: bipolarity is baiased in favour of sability and order. Bipolar systems
tend towards a balance of power. Once a condition of MAD was achieved, the two
superpowers effectively cancelled each other out, albeit through a `balance of
terror'. Second stability of this period was guaranteed by the fact that there were
but two key actors, fewer great powers reduced the possibilities of great-power
One criticism of the bipolarity system was that it strengthened imperialist
tendencies, discouraging direct confrontation as each sought to extend its control
over its sphere of influence. Leading to neo-colonialism in the capitalist West ­
Vietnam ­ and Soviet invasions ­ Afghanistan 1979.
Superpower rivalry and a strategy of nuclear deterrents produced conditions of
ongoing tension that always threatened to make Cold War `hot'
In many ways the USA become the hegemonic power in 1945, with the Soviet Union
always as a challenger but never as an equal. This was reflected in the fact that while the
SU was undoubtedly a military superpower it, arguably, never achieved the status of an
economic superpower. Moreover, the imbalance between its military capacity and its level
of economic development always made it vulnerable. This vulnerability was exploited by
Ronald Regan's `Second Cold War' in the 1980s, when increased US military spending put
massive pressure on the fragile and inefficient Soviet economy, providing the context for
Gorbachev reform process.
The `New World Order' and its Fate
The end of the Cold War produced a burst of enthusiasm for the ideas of liberal
internationalism. The idea that the post-Cold War era would be characterised by a `new
world order' was first mooted by Gorbachev in a speech ot the UN General Assembly in
December 1988. In 1989 Bush Sr and Gorbachev committed themselves to a shift from an
era of containment and superpower antagonism to one of superpower cooperation based
on new security arrangements. In his `Towards a New World Order' speech to Congress in
1990 Bush outlined his vision for the post-Cold War world:
US leadership to ensure the international rule of law
A partnership between the USA and the Soviet Union including the integration of
the latter into the world economic bodies

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Gulf War showed that the international community should protect the
sovereign independence of all regimes, regardless of their complexion, and not give
priority to liberal-democratic states on the grounds that they are likely to be more
However this did not last long and it is mostly seen as a catchphrase as opposed to
something grounded in a developed strategic vision. There were also many problematic
questions to these aims.…read more


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