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The emerging global order

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COMMENTS

25 March 2008 12:17

Guest blogger: Senator Russell Trood (pictured), Liberal senator from Queensland and Deputy Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee. His Lowy Institute Paper, The emerging global order, was launched last week.

The international system is going though a period of profound change. While the strategic attentions of many Western governments are focused on terrorism and the struggle for power in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fault lines that now divide the international community are redrawing the contours of the geopolitical landscape. Over time, the effect of sweeping change could well undermine the foundations of the Western liberal order. But even if the global shift is less profound, change seems certain to transform the ‘context for living globally’.

The fault-lines that now divide the international community reflect clashes of powerful interests in international relations. They revolve around five major issues: globalisation; American primacy; ideology; environmental sustainability; and the future of the nation-state. The challenges posed by the resolution of these issues are likely to shape the character of the global order over coming decades.

The forces now reshaping the global order are having a significant impact on the character of at least three of international society’s most venerable institutions: war, international law and international organisation. Each is an elemental part of the Western liberal order and each is changing, offering prospects that are both reassuring and troubling.

The international community’s attachment to war (and the use of military force more generally) shows little sign of diminishing and its lethality is increasing. At the same time, intrastate conflict is on the rise, as is the incidence of asymmetrical warfare.

The salience of international law has risen as the liberal order has expanded, but in an anarchical international system it has always struggled for authority and is now going through one of its periodic crises of confidence. Ironically, however, driven by the relentless forces of globalisation, the domain of international law is expanding.

The future of international organisation is less certain as it confronts a troubling deficit of legitimacy, weakening both organisation and multilateralism as tools of foreign policy and undermining the institutionalism that is also a key element of Western liberalism.

Meanwhile, change is having a marked impact on the international strategic environment, generating both complexity and ambiguity. While territorial threats from international competitors are generally easily identified, those emanating from within terrorist cells, through the conduct of clandestine weapons programs, or from behind the protective screens of transnational crime are far less visible.

Similarly, when collective human activity is responsible for, say, the collapse of financial markets, deepening poverty, state failure, environmental degradation, climate change or waves of refugees, effective responses make demands on policymakers well outside the traditional paradigm of foreign and defence policy. Yet they all engage elements of our security. Mindful of these new vulnerabilities, governments are being forced to reconceptualise their security and adapt their policies to find new and more sophisticated ways to address the dangers they pose.

But whether the issues are familiar and contemporary in nature (nuclear proliferation, for example) or a future challenge (a pandemic), in the new global environment, governments will be forced to develop more sophisticated security doctrines and instruments of policy to manage them effectively. Historically, security has rarely ever been just a matter of accumulated military power or sound military strategy: in a world of greater strategic complexity this is less so than ever.

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