The rise and ‘fall’ of the vision of a post-Cold War New World Order
On September 11, 1991, George H. W. Bush outlined the main tenets of a so-called New World Order (NWO) (Bush Sr. 1991). He did this shortly before ‘Operation Desert Storm’ commenced. After 40 years of Cold War and with Communism in its last convulsions the idea of a different, more peaceful, world, without the constant threat of nuclear holocaust or material scarcity, held much sway in international politics.
In order to properly account for the rise of such a vision, this essay uses the frames of ‘vindicationism’, developed by Jonathan Monten (2005) and ‘passive revolution’, developed by Antonio Gramsci. Two parts guide the discussion: 1) ‘Rise and Manifestation’; and 2) ‘Opposition and Entrenchment’. Subsections about the theoretical and cultural heritage of the NWO, as well as its introduction into the material world further point the way. It will emerge that the NWO is a US driven global initiative, based on cultural perception and logic of market expansion. With the help of the Chilean coup d’état in 1973, the concepts will be applied to a real world example and show how theory becomes practice. Chile 1973 was a key event that fostered the rise of a vision of New World Order, for it marked the beginning of applying theoretical concepts, developed especially by Chicago School economics, into the physical world. Those concepts thus still mark capitalist modernity. This section also paves the way for Part II. Contrary to observers who view power and the world in militaristic terms, this section argues that a vision of New World Order never fell. To underline this claim, examples such as al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks and China’s economic development are evaluated. During this exercise, it emerges that although both actors are seen as challenges to the US-centred world order, they are actually, in the case of al-Qaeda deviant, parts of it. The last section therefore concludes that the NWO is not new and firmly embedded in the structures of the global political economy.
Part I: Rise and Manifestation
For Bush Sr. the main characteristics of the NWO are the “universal aspirations of mankind: peace and security, freedom and the rule of law” (Bush Sr. 1991: min 00:52). He contends furthermore that “the triumph of democratic ideas in Eastern Europe and Latin America, and the continuing struggle for freedom elsewhere” affirm the “wisdom of our [the US’s] founding fathers” (ibid, min 1:26). The US therefore has great responsibility to fight for, and defend, those values all around the world (ibid, min 00:20). Former US President Bush Sr. made these remarks in the immediate aftermath of the demise of communism, which even confused ‘experts’ (Gaddis 1992:5). Such confusion is perhaps the reason for Bush Sr.’s rather blurry outline of the concept (Nye 1992:83). Yet with communism as ideological and geopolitical competitor gone, the realization of a US dominated world order seemed never more feasible (Cox 2002:265). Bush Sr. thus echoes the ‘The End of History’ (EoH) thesis in which political scientist Francis Fukuyama articulated this mood in 1989.
Fukuyama asserts that liberal ideas like democracy and free-market capitalism defeated communist central government and planned economics. Therefore, no grand battles are left to fight and history ends. Fukuyama correctly predicts that as the majority of societies converge ideologically they grow interdependent economically, because they direct their politics towards the creation of a common global market. The global market makes by way of trade and regulatory agreements inter-state war expensive, ineffective and unlikely (Fukuyama 1989).
Countries that have not yet come to transform their society into a liberal one, however, will continue to experience poverty and oppression, even war. Once they are able to enter post-history, they will benefit from political and economic freedom which the increasingly wealthy middle classes will have the power to push through, argues Fukuyama (ibid, 1989). For him, liberal democracy and free-market capitalism, are bound to structure international engagement between societies and their nation-states (ibid, 1989).
Although Bush Sr. clearly appeals to a post-historic conception, he slightly contradicts Fukuyama, because Bush Sr. implies the necessity for military means to push countries into post history. The NWO shall therefore be defined as US foreign policy initiative, aimed at shaping the world in a liberal image to advance US influence. As such, opposition might be allowed, challenge is not. The Reagan and all of the Bush administrations pursued this goal with neo-conservative means, i.e. aggressive military tactics to intimidate enemies and attract allies (Kristol and Kagan 1996:23). The ultimate aim of US dominance is concealed by a belief in the market as purveyor of freedom and prosperity. As this belief is not only reflected in the neo-conservative governments but also in the liberal ones of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the market as essential pillar of the NWO needs closer inspection.
Driving the NWO: the market and vindicationism
Free-market capitalism proliferated by “under-pricing not outgunning” (Teschke 2003:204). This observation is founded on the power of capital to regulate “inter-subjectivity and co-ordination among individuals” (Teschke 2003:143). Accordingly, to master capital is to exert power. For analytical reasons ‘power’ shall be defined in Weberian terms. German sociologist Max Weber defines power (Macht) as “every chance within a social relationship to push through one’s own will, even in the face of resistance (Widerstreben), no matter the foundation this chance rests upon” (Weber 1922:28). This definition is useful, because it opens up the possibility to use consent, apart from (the threat of) physical suppression, as medium of control in social space. The free-market represents an entity of such social space. Analysis will show that the market is a central element of the NWO.
The ‘logic of circulation’ guides the market’s functionality, according to theorists, ranging from Max Weber to Adam Smith, or Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek. The driver of circulation is the ‘profit motive’. Most efficient circulation, and thus realization of profit, is achieved only in the absence of barriers like religion, cultural predisposition, or military geostrategic considerations (Teschke 2003:139ff). The post-Cold War international system seemed like a space predestined for barrier-free circulation, hence the exuberance in theoretical and political discourse. Yet, this logic does not account for many deficiencies, like the still looming global economic crisis; stagnating foreign direct investment (UNCTAD 2013:xiii); a push against profit sharing (UNCTAD 2013:xiv; Chomsky 1997:310); steady decline of wages in the industrialized countries (ILO 2013:9, figure 7 (c); pp. 41-42); assaults on worker’s rights to freedom of association globally, except the European Union (Freedom House 2010:4) (although that is also questionable considered e.g. the Agenda 2010 reforms in Germany); and simultaneously rising corporate profits and public debt (The Economist 2012). To account for such deficiencies, and the market proper, it is necessary to enhance circulation logic with a ‘logic of production’. According to this logic, historically defined social property relations dispossess workers from the means of production and thus require them to sell their labour power in a competitive labour market to the owners of those means (Teschke 2003:140). It follows that, since the market is part of the NWO, systemic exploitation of labour power and profit accumulation must also be part of the latter. The state with the greatest ability to enhance the sphere of market circulation and accompanied labour exploitation, accumulates the greatest profit. In the post-Cold War era the US was the state with the greatest ability to do so. It is thus the profit motive in the market economy that guides states’ behaviour. Yet, the logics of the market also create losers. Thus the expansion of the market needs justification beyond material promise.