Historical overview of world order

A. Westphalian system

The modern state has been on the focus of theory and research of international relations (IR), since the beginning of so-called Westphalian system 1648 till the end of WWII. This was preceded by the ancient Greek polis and other state-like entities.

A modern form of IR and collective security were established in Europe after the Thirty Years War in 1648 by the Peace Treaty of Westphalia. This war can be named as the first Pan-European war, resulting consequences for the whole European history. For over 300 years, the principles of IR established by the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia were respected as the fundamental framework of both international politics and global security.

Because the self-interest motivates states, it became very difficult to reach an agreement between them for the reason that often some interest of one state is not compatible with the interests of other(s). For the same reason, states create and join military-political alliances, which are of shifting nature. One of the fundamental results of the principles established by the 1648 Peace Treaty was that states were seeking for the balance of power in international relations as a mechanism for global or regional security and subsequently the existence of the system of alliances became for many states precondition to keep the balance of power.

Both alliances and balancing of power in international politics made the management of international relations extremely complicated.  These complex and contradictory forces have governed international politics since 1648. The basic principles established by the Peace Treaty of Westphalia:

  • Sovereignty of the state
  • Inviolability of the state borders
  • Non-interference into the inner affairs of the other states
  • Balancing of power
  • Power politics
  • Realpolitik
  • Making alliances
  • Keeping a collective security

B. World order paradigms after WWII

The prominent world order paradigm has been the Cold War (1947-1990), which structured the thinking and understanding of IR-researchers and embodied realist thinking. In this period superpower rivalry (military, nuclear, economic, ideological, cultural) dominated international relations and transformed the international system creating a bipolar system.

The euphoria that accompanied the end of the Cold War made most scholars, analysts and politicians to expect something really new. Francis Fukuyama was the first (1989) to suggest “the end of history” by emerging the triumph of market capitalism and liberal democratic ideology over all possible alternatives – a doctrine of democratic universalism. The future of the international system was characterized by increasing democratization, liberal values and culture, market economy, internationally generated norms, procedures and institutions which ultimately lead to the replacement of international anarchy with the international rule of law.

By 1993, Samuel Huntington analyzed the same events as Fukuyama but offered a radically divergent interpretation. Huntington argued that the future was not one of “democratic peace” and cooperation within a single Western liberal system but rather one of continual and protracted wars between “civilizational blocks”. According to Huntington, there are seven global blocks characterized by alternative belief and values systems based on their cultural identity: Western Christianity, Slavic Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and possibly African civilization. Huntington argued that along these cultural fault-lines the future conflicts were most likely to occur.

There are also a number of other scholars examining this subject in the first years of post-Cold War period. Robert D. Kaplan suggested that population growth, urbanization and resource depletion undermine fragile governments across the developing world and so represent a threat globally. Thomas Barnett understands globalization as a dual process with some states benefitting from “thick globalization” and other states suffering from “thin globalization” and the insecurities that follow. Robert Kagan offered a neorealist paradigm for the post-Cold War period. Fareed Zakaria argued that the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China reflects a seismic shift in global power and orientation.

During last 30 years, however, more emphasis has been put on changing international setting, systemic changes, emerging new actors and new trends like international institutions and organizations, non-governmental organizations and movements, globalization and its impacts. From mid-90’s till the beginning of 2010’s, the idea of post- Westphalian state order emerged and flourished in the middle of greatest EU euphoria. Researchers like Caporaso (1996, 2000), Jervis (2002), Kirchner (2007), Kirchner and Sperling (2007, 2010), Sperling (2009) were on the front line in this school.

In this approach, the importance of domestic constitutional orders as the determinant of international order has been emphasized. EU-system, as a European (and perhaps transatlantic) security community, will slowly override the territoriality from the position of key characteristic of the prevailing Westphalian system. A new concept had evolved to the effect that the nation-state was declining in importance and the international system would henceforth be based on transnational principles. This may be expressed so that the strategic trust replaces the system of strategic threats among those states belonging to the union. Soft power and multilateral diplomacy are prominent tools of foreign policy and in majority of present Western European states military action is all but excluded as a legitimate instrument of foreign policy.

The evolution of European state system, particularly the trajectory of European Union (EU), in the years 1995-2011, provides some empirical evidence supporting post-Westphalian postulates, but the evolution on the scene of European and global environment since then has revealed a number of new and divergent trajectories.

In the consequence and in the aftermath of international finance crisis 2008, the economic situation of EU became in acute crisis and the austerity measures of EU commission caused extensive negative side-effects and disappointment among EU-citizens around Europe. Along with Arab Spring in 2011 and thereafter, the international climate became tougher. Chaotic turmoil in the Middle East, unprecedented refugee influx to Europe, the impotence of the European authorities to tackle and deal with this refugee problem, further damped “EU-ecstasy” of the previous decennium. Rising tension points around the world like South China Sea, Iran and the Middle East, North Korea, Afghanistan and the US-China-Russia escalating great power competition have turned upside down the atmosphere of international community, from “peace and hope” to the relevance of military power and hard balancing.

On the global scale, the main enthusiasm of post-Westphalian approach is found mainly in Europe and to small extent among American scholars but not in the rest of the world. It seems more as “Euro-optic illusion” rather than seriously taken scientific reality. “Back-to-basics” state order or return to Westphalian state order seems to be prevailing concept again globally.

C. Ex oriente lux – Eastphalia complementing Westphalia?

In 2009 Asian and American researchers and experts organized a symposium on the emerging Eastphalian model discussing the impact of the growth of Asia in international relations and pondering, if the rise of Asia predicts the emergence of an Eastphalian world order to replace then contemporary Westphalian one.

Chinese researcher, Lo Chang-fa crystallized the Chinese approach to be the same as the Five Principles of peaceful coexistence, which Zhou Enlai declared in 1954 in the Afro–Asian Bandung Conference, Eastphalian principles:

  • Mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty
  • Mutual non-aggression
  • Mutual non-interference in internal affairs
  • Equality and mutual benefit
  • Peaceful coexistence

In the Asian rise, China, India, Japan, Korea and Vietnam seem to be on the frontline and the structural influences of this “Asian rise” on international system and global governance are in the focus. The new world order and multipolarity might arise through this Asian rise and would mean the first time these Asian countries would determine key structural features of the international system. It is important to recall that Asian countries place significant value on the Five Principles in their relations with each other and with countries outside of the Asian region.

The concept of “Eastphalia” attempts to get attention on the idea that “Asian values” offered an alternative to liberal universalism. In general, the Asians value order over freedom, the group over the individual and economic development over political liberties. Consistently, China regards all events in Tibet, Taiwan, Xinjiang, Hong Kong or South China Sea region as fully China’s internal affairs and any criticism, targeted to its actions as an arrogant interference into its sovereignty and internal affairs. The attitude and position of Russia is identical to that of China.

While “the pivot to Asia” is moving on in the world’s trade and business life, it is important to see how Asian countries adapt their commitment of the Five Principles to opportunities and challenges, which a multipolar, Asian-driven and globalizing international system will create.

As stated before, European form of IR and collective security were established after the Thirty Years War in 1648 by the Peace Treaty of Westphalia. For 300 years, the Westphalian principles of IR were respected as the fundamental framework of both international politics and global security.

When comparing above mentioned Westphalian – Eastphalian principles, conformity and consistency are obvious and striking. Now that Western Hemisphere (mainly Europe and the US) tends to be moving from Westphalian to post-Westphalian and liberal order, Eastern Hemisphere (clear majority of the mankind) is accordingly holding highlighted on the principles of sovereignty of state, non-interference in internal affairs and inviolability of the state borders. All these principled positions indicate and forecast deepening confrontation between East block led by China & Russia and West block, led by the US and partly the EU.

In Europe the universalism and global constitutionalism was intensified after the Cold War but Asian countries have not been enthusiastic in either of these ideas. Instead, they have reacted cautiously and have emphasized the traditional concerns of sovereignty and noninterference.

The liberal order, advocated by the US and other Western Hemisphere has an interventionist tendency, from Asian viewpoint, and is conflict-generating. Therefore, the Asian respect for sovereignty may lead to a reduction in international conflicts. Right now, it seems that the western universalism, liberal order and Eastphalian order co-exist and “multiorder” or “regional order” future may be possible. However, the existence of balance of power / balance of threat seem strongly attest the norms of East-Westphalian order.