Present assessment of world order
World order is created and maintained by great powers based on their power and political will or political project.
In a unipolar system, the leadership capability of the lone superpower is closely linked to its management efforts. If the leading power does not lead, the others cannot follow. The superpower exercises its leadership by presenting its political project to the other states and organizing its friends, delimiting its foes and setting the agenda to proceed. In other polarities (bi-, multi-, etc.), the great powers achieve their position of leadership due to their alliances and their capability to guide their alliances
The number of great powers constitutes a dimension of world order: the dimension of power and the link to structural theory. Polarity provides the link in terms of the distribution of power in the system. The other dimension is the political projects undertaken by the great powers. Those projects are described by specific combinations of politics, economy and ideology promoted by great powers.
Power and political project constitutes a world order
The combination of power and political projects constitutes what is understood as the world order. In other words, the world order is defined as the combination of polarity and the respective coordinated measures (political projects) undertaken by the great powers that create the direction for political leadership and constitute the political agenda on the international scene.
There is a great difference between spreading a world order in a uni-, bi-, tri- or multipolar international system, both with respect to political projects and the leadership / power dimension. In the case of unipolarity, the world order holds or is closely holding a hegemonic position, although not unchallenged, as many states may have incentive to counter the influence of the sole superpower.
The cornerstones of the US political projects have been liberal democracy and the free market. According to present understanding, majority of researchers and scholars see that the present position of international system, the American unipolarity, appears to be in flux and the present liberal world order that was initially established after WWII and spectacularly confirmed after the Cold War seems to be in peril.
Debate on world orders
Most observers agree that global power is shifting as new powers rise and old ones re-assert themselves and that the arrival of new actors suggests that the values underpinning the existing order are not shared by all. Despite the compelling evidence that major change is taking place and will accelerate in the years to come placing the existing international order and its institutions under pressure, there is little agreement on what kind of international order is in the making or indeed how best to meet the many emerging challenges.
The transformation of the existing international order has been debated for some time in the scholarly literature. There is a significant and growing literature on the crisis of liberal order, great power management and the role to be played by the current unipolar hegemon – the United States.
The Western literature on this topic is extensive but according to Flockhart, it may be roughly divided into three broad narratives, which can be labeled as a multipolar future, a multi-partner future and a multi-cultural future. All three narratives have in common that they focus primarily on the role and future prospect of the current liberal international order and they all anticipate a more diverse international system composed of new and emerging (great) powers.
However, they differ on important issues, especially on how order is produced and maintained which leads them to very different interpretations on the future prospects for the current liberal order and on the role to be played by the current leader of that order – the United States.
In addition, Flockhart proposes that there is coming a new system, which is fundamentally different from the three previous international systems. It is “multi-order system” because the primary dynamics are likely to be within and between different orders, rather than between multiple sovereign states.
Henry Kissinger’s meritious book “World Order” (2014) states no truly global world order has never existed. What passes for order in our time was devised in Western Europe nearly four centuries ago, at the peace conference in Westphalia without even the awareness of other continents or civilizations. The Westphalian peace relied on the system of independent states refraining from interference in each other’s domestic affairs and checking each other’s ambitions through a general equilibrium of power. The idea of world order was applied to the geographic extent known to the statesmen of the time.
At the opposite end of the Eurasian landmass from Europe, China was the center of its own hierarchical and theoretically universal concept of order. Therein between Europe and China was Islam’s different universal concept of world order. Of all these various concepts of order, Westphalian principles have been the sole generally recognized basis of what exists of a world order. The Westphalian order spread around the world as the framework for a state-based international order covering many civilizations and regions, because as European states expanded, they carried the concept of their international order with them.
As to the literature of IR theories, even the so-called critical ones, are mainly based on European and trans-Atlantic historical experience. John Hobson presented his dark picture about the Euro-centrism in IR theories (Hobson 2012). In the construction of IR theories, civilizations older than those of Europe have been neglected or it has been assumed that in non-European cultures there is nothing to give for understanding international politics.
Pijl (2014) goes even further in his study arguing that various IR theories have been constructed to justify the leading position of the West and specifically that of the US in the international system. The idea of IR theories is to legitimize existing international order.
Pivot to Asia
The rise of China and India in the late 20th and early 21st century has forced many scholars worldwide to look east and to analyze the world from US – Asia perspective across the Pacific Ocean. In several occasions it has already become conventional wisdom to argue that the gravity of world politics has moved to Asia where major actors (China and India) are, in addition to the USA. Japan’s military profile is gradually growing simultaneously with the so- called ”US Pivot to Asia or Rebalancing Asia” policy which has transferred the US strategic weight from Europe to Asia.
Other important factors behind “the pivot to Asia” have been: two unsettled and acute international conflicts (Korea, Taiwan), growing tension on the South China Sea, Russia’s active Eurasian policy, increasing economic and military clout of Pakistan, Indonesia and Vietnam as well as strengthening position of such organizations and cooperative initiatives where China and/or Russia are key players like SCO, APEC, ASEAN, ASEM, China’s BRI, EAEU and Russia’s Great Eurasian Partnership, CIS/CSTO, BRICS and RIC-format.
The existing IR theories can explain and make sense, at least partly, in understanding the transition process of the current international order. However, the changing world presents a challenge to existing theories because these theories are based on the Western tradition of enlightenment and modernization. The rise of Asia has awaked the Asian self-consciousness. Therefore, it is likely that Asian societies in the future will rely on their own traditions in their development and instead of one version of modernization and international order there is going to be various forms of many important IR-concepts.
A big theoretical challenge might be that both China and India will bring elements from Hindu and Confucian traditions into construction of IR theories as well as building the future international order. In building the Euro-centric/trans-Atlantic international order, both China and India were disconnected from their own intellectual roots. According to Acharya and Buzan, the return to their own roots is not just possible but there already are claims to do it (Acharya & Buzan 2010).