Thirty years have passed since the Malta Summit where U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev declared an end to the Cold War between the Eastern and Western blocs.
The now defunct Soviet Union’s policy of military expansion and the United States’ efforts to contain the former split the world into the two alliances and brought it to the brink of a nuclear war at one point.
It was viewed as a historic milestone when the world believed that democratic politics and capitalism had won over dictatorship and communism, freeing the globe from animosity and terror and leading to permanent peace.
Then President Bush described a “new world order” to pursue following the end of the Cold War as “a world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.”
One wonders whether we have achieved the lofted ideal of transforming conflict into cooperation.
Looking back, the principle of international cooperation was one of the pillars of the post-Cold War world order.
At the time of the Persian Gulf crisis, the United Nations Security Council countered Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 in unison, marking the first such move since the Korean War and performing its original function.
There are a growing number of opportunities for the United Nations to play a leading role in tackling global challenges, including peacekeeping operations in regional conflicts and efforts to combat global warming.
Another pillar of the post-Cold War world order is globalism. As people, goods, money and information cross national borders, international systems and organizations have been established to support these movements.
It had been believed that multicultural societies would be formed as a result of globalization, that the world economy would prosper thanks to free trade and that countries would become increasingly interdependent, leading to world peace.
The United States has led these moves as a superpower. The possibility of armed conflicts between major powers has become slim and poverty among developing countries has drastically improved since the Cold War period.
However, globalization’s drawbacks have become more apparent 30 years after the end of the Cold War in contrast to these advantages.
The strain of globalization has caused economic disparities and created a climate of intolerance toward immigrants. A divide in the United States, which has the world’s highest immigrant population, is particularly serious.
Nationalism is rising in many parts of the world as a reaction to globalism, shaking the framework for international cooperation.
Russia, which has been accepted by developed nations that share common values of freedom and democracy, has militarily seized Crimea and shown an increasingly authoritarian attitude.
Meanwhile in Asia, China, which has emerged as a major power since the end of the Cold War, has increased its economic and military might. The country’s “digital dictatorship” using artificial intelligence is beginning to threaten the world.
Marked divisions have widened within the European Union, on which the international community had placed high expectations as a new form of merger between countries, because of currency and immigrant crises, resulting in Britain deciding to break away from the union.
While the United States has led the post-Cold War world, the superpower has leaned toward unilateralism since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and now prioritizes “America First” policies over international cooperation.
Liberal world order has been damaged and the fear of a nuclear arms race is spreading throughout the world again.
Some call new conflicts between major powers — between the U.S. and China and the U.S. and Russia — the “new cold war.” However, Cold War-like formations of blocs and containment policies would not work in the globalized world.
If the highly interdependent global trade system were to be destroyed, it would adversely affect each economy’s benefits. There is no room for “iron curtains” anywhere across the globe today.
Now we must realize that the world has reached a more dramatic historic milestone.
It is difficult to foresee a world order in the 21st century, but a situation in which major powers wield their own rules and throw the globe into chaos must be avoided by all means. Such concerns cannot be dispelled as U.S. President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin all exercise authoritarian leadership.
If major powers were to act self-righteously, the free and just world order would collapse and the weak would be at the mercy of the strong.
The origin of the current international order is World War I about 100 years ago. Europe, North American countries and Japan founded the League of Nations and established the General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy as a framework for peace.
Even though the world subsequently experienced second world war and the Cold War, cooperation through the United Nations and multilateral cooperation have been strengthened in arms reductions and promoting free trade.
Maintaining international cooperation is also important for Japan, and Tokyo could play a significant role in such efforts.
Japan is trying to establish friendly ties with China and Russia while keeping its alliance with the U.S. as its core relationship. Tokyo can play a part in ensuring major powers peacefully coexist in the international community while competing with each other.
Japan also needs to take the initiative in addressing global challenges. Tokyo should join hands with European and other nations to bind major powers and smaller states while bolstering international cooperation.