The Post-Cold War Neo-Liberal World Order is in Trouble: Here's How to Save It

If one were to look at the state of affairs throughout the world today -- or at least what we see on CNN -- one would panic. It seems that everyday, Western leaders and allies are having to face incredibly complex challenges and unceasing violence across the globe without a real plan to tackle it.
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If one were to look at the state of affairs throughout the world today -- or at least what we see on CNN -- one would panic. It seems that everyday, Western leaders and allies are having to face incredibly complex challenges and unceasing violence across the globe without a real plan to tackle it. In a sense, our leaders have had to become more like crisis-managers as opposed to visionaries and reformers. Who should they blame? Russia and China, the World Bank and IMF, fundamentalism and global jihad? Actually, the real answer is their predecessors.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and dissolved into 15 independent states, Western leaders (and the people) declared victory, wiped their hands clean of global leadership and retreated to focus on domestic issues. The United States, NATO, Europe and the entire free world believed that the ink of history had finally run dry and the world could focus on global trade, tackling climate change, welfare reform, military cuts and social issues. What our leaders (Clinton, Major, Kohl and others) did not realise was that the real challenge of global leadership was about to begin.

When the Russian Federation was founded in late 1991, Western policy-makers acted quickly to work with the new Boris Yeltsin Administration implemented wide-ranging reforms including privatization and market and trade liberalization were undertaken, including radical changes along the lines of "shock therapy" as recommended by the United States and the International Monetary Fund. These reforms happened far too quickly and far too deeply, and resulted in a major economic crisis, characterized by a 50% decline in both GDP and industrial output between 1990 and 1995. Russians who had previously enjoyed stability under the USSR now faced bread and soup lines and many elderly lived on less than $20/month. This was humiliating for the Russians, who went from major superpower to poverty-stricken in less than five years. Oligarchs picked up the pieces and wealth has been primarily held in the foreign accounts of a few Russian families for over 20 years.

NATO intervention in the Balkans without a UNSC Resolution irritated the Russians because the West had initiated military conflict in violation of international law (without a Security Council resolution) and did so right in their backyard. Ever since, the United States and NATO have been in a constant back and forth with Russia over NATO and EU expansion and the American-led wars in the Middle East.

Is Russia our greatest foe, however? I would offer that if you were to walk down any street in the United States and ask, "What is the greatest global threat the United States faces today?" 9/10 people would say Islamic fundamentalism (or some variance of the phrase). The post-Cold War world order is not threatened by a Russia with its back against the wall, though President Putin is certainly not making it easier. The free world faces the potential of never-ending war with an enemy that has no state, no constituents, no trading partners and certainly no understanding of international law. ISIL, al-Qaeda, a resurgent Taliban, Al Shabbab, Boko Haram- these are the West's enemies. So how do we win?

Well, that is an almost impossible question to answer. Unfortunately, the only way to truly defeat global Islamism is to commit forces for an extended period of time wherever they may be. Fighting Islamic terrorism is something the West could actually learn from Russia--they have been fighting Islamic terrorists in Chechnya and elsewhere for decades and have defeated them every time. Working together with the Russians in Syria and Iraq is the only way forward to defeating Daesh there, and that may mean keeping Assad in power until the conflict is over, and then negotiating with him, the Russians, and factions in Syria to find an acceptable replacement who can stabilise that country (a top priority for Israel).


We shouldn't lose sight of the real question here, though. The neo-liberal order relies on three things: international cooperation through institutions (UN, NATO, EU, etc.), global trade (think NAFTA or TPP), and the preservation of and commitment to the democratic process and human rights. These are principles I as an American hold dear and want my elected officials to represent. There is, however, one caveat. I also want those entrusted with power to act in the best interest of my country and to be pragmatic and realist in their global decision-making. Former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger is someone who our leaders today could learn a thing or two from. Mr Kissinger knew that there would be people the United States would have to work with who did not necessarily fit the mold of the perfect democracy-loving liberal-- sometimes, Kissinger would argue, one must do business with not-so-great people (like Chilean President Augusto Pinochet, Hosni Mubarak and even Assad in former times) to maintain international order. This is the argument for keeping Assad in power until the conflict in Syria is completed.

A leader who acts in the interests of his or her nation will be able to protect it and continue its prosperity for generations to come. The Syrian Civil War has been raging on for years now and it, as well as conflicts taking place elsewhere around the globe are sending millions of people to Europe for refuge. As we have seen, the principle of free movement of people, enshrined in Schengen, is under immense strain and many EU member-states (including the sworn defender of European integration, Germany) have had to suspend open borders so the government can take account of and provide for the seemingly endless columns of refugees knocking on its door. Many non-EU states have sealed their borders, in effect stopping the flow of people to some EU member-states. However, Europe is being torn apart at the seams over this issue, and with Brexit a possibility and global growth for OECD countries revised down again and again by the IMF, it seems like there is not much time left.

We need our leaders in the United States and beyond to embrace the policies that have been time-tested and upheld. We need more trade, not less. We need NATO and its allies to take the fight to terrorists and never give them a comfortable night's sleep ever again, not retreat behind walls and hope someone else does the job. And most of all, we need our leaders to put aside partisan differences and legislate common-sense policies that make our nations more welcoming, societies more open and economies stronger. We need strong, capable leadership, and we need to demand it.

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