The end of the Cold War in the early 1990s had a dual impact on international relations. It not only marked the conclusion of the Cold War itself but also enabled democratization in previously Marxist dictatorships by facilitating the withdrawal of Soviet military forces from Eastern Europe and the Third World. Additionally, it played a role in resolving several conflicts in the Third World that endured throughout the Cold War. The decrease in tension between East and West resulted in fewer inter-state conflicts driven by superpower ideological rivalry, and even led to a growing belief that military power was becoming obsolete in global politics. This shift is evident through significant reductions in defense budgets worldwide, with exceptions like China indicating an ongoing trend.
Despite the collapse of the “Soviet Empire,” various significant conflicts have arisen or resurfaced in formerly peaceful regions during the Cold War. These conflicts include the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh and the fighting in Chechnya within the former Soviet Union.
Although conflicts unrelated to the Cold War, such as secessionist movements in India, Sri Lanka, and Sudan, emerged or intensified without significant influence from superpowers, additional challenges to global stability existed beyond the control of major powers like the United States who triumphed in the Cold War. These challenges included religious militancy, terrorism, conflict between developed and developing nations (known as North-South conflict), and intense competition for limited resources. As a result, the conclusion of the Cold War can be viewed as introducing both stability and instability into international relations.
2. THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM AFTER THE COLD WAR
After the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the previous bipolar global system of the Cold War no longer exists. Instead, a unipolar system has emerged with the United States as the dominant force both militarily and politically. The former adversaries of the US, namely China and the Soviet Union, have either collapsed or abandoned their hostile ideologies towards America. Additionally, many countries have sought protection from American military forces. This presence is often referred to as the “American Empire” and is particularly noticeable in regions like the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East. In these areas, semi-permanent bases have been established by US armed forces where thousands of troops are stationed to monitor perceived threats such as Iran and Syria.
The American military power has important roles despite receiving criticism. In the Persian Gulf, it shields weaker states from attacks by stronger neighbors. Likewise, in Asia, the United States’ presence stabilizes the region and discourages states from feeling compelled to enhance their military capabilities. Additionally, while stationed in Japan, the American military power not only protects Japan but also indirectly safeguards China and other Asian countries against potential consequences arising from a heavily armed Japan. Furthermore, American military power contributes to both permanent coalitions such as NATO and temporary peacekeeping missions.
When the United States engages in military operations, they frequently need to coordinate and oversee actions alongside other nations. While some countries willingly join when the US assumes leadership, others may do so reluctantly. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the US does not intervene in every significant global conflict. However, this underscores the necessity for any country contemplating using force beyond its borders to consider potential reactions from the United States. Conversely, when examining economics and politics, the international system can be characterized as multipolar rather than unipolar.
The United States, the European Union, the Organization of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, along with other nation-states not part of these integrations or organizations, are all important economic powers. In military operations in Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, the United States aimed to share expenses with other major powers or relevant countries. As a result, the international system after the Cold War displays a combination of unipolar and multipolar dynamics where the dominant players in global affairs are the United States, Europe, China, Japan and Russia.
3. BASIC TRENDS IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
During the post-Cold War era, there was a focus on maintaining the existing state of affairs that primarily benefited the dominant powers. This led to an increase in international cooperation and the establishment of more peace operations. From 1948 to 1978, only 13 peacekeeping forces were formed, and none were created in the following decade. However, between May 1988 and October 1993, twenty additional forces were established. Currently, there are 63 UN peacekeeping operations, with 18 still active in the field. These operations involve a total of 112,660 military personnel and civilian police as of December 2008. The reduced use of veto power by the United States and Russia at the Security Council reflects the diminished ideological conflicts between them.
From 1945 to 1990, the permanent members of the Security Council exercised their veto power as follows: China (3), France (18), United Kingdom (30), US (69), and Soviet Union (114). However, between June 1990 and May 1993, no vetoes were used except for one by Russia in May 1993 concerning a resolution about funding the peacekeeping force on Cyprus. Nevertheless, despite this occurrence, the Security Council has continued to achieve successful agreements in the post-Cold War era, which have played a crucial role in boosting peacekeeping efforts. Furthermore, following the end of the Cold War, Western systems and influences have dominated global affairs due to their victory over East-West ideological rivalry. Specifically, the United States has obtained significant influence both in Middle East and Caucasus regions.
During the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in August 1990 and the subsequent Gulf Crisis, the United States had a chance to display its dominant power in the Middle East. With no opposing force, the influence of the United States continued to increase steadily. To strengthen its supremacy in the region, the United States took part in military actions in Afghanistan and invaded Iraq after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The United States ventured into the Caucasus region, previously under Russian influence, with assistance from former Soviet nations such as Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Georgia. Russia has opposed this presence but has faced constraints in its ability to impede it. Similarly, NATO expanded by incorporating Eastern European countries that were formerly under the control of the Soviet Union. Initially reluctant towards this expansion, Russia even issued a threat to establish a defense organization in retaliation. Nevertheless, it eventually consented to a “partnership for peace” initiative that enabled it to retain certain privileges in these Eastern European nations.
The European Union’s expansion into Eastern Europe, specifically the 2004 enlargement involving Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic (excluding Cyprus and Malta), reveals the prevailing influence of Western powers. Additionally, Bulgaria and Romania attained full membership in 2007. The consequences of this Western dominance during the post-Cold War period have had both enduring and volatile impacts on the global stage.
In terms of international stability, the United States’ hegemonic power and the expansion of Western-originated organizations play a role in reducing international anarchy. However, the increase in Western dominance has also resulted in various reactions and challenges towards the West, mostly observed in the Islamic world. These reactions are currently disorganized and relatively weak, posing no significant threat to Western dominance. Nevertheless, it is important to note that anti-Westernism in the Muslim world and other regions serves as a source of terrorism, which is a critical threat to post-Cold War peace.
4. NEW THREATS
The ending of the Cold War prompted governments to cooperate through international channels like the United Nations to address conflicts and maintain global peace. However, the post-Cold War era has unveiled new threats that even major powers cannot fully control. One significant threat is the rise of intra-national conflicts, which happen within a country’s borders. These conflicts are often driven by ethnicity and involve disputes over self-determination, succession, or political dominance. Prior to the Cold War’s conclusion, it was commonly believed that ethnicity and nationalism were outdated concepts and mostly resolved issues.
Contrary to the Cold War era belief that internationalism would triumph over nationalism, ethnopolitical movements have unexpectedly resurfaced in different parts of the world. These regions include Eastern Europe (including the Balkans), Central Asia, Africa, and others. Previously, factors like nuclear war concerns, focus on democracy and human rights, economic interdependence, and acceptance of universal ideologies had led to the perception that ethnic and nationalist movements were diminishing. However, recent data indicates that more than 90 percent of significant armed conflicts now take place within nations rather than between independent countries.
The international community has not adequately prepared for internal conflicts within countries. Major international organizations, such as the United Nations, were designed to address inter-state problems that historically posed the biggest threat to global peace and security. However, major players in the international community are hesitant to intervene in intra-national conflicts due to legal concerns or fear of potential losses.
PDD-25 was issued by the United States government during the Clinton administration, limiting their involvement in UN peacekeeping operations. Essentially, unless these conflicts escalate significantly, the international community prefers not to get involved. Nevertheless, it is crucial to acknowledge that these conflicts can be just as serious and intense as any in the past and must be resolved for overall international peace and security.
Intra-state conflicts can quickly become an international issue due to global interdependence and various forms of international support. When external parties offer political, economic, or military aid and provide asylum and bases for those involved in local struggles, these conflicts become international. To effectively manage conflicts within a state, it is crucial to understand the underlying reasons behind them and implement suitable strategies to stop violence and establish peace.
Peacekeeping forces have been effectively deployed by the international community to manage and control violent internal conflicts. In the post-Cold War era, a total of 50 peace operations have taken place, with 18 currently ongoing. The efforts of civilian and military peacekeepers have played a significant role in protecting lives and preventing conflict escalation. However, it is important to acknowledge that United Nations peacekeeping is not a permanent solution but rather a temporary measure. Its main objective is to handle conflicts until those capable of resolving them can negotiate a peaceful resolution without being hindered by death and destruction. The expansion of peacekeeping initiatives presents challenges as it may lead to the militarization of these endeavors.
Instead of relying on militarized approaches, which are commonly used to manage conflict at the international level, it is crucial to consider non-violent alternatives that address the complex issues and experiences of those involved in violent conflicts. Intra-state conflicts require both effective peace building efforts and peacekeeping measures. Despite incorporating various peace building activities since the end of the Cold War -such as monitoring, facilitating local elections, and aiding in state reconstruction- United Nations peacekeeping operations still face limitations in this regard. Additionally, the international community now faces a new threat to global peace with rising religious militancy, potentially surpassing the ideological conflicts of the Cold War era.
According to some analysts, the world is currently divided by cultural curtains rather than “iron” curtains. These analysts argue that religion plays a unique role in fueling conflict by promoting intolerant and irreconcilable notions of identity and commitment among rival civilizations. Huntington (1993) suggests that religion discriminates more strongly and exclusively than ethnicity, often leading individuals to adopt an “us” versus “them” mentality based on their ethnic and religious affiliations. Instances of this can be observed in governments such as Iran and Sudan, as well as various Islamic movements worldwide, where a prevailing sense of religious militancy or “religious fundamentalism” exists.
The text highlights the presence of violence against sacrilege and oppression towards Muslim peoples, which is believed to be imposed by the West or its sympathizers. Although Asia and the West have not shown such violent expressions, there is often reported “civilizational tension”. Asian countries are now less inclined to comply with Western cultural preferences in areas like rights interpretation and the development of political and social institutions. Many religious militants strongly advocate for violence in their pursuit of missions. Several well-known instances include the mass killing of Muslim worshippers in Hebron by a Jewish zealot, the endorsement of violence by Serbian Orthodox and Croatian Catholic Christians during the Yugoslav conflict, the 9/11 attacks on the United States, and the London subway bombings in July 2005 resulting in numerous innocent casualties.
Acts of violent intolerance based on religion are often linked to terrorism, with religious fundamentalism being a driving force behind dangerous organizations such as Islamic Jihad and Al-Qaeda. Members of these groups strongly believe that committing acts of violence in the name of their religion is mandatory, and they are convinced that sacrificing their lives in this “holy struggle” will guarantee them direct access to heaven. As a result, any hesitation or remorse regarding killing or dying is eliminated. Terrorism presents a significant threat to global peace in the post-Cold War era, regardless of its roots in religious fundamentalism or other factors. Though terrorism has existed throughout history, it gained significant prominence after the end of the Cold War, particularly following the September 11 attacks.
The definition of terrorism varies depending on the perspective. The US Department of Defense defines terrorism as the use of violence or threats to create fear, with the intent of coercing governments or societies for political, religious, or ideological purposes. Outside of the US, different definitions emphasize various aspects of terrorism. The United Nations describes terrorism as a method of repeated violent action used by clandestine individuals, groups, or states for personal, criminal, or political reasons. Unlike assassination, the primary targets of violence are not the main targets. It is worth noting that terrorists themselves would agree with the saying “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
Terrorists see themselves as fighters for their cause and do not view themselves as evil. However, those affected by their actions perceive terrorists as criminals who disregard human life.
Terrorism is a significant issue in the post-Cold War era but is not limited to this time period. Over the past twenty years, terrorists have committed extremely violent acts for alleged political or religious reasons.
Political ideology ranges from far left to far right. For example, on the far left are groups like Marxists and Leninists who advocate for a worker-led revolution led by an elite revolutionary class. On the other end of the spectrum, dictatorial regimes within the far right support a concentration of state power.
Religious extremists often reject secular government authority and consider legal systems that do not align with their religious beliefs as illegitimate. They also see efforts towards modernization as detrimental to traditional culture.
In conclusion, terrorism affects both its immediate victims and a wider audience.
The main goal of terrorists is to carry out violent acts that attract the attention of the local population, government, and the world. They carefully plan their attacks to gain maximum publicity by selecting targets that symbolize their opposition. The true effectiveness of these acts lies not in the acts themselves but in how they provoke reactions from the public or government.
A prime example is the September 11, 2001 attacks which resulted in around 3000 immediate casualties. However, their true objective was both to target the American people and the United States government. In response to this act of terrorism, President George W. Bush declared a war against terrorism and garnered support from many states.
Nevertheless, countering terrorism poses significant challenges due to its unique nature – there are no clearly defined battle lines and it does not adhere to conventional rules of warfare. Despite these obstacles, progress has been made by the United States and its allies in defeating and punishing governments in Afghanistan and Iraq suspected of sponsoring terrorist activities.
Despite the defeats, it seems that terrorism cannot be completely eliminated. Conversely, the invasions and increasing influence of the United States in various regions, including the Middle East, have generated widespread reactions and actually fueled numerous terrorist organizations. Consequently, despite the military power of the United States and its allies, multiple terrorist groups are likely to continue posing a threat in the future. Additionally, following the end of the Cold War era, there has been a resurgence in economic conflicts between countries from different regions. This kind of confrontation is not unprecedented and has previously occurred on a global scale. However, with diminishing importance placed on ideological clashes, this matter now holds greater significance in international affairs.
The historical background is crucial for understanding the present North-South conflict. In the early 1970s, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) formed a coalition of developing nations called the Group of 77. Their goal was to promote a New International Economic Order (NIEO), inspired by the neo-Marxist political economy theory from the 1960s. This theory attributed poverty, exploitation, and dependence to the international trading system that affected Latin America and other developing countries known as the “periphery.”
The NIEO proposed several measures for developing countries, including the implementation of price supports for important commodity exports, linking developing country export prices to manufactured exports from developed countries, transferring technology, and relocating certain industries from developed nations to developing ones. However, the NIEO’s agenda at the United Nations failed in the 1980s due to differences in developing country interests, the inability to replicate OPEC’s success with other commodities, and the discrediting of its command-based economic theories.
The success of Taiwan, South Korea, and other countries that pursued trade liberalization and export-led growth was demonstrated. After thirty years, officials at Cancun observed that the harsh rhetoric used by major developing countries like Brazil and India, as well as smaller African and Caribbean countries, strongly resembled the experience of UNCTAD in the 1970s. The themes of Northern economic exploitation have become popularly recurring, even though the solutions sought by developing countries at the WTO now differ from the NIEO. Instead of requesting price supports for commodities and exports, developing countries at Cancun demanded unilateral trade concessions and compensation from wealthy nations.
The main reason for the failure at Cancun was the division between developed and developing countries, despite other reasons given. The G-21 opposed agricultural subsidies from developed countries, while Lesser Developed Countries (LDC) declined to lower their high tariffs on agriculture and manufacturing. This led to frustration from the United States and other nations. Consequently, the talks concluded without significant achievements, initiating a new phase of conflict between impoverished developing nations in the Southern Hemisphere and affluent industrialized countries in the North.
Neocolonialism is the current economic dependence of developing nations on multinational corporations from industrialized countries, resembling the exploitation observed during colonial times. Additionally, global issues like climate change have brought about an added degree of inequality. The blame for these problems primarily rests with the Northern countries, while the Southern nations experience a disproportionate burden of repercussions such as desertification and extreme weather conditions. Furthermore, small island states face the peril of extinction if sea levels continue to rise.
Although there are no military conflicts between the economies of the North and South, some critics argue that neocolonialism plays a significant role in the resurgence of terrorism in the 21st century. Despite increased globalization after the Cold War, there remains a distinct division between the North and South in terms of their history. Economic globalization follows established patterns of strong and weak growth. Nations already integrated into the global economy continue to further integrate, while less connected countries remain on the sidelines. Only a few states have managed to break free from low-growth patterns within the world system. This troubling outcome has severe implications for global political stability.
Continued poverty and underdevelopment pose a risk to the international order, as it may result in conflict between the North and South. The aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse created power vacuums in various regions, leading to struggles for influence. In the post-Cold War era, former bloc or ally states now vie with one another. This is evident in the emergence of competing centers of power such as the European Union and Japan, which challenge the previously dominant United States.
The emergence of China and Russia as strong rivals to the United States is undoubtedly significant. Various countries or unions, including Russia, China, and the European Union, seek to establish themselves as global powers. Additionally, countries like Iran and Turkey aspire to become regional powers with ambitions for global dominance. Meanwhile, the United States aims to maintain its position as a global force. All these actors have strategic initiatives in place to achieve their objectives in Eurasia. The newly independent nations in Eurasia play a crucial role in these geopolitical competitions.
The United States is committed to maintaining and strengthening alliances with Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia in the region. These three countries play a crucial role in this effort. While powerful nations have historically taken advantage of conflicts among these states for their own regional interests, they have also worked towards promoting peace and cooperation when it aligns with their overall agenda and vision for the area.
The South Caucasus holds significant importance for major powers, such as the United States, due to multiple reasons. These include countering Russian expansion, containing Iran, controlling regional natural resources, ensuring safe transportation of these resources to global markets, and establishing bases for counterterrorism efforts. Currently, the United States is actively strengthening its position in the South Caucasus; however, Russia perceives this as a threat and is determined to retaliate against both American military interventions and regional states aligning with the US. The recent conflict in Georgia demonstrates Russia’s willingness to go to great lengths in safeguarding its own interests within this intricate and unpredictable region.
During the post-Cold War era, there has been a simultaneous occurrence of fragmentation and increasing globalization in the new international system. It is anticipated that this trend will persist.
In terms of state relations, the new world order is marked by cooperation among the major powers. Currently, there are at least five significant powers – the United States, Europe, Russia, Japan, and China – with no noteworthy challengers. Therefore, these major powers will play a crucial role in shaping the future of global politics.
The United States will continue to be the leading global power in the near future, although its military and economic strength will decrease over time. Eventually, emerging nations or alliances may reach a level of parity with the United States. As a result, there is a potential for a shift towards multipolarity in the international system; however, this change might take several decades to occur.
The globalization of international relations in the post-Cold War era is attributed to instantaneous communication and a simultaneous world economy across all continents. Consequently, this global nature has given rise to several problems that necessitate global solutions, including nuclear proliferation, environmental issues, overpopulation, and economic interdependence.
• With the growth of international cooperation, inter-state wars have decreased and greater significance has been placed on “low politics” in global affairs. Nonetheless, the future is expected to see intense competition among major powers for natural resources, specifically energy resources. This gives rise to concerns over unfair trade practices and the reliance on externally concentrated or monopolistic sources of goods, services, and energy.
Despite the ongoing need for addressing technologies, there is optimism for the adoption of collective rules and regulations instead of unilateral accusations and restrictions that could potentially facilitate improvements.
Despite the cautious optimism surrounding the economic prospects of developing countries due to the expansion of the global market economy and foreign investments, it is important to recognize that structural disparities between developed and developing nations can still lead to conflicts on an international scale.
In the post-Cold War era, the global community is confronted with various threats such as ethnic conflicts, religious extremism, terrorism, and attempts by certain powers to alter established norms. These challenges transcend national boundaries and necessitate collective efforts for effective resolutions. Consequently, the future of our world hinges on the willingness of major powers and the international community to collaborate in addressing these critical issues.
- Huntington, Samuel P. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 3, 1993.
- Sanders, Marietta E. Alliance Politics in Unipolarity. Thesis (M.A). George Mason
- “Intra-State Conflicts in the Post-Cold War Era.” International Journal on World Peace, Vol. 24. No. 4, 2007.