How to Tell When the Weakening U.S.-Backed World Order Is Gone for Good

How to Tell When the Weakening U.S.-Backed World Order Is Gone for Good
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at NATO headquarters, Brussels, Feb. 16, 2017 (AP photo by Virginia Mayo).

Seventy years ago, a new world order emerged from the ashes of World War II. It never worked perfectly; there were still wars between and within nations. But the system did help prevent large-scale, great-power conflict and provide a rules-based process for interaction between nations. Now it may be dying.

The United States was not the sole inventor of the post-WW II order, but Washington was its primary architect. But the new order did not take the shape that U.S. leaders expected. As WW II ended, Americans thought that the victorious allied powers would manage world order in concert. When the emergence of the Cold War and the division of the world into hostile ideological blocs crushed that plan, the United States helped build the so-called Atlantic Community, blending its own power with that of fellow democracies to contain the Soviet Union and preserve some degree of global stability.

While the Cold War was an extraordinarily dangerous time, it did not lead to a third global war. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the post-WW II order entered a golden age, as the United States became the world’s sole superpower and the “indispensable nation” for managing security and helping integrate new democracies into the system. Washington even attempted to address the type of conflict that the Cold War system could not: civil wars.

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