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New World Order

09/17/07 4:13PM By Olin Robison
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(HOST) Recently commentator Olin Robison attended an event that got him thinking about what we mean when we talk about a "New World Order".

(ROBISON) One doesn't have to be so very old to remember Operation Desert Storm, the exceptionally successful effort by the United States military to push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. At the end of that military exercise President Bush the Elder gave a speech in which he said that we had a New World Order. It was a speech writer's throw-away line, but it got the attention of the media.

There was no New World Order, of course. Not then and not now. The old world order had been a bipolar one dominated by the United States on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989 and the complete collapse and disintegration of the Soviet Union some months later, there developed the notion of a "unipolar" world: a world in which the United States was and is the sole superpower.

Well, dear friends, what followed became living proof that armies - even very good armies - could not fix everything. Surely this is by now no secret.

I have just returned from Geneva, Switzerland, where I attended, yet again, the annual bash of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. I continue to go to these affairs because I find them exceptionally provocative. I always come away thinking about things in different ways than before. Part of this is because I am such a hopeless optimist, and this event is always dominated by people who make a good living out of pessimism.

I would like today, therefore to, talk world events from some of the perspectives I gained there and will do another piece soon on Iraq and some possible aftermaths of that terrible war.

First and foremost, I left Geneva believing that there is NO dominant world view anymore. Maybe there never was; but there certainly is not one now.

Second, globalization without a governing or dominant world view is basically economic anarchy.

Third, "unipolar" pronouncements - such as those currently coming out of Washington - almost always make matters worse rather than better.

Years ago, when I first began attending these conferences - way back in the bipolar days of the Cold War - these events were dominated by endless discussions about megatonnage and throweights and the relative size of nuclear arsenals, and so on.

Today the talk instead is about "asymmetrical warfare," which means pitting conventional armed forces against terrorists, against causes and groups rather than states. Asymmetrical warfare is borderless; it has no fixed geographical boundaries and is most often driven by people who use the rhetoric of religion for political purposes.

There are still winners and losers in battles. Wars benefit some and hurt others. The consensus in Geneva was that the certain beneficial of the war in Iraq is Iran. More on this in a subsequent commentary.

In the meantime, it is safe to say that there is no New World Order. It is also safe to say that the United States does not have the ability to articulate and impose one. Nor, for that matter, does anyone else.

Some will find it comforting, others will find it frightening, to learn that of the 100 largest economic entities in the world, 51 are global corporations. Only 49 at countries.

Now, there is something to think about.

Olin Robison is past president of both the Salzburg Seminar and Middlebury College. He now lives in Shelburne.

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