Is it about time for us to retire the designation the “post-cold war” world? It is not merely a question of the amount of time that has elapsed since the dissolution of the Soviet Union twenty-five years ago this Christmas Day, but also what was encapsulated by the very phase of the “post-cold war” world.
During the 1990s, when we used the designation “post-cold war,” there were a number of assumptions at work: 1) the end of ideological competition and the acceptance of Western-style liberal democracy and free markets as the universal archetype to which all societies were evolving; 2) the end of great power competition in favor of a “hub and spoke world” with Washington serving as the center and linchpin of a new global system; 3) economic and political convergence; and 4) liberalization of economies and the lowering of barriers to trade, investment, and the free flow of people. Often, all of this fell under the rubric of “globalization” and the belief that the age of nations was passing in favor of greater transnational cooperation.
The events of 9/11 dented that faith, but it has been the revival and resurgence of non-Western power centers (and, in the case of Russia, a major power whose cultural and political membership in and relationship to the West has always been a subject for debate) that has offered a challenge to the notion that the United States would remain as the main arbiter of international relations and could guide global affairs along the lines outlined by the Washington consensus. Beyond that, significant portions of the citizenry in Western countries are expressing doubt. The Brexit vote, the Hungarian referendum, the rise of nationalist parties all over Europe, the near-derailing of the Canada-EU free trade agreement–all point to internal challenges. Finally, the United States itself may be on the verge of reorienting its foreign policy away from the precepts of the post-cold war era.
Are we entering a period where reactive nationalism succeeds the post-cold war globalism?