Exactly eleven years before 9/11 US President George Bush Senior heralded what he described as the New World Order. Addressing the US Congress he said: 'A hundred generations have searched for this elusive path to peace, while a thousand wars raged across the span of human endeavor, and today that new world is struggling to be born. A world quite different from the one we've known. A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.'
Soviet communism had collapsed. The UN had sanctioned a multi-nation force against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein after he attacked Kuwait. The dream that inspired Bush Senior was understandable. Today that dream lies shattered. After the attack on the Twin Towers, after the attack on Iraq and the prolonged war against the Taliban, after Russia's hostilities with Georgia, critics have accepted that the New World Order is dead. George Friedman of Stratfor, a prominent US security analyst, recalled the above words of Bush Senior to opine that the world was moving back to old style relations between nation states. Other analysts have echoed similar views.
One begs to differ. The Georgia crisis highlights the fatal flaw in the New World Order as pursued by the US. The aspirations of George Bush Senior failed to materialize because the first principle of democracy was violated. And that is, people must be convinced that they rule themselves. The more nuanced and progressive aspects of democracy come later. In other words, instead of nations moving towards a federal, democratic world order, they were moving towards a centralized, and therefore inevitably authoritarian, world order. In a centralized order the market , among other things, prevails over popular political instincts.
The crisis in the European Union is a case in point. A historic step forward towards a new world order was derailed by economic interests overriding popular political urges. The original 6 founding nations of EU were inspired by shared history and shared culture to assert a new regional identity that encompassed national identities. It expanded to 15 nations that had interacted with each other through war and peace for centuries. The peoples of these nations empathized with one other. But in 2004 market forces expanded the European Union to 27 members to destroy the cultural nationalism that characterized the original membership. The grumbling against the proposed European constitution inevitably spread among members. The moral of this experience is clear. Nations must evolve to regional groupings based on shared history and culture; such regional groupings must be encouraged to interact with one another; then alone will the world be psychologically ready to move on to a cohesive world order. In other words, create a federal, and not a centralized, world order.
The crisis in Georgia has arisen from nature asserting itself. However questionable Russia's role might have been, to imagine that a stable order could endure by denying Russia its legitimate sphere of influence was fallacious. How the nations of the Russian Federation deal with one another is another and an equally important aspect. But first, the identity of a common cultural regional grouping needs to be established before progress towards a stable world order can proceed.
Will a federal world order ever emerge? Much depends on India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and on how in the coming months these nations resolve the problems of Kashmir and Pakistan's NWFP province. South Asia presents a classic example of crisis torn nations that can achieve stability only through creating a regional identity based on shared history and common culture that had in fact existed for centuries. Only such a regional identity can provide soft international borders that allow free intermingling of the same people divided by governments in colonial history. The common tribes of the NWFP are divided between Pakistan and Afghanistan. For over a hundred years they have practically ruled themselves with neither the British nor the succeeding Pakistan government exercising effective authority over them. The people of Kashmir have been divided since 1947 and have been struggling ever since to assert their identity on both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border. Similarly in Sri Lanka and South India Tamils sympathize with each other across national boundaries. There is a history of unchecked migration from Bangladesh into West Bengal and Assam in India. What aggrieved people everywhere seek is democracy and assertion of identity, not necessarily sovereignty. Only when democracy is denied do they seek separation.
The security, stability and economic progress that would emanate from the establishment of a South Asian Union would partially dilute the sovereignty of all its member nations. The governments of South Asia must choose between notional independence guaranteed by sovereignty, and the tangible advantages accruing from a regional grouping that flows from history, common language and shared experience. If the governments of South Asia make the right choice they could become the role model for a future world order. While fighting terror this too should be kept in mind.