Selective Global Commitment

On board the aircraft carrier USS George Washington near Marseille, March 1996. REUTERS

There is a pervasive sense that the world is on the threshold of a new era. The dilemmas, passions and especially utopias of the recent past have suddenly become irrelevant. Yet before a new world order is proudly proclaimed and majestically inaugurated, some serious geostrategic rethinking is necessary, lest global disorder comes to dominate the onset of the post-Cold War era.

The end of the Cold War marks this century's third grand transformation of the organizing structure and motivating spirit of global politics. The first two great transformations did not enhance international security. The question now is, will the third?

The catalyst for the third transformation is the success of the West and, specifically, the United States in the outcome of the Cold War. Much therefore depends on the geostrategic implications drawn from the conclusion of that era, especially by America and those nations that were its principal partners in that prolonged engagement.


The first transformation was generated by the collapse of Europe's balance of power and thus its decisive position in the world. That balance was sustained by several European-centered but global empires. Dominant worldwide and conservative in spirit, the European system-in existence since 1815-eventually came undone because it was able neither to assimilate the rise of German national power nor contain the centrifugal forces of rising chauvinism. The first "world" war was in reality the last European war fought by globally significant European powers.

That war gave rise to an abortive attempt to reorganize Europe and thus, indirectly, the international system as a whole on the basis of a new principle: the supreme primacy of the nation-state, with nationalism fueling political emotions. The attainment-or enhancement-of national independence became the sacred goal of politics, and the protection-or expansion-of national frontiers was viewed as the key measure of success.

The result was massive failure. That new European order was too precarious to survive for long. With the territorial imperative igniting interstate conflicts and with weak nation-states dotting the map of

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