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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchThe Hollow Order: Rebuilding an International System that Works

The Hollow Order: Rebuilding an International System that Works

Author: Philip Zelikow

Affiliation: Professor of History at the University of Virginia. Former U.S. Diplomat and Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission. He has worked for five US presidential administrations including National Security Council staff for President George H.W. Bush (1989-1991), and member of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board for President Bush (2001-03) and for President Obama (2011-13). 

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs

Date/Place: July/August 2022, Washington, USA

Type of Literature: Journal Article 

Word Count: 4933



Keywords: New World Order, Ukraine, Washington, Russia, China




After working for five US Presidential administrations as a career diplomat and then Intelligence Advisor, the author now believes the current world order needs to be rebuilt and reconstructed. In this new system, the US’s role would be central but not domineering, and power would be shared with partners and allies; it would be a world of free trade with partners that share the same values. The author is critical of the US’s high defense spending, which satisfies more those in power rather than supporting any positive strategies, much like the European empires that built a system to satisfy mainly their interests. Furthermore, the US and other states have withdrawn from trade agreements and have disregarded international institutions, and have not taken any action to improve the economy or global health. 


The author’s main idea is one of cooperation, crafting ideal and practical solutions that would benefit broad interests. The author sees a new system based on a cooperative world, which according to him is a new idea. After WWII and the Cold War, the system that had emerged was a divided one. International policymakers commenced to build new institutions and improve old ones. They believed that Washington’s role in this new system would be essential but not domineering, that partnerships would be made to combine its powers with other allies. After the fall of the Soviet Union, policymakers were careful not to hurt Russia’s pride, while the US began to withdraw most of its forces from Europe. Since then, the world order and its institutions have been working on autopilot. 


There were some issues that plagued Europe, mostly security issues. George W. Bush, for instance, urged Ukraine to receive NATO membership in 2008; however, other allies such as Germany and France blocked any further progress on the issue, which created a division among NATO members. Here, the author explains that the crisis which happened in 2014 was not due to NATO, but rather was induced by Ukraine’s venture to associate itself with the EU. Based on what the author states, Putin only uses NATO to conceal his real concern—Ukraine becoming a democratic independent state. 


The author then addresses the issue of climate change and its policies. The main international response since the Earth Summit (held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992) has been to commit to decarbonization. However, most of the assurances and promises made by states have been a façade. Europe, which is the most outspoken on the issue, has become more and more dependent on fossil fuels, especially from Russia. The fuel crisis in Europe is acutely visible after the war in Ukraine started. On another note, economically, the United States has been incapable to join trade agreements due to domestic opposition. Many countries have incurred enormous amounts of debt and the current system is unable to organize a way to provide vital and necessary relief. The author emphasizes the impact of this system on global health and how certain events have shown its lack of success, notably the SARS epidemic of 2013 and more recently the COVID-19 outbreak. These two outbreaks highlight concerns about the role in informing the world about the seriousness of the cases, and revealed the weakness of international organizations in charge, such as the World Health Organization. It also showed that when it came to a so-called “global response”, major powers were only concerned with their own self-interest.  


Thus, the author states that in a new world order, policymakers would have to address the failures of the existing system, and the way to achieve this is to actually practice problem-solving. The first step is to focus on the crisis in Ukraine and its reconstruction. The G-7 allied countries must arrange for Ukraine’s accession to the EU. However, the author also states that the US and Europe must reevaluate their defense strategy and undertake military planning beyond Europe, and not only focus on Ukraine. The issue of Ukraine affects many aspects of diplomacy—one being the disagreement over Taiwan’s sovereignty. When Russia started its invasion against Ukraine, the author claims that China sees this as an opportunity to prove its sovereignty. Accordingly, both Japan and the US must defend Taiwan if Beijing took any action. This reality must be taken into account, and Japan and the US must leave no doubt that they would come to the rescue. 


The author tries to highlight the current system’s problems that the war in Ukraine has made visible. For instance, he mentions that there should be more determined and cooperative action on the transition to clean energy, which will require a process of finding different and secure supplies of minerals needed for renewable sources. Moreover, the G-7 must work on fighting Russian aggression against Ukraine, but the author cautions they must study how their actions would affect developing states. Furthermore, coordination between the US and Europe must improve. Especially when another pandemic hits, the US government must work with its partners in developing and distributing vaccines. 


The author emphasizes the decentralization of this new order. Because many are united by their resentment of the US and will try to discredit this new system, it should not be limited only to the US and its traditional allies. It should be more inclusive and attempt to welcome other states at the table such as India and possibly even China. However, China would be more difficult to achieve, especially after its partnership with Putin and its grouping with states that include Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan. The author comments on China’s view that US policy is to cut off China’s growth. Because China’s strategy is national self-sufficiency, the author believes that this is not at odds with having the world’s most populous country in this new world order. Rather, it would be effective and of utmost benefit to the system. 


By: Sara El Souhagy, CIGA Research Intern



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