The system in which the international uses to operate, based on a global balanceof- power and diplomacy, is arguably in decline. Some would argue that an emergence of a newly designed system of order is not only needed but has also been witnessed. The unpopular yet ideologically forceful rise of sovereign, intrastate organizations and the foreseeable downfall of modern-day states add to the discussion.
The history of the Westphalian system dates back to 1648 in Westphalia in modernday Germany. The Treaty of Westphalia not only ended the Thirty Years’ War, during the gradual fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire, that started in 1618 but also, perhaps even more importantly to our world today, built an entirely unprecedented system that was exclusively used in Europe until relatively recently. The system is based on the notion of domestic and territorial sovereignty; it aims to promote balance-of-power through diplomacy and international institutions. The Ottoman and Chinese civilizations rejected the Eurocentric idea and hence did not implement the global system that the Treaty of Westphalia sought. The Chinese Empire, which dates back thousands of years and has lived through numerous dynasties, has for centuries seen itself as the cultural centre of the world – or the “Middle Kingdom” as it has historically liked to name itself. The world of “barbarian” people, all civilizations that stood outside of the inflexible borders of the great Chinese civilization, circle around the “Middle Kingdom.” As witnessed similarly throughout the Orient, in particular the Ottoman Empire, there clearly was a wide resistance of the then-emerging Eurocentric concept of sovereignty.
This is not some scholarly debate; the arguable emergence of an entirely different world order – or perhaps regional order -is practically discussed. In fact, America’s General Raymond T Odierno, who served in Iraq a number of years ago, has recently touched on this very idea.
The partition or division of the current post-2003 Republic of Iraq, General Odierno said, “might be the only solution.” That is, as General Odierno would perhaps agree with, some changes in the system the region has for decades used to function are now urgently needed.
The Middle East, the “most volatile region of the world” as former Secretary of State and one of the key architects behind the idea of the New Middle East, Condoleezza Rice, has recently said, is no exception and is indifferent from other regions that operate within and through the current global system. The rise of a regional order in the Middle East, based on certain Oriental characteristics, is arguably gradually evolving in the Arabian Peninsula. The birth of organizations like the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq reinforces the former argument that a new regional order is socially yet perhaps not entirely apolitically being shaped and designed. There is no doubt that a unique order, which would determine stability, challenge the existence of disorder and which would unblock cooperation with different regions of the world, is certainly in need.
The idea behind the arguable downfall of the current world order and the emergence of a new dynamic world order in the near future does require further diagnosis. Until then, one important question should be put: Will the ‘Rise of the East’ accelerate the decline of the Westphalian system or will the occurrence of civilizational clashes between incompatible visions take place?
By Bader Al-Dehani