Globalization and the Future World Order

By Robert Okada

As many political scientists have observed, it seems beyond dispute that we will see China emerging as a dominant power in the future world order. However, this is not new to international relations in general. Countries rise and fall, and the dominant powers change over time. During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were regional hegemons, while during the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians and the Spartans were the dominant powers vying for more power. The most important takeaway, then, should be the fact that while the dominant countries have changed over time, they were constantly struggling for power as hegemons. This very fact presents a challenge for foreign policy. What would the future world order look like? And are we headed straight to conflict with other hegemons?

Some political scientists, especially liberalists, have claimed that institutions that we have in place such as the U.N. can create more reciprocity for the future world order, just as Kant has proposed a world government to promote cooperation. And neoliberalists, while conceding that a state is indeed a rational actor, may argue that states can cooperate because it is in their interest to do so. They may argue that since we live in an increasingly interconnected and a globalized world, it becomes the state’s interest to promote reciprocity. However, liberal institutionalists and international organizations fail to address and overcome the fear of aggression held by the state. Given that 1) there is no central authority in the world that can protect states from aggression by other states, 2) that every state will have some offensive capability and 3) states cannot be certain of other states’ intentions, states must fear other states and constantly struggle for power. [1].

In addition, liberal institutionalists ignore how other factors may inhibit cooperation, because states not only worry about their relative gains but are also fearful of the other side cheating. [2] Liberal institutionalists emphasize absolute gains to argue that as long as states can benefit from a transaction, cooperation among states is possible. However, because states are concerned with the balance of power, it becomes important for a state “to make sure that it does better, or at least no worse, than the other state in any agreement”. [3] For example, if China does better than the U.S. in an agreement, the U.S. may be unwilling to cooperate because China can use that relative gain to build up their military power. This concern for relative gains can also make states reluctant to enter into agreements for the “fear that the other side will cheat on the agreement”. [4]

Because the dismantling of nuclear weapons neither addresses this concern for relative gains nor the fears of aggression and cheating held by a state, I predict that the future world order will be unable to solve the issue of nuclear proliferation. In fact, while the Non-Proliferation Treaty has made progress in that it was able to articulate an ambitious goal of achieving complete disarmament of nuclear weapons, “there is still no real disarmament” 50 years later. [5] And “most nuclear-armed countries are modernizing their arsenals” which makes “the non-nuclear nations frustrated that the nuclear powers didn’t hold up their end of the bargain”. [6] Even if the nuclear-armed countries enter into an agreement to dismantle their nuclear weapons, this effort may also be inhibited if a state becomes fearful that the other state will cheat on the agreement.

Furthermore, while liberal institutionalists may point to new international organizations to argue that the future world order can manage global capitalism, the struggle for power has persisted and, in some cases, were intensified because of these international organizations. In the article “WTO’s Neoliberalism”, the author argues that “[a]s an outcome of the evolving neo-liberalism, the economies of the developing countries are now fully exposed to the vagaries of global competition” and that the developing countries are subject to the same rules and regulations in international trade. [7] While WTO’s neo-liberalism has full support of the developed world led by the U.S., “world economic history indicates that regulation of trade and commerce by the governments is a pre-condition of sustained economic development”, and without any dependable tool to regulate its exports and imports, the WTO may force less developed countries “to maintain the status quo” or to “slip further down the scale of impoverishment” in global capitalism. [8] The struggle within the WTO seems to indicate how states cannot ignore their relative gain concerns. Therefore, a globalized future world order will not necessarily translate into more reciprocity as liberalists may claim.

While it seems that China is poised to become a dominant power along with the U.S., and the world will become more interconnected through globalization, I have argued that these two changes in the future world order cannot steer the world toward more reciprocity. In today’s world, the stakes are even higher for states to have a larger voice in international organizations to compete in areas like trade. Cooperation may occur in rare circumstances, but states have powerful incentives not to do so. When we are predicting the future world order, these unintended consequences must also be accounted for. For that is what makes it hard for us to navigate in this increasingly complicated world.

Robert Okada is a junior at Columbia University, where he is majoring in Political Science.

[1] Mearsheimer, John J. “The False Promise of International Institutions.” International Security, vol. 19, no. 3, 1994, pp. 5–49. JSTOR, p. 10.

[2] Ibid. p. 13.

[3] Ibid. p. 12.

[4] Ibid. p. 13.

[5] Tannenwald, Nina. “The U.N. just passed a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. That actually matters”. Monkey Cage, Washington Post, 2017.

[6] Ibid.

[7] WTO’s neo-liberalism. Dawn, 2005.

[8] Ibid.

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