Eric Posner in Foreign Policy: "The New World Order is Dead"

Sorry, America, the New World Order Is Dead
Eric A. Posner
Foreign Policy
May 6, 2014

Russia is dragging the world back into the 19th century, at least according to Barack Obama's administration. "You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext," said Secretary of State John Kerry, following Moscow's annexation of Crimea. "What we see here are distinctly 19th- and 20th-century decisions made by President [Vladimir] Putin to address problems," added another senior administration official. "Sending in troops and, because you're bigger and stronger, taking a piece of the country -- that is not how international law and international norms are observed in the 21st century," President Obama declared a few weeks later.

As Moscow continues to threaten a broader invasion -- most recently demanding that Kiev withdraw its troops from eastern Ukraine -- America's indignant response reveals a great deal about how its leaders think about international norms. Unfortunately, it is the Americans, not the Russians, who are trapped in a time warp. They believe that the legal norms promoted by the United States during its brief period of global hegemony -- which started in 1991 and has eroded over the last decade -- are still in force. They aren't.

In the 1990s, it was possible to believe that a new international order had replaced the bipolar system of the Cold War. Memorably dubbed the "new world order" by President George H.W. Bush, it was characterized by the peaceful settlement of disputes through international courts, universal human rights, international criminal justice, and free trade and investment. Above all, the new liberal order emphasized international rule of law -- the idea that international law and legal institutions would be the major source of global organization.

Eric Posner