The Global Order in a Zeitenwende

The Global Order in a Zeitenwende

Original Orbis piece: “Technology Acceleration Intersects the Thirty Years’ Crisis,” Orbis, vol. 64, no. 4 (Fall 2020)

Implications of the Argument: The post-Cold War period, defined by American leadership promoting growing integration under a liberal framework—a process aided by changes and developments in technology—is giving way to a new epoch, in which the rise of other major powers, coupled with technologies that aid and enhance separation and dis-aggregation, will produce a more competitive international architecture

Revisiting the Argument: The Munich Security Conference has released its 2020 report in which it presents its assessment that the global order is in the grips of a Zeitenwende—the turn of an era in world politics. The MSC report defines the characteristics of this Zeitenwende as follows:

Characteristics of the new environment include the weakening of an international order built up over decades, the rise of China, and a return to power politics that defies international norms. Besides, climate change and rapid technological transition are having drastic consequences.

These developments are exacerbated by a gradual reorientation of the United States . . . now both less able to be a guarantor of the international order and less willing to make overproportionate contributions. . . . [I]t no longer sees the preservation of the rule-based order and its institutions as a priority either. 

The implication of both these analyses is that the international order is undergoing a new turning point, not unlike the upheaval that accompanied the fall of the Berlin Wall 31 years ago and overrode many of the established landmarks of the late Cold War period. It also suggests that efforts to turn the clock back to a pre-2016 or pre-2008 state of affairs will fail because the systemic foundations for such a move no longer exist. If indeed we are at the close of another cycle and in the midst of a Zeitenwende, then the world of 2024 may look remarkably different from the world of 2016.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.