The post-modern state and the world order

Author: Robert Cooper,
Date: 2000
File: PDF
1989 marked a break in European history. What happened in 1989 went beyond the events of 1789, 1815 or 1919. These dates, like 1989, stand for revolutions, the break-up of empires and the re-ordering of spheres of influence. But these changes took place within the established framework of the balance of power and the sovereign independent state. 1989 was different. In addition to the dramatic changes of that year – the revolutions and the re-ordering of alliances – it marked an underlying change in the European state system itself. To put it crudely, what happened in 1989 was not just the end of the Cold War, but also the end of the balance-of-power system in Europe. This change is less obvious and less dramatic than the lifting of the Iron Curtain or the fall of the Berlin Wall, but it is no less important. And, in fact, the change in the system is closely associated with both of these events and perhaps was even a precondition for them. Historically, the correct point of comparison is 1648, the end of the Thirty Years’ War when the modern European state system emerged at the Peace of Westphalia. 1989 marked a similar break point in Europe. What is now emerging into the daylight is not a re-arrangement of the old system but a new system. Behind this lies a new form of statehood, or at least states which are behaving in a radically different way from the past. Alliances which survive in peace as well as in war, interference in each other’s domestic affairs and the acceptance of jurisdiction of international courts mean that states today are less absolute in their sovereignty and independence than before.