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America and the World: The Next Four Years: Beyond Detente

- Abstract

I DO WE live in a new world? To a growing number the question will appear little more than rhetorical. The view that we are witnessing what amounts to a transformation of sorts in world politics is no longer the possession of a select group. It is now broadly subscribed to by the foreign-policy elites. It is entertained by a number of persons who occupy key foreign-policy positions within the new administration. At least, it was entertained prior to their assumption of power. Whether it will be held to now that there are more heady and serious things to do than writing articles in Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy remains to be seen.

The principal features of the new world we have presumably entered are by this time reasonably familiar. It is a matter of common agreement that the international system today is far more complex than it has ever been, if only because of the startling increase in the number of actors and of issues. At the same time, this proliferation of actors and issues has been attended by an equally startling increase in relationships of mutual dependence that, once entered into, can normally be broken only at exorbitant cost. These relationships are but rarely susceptible to the arbitrament of force. Though interdependencies may and do breed conflicts of interest, the threat or use of force to resolve these conflicts is likely to prove more injurious to the user than non-forcible means (even if the latter should frequently prove quite limited in their effectiveness). Thus the principal sanctions of the past no longer respond to the “logic” of the new world. Instead, novel methods of conflict resolution are called for that will respond to a system in which the actors are not only many but of diverse character and the relationships they form are far more compromising of the state’s independence of action than were the relationships characterizing world politics of only a generation ago.

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