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I want to begin with some general remarks about world orders.

Prior to the First World War the world was broadly divided between two types of empire - land empires and sea empires. There were three great land empires, each of which could be said to be centred on a religious idea represented in the person of their rulers - the Austro-Hungarian Empire centred on Roman Catholicism, the Ottoman Empire, centred on Islam and the Russian Empire centred on Orthodox Christianity. They were geographically coherent, made up of geographically contiguous parts. A fourth great land empire - the Chinese - was in a state of collapse and the former Indian land empire was incorporated into the British Empire, greatest of the sea-based empires. The sea empires were centred on Europe, spread over large parts of the world, incorporating a number of widely varying cultures thrown together by the hazards of a process of conquest, usually for the purpose of facilitating what was called 'free trade'. A new type of 'empire' was emerging with the US defeat of the Spanish sea empire, the earliest of the sea empires. Whereas the earlier empires would themselves take on responsibility for governing parts of the world they had conquered, the Americans required the countries that came under their domination to form their own governments, solve their own problems, under the watchful eye and economic domination of the hegemon, ready to intervene militarily if things took a turn it didn't like.

The First World War could be represented as a war between the land empires and the sea empires, with Germany (which, only recently united could be represented as a land empire itself) fighting in support of the Austrian and Ottoman empires which, in the event, were  carved up into a network of small nations, usually themselves incorporating smaller national minorities. Although the Russian empire was allied with the sea empires, it too collapsed but was put together again in the most astonishing, unpredictable, brutal manner, through the Communist revolution which could be said also to have asserted a new unifying 'religious' idea. The same could be said of Communist China after the Second World War.

The First World War was supposed to have instituted a world order based on independent sovereign nations which were supposed, legally, to have equal status, but the sea empires continued in existence and the arrangements in Europe itself proved to be very unstable, resulting in the Second World War which theoretically reaffirmed the order of independent, supposedly equal nation states as expressed in the Charter of the United Nations but in fact resulted in the division of the world between two great spheres of interest, American and Soviet, with China emerging as a third. Both these great powers contributed to the destruction of what was left of the sea empires. Both represented what could be called secular religious ideas - liberal democracy in the case of the US, Communism in the case of the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the Soviet Union it looked as it we were headed towards a unitary world order, a single world market united in a common idea as to how the economy should be organised and a unified set of legal and moral principles with a single power - the United States - capable of policing the whole structure militarily. In 1990 the political commentator Charles Krauthammer called this 'the unipolar moment.' (1)

(1) Charles Krauthammer: 'The Unipolar moment', Foreign Affairs Vol. 70, No. 1, America and the World (1990/1991), pp. 23-33, published 1st January 1990.

I'd like to pause for a moment on this 'unipolar world' to recount something of how I experienced it personally.

Through the 1970s and 1980s I had been quite heavily involved in the political conflict that was raging in Northern Ireland but in 1987 I went to France thinking I could put politics behind me and concentrate on my real deepest interest in the joint fields of religion and art. In France I renewed an interest I had already had while at school in the Baha'i World Faith. The Baha'i World Faith had originated in Iran in the context of Shi'i Islam, but it now claimed to be an independent religion in its own right standing in relation to Islam in much the same way that Christianity claims to stand in relation to Judaism. The Baha'is argued that all the existing great religions were based on revelations of God given to particular parts of the world at particular moments in history, part of a process of what was called 'progressive revelation.' The Baha'i Faith was the revelation of God for the world which had now evolved to the point at which it could be considered as a single human community. They called this a 'New World Order' (they had for some time produced a journal under the title 'World Order') and they believed it would be achieved through two stages - the first an essentially secular system of international law which they called 'the Lesser Peace'. The second a genuine moral unity when the whole world accepted the revelation of their founder, Baha'u'llah and the authority of their own administrative centre, the 'Universal House of Justice', believed to be destined to become the centre of a new world government. This second stage was called the Most Great Peace', a term which, even in the period of my greatest sympathetic interest, always evoked in my mind the picture of a graveyard.

Given the belief that the world unified by religion would be preceded by the world unified in a secular system of law the Baha'is are keen supporters of the United Nations and for a system of law, outlined by Baha'u'llah, by which if any country behaved aggressively all the other countries would unite to restore order. In fact, given the structure of the United Nations under which both the world hegemons - the US and the USSR - had veto powers, such a development was virtually impossible but with the collapse of the USSR and the state of moral and intellectual confusion into which Russia as its successor state had been plunged by the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, it looked as if that problem had been resolved. The war on Iraq in the wake of the Iraqi seizure of Kuwait was, in the terms of the UN system, legal because none of the five permanent members of the Security Council vetoed it. The gathering together of the whole world in opposition to Iraq looked like a fulfilment of Baha'u'llah's prophecy and the Baha'is - in particular the Baha'i administrative centre, the Universal House of Justice - were very keen on it. I was not. I regarded it with horror especially when it reached its climax in the massacre on the road to Basra. When George Bush came out with the Baha'i catchphrase, 'New World Order', and this was welcomed by the Universal House of Justice with something resembling ecstasy, that was the end of my engagement with the Baha'i World Faith.

There is of course a lot more to be said about all that, about the rights and wrongs of the Kuwait war and of course about the Baha'i World Faith, for which I still have a great degree of respect. The main point I want to retain is the creation of a single world order - 'globalisation' if you like - and the spiritual 'progress' of humanity coincident with its scientific progress as a religious ideal. And there was a moment in the 1990s when it looked as if some sort of politically unified world order might be possible, the moment celebrated in Francis Fukuyma's famous book The End of history - though Fukuyama's end of history was the recognition that in liberal democracy the world had found the best system of government. The Baha'i end of history was that in the Baha'i World Faith the cycle of prophecy that began with Adam had reached its culmination.

The 'unipolar moment', however, was based on the hegemony of the United States and its ability to project military power throughout the world. Also on its ability to exercise a cultural and indeed moral fascination throughout the world with its proclaimed values of individual freedom and democracy. But the world is proving to be recalcitrant to these apparently attractive ideals. Of the geopolitical visions developed in the US in the 1990s, Samuel Huntingdon's Clash of civilisations is looking to be more accurate than Fukuyama's End of History.

The 'new world order' of my title is the tendency at present apparent for countries throughout the world to detach themselves from the United States inspired 'international rules based order.' It is a process that has seemed to accelerate since the beginning of the Ukraine war. Countries which might have been thought to be allies of the US have disregarded the order to isolate Russia. The 'sanctions from Hell' imposed on Russia have backfired on, principally, Europe, which has enforced them, as Europe loses its access to cheap, easily accessible gas and oil while Russia has no or little difficulty finding a market in other parts of the world. As Europe and the US try to freeze, or even steal, some $300 billion of Russian reserves, other countries begin to wonder if keeping their reserves in dollars in US and European banks is really a very safe option. Most remarkable has been the refusal of OPEC countries to break ranks with Russia and increase oil production to compensate for the Western refusal to buy Russian oil. Saudi Arabia, which has played such an important role in the projection of American power in the 'Middle East' (West Asia), has, apparently, begun, under the auspices of China, to reconcile with Iran, disappointing the hopes that Israel had placed in the Trump supported 'Abraham accords' of forming an Arab-Israeli alliance against Iran. We may be able to hope that the US and UK supported war on Yemen could be coming to an end. Saudi Arabia has shown interest in joining Russia, China, India and Pakistan in the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation which has the potential to become a rival to NATO. The BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - claim to have overtaken the G7 in terms of 'purchasing power parity' GDP (2) and there are some nineteen countries wanting to be associated with it. The Chinese 'Belt and Road Initiative' is creating an impressive unity of interest throughout West Asia (a less eurocentric term to designate the 'Middle East'), Africa, Russia, the Indian subcontinent and the eastern part of the former USSR.

(2) See eg 'MG Chandrakanth: How BRICS countries have overtaken the G7 in GDP based on PPPs', Times of India, April 9, 2023 ( 

I've used the word 'apparently' several times because of course these developments are still in their early days and the US, which will do everything it can to sabotage them, is still a powerful force in the world. Much will depend on the development of the Ukraine war. There are those who think it could result in such a decisive defeat for Russia that the Russian Federation will collapse into anarchy something like what we have seen in Libya, Iraq and Syria. And then the US might be able to use Taiwan to do something similar to China. That would certainly weaken the forces that seem to be breaking away from the the US centred New World Order that seemed to be emerging (again I speak of seeming and appearances) in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. I think these developments are unlikely but there are certainly powerful forces at work - not least in our own country - trying to bring them about. For the moment, however, it looks as if another 'new world order' is emerging and the most commonly used description of that new world order, in contrast to the 'unipolar' US based order, is 'Multipolar World', a world divided into several different large civilisational spaces with maybe very different value systems but hopefully mutually respectful and treated as equals.