Is the World System Changing?

Could the wars and unrest in the Middle East herald a shift in the international order?

While the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have drained American resources, the unrest in the Middle East might herald the beginning of a transformative period, one in which semiperipheral nations either replace the existing core states or increase their number by becoming core states themselves.

History demonstrates that global conflicts often prefigure the evolution of the international system. The failure of the Concert of Europe resulted in the First World War, which in turn culminated in the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. The fundamental flaws within the peace treaty rendered the League of Nations impotent in the face of the rising tide of fascism during the 1930s that inspired the horrors of the Second World War.

From the devastation of World War II arose the United Nations with the Bretton Woods monetary system. The resistance toward concerted efforts at restructuring both the UN Security Council and the global economic consensus and trade regime as sustained by the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization serves as a concrete representation of the latent conflict between the “global north” and the “global south.” Within the Security Council in particular, the “permanent five” aim to maintain the status quo in order to prolong their ability to assert and implement their interests, possibly at the expense of developing nations.

The “world system” however, as it was described by sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein (1930), may not be static but dynamic instead to the extent that the classification of various states as core, peripheral or semiperipheral can evolve over time. Modern day examples include Brazil, India and South Africa which are rising to the status of core power. China, it may well be argued, has already achieved that status.

Venezuelan economist Richardo Hausmann argued that the sustainable development of the peripheral states of the global south is dependent on their ability to overcome the natural barriers imposed by their geography. If Hausmann is correct, the continued growth of developing nations requires the investment and involvement of industrialized nations in the global north.