Governing a World Out of Order

WASHINGTON, DC – Can we develop an international order that will keep the peace and allow countries to play by agreed rules? That is the question that Henry Kissinger poses in his new book World Order. Unfortunately, it is the wrong question.

Kissinger defines “world order” as a concept of just international arrangements that is “thought to be applicable to the entire world.” Before the advent of the European Union, for example, Europe conceived of world order as a balance of great powers, in which multiple religions and forms of government could coexist.

As a civilization and a religion, Islam envisions the optimal world order very differently – as a caliphate, in which faith and government are united and peace prevails throughout the Dar al-Islam, or house of Islam. That is certainly not the belief of all Muslims or of the governments of Muslim-majority states, but the radicalism espoused by groups like the Islamic State seeks to spread not just codes of conduct but an entire worldview.

In Kissinger’s view, contending conceptions of world order are emerging not only in the Middle East, but also in Asia. China is currently playing by the international rules but is increasingly signaling that it expects to be treated as first among equals in the region (as the US has long insisted with respect to its position in the Americas). But, as China grows stronger and reclaims what it believes to be its historic position in Asia and the world, how long will it wait to insist on reshaping the international rules?