The democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe and the unification of Germany heralded the end of the Cold War; but it is the Gulf War that truly ushered in the post-Cold War era. However, if some hard choices are not made, we may have greater disorder rather than an internationally accepted "new world order." These choices concern first and foremost the UnitedStates--the only remaining superpower--but also, to a crucial degree, Israel, as well as the Soviet Union and Western Europe.
In order to help build the coalition that made the Gulf War politically possible, Washington sought the acquiescence of a particularly diverse cast: Damascus, Cairo, Tel Aviv, Riyadh, Moscow, etc., each having its own agenda. How will Washington honor the largely irreconcilable political debts thus contracted? In practice, the United States will have to decide either to tilt toward those seeking a vigorous approach to the resolution of the Palestinian question, or to let Yitzhak Shamir's hard line on that issue prevail.
Linked to this alternative is the difficult choice that Washington will face regarding the role of the United States. Without the decisions of the U.N. Security Council, there would have been no coalition capable of weathering close to seven months of crisis and war. It is also quite possible that the U.S. Congress would not have approved offensive military operations in the absence of the Security Council's Resolution 678, which authorized the use of force to effect Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait. In a new world order, the United States may have to accept the downsides as well as the upsides of the United Nations' legitimizing role. Washington may find itself in situations where the Security Council will limit its margin of maneuver. Furthermore, systematic U.N. involvement more or less automatically implies that the Palestinian issue will be pegged at the top of the international agenda.
Of course, Washington may decide that the United Nations' activity in the Gulf crisis was one-of-a-kind and not to be repeated. Nothing would be more likely to draw away from the United States many of its current coalition partners in the Arab world and elsewhere. Charges of U.S. manipulation and double standards would stick. Instability and North-South polarization, not order, would be the effect.
Hardly less important than U.S. decisions will be Israeli options. Israel finds itself, after the Gulf War, in a particularly favorable situation, which can in some ways be compared to its triumph after the 1967 War:
-- Iraq's military power, which had been constantly (and accurately) portrayed as the greatest threat to Israel's security, has been shattered for many years.
-- The PLO's leadership's credibility has been deeply affected by its approval of the occupation of an Arab territory and by its denunciation of the U.N.'s action to recover Kuwait. Cairo, Damascus and Riyadh won't let Yasser Arafat get away with his pro-Saddam line. The West Bank and Gaza Palestinians recognize the defeat of a policy when they see one.
-- The survival of Jordan's monarchy is threatened, not least by the Saudis, who have not forgiven King Hussein's policies before and during the occupation of Kuwait.
This would normally give Israel a tremendous opportunity to make a breakthrough on the Palestinian issue akin to the Camp David settlement with Egypt, building on elements of previous Israeli peace plans: the transfer of parts of the West Bank and Gaza to a Palestinian-Jordanian entity; the establishment of a Palestinian state in post-Hashemite Jordan; free elections by all West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, which is still the best way to decide who represents them.
Will Israel seize the opportunity before a large segment of the international community is tempted to put forward less acceptable terms via an imposed international conference? Or will Shamir prove that what Abba Eban used to say about the Palestinians equally applies to the Israelis: "They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity"?
It may be somewhat surprising to mention the Soviet Union in this context. After all, the Gulf War demonstrated the ineffectiveness of Soviet diplomacy in the region. However, not only does the Soviet Union retain its importance as a permanent member of the Security Council; it also has the capability to influence to some extent the behavior of several Arab countries on the Palestinian question. This applies in particular to Syria, which is now the only remaining significant military threat against Israel. In the same way that the United States can help--or refuse to help--Israel recognize and seize an opportunity, the Soviet Union has some leverage with Syria. If Moscow and Washington play together vis-a-vis these two countries, the chances of peace in the Near East will be all the greater.
Last, but possibly not least, Western Europe's role in the emerging international system will be of growing importance--provided it manages to put its act together. The reasons for this are both military and economic. If the Gulf crisis had occurred three or four years down the road, it would not have been possible for the United States to deploy as large an array of forces as those used in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, for by 1995, U.S. forces will be down to 1.6 million men and women (versus more than 2 million today), along with major drawdowns in most equipment categories. In particular, the U.S. forces in Europe (325,000 in 1989), more than a third of which have been moved to Saudi Arabia, will drop to levels incompatible with such a deployment. In other words, it is to be hoped that the Europeans will be able to pick up part of the slack, above and beyond the 50,000 (primarily British and French) soldiers deployed in Saudi Arabia. This, however, entails the emergence of a more tightly integrated European defense entity. This is essential to legitimize the deployment of a substantial array of European forces, going beyond the current British and French capabilities in terms of geographic spread and size.
This has a corollary: Security relations in NATO will become more and more bilateral between the United States and a more cohesive Western Europe. This trend is in contrast to the current situation, where the American eagle heads a gaggle of 15 less powerful fowl. The move of the Atlantic alliance toward a true two-pillar U.S.-European construct will entail a significant shift in terms of power-sharing between the United States and Western Europe.
The victory in the Gulf could not have occurred without American strength and leadership; but it was also the result of the legitimacy that the international community conferred to a use of force that would otherwise have been politically untenable and financially much more onerous for a go-it-alone America. The new world order cannot simply be a Pax Americana. If the lessons of the Gulf War are heeded, this order will witness the combination of constructive American leadership with the creative use of the world's multilateral institutions, including a more active United Nations and a better-balanced Atlantic alliance.