The growth of uncertainty after the end of the Cold War and its impact on the security environment of states

Master's Thesis, 2009
45 Pages, Grade: 2,1


Table of Contents



A. The growth of uncertainty after the end of the Cold War
1. Causes for the growth of uncertainty
1.1. Systemic heritage and transformation
1.2. Full-scale globalization
1.3. The change of statehood
2. New dangers in brief
2.1. Intra-state conflicts
2.2. Poverty
2.3. Resource conflicts
2.4. Economic risks
2.5. Environmental degradation
2.6. Global arms trade and proliferation of WMD
2.7. International terrorism
2.8. IT dangers
2.9. Pandemics

B. The impact of growing uncertainty on the security environment of states
1. A new concept of security – human security
2. Changing security policy
2.1. National efforts
2.2. Regional measures
2.3. Global solutions




illustration not visible in this excerpt


Uncertainty has grown considerably since the Cold War has ended – one might even say it has swollen exponentially. For decades the military conflict between East and West, headed by the Soviet Union on the communist side and by the United States on the capitalist side, had shaped the international political course of events, and last but not least the world order. With its sudden and unexpected end in the beginning 1990s the hitherto bipolar structure collapsed. Subsequently, the international order underwent fundamental changes – in essence towards a more competitive and multipolar world, into which the majority of former socialist countries have fitted in. The big one imminent danger of total war ending in mutual annihilation faded away for the time being.

But not for long, because “although the ‘dragon’ in the form of the USSR might have been slain, there were still many ‘vipers and snakes’ lurking in the long grass” (Cox 2008, p. 76). “Old” forgotten conflicts and problems (in particular concerning the developing world), but over and above that risks of a new and unprecedented kind were about to come to the global fore, rendering our future more insecure than ever. Some of the most challenging dangers on the current international agenda are:

- Intra-state conflicts (ethnic wars)
- International terrorism
- Information- and Cyber warfare
- Global arms trade and proliferation of WMD
- Environmental degradation
- Poverty
- Economic system risks, and most recently
- Pandemics

Generally, threats have become “more amorphous and less predictable”, acquiring “novel features” which often arise from those epoch making achievements that are ascribed to globalization (Sheehan 2008, p. 212). Scholars in the academic field of International Relations (IR) come to terms that the linking processes, which are subsumed under this catchword, can be seen as a key factor in shaping the new dangers of our current age. Another factor is inherent in nation-state itself. States currently face growing erosion of territorial borders, and at the same time experience a loss in authority through the emergence of powerful private actors, which at last makes it more difficult to develop effective security policy answers.

By and large, the world after the end of the Cold War has become much more insecure. The recent developments increase global vulnerability by creating unprecedented risks that effortlessly transcend international boundaries, unfolding their global effect and thus in turn complicating the overall security situation. Moreover, the classical (military) war between nation-states has not vanished, even though it seems to adopt new patterns in the course of changing global realities.

Subsequently, by means of a literature analysis I will explore the causes that let uncertainty grow to a global scale as seen through a changing world order, the achievements of full-scale globalization, and finally the changing identity of the nation-state. After that I will briefly illustrate the most threatening dangers that make the world a more unsteady place. These recent changes in turn compel modern society to alter its conventional way of security thinking into more than just mere military terms. A broadened concept of security, now comprising additional aspects beyond the limits of the classical military understanding, is the result. All in all, increasing complexity and interdependence ask for new and comprehensive security ideas that imply a gradual renunciation of traditional security policies, generally expressed in military capacities. Using the example of international terrorism, I am going to illustrate how this overall evolution affects the security environment of states and the international community, and what is done about it to confront these new risks with adequate means.

A. The growth of uncertainty after the end of the Cold War

1. Causes for the growth of uncertainty

1.1. Systemic heritage and transformation

For decades the conflict between East and West has determined the order of the international system. The time between 1945 and 1990 is considered a period “marked by a clear and sharp divide between opposing socioeconomic systems operating by radically different standards” (Cox 2008, p. 74), i.e. capitalism in the West versus socialism in the East. Both superpowers were struggling eagerly for hegemony of their respective ideological system over the globe.

Organized into two major confronting military alliance systems (NATO and Warsaw Pact), the two blocs possessed powerful nuclear capacities. Nevertheless, this mutual deadly menace let both sides stick to a framework of certain informal rules with the overriding aim of avoiding a total destruction[1] (Sheehan 2008, p. 215). Hence, the Cold War was largely “a managed conflict in which both sides recognized the limits of what they could and could not do” (Cox 2008, p. 72). All in all, the time was characterized by a relatively foreseeable and stable threat scenario, which found expression in the rivals’ military capacities. It was a zero-sum game that made international politics calculable to a large extent (Filzmaier et al. 2006, p. 104). This bipolar constellation shaped events for more than 40 years.

However, during the Cold War tendencies had emerged that undercut the clear bipolar structure, yielding some of our current threats with a global dimension. Firstly, neither of the two blocs was strictly uniform in itself. Each of them was made up of a complex composition of diverse countries and regions that were located over the five continents. Not all of these states were integrated into the blocs to the same extent. The bipolar system was never consistent over space and time as Hippler points out when he refers to the marginalized countries of low strategic importance on the one hand, to the states of the Non-Aligned Movement[2] on the other, and most importantly to China, which was drifting away from Soviet communist ideology, and thus finally laying the foundation for its economic rise (2006a, p. 39f.). Another populous giant – India – was also waiting in the wings. Together with China both countries currently hold some of the most challenging future imponderables given their huge populations – especially regarding their climbing energy needs that in turn might entail considerable ecological and other consequences.

Moreover, this world splitting ideological war had overlapped most other conflicts occurring during that time, in particular concerning the Middle East and North-South relations (Filzmaier et al. 2006, p. 104), thus producing two further future time bombs that might explode at a later date. While the former conflict deals with disputes about territory, embracing religious as well as cultural components in terms of radical political ideas (revolutionary Islam and pan-Arabism), the latter one takes place between industrialized countries versus the developing world, and grapples among others with the distribution of resources, ecological aspects and migration.

With the collapse of the socialist bloc the bipolar structure began to change towards an increasingly complex multipolar system. While the United States might still be considered the leading nation regarding military power, in the realm of economy other players have come to the fore: within the so called economic triad the EU, Japan and North America stand side by side. Moreover, as mentioned before, another economic giant is about to catch up with huge steps: China[3]. That is to say that the short ‘unipolar moment’ of the US as illustrated by Charles Krauthammer in 1990 seems to be over, at least in the economic field. Some scholars even dare to speak of an upcoming non-polar world as the main feature of the 21st century – a world which “is increasingly one of distributed, rather than concentrated, power” (Haass 2008, p. 46). According to Haass, a plethora of new and different “power centers”[4] besides the classical nation-state have emerged (2008, p. 45), implicating that no country can make a decision anymore without challenging (unpleasant) reactions from other actors on the globe. As to such a fuzzy non-polar world order, future prognoses according to Haass turn out to bring mostly negative impacts, containing further threats and vulnerabilities (2008, p. 51f.).

One last but quite important aspect should be mentioned here: the end of the Cold War has not entailed a renunciation of nuclear weapons and other Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) at all. Even though at least a regulated control of these arms could be achieved, they are still very much present today and pose only one of the actual imminent threats to global security (Scott 2008, p. 66).

1.2. Full-scale globalization

Globalization has contributed a great deal to a growing uncertainty in the world –once more reinforced since the end of the Cold War, when globalization became genuinely ‘global’ through the integration of the former Soviet Union states. Unfortunately, globalization is not only having positive effects on human prosperity, but is also contributing to a growing poverty gap as well as creating financial and economic instabilities, and ecological degradation among others. But what exactly constitutes globalization?

Al-Rodham tellingly summarizes that “globalization is not a single concept”, nor is it “applicable to all people and in all situations” (2006, p. 3). The scholarly literature offers a plethora of definitions. More than half of the explanations given in Al-Rodhan’s treatise refer in the first place to the economic dimension of globalization. But globalization is more – it “is a process integrating not just the economy but culture, technology and governance” (UNDP 1999) – and not to forget: ecology as well. It is “simply the widening, deepening, and speeding up of worldwide interconnectedness” regarding the aforementioned areas (McGrew 2008, p. 16). Globalization is a phenomenon which is too complex to be restricted just to the business world. Sure enough however, this phenomenon finds its most distinct expression in the economic dimension, which is the driving force that propels developments in the other areas.

One result of globalization is that markets for goods and services grow together – beyond national borders. This fact as such is not new. History is rich in globalization processes that took place decades and even centuries ago. However, from the 1960s onwards globalization has gained a new and up to date unprecedented quality in terms of velocity, scope and intensity: only since then “has globality figured continually, comprehensively and centrally in the lives of a large proportion of humanity” (Scholte 2000b, p. 87). Communication technology (mobile phones, satellite TV etc.) informs people all over the world instantly. Technological progress has made travel fast and comfortable, and moreover affordable for the average citizen. Distances that can be overcome ever faster and let the world literally shrink towards an increasingly ‘global village’ (Scholte speaks here of “space-time compression”, 2000a, p. 48). An additional push came with the triumphal procession of the internet, or more exactly the World Wide Web (since the early 1990s), which grew from approximately 200 hosts in 1980 to over one billion users in December 2008 (Bidgoli 2003, p. 40, ZDNet 2009).

In the main, all these advanced technologies gave rise to a new matter of fact: mutual interdependence. Interdependence engenders general vulnerability. As interconnectedness among societies grows, events happening in one part of the world increasingly influence other parts on the globe (Smith et al. 2008, p. 8). The intensification of transnational relations offers many chances, but also great transnational risks: Globalization is not an even and universal process. It has brought forth winners and losers, including some, while others are largely excluded: on the one hand, there is a link between globalization and peace, at least when it comes to the industrialized world. As republican liberalism teaches, the fact of economically highly interconnected, and thus interdependent, states makes war between these countries less likely, because they simply can’t afford it to hamper their economies by going to war. Globalization discourages classical interstate warfare, which has come largely true for the OECD-world after 1945 (Scholte 2000c, p. 208f.).

However, prosperity and wealth are in fact distributed very unevenly. The gap between poor and rich is increasing (Held et al. 1999, p. 27). While overall welfare, including factors like a higher life expectancy, diminishing infant mortality rates, or growing literacy rates have considerably improved, still more than 2.6 billion people (i.e. 47% of world population) live on less than 2 USD a day as of 2005, whereat the majority of poor people come from developing countries[5] in (Sub-Saharan) Africa and India, with poverty rates of more than 70% (World Bank 2008, p. 11). All in all, the achievements of globalization seem to intensify the economic divide, and thus give reason to new tensions[6], emanating above all from the underdeveloped parts of the world.

Besides this economic rift a cultural cleavage is emerging. While on the one hand several tendencies towards a global culture have shaped out (like global symbols, food, and English as a globalizing language), there also seems to exist a “tension between cultural homogenization and cultural heterogenization” (Appadurai 1996, p. 32). An overall global collective identity doesn’t exist and probably never will, at least not on a universal scale. On the contrary, certain differences are becoming deeper, finding expression in the reflection on own cultural traditions, which are often based on specific religious beliefs and ethnic identities that are passed on from one generation to the next (Smith 1990, p. 242). This reverse trend became particularly visible soon after the end of the Cold War, when separatist wishes, prompted by ethnic and religious revivalism, resulted in a soaring number of ethnic and intrastate wars.

By and large, developments and tendencies are discernible that do not always augur well. To summarize the effects of globalization on security in McGrew’s words: “rather than a more cooperative world order, contemporary globalization, in many respects, has exacerbated existing tensions and conflicts, generated new divisions and insecurities, creating a more unruly world” (McGrew 2008, p. 22).

1.3. The change of statehood

The traditional Westphalian nation-state[7] as we know it has come under considerable pressure over the last two decades. The achievements of full-scale globalization have contributed to slowly erode the two core elements of the modern state: territoriality and sovereignty. The more a society proverbially opens up, the more vulnerable to transnational threats it becomes.

The classical notion of the modern state involves “distinct boundaries, and the Westphalian idea of sovereignty stresses the principle of the inviolability of those borders” (Biersteker 2002, p. 157). However, as social activities bit by bit become “detached from a territorial logic” (Scholte 2000a, p. 47), the territorially defined space is gradually left behind. Above all, the internet along with advanced telecommunication technologies, but also progress in the transportation sector, have made boundaries easier penetrable, and thus leaving the time behind, in which borders stood for the defense from outside threats (Caporaso 2002, p. 7). Concerning the exchange of information and immaterial goods, physical borders in no way pose a noteworthy obstacle any more. The most explicit example is the financial sector, i.e. the transactions through which those inconceivable sums of assets are shuffled around the globe instantaneously and for almost no costs, thus bypassing any territorially bound state control.

As borders become more and more blurred, governments increasingly lack effective means to secure territorial integrity. Growing interconnectedness has come to undermine the state’s legitimate role of implementing economic and social policies, but also security measures within its assigned territory. This fact first and foremost applies to the global dangers of international terrorism (due to the complication of controlling the infiltration of radical ideas), and moreover to environmental pollution, which doesn’t make halt at borders. In the end, as Rosenau infers, “states can exercise little control over the flows of ideas, money, goods, pollution, crime, drugs and terrorism” (2002, p. 74). To the extent to which the state is deprived of its authority to ensure the compliance of its citizens through regulations, the more difficult it becomes to meet the new challenges efficaciously by means of conventional instruments. What Scholte indicates as the “deterritorialization” of space ends up in the evasion and erosion of traditional state control mechanisms (2000a, p. 46). The consequences of such out-of-control processes often hit the ungainly state with undue vehemence as we can see in the current financial crisis.

Nevertheless, even though the “late twenties-century increases in the flows of finance, of goods, of information, and in some employment sectors, even of people, have rendered boundaries increasingly porous or ‘soft’” (Biersteker 2002, p. 165), borders have not yet become totally irrelevant[8]. So long as nation-states exist there will also be borders, and therewith conflicts about them – territorial disputes, expansionist ambitions, separatist efforts for more autonomy and the like.

Furthermore, Haass points out that “one of the cardinal features of the contemporary international system is that nation-states have lost their monopoly on power and in some domains their pre-eminence as well. States are being challenged from above by regional and global organizations; from below, by militias; and from the side, by a variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and corporations. Power is now found in many hands and in many places” (2008, p. 45).

The emergence of other sources of (il-)legitimate authority demonstrates another relative weakness of the nation-state. Nowadays many transnational companies (TNCs) are more powerful than single states[9], so that they can directly or indirectly dictate a national government’s domestic legislation to a certain extent, such as influencing tax and labour policies. Besides, other non-state actors like NGOs, the civil society, but also individuals formulate the need for action, inform and mobilize the society, and even take part in political decision-making processes[10]. The separation between domestic and foreign policy is little by little diminishing as governance is becoming multilayered. In addition, new centralities like cities or regions are increasingly relevant in a globalized world, and this also accounts for international criminal and terrorist networks on the negative side.


[1] MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction): Marked by a situation of nuclear deterrence, in which each of the superpowers was discouraged from a first strike by the fact that neither side would survive, given the other side’s second strike capacities. This strategy, achieved through reciprocal fear, was believed to best ensure peace (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2009).

[2] NAM: an international organization of neutral states founded in 1961, and currently consisting of 116 member states (mostly from the developing world). During Cold War these countries considered themselves as not being aligned to any of the two military blocs (NATO, Warsaw Pact). Instead they stood for peaceful coexistence and disarmament (NAM 2009).

[3] China is about to overtake Germany as the world’s export champion in goods, ranking second in 2007 (WTO 2008, p. 12)

[4] Haas points at the great number of actual regional powers (like Brazil, Iran, South Korea etc.), but also at organizations of global (like IMF, UN, World Bank), regional (EU) or functional character (OPEC, WHO), and last but not least at states within states (like California). On the “dark” side militias like Hezbollah or the Taliban, and groups like the terrorist organization of al Qaeda or international drug cartels are listed (Haass 2008, p. 46).

[5] Another indicator that underpins the unequal distribution of wealth is Foreign Direct Investments. The biggest share of FDI, spent by Western European and North American companies, flows back to the industrialized world. In 2007, only 29 % of the global FDI-sum of 1,833 billion USD was invested in the developing countries (and hereof the largest share went to China, followed by the transition economies of South East Asia and Latin America). The 50 least developed countries received only 13 billion USD (UNCTAD 2008).

[6] e.g. resulting in a heightened migration pressure or even in acts of war (Kruber et al. 2008, p. 20)

[7] The basis for the modern nation state was established with the signature of the Westphalian Peace Treaty in 1648, sealing the end of the Thirty Years War. The date marks the foundation of a new political order, in which the nation-state became a closed entity based on the core principles of territoriality and sovereignty, which Caporaso describes as follows: “The basic idea is one of a system of territorially organized states operating in an anarchic environment. These states are constitutionally independent (sovereign) and have exclusive authority to rule within their own borders” (2000, p. 2).

[8] What can be seen in the fact that the number of independent states rose considerably from about 75 in 1945 to 190 in the late 20th century (James 1999, p. 464).

[9] So e.g. the annual business volume of Wal-Mart Stores (351,139 million USD in 2007) exceeds each single LDC’s GDP by far. In reference to the least developed country of the world – Sierra Leone – the world’s No. 1 TNC’s turnover is over 88 times higher than the country’s yearly GDP of 3,969 million USD (Fortune 2009, World Bank 2009, UN-OHRLLS 2009).

[10] Like e.g. in EU-decision-making processes (Lee 2006, p. 3ff.)

Excerpt out of 45 pages


The growth of uncertainty after the end of the Cold War and its impact on the security environment of states
Free University of Berlin  (Center for Global Politics)
International Relations Online
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ISBN (Book)
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Masterarbeit im Rahmen meines Studiums International Relations (Internationale Beziehungen) an der FU Berlin
Sicherheit, uncertainty, security, risks, danger, conflict, Unsicherheit, statehood, globalization, Globalisierung, Westphalian state, poverty, Armut, environmental degradation, terrorism, Terrorismus, Cold War, Kalter Krieg, nation-state, souvereignty, Souveränität, resource conflikt, Ressourcenkonflikt, WMD, Massenvernichtungswaffen, pandemics, IT, Sicherheitskonzept, human security
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Natalie Züfle (Author), 2009, The growth of uncertainty after the end of the Cold War and its impact on the security environment of states, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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