My article "Twenty Years After the Cold War: A Strategic Survey" appears in the current issue of the U.S. Army War College Quarterly Parameters. Below is a short version.
In looking at the development of the international system during the last two decades, six trends appear paramount:
1. Great power conflict, as it has manifested in arms races, proxy conflicts and armed confrontations, has receded, not only from Europe after the end of the Cold War division, but Asia as well, with improved relations among Russia, China, India and Japan. Indeed, the number of objects which might plausibly produce such situations has tended to shrink, with disputes over the remaining issues growing less intense (as has been the case with the issue of Taiwan since the mid-1990s, let alone the 1950s).
2. The shift from interstate warfare to intrastate warfare as the dominant form of political violence has continued. Even as the outbreak of war has become more frequent, interstate warfare has grown less frequent, increasingly confined to the margins of the international system, and more limited in length, scale and intensity.
3. Neoliberal globalization has only deepened, but has proven problematic, contributing to the stagnation of global economic growth (which may have worsened every decade from the 1970s on), as well as increased financial instability; sharper inequality; and the social and political stresses feeding ethnic and sectarian conflict.
4. Global output, world manufacturing and the balance of trade have shifted toward East Asia, and especially China (more than offsetting the impact of Japan's relative decline on the region's overall position), while the consolidation and extension of the European Union have conduced to the preservation of Europe's economic weight (despite Germany's relative decline). Meanwhile, the U.S.'s changed – likely, weakened – position is understated even by its smaller share of Gross World Product, given its more rapidly shrinking share of world industrial production (perhaps already eclipsed by China), and its trade imbalances.
5. Resource politics have only grown more pressing, rather than being diminished, a problem highlighted by the politics of energy, which have seen energy exporters (like Russia and Venezuela) enhance their wealth and status, while energy importers (like the United States) have seen their trade balances and their economic growth suffer.
6. International cooperation on global issues has proven consistently disappointing, compared with the high hopes seen in the early 1990s regarding a more powerful United Nations, and action on alleviating global poverty and environmental problems (symbolized by the Rio Summit, the Kyoto Protocol and the Millennium Declaration), and nuclear nonproliferation.
The result has been a more complex, diffuse international distribution of economic and political power (even as the U.S. remains in a class of its own militarily, and to a lesser extent, economically), while the international community as a whole faces a host of problems (like climate change) requiring unprecedented levels of cooperation – with the results of the efforts made to date underwhelming. The 2008 financial crisis has exposed key vulnerabilities in every actor – China's unsustainable export-oriented path, and Europe's troubled finances and lack of political cohesion for instance – while offering a reminder that the "declinists" of the '80s and '90s were essentially correct in their reading of the U.S.'s situation. Not only has the country seen the mediocre growth observed since the 1970s continue, but its deindustrialization, balance of payments problems and mounting debt have only worsened, inside a context of greater economic integration and ecological strain, and it all poses bigger problems for the U.S. than "traditional" security considerations. The article goes on to advocate a focus on addressing these problems (the rebuilding of the country's infrastructure and manufacturing and energy bases in recognition of the new realities), while cooperating with other nations in a "broader, sustained effort to redress the imbalances and vulnerabilities of the international economic system."