The Malta Conference

The Malta Conference

The Malta Conference on 2-3 December 1989 reinvigorated discussion of the new world order. Various new concepts arose in the press as elements of the new order. Commentators expected the replacement of containment with superpower cooperation. This cooperation might then tackle problems such as reducing armaments and troop deployments, settling regional disputes, stimulating economic growth, lessening East-West trade restrictions, the inclusion of the Soviets in international economic institutions, and protecting the environment. Pursuant to superpower cooperation, a new role for NATO was forecast, with the organization perhaps changing into a forum for negotiation and treaty verification, or even a wholesale dissolution of NATO and the Warsaw Pact following the resurrection of the four-power framework from WWII (i.e. the US United Kingdom, France, and Russia). However, continued US military presence in Europe was expected to help contain “historic antagonisms”, thus making possible a new European order. In Europe, German reunification was seen as part of the new order. However, Strobe Talbott saw it as more of a brake on the new era, and believed Malta to be a holding action on part of the superpowers designed to forestall the “new world order” because of the German question. Political change in Eastern Europe also arose on the agenda. The Eastern Europeans believed that the new world order didn’t signify superpower leadership, but that superpower dominance was coming to an end In general, observes that the new world order would be based on the principles of political liberty, self-determination, and non-intervention. This would mean an end to the sponsoring of military conflicts in third countries, restrictions on global arms sales, and greater engagement in the Middle East (especially regarding Syria, Palestine, and Israel). The US might use this opportunity to more emphatically promote human rights in China and South Africa Economically, debt relief was expected to be a significant issue, as East-West competition would give way to North-South cooperation. Economic tripolarity would arise, with the US, Germany, and Japan as the three motors of world growth. Meanwhile, the Soviet social and economic crisis was manifestly going to limit its ability to project power abroad, thus necessitating continued US leadership.

Commentators assessing the results of the Conference, and how the pronouncements measured up to expectations, were underwhelmed. Bush was criticized for taking refuge behind notions of “status quo-plus” rather than a full commitment to new world order. Others noted that Bush thus far failed to satisfy the out-of-control “soaring expectations” that Gorbachev’s speech unleashed.

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