The Fragility of World Order
After the Unipolar Moment
The Stanley Foundation-IISS conference examined two scenarios with the greatest potential to disrupt the international order-a "perfect storm" of Middle East conflicts and a financial crisis originating in Asia. The conference discussions assessed the hazards such seismic events could pose as follows:

Middle East "Perfect Storm"
  • Participants said the only thing worse than the United States attacking Iran would be a US attack on Iran with Tehran still obtaining a nuclear capability, a likely outcome given the dispersal of Iran's nuclear facilities.

  • In terms of political fallout, a US strike against Iran was seen as a "death knell" for the transatlantic relationship.

  • An additional risk to the United States is the possibility of seeming to overreact to an Iranian nuclear program that is ultimately shown to be in its infancy or demonstrably civilian.

  • As tension mounts between Sunni and Shia Muslims, there was fear of potential escalating confrontation and violence, particularly since the sectarian split has interstate as well as intrastate dimensions.
Asian Financial Crisis
  • Participants viewed the prospect of a global financial meltdown emanating from Asia as quite plausible. The nightmare scenario would probably combine triggering events in the currency market (imperiled by unsustainable fiscal policy), exacerbated by misguided responses from governments, and magnified by the failure of financial institutions.

  • Dramatic disparities in wealth and the concentration of the benefits of globalization was itself seen as a threat to the global economy. The frustrations of the have-nots could well burst forth in disruptive ways.

  • Participants discussed the difficulty national governments face in counterbalancing the power of private capital and market forces. More optimistically, the spread and dispersal of globalization's trade and financial networks was seen as the defense against a crisis. The greater the number of nodes in the global economy, the less threat that a discrete incident can pose to the entire system.
This document is part of the Stanley Foundation's "After the Unipolar Moment—Reconciling the US and the World" series.

This page is part of Rising Powers: The New Global Reality, a project from the Stanley Foundation.