East-West dichotomy in international relations
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In the 21st Century, the East-West dichotomy is present in the field of international relations, and remains an important division, in the international arena. The East-West dichotomy, can be contextualised within the framework of modern political, economic and military institutions. The characteristics of these can be traced back to the early post-WWII era, concurrent with the onset of the Cold War.
Late 20th Century
In the post-WWII era, with the arrival of the Cold War, the greater portion of the Western world, led by the United States, France & other European states, created institutions (military, economic & political) which would see greater cooperation between the countries of war-ravaged Europe and other western countries throughout the globe. Consequently, NATO, the western military alliance was born (1949), as was the European Coal and Steel Community (1952) (the precursor of the modern European Union) and subsequently the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (1961). The so-called ‘Eastern bloc', because these countries lay east of western Europe and were Soviet influenced (rather than their being culturally ‘eastern’), was made up exclusively of communist countries in the east, mainly from Europe, who formed their own institutions to rival the Western ones, primarily Comecon (economic) (1949-1991) and the Warsaw Pact (military) (1955-1991).
On the other hand the Global South (or South-East), sometimes referred to as the Third World (ie. belonging neither to the First World of the USA and its allies or the Second World of the Soviet Union and its allies), formed their own institutions, primarily that of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) (1961), and the Group of 77 (G-77) (1964). The Global South countries generally viewed the Cold War in the light of an intra-Western struggle, between two hegemon’s (USA and Soviet Union). The Global South contended that neither of the two superpower blocs had much real connection or association with the struggles or challenges faced by the Global South/Eastern World. There was little cross-membership of the institutions outlined above, between the broadly defined Western World (developed countries, both capitalist & communist)) and Global South (Eastern World), but there were a few countries with membership of both groupings. Cuba, a founding member of NAM, also joined Comecon in 1972, whilst a newly reunited Vietnam joined NAM in 1976 and initiated membership with Comecon, two years later, in 1978. Yugoslavia, a pivotal founding member of NAM, was an interesting case, given that it was a European (Western) country, with membership of an Eastern World grouping. This was further compounded by the fact that Yugoslavia negotiated an associate membership of Comecon in 1964. Yugoslavia, Cuba and Vietnam were also founding members of the Group of 77, whilst Romania joined the grouping in 1976, in spite of its membership of both the Warsaw Pact & Comecon.
The end of the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, saw major changes in the style & dynamics of international relations. Both Comecon and the Warsaw Pact were dissolved abruptly, and the former Soviet satellite states of Central & Eastern Europe, actively sought out membership of the Western institutions. Subsequently, most of these countries became firmly anchored to the West (or North-West), having joined or applied to join the various Western organisations. Consequently the membership of the OECD, EU and NATO expanded significantly from 1990. Reciprocally, the membership of the Global South/Eastern World institutions likewise expanded largely in the same time.
The combined membership of the OECD (34 members), EU (28) & NATO (28) stood at 42 countries in 2015. This includes the 34 OECD members + 7 EU countries not in the OECD (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta & Romania) + 1 NATO country not in OECD or EU (Albania). On the other hand, the Eastern World institutions: expanded Group of 77, numbers 134 members (133 UN member states + State of Palestine) and NAM numbers 120 members (119 UN member states + State of Palestine). Collectively, the Group of 77 & NAM share a total of 136 UN member states + State of Palestine. This includes the G-77 133 UN member states + 3 NAM states not in the G-77 (Azerbaijan, Belarus & Uzbekistan). With the notable exception of Chile, there is no country with full membership of both the Western & Eastern world key institutions. Bosnia & Herzegovina, is another interesting case, in that it is a member of the Group of 77, but also has negotiated a Membership Action Plan for NATO (ie. candidacy for NATO membership). Should Bosnia & Herzegovina join NATO, it will need to decide whether it wishes to retain its G-77 membership (or perhaps whether it might be permitted to do so by the G-77). The general practice has been for a member to withdraw its membership of a major Eastern World institution on joining a major Western World institution. The following has occurred in the past:
- Mexico – founding member of G-77, discontinued its membership of that grouping on joining the OECD in 1994, although Mexico remains a member of the smaller sub-group the G-24.
- South Korea - founding member of G-77, discontinued its membership of that grouping on joining the OECD in 1996
- Cyprus – founding member of both NAM and G-77, discontinued its membership of both institutions on joining the EU in 2004
- Malta – member of NAM since 1973 and G-77 since 1976, discontinued its membership of both institutions on joining the EU in 2004
- Romania – member of G-77 from 1976, discontinued its membership of that grouping on joining the EU in 2007
Of the total 193 UN member states of the world, 42 states belong to at least one key Western organisation and 136 states belong to at least one key Eastern organisation. After taking into account Chile, which is in both groupings, 177 out of 193 UN countries are aligned in these two camps. Therefore, only 16 UN member countries are not counted among those belonging to either the key Eastern (NAM, G-77) or Western institutions (OECD, EU, NATO). All those in question are either microstates or former republics of the USSR or of the former Yugoslavia.
|Montenegro||EU candidate & NATO candidate|
|Macedonia||EU candidate & NATO candidate|
|San Marino||Microstate (European)|
|Palau||Microstate (Asia-Pacific) (G-77 member: 2002-04)|
Anomalies & Inconsistencies
Despite the relatively neat divide, between the Eastern and Western world, by reference to some of the largest modern international and regional institutions, there is no universal agreement on the exact delineation between what constitutes an Eastern or Western country, respectively. Some possible discrepancies in terms of alignment, include, South Korea (originally aligned East), which has anchored itself to the West, but is historically an eastern country. Similarly for Japan, Turkey and Israel (all members of Western institutions), alternative arguments can be made as to whether these countries are historically more eastern or western. Bosnia & Herzegovina, is a G-77 member, but it may inevitably find itself politically entrenched in ‘the West’, if it proceeds with NATO (& EU) membership, which would not run counter to its European roots & geography.
Latin America is mainly aligned with the East (except Mexico, with Chile remaining a curious borderline case) but there is no consensus as to whether these countries are characteristically more eastern or western. A similar question may be raised in relation to Russia and most of the former republics of the USSR, and this remains the single biggest regional group of countries which have remained unaligned with either bloc.
- Albania had effectively ended its participation in the Warsaw Pact by1961 - it formally withdrew in 1968
- Yugoslavia was only a special "associate" member of Comecon, rather than a full member