The New World Order was an admittedly utopian theory that emerged in the 1990's after the fall of the Soviet Union. Some international relations theorists proposed that, with the United States' chief rival reduced to economic nothingness, there would be a new Pax Americana, and America would lead the world in every way well into the twenty-fifth century and beyond. It was dubbed "the end of history" in some accounts.

Of course, proponents of the New World Order idea, George Bush among them, neglected a few key points, namely:

  1. Japan's economy was taking off, and slowly leeching capital from the United States.
  2. China and North Korea were still practicing communism, and still had large armies and large ballistic missiles to throw around.
  3. Huge portions of the world of Islam, supported by America's petroleum-driven economy, already resented America: the New World Order would only serve to agitate them even more.
  4. Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Slobodan Milosevic, and many other crackpot dictators were still around, and still up to their old tricks.
  5. The European Union was promising to bring Western Europe back to a level of global dominance not seen since the end of World War II.
  6. Many countries in the developing world were falling apart: rather than a New World Order, they were seeing a Coming Anarchy.
Several more rational theorists, primarily Robert Kaplan and Samuel Huntington, re-evaluated the entire concept after the Gulf War and came up with their own models to explain what was really going on.

Kaplan proposed, in a 1994 Atlantic Monthly article, that the concept of the nation state, present since the Treaty of Westphalia, and well-elaborated by Woodrow Wilson and others, is breaking down. He focused on the Gold Coast of Africa, specifically Cote d'Ivoire and Togo, where state boundaries on maps mean absolutely nothing in comparison to the spheres of influence of warlords and organized crime. He also cited situations where immigration was effectively erasing national boundaries and making it impossible to determine what kind of people lived where just from looking at a political map.

Taking this one step further, Huntington proposed, in a Foreign Affairs article, that the world was realigning along national lines, and specifically around cultural blocs. Muslim countries, for instance, are often allied on the international scene: so are Eastern Orthodox countries. Huntington used the civil war in Bosnia and the national division of Ukraine as models to illustrate this idea. In Bosnia, Islam, Western Christianity, and Orthodoxy were colliding within the boundaries of one state, and different sides of the fight were aligning with whichever group represented their civilization. In Ukraine, Catholic Ukrainians and Orthodox Russians inhabit the same state in roughly equal proportions, and are almost perfectly politically aligned against each other.

Economically, the most widely accepted model of the New World Order is tripolar, with New York, London, and Tokyo at each pole, representing the three major economic players of the United States (NAFTA), Western Europe (EU), and Japan (APEC). Whether or not this model will hold with the liberalization of the People's Republic of China is debatable. Another popular model is the North-South model, pitting an affluent Northern Hemisphere against an impoverished equatorial region and Southern Hemisphere.