PARIS. — A year after the Gulf crisis began, a new world order exists, but it is not an American order. The American-led intervention that produced Kuwait's liberation shifted perceptions and relationships, but itself changed no geopolitical realities.
The policy objective of a new international order was initially put forward by President Bush with no description of what it might mean. It seems reasonable to say that the president's speechwriters had merely seized a phrase from the conventional rhetoric of 20th-century American political declamation.
The president and his secretary of state, James Baker, talked initially about a strengthened United Nations and support for international law -- a welcome development, since under the Reagan administration and under Mr. Bush himself, in Panama, the United States had shown slight concern for the restraints of international law when real or perceived American interests were at stake. The United Nations in those days was afforded little sympathy or attention.
The lack of an official statement of what members of the Bush administration actually meant when they talked about a new international order permitted legislators and commentators to make their own interpretations or propose their own agendas. The argument most often heard was that the United States, having become the ''sole superpower,'' should protect international society from new Iraqs -- overarmed dictatorships in the Third World, capable of holding to hostage resources and assets of consequence to the industrial nations. This seemed both too narrow a threat definition and too aggressive a policy to be popular in the United States, but the idea was much discussed in Europe as well as in Washington during the fall and winter.
The lightning victory in March revealed that Iraq never had been that much of a threat, and Mr. Bush and Mr. Baker soon began to use a different language in talking about the international order. More important than what they said, however, was what at the same time was happening on the ground, in Iraq and Turkey, and subsequently in Europe.
The Western coalition nations, on British and French initiative, and despite American reluctance, intervened a second time in ++ Iraq to protect the Kurdish and Shiite minorities. A ''right'' to humanitarian intervention was asserted that challenged the principle of absolute national sovereignty, fundamental to international law until now. This led to a new U.N. ''police'' presence in Iraq, uninvited by that country, and creation of the international intervention force now stationed in Turkey to reinforce the U.N.'s protection of Iraq's vulnerable populations.
The next important development was the European Community intervention in Yugoslavia in July, unsolicited by the Yugoslav government, not a member of the European Community and a country where it has no standing. This intervention nonetheless was carried out by the Community as agent of a policy consensus among all the democracies that Yugoslavia had to be blocked, even against the will of its component republics, from the worst extremes of fratricidal war. Community nations disagreed on whether the Yugoslav federal structure should be kept or whether Slovenia's, or Croatia's, independence should be recognized, which limited the effectiveness of the intervention. Nonetheless the very fact that the Community, and through it the democracies, had acted, was another important innovation.
A third major development was the Group of Seven industrial nations' declaration in July of concern over how the Soviet reform crisis turns out, establishing a collective mechanism to make this concern effective. Britain, host to the industrial nations' summit, was commissioned to follow events in Russia and take whatever steps might seem useful before the next meeting of the industrial nations' leaders. The International Monetary Fund was assigned responsibility for establishing a framework for intervention in the Soviet situation. The Group of Seven also assumed responsibility for overseeing General Agreement on Tariff and Trade commerce liberation negotiations.
All of this implies that something like an informal directorate of the democratic powers is coming into existence, capable of becoming a powerful force to deal with international ''disorder'' -- disorder understood in much wider and more realistic terms than in the earlier American discussion.
American policy was also given a striking reformulation when Secretary Baker spoke in Berlin in June. He described the cooperative international order which already exists within the value-community of the democracies. The Bush administration's
new world order was coming to seem less a project for the future than a consolidation of something already there -- whose existence was suddenly being recognized, and whose implications were being put into practical form.