The new world disorder

The new world disorder July 28, 2014

British journalist Peter Foster, writing in the London Telegraph, sees the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner over the Ukraine as just one symptom among many of the global order coming apart.  And with the disengagement of the United States and the timidity of Europe, conditions are starting to resemble the way things were just before World War I.

From Peter Foster, Flight MH17 and the new world disorder – Telegraph:

As before the First World War, the centenary of which falls next month, there is a detectable sense of complacency among the coddled citizens of Europe and America. Perhaps it is understandable. We have never been more comfortable, the internet quite literally lets us swoop across the world, plucking its fruits at whim. Life for many millions is good; across the developed world, violent crime is falling, the recession receding, we are living longer and have choices galore. With Afghanistan and Iraq behind us, war is now something that takes place in far-off lands.

But the belief that economic inter-dependence would protect us from wars – that the cost of conflict would far outweigh the gain – is a fallacy. Norman Angell, a leading of pundit of his day made that argument back in 1910 in his book The Great Illusion. But he overlooked the fact that nationalist ambition is often irrational, as Mr Putin has shown by continuing to prosecute his proxy war in Ukraine despite his economy being on the brink of recession.

It is tempting to believe that history really is at an end, but that mistake was made before – at a cost of nine million lives. John Maynard Keynes, in his seminal essay on The Economic Consequences of Peace, captured the early-20th-century mindset with his famous image of the Londoner, lying in bed in early 1914 “sipping his tea” and using his telephone to order the “various products of the whole earth”. A hundred years before the advent of Amazon.com, Keynes wrote that “internationalisation”, appeared to be “nearly complete in practice”.

And if that languid Londoner bothered to pick up his newspaper, then the “politics of militarism and imperialism… which were to play the serpent to this paradise, were little more than the amusements of his daily newspaper, and appeared to exercise almost no influence at all on the ordinary course of social and economic life”.

It sounds eerily familiar, and while the comparison is inexact – not least because of the (we hope) self-limiting power of nuclear weapons – even a cursory glance around the world today reveals a worrying number of serpents starting to the rear their ugly heads.

The map of Middle East drawn up after the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 is uncoiling, dissolving into a region-wide Sunni-Shia civil war. The Western response, driven by understandable war-weariness, has largely been to stand and watch. Even pictures of gassed children heaving and choking in Syria’s makeshift hospitals, was not enough re-awaken a sense of the old responsibility that America and the West took upon itself after 1945 to underwrite the institutions and ideals of global democracy.

Perhaps even more worryingly for the long term, in the Asia-Pacific, after three decades of wasteful, pell-mell economic growth a rising China is starting to rub up against the limits of both its politics and demographics. It is beginning to challenge the postwar settlement, jousting almost daily with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines in the East and South China Seas. That is another accident waiting to happen, and one – unlike the downing of MH17 – where there is no real system in place to manage the fallout. Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea, America’s main regional allies, which act as a bulwark against Chinese adventurism, are openly bickering. And all that is not to mention Afghanistan’s highly uncertain future, the fragmentation of Iraq, Africa’s Islamist insurgencies, Libya’s slide into failed statehood, North Korea’s increasingly erratic behaviour, and the election of a Hindu-nationalist prime minister in a (nuclear-armed) India.

How to respond to this new world disorder is suddenly the pressing issue of our time.

[Keep reading. . . .]

Mr. Foster goes on to discuss President Obama’s lack of involvement in these issues.  But the alternatives, he says, are Republican isolationists.  Maybe Hillary Clinton, he says, understands what’s at stake.  But the American public seems disinterested in these foreign problems and may not elect anyone who will take them on, leaving the world in an ever more dangerous condition.

So how should we–or anyone–respond to this “new world disorder”?


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