International Relations – 30 years After The Wall
In the early 90’s, I had the privilege of attending various international conferences across Europe concerning contemporary civilization challenges: war and peace, human rights, and third world development. There were three major themes that crowded out all others.
Those global challenges were:
1. Climate change – the need for global cooperation.
2. Nuclear proliferation – the threat of stalled disarmament talks
These concerns were driven largely by several global economic, technological and social trends including communication and distribution advances, the emergence of the world-wide web, automation, global banking, privatization, deregulation, outsourcing and the emerging Asian tiger markets, which signaled a possible economic shift in the balance of power.
In a nutshell, the million dollar question was if a new and improved post-cold war, economic, security, and legal order would flourish. This new order would be based on increased reliance on multilateralism, economic cooperation, science-based policy, self-determination, democracy, rule of law, international arbitration, and commitment to human rights, which would supplement, buttress, and slowly supersede the status quo, after two catastrophic 20th century wars. The other possible competing hypothesis was the possibility that the status quo would collapse under new pressures and regress back to the traditional power dynamics of sovereignty, unilateralism and nationalism; the old world order returning to rear its ugly head, and again reign supreme.
This former hypothesis, and tenuous consensus, was supported by the mostly peaceful dissolution of the U.S.S.R. and fall of the Wall. Court Exhibit A: The Scorpions – Wind of Change. Remember how we celebrated in the streets and the world abound with optimism?
Unfortunately, that momentary consensus and optimism was quickly to be challenged and called into question by the First Gulf War, and the failure to adequately respond in Yugoslavia, East Timor, Rwanda, and Georgia Contemporaneously, the world was becoming increasingly aware of a rise in international terrorism emanating from Africa and the Middle East. This only further exacerbated international cooperation, as the body of international law and established norms to combat terrorism were well known to be flawed. After all, the status quo was built only to withstand and address nation-state actors, not supranational, non-state players.
We tenuously and guardedly moved forward.
Global order, stability and confidence were further damaged by 9/11, a global recession, European austerity, arguably illegal Middle East wars, half-baked military incursions, an Arab Spring, a refugee crisis, and the ostensible delegitimization and impotence of U.N. authority.
Fast forward 30 years
So, where are we now?
1. Little progress has been made on climate change, from Rio to Kyoto to Paris.
The recent U.S. decision to pull out of Paris will hopefully not be shown to be the proverbial nail.
2. Little to no progress has been made on nuclear proliferation since the failure of START II to go into effect.
There are now 9 nation-states considered to have nuclear weapons.
One might imagine, if one were a developing nation-state in a tenuous environment, that it might appear inequitable and unfair for only an exclusive club to hold such a powerful deterrent and additional insurance policy against foreign intervention. One can only wonder how the world would look, had efforts at nuclear disarmament succeeded.
3. The reemergence of populism and nationalism
4. Identity politics is gaining momentum across the political spectrum and causing increasing distrust, anxiety and polarization, from both the far left and the far right. This has given us glorious enlightened developments like the “alt-right,” “trolling,” Pepe and the postmodern sociology of “mansplaining,” “cultural appropriation,” and 58 Facebook genders.
The 1980s torch of Falwell’s moral majority from the Christian right seems to have been handed to the postmodern, multicultural left, in the forms of “Islamophobia” and other modern-day “SJW” causes. Whether this is a chicken or egg phenomenon, backlash to the Christian revivalist Tea Party or simply an idle and uncreative left is open for debate. In any case, the culture wars are back with a vengeance.
6. Trust in media is at alarming levels and freedom of press and norms of free speech are being attacked from all sides, from campus speech codes, to deplatforming, to increases in hate speech legislation, and even rhetorical threats from the current U.S. administration itself.
7. Partisan distrust is at historic highs.
8. Growing economic wealth disparities are at levels not seen since the beginning of the last century and the French Revolution.
9. The new American administration seems to have abandoned its traditional role of global leadership on the promotion of democracy, human rights, security guarantees, NATO support, environment, economic multilateralism and protection of the free press.
10. Nuclear saber-rattling has returned with a bellicose American threat of annihilation and a serious, ostensibly nuclear standoff.
As I write this, far right nationalists and white supremacists are clashing with counterprotesters in the streets of Virginia, and America and Europe have seen increasing street protests on various issues from police brutality and social justice to anti-science and anti-immigration.
If we are to see the changes over the last 30 years through the extreme lens of the contesting hypotheses of Fukuyama’s End of History,
What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government
In the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilizational clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous,”
we would be hard pressed to claim that Fukuyama has been vindicated.
The good news is that there are new episodes of Game of Thrones so that we can live vicariously through an epic and brutal apocalyptic world which resembles our distant and not so distant past and I’m looking forward to the release of the new science fiction remake of the classic futuristic dystopia, Blade Runner.