Last fortnight’s visit to Brussels, London and Helsinki by the US President Donald Trump has opened up the deep fissures in the Western alliance even though that had for almost eight decades maintained a hegemonic presence on international politics. While it would be easy to see this in light of larger schema of an overall acknowledgement that the locus of international politics is shifting from its Eurocentric location to an entirely new kind of ‘Concert of Asia’ with China, India and on account of its Eurasian land mass, Russia. This time of transition is naturally causing a degree of international disorder only exacerbated by a deep crisis in the Western version of capitalist economic structure that is now seriously wobbly.
We know that organising the ‘anarchic world,’ as Thomas Hobbs considered the human character constituting it, to be, was often the desire ever since the modern nation-states were formed in the post-Westphalian world, though the real efforts began long after. The process of building this international order had begun with the creation of the League of Nations. Woodrow Wilson, then US president had in the wake of the World War I proposed its formation, along with the Treaty of Versailles, signed and sealed to end the war.
But it began unravelling itself by 1931 when Japan attacked Mongolia and the League could not intervene. Sensing the storm clouds of another World War gathering on the horizon, the League decided to convene a Conference of Disarmament. But Hitler’s Germany withdrew from the CD and the League in 1933. That was more or less the death-knell of the first attempt at establishing an international order based on rules and norms that were to be inviolate.
This current international order was established on the basis of the idea of the United Nations again proposed by another US president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a prime minister of the UK, Winston Churchill right in 1941 when they promulgated their peace aims in the ‘Atlantic Charter.’ The nations that signed UN Declaration of 1 January, 1942, were four: the USA, the UK, the USSR and China. Then followed the next batch: the other members of the Allied coalition ranged against the three Axis powers, Germany, Italy and Japan.
As we know the success of the UN can be measured in times of the Cold War for averting any globe girdling war that could have turned into mass annihilation resulting from nuclear exchanges. However, the global organisation of now 193 nations could not stop the smaller proxy wars between the two superpowers, having their interests being supreme in the apex Security Council where they enjoyed the veto right.
But despite most importantly, the combustible European continent, which had triggered the two WWs, had peace for more than 70 years, till Yugoslavia dissolved into redrawn maps and the old animosities of race and religion erupted in 1990s.
Having said that, after the financial meltdown of the 2008 and its concomitant severe economic downturn has given rise to a sharp backlash against what was termed ‘globalisation.’ This globalisation had caused jobs to migrate from the high wage Western hemisphere, to the East. And the ease of transferring financial capital engendered by the new rules that were originally framed with the desire to tie the post- Cold War world in one, singular giant business complex, has seen the flight of capital from low returns developed economies to the developing economies. But what has caused this current global upsurge of nationalistic protectionism that seeks to undo the much touted ‘globalisation?’
This explanandum requires a look at the Gini Index of economic inequality, and the physical manifestations of the severe inequality between the rich and the poor, in the form of ‘Occupy’ movement and the general atmosphere of popular unrest that is for the time being seeking solace in a severe withdrawal symptom of sorts by which the populations of the developed world are choosing ultra-nationalistic right wing political formations to lead them. This is reminiscent of the in 1930s Europe — especially in the nations that were the vanquished. Brexit is a giant example of this phenomenon where the thin shred of political sanity is holding the country together from not going down in flames. The rise of Donald Trump in the USA is a similar phenomenon, where the noblesse oblige of the old liberal elite is being supremely rejected.
This turmoil in the so-called developed societies is creating tensions across the globe at multiple levels. On top of that is the competition for global primacy between the superpower, the economic superpower and the former superpower that has gained a semblance of stability, seeking to reclaim its old position in the comity of nations. This is necessitating a reordering of the world that is more inclusive of the newly emerged powerful nation-states of the former South. A democratisation of the institutions like the UN system and the Bretton Woods system and the like is an urgent requirement. The sooner it happens the better it is.
(The writer is a freelance journalist)