September 29, 2014
We appear to have reached one of those extraordinary moments in history when people everywhere, communities and even entire nations, feel increasingly stressed and vulnerable. The same may be said of the planet as a whole.
Whether intellectually or intuitively, many are asking the same question: Where are we heading? How do we explain the long list of financial, environmental and humanitarian emergencies, epidemics, small and larger conflicts, genocides, war crimes, terrorist attacks and military interventions? Why does the international community seem powerless to prevent any of this?
There is no simple or single answer to this conundrum, but two factors can shed much light.
The first involves a global power shift and the prospect of a new Cold War. The second relates to globalisation and the crises generated by the sheer scale of cross-border flows.
Is a new Cold War in the making?
The geopolitical shift has resulted in a dangerous souring of America’s relations with Russia and China.
The dispute over Ukraine is the latest chapter in the rapidly deteriorating relationship between Washington and Moscow. In what is essentially a civil war in which over 3,000 people have been killed, the two great powers have chosen to support opposing sides in the conflict by all means short of outright intervention.
The incorporation of Crimea into Russia, Moscow’s decision to use force in Georgia in 2008 and its support for the independence of the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are part of the same dynamic.
The conduct of Russian governments in the Putin era has been at times coercive and often clumsy at home and abroad. But the United States has also much to answer for. For the last 25 years its foreign policy has been unashamedly triumphalist.
In his 1992 State of the Union address, President George Bush senior declared:
By the grace of God, America won the Cold War.
Since then we have seen the bombing of Serbia without UN Security Council approval, US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the US invasion of Iraq in defiance of UN opposition, overt support for the colour revolutions on Russia’s doorstep (Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan), and the Magnitsky Act singling out Russia for human rights violations. Western military intervention in Libya, which contrary to assurances brought about regime change, dealt a further blow to the relationship.
And now the Ukraine crisis has led to steadily expanding US and European sanctions against Russia and renewed efforts to ramp up NATO deployments and joint exercises in Eastern Europe.