The Rapidly Disintegrating World Order
By Graham Vanbergen: The world order is disintegrating quickly as events unfold in a global power shift that is exposing the Western world’s weaknesses at a time when its adversaries are better equipped than ever before. What lies ahead?
On February 24th last year, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, addressed the nation and gave the case as to why Ukraine needed defending from Russian aggression.
“Ukraine is a country that for decades has enjoyed freedom and democracy and the right to choose its own destiny. We, and the world, cannot allow that freedom just to be snuffed out. We cannot and will not just look away. It is because we have been so alarmed in recent months at the Russian intimidation that the UK became one of the first countries in Europe to send defensive weaponry to help the Ukrainians.”
Johnson went on to announce international sanctions, an embargo on Russian oil and gas, and to do what it takes and forever how long it takes. Johnson, the living pinnacle of political hypocrisy with scant regard for anything remotely looking like integrity, was, for once – right.
What the Western world, European countries especially, did not do – was react quickly, decisively and with enough force to send a message to Putin (and the rest of the world) that attacking Western interests was not acceptable. The reality of that lack of action is now unfolding as we witness the beginning of a chain of regional wars amid increased tensions between the great powers. Every day brings news of the ratcheting up of the international pressure pot, and every day the prospects of peace diminish. This is the reality of today.
Putin’s attack of Ukraine – completely unprovoked, is starting to look like a slippery slope of war gaming theory put into practice. If the barbaric attack by Hamas on Israel was a year in the planning with assistance from Iran, was Putin’s attack on Ukraine not also part of an overall plan? Who knows?
It is a fair question to ask, how could such a deadly attack, on such a scale, against the Middle East’s strongest military and intelligence power have occurred without warning? The same could be said to a large extent as to the events in Ukraine.
Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005, recently wrote:
“Consider the precision of the attack and all the planning that went into it. Clearly, the goal was not simply to stage a blood-soaked display of ruthless brutality against Israeli civilians, including grandmothers and infants. More than that, it was intended to reactivate Jewish trauma by reprising the atrocities of the Shoah – the Nazis’ attempt to exterminate the entire Jewish people. The message for Jews is that they should never feel safe, even with Israel’s military superiority. Of course, Hamas is not alone in promoting this goal. So, again, we must ask if there was a state behind the attack. For obvious reasons, suspicions have fallen on Iran.”
Since Putin’s attack on Ukraine, a large number of countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, the UK, the European Union, and Japan, along with international organisations, have significantly sanctioned Russia in some form. The cost to the international economy is already in the hundreds of $billions, as and much has also been wiped off global stock markets as valuations on assets and future prospects crater.
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No matter what angle this turn of events, that of Russia/Ukraine and Israel/Hamas is viewed from, the Middle East and Europe – and therefore, the great world powers are on the brink of an escalating war. America, Europe and its Western allies are now facing down Russia and China. As each day passes, an ever-growing collection of countries with their own scarred and deeply embedded memories of Western aggression and colonization from the Global South join them.
Warships and weapons are being moved all over the world in readiness. The world order is quickly and dramatically changing in the background as Ukraine defends itself, and Israel takes the fight to its enemies. In the meantime, the increasing reality of conflict in the South China Sea or the Taiwan Strait would inevitably engage the US and China directly if triggered.
In the meantime, nearly 120 million people are expected to be forcibly displaced or stateless across the world in 2023, according to UNHCR’s estimations – three times that of the entirety of WW2. Many are on the move and looking for safe haven, much to the dismay of many Western voters.
In recent years, Western countries have become inward-looking and protectionist as a result of the rise of right-wing populism. That populism has typically taken immigration as the centre of its attack on progressive values. This has weakened the Western appetite for rational economic thinking – and even for democracy itself. Seen as an opportunity, the enemies of Western values are quite apparently rising in force.
This polarization, the collapse of globalisation, of shared interests is already costing the world dearly – in many ways.
If this world does become truly divided, as is the current trajectory, where will this leave us in, say, 2024, 2025 or further out to 2030? It is now true to say that the global power shift is rebalancing.
Looking back in time, all efforts to shift the global or regional balances of power have never happened without some sort of violence, be it in the form of economic hostility or outright war. As Kim Ghattas, a fellow at Columbia University’s Institute of Global Politics, wrote in the FT two weeks ago, “Every attempt to wipe out Palestinian armed groups has only produced more extreme iterations and worse conundrums”. Richard Haass, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former US diplomat, warned in his op-ed this weekend that Israel’s aim of eliminating Hamas “is likely to prove impossible”.
The West is no longer in a commanding position. This is evidenced by the unsustainable dynamic unfolding right now. How long will Putin’s attack on Ukraine continue, and how far will Israel go to punish an entire population in retaliation? And at what cost?
According to some estimates, the total number of Ukrainian and Russian troops killed or seriously wounded since the war in Ukraine began 18 months ago is nearing 500,000. According to Save the Children – the number of children reported killed in just three weeks in Gaza is more than the number killed in armed conflict globally – across more than 20 countries – over the course of a whole year – for the last three years.
What we are witnessing now is the fall of the post-war world order. One only has to imagine what might have been if the West had been led by populists such as Trump, Johnson, and other so-called Western ‘leaders’ attempting to defeat the combined strategic goals of China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Putin and Iran’s Ali Khamenei.
In 1914, events escalated quickly and led to a catastrophic and existential battle between ideologies that saw over 30 nations declare war. The majority joined on the side of the Allies, including Serbia, Russia, France, Britain and the United States. They were opposed by Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, who together formed the Central Powers. It only goes to show what time does to ideologies.
Pax Americana – a state of relative international peace as overseen by the US and its allies is now showing signs of stress and breakdown. It’s time to wake up from a world driven by earth-destroying consumerism, social breakdown due to ‘social media,’ culture wars and the failure of trickle-down economics to do as promised. What is our future when we are divided more than ever at a time when our adversaries are now more powerful, technically advanced and well-equipped than at any time in history?