Recently, I attended a lecture at a local school on the on-going American election. One issue raised during this talk was the sustainability of the international system – one of the academics present made the point that our current international system was designed to maintain the power balance of 1945 when it was set up. We can see this with just the slightest glance – the UK and France both have a veto in the UN, ahead of more populous and powerful countries such as India, Brazil and Indonesia. Our international system was designed for 1945. It was designed to address the concerns of 1945 and to prevent a repeat of the Second World War. The problem is that we no longer live in 1945, and the current problems of terrorism, populism and conflict are due to us attempting to sustain an international system that no longer bears any relevance to the world in which we live. With the rise of new powers (China, India and Putin’s Russia) the system will be put under increasing strain until it eventually collapses.
We are only 15 days away from the US election – an election that is shaping up to be one of the most pivotal events in world history. Despite Clinton’s lead, there is still a strong chance that Trump may win. The surge of support experienced by this angry, orange sexual deviant has partly come from his isolationism. He has called for the USA to withdraw troops from around the world, and to end it’s commitments to so-called ‘free riders’ – countries, such as Japan and South Korea that are consumers of US security, relying on the US to defend their sovereignty.
America often gets a lot of bad press on the international stage. Half the time, the US is being criticised for being too trigger-happy, the other half it’s being criticised for not intervening. It seems that we expect the USA to be an omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent guardian of the international order, and when it fails to live up to our expectations we call it ‘imperialist’ and ‘power-hungry’. Well it seems as if America is tired of these unreasonable expectations. Tired of having half the world rely on it for security and then harshly criticise it when it makes mistakes. This is one of the reasons why the American people seem to be turning to isolationism – they are tired of subsidising the international order and receiving nothing in return. It is my belief that even if Trump loses the 2016 election, these isolationist ideas will remain and continue to grow. We may soon be facing a world without US power to defend us.
This is a new world that we in Britain are the least prepared to face. In the summer, the British people made a fundamental miscalculation. The Brexit vote was inspired by blind nationalism and a belief that Britain is still Great – a belief that has diverged from reality since the second WW2 ended. Britain was the country which, –arguably- gained most from the post-WW2 system. The system treated Britain as the global empire it was at the time, despite this empire crumbling very rapidly after the war’s conclusion. For half a century this system has given our country influence massively disproportionate to its actual power, and now that we are facing the end of this system we have the most to lose.
This is not to say the EU is prepared for this coming political revolution either. As much as I love the idea of European unity and identity, I am beginning to give up on the EU as something of a bad job. Its intentions were noble however it failed to properly learn the lessons of history. The problem with slow integration is that it takes too long, and renders itself unnecessary. Slowly integrating (as opposed to fully integrating in a comparatively shorter period of time) leads to the integration process slowly running out of momentum until it eventually stops. At the heart of the EU is the single market, however its existence has been one of the largest obstacles to European unity. The existence of the single market makes full political integration unnecessary – citizens have all the benefits of living in a single state (economic growth, freedom of movement, single currency), without the perceived ‘attack’ on national identity and sovereignty. If they can keep get all the benefits of a single nation state without any major change to their lives, why would they continue to push for a single nation state? The EU has stagnated for too long – it has allowed anti-European sentiment to fester and grow whilst taking very little action to push towards the dream of a united Europe.
Despite the failure of the EU, building the USE should still be Europe’s top priority. European countries were granted massively disproportionate influence by the international order set up after WW2, and as that order begins to collapse, the only way for us to continue to fight for our values of liberty and democracy will be to unite. In this new world, the foremost world power will be China, and if the USA turns to isolationism and refuses to oppose them, the only thing we can do to resist them is unite. The USE would be a leader behind which all other ‘western’ democracies (Australia, India, Japan) could unite in opposition to the alternative offered in the form of Chinese totalitarianism.
In fact, European-Chinese bipolarity in this new world would actually lead to stability. Without the tense relationship between the USA and USSR, our current world is beginning to collapse into conflict and disorder as the new order begins to assert itself. A second ‘cold-war’ between two new powers would return our violent, confused world into one bearing some semblance of order. If we are prepared to do what it will take to face it, the coming of this international revolution will be a good thing for world stability. As ever, change is scary, however we don’t have to be afraid of change if we are prepared for it. Revolution is coming, and rather than push back against it, we need to turn it to our advantage.