What Happened to War and the Imperial Drive to Organize the Planet?
Driving With the Lights Off
So an imperial era is on the wane, war in absentia, and no rising great power contenders on the horizon. Historically speaking, that’s a remarkable scorecard in an otherwise appalling world.
Of course, the lack of old-style war hardly means no violence. In the 13 years of this new century, the scorecard on internal strife and civil war, often with external involvement, has been awful to behold: Yemen (with the involvement of the Saudis and the Americans), Syria (with the involvement of the Russians, the Saudis, the Qataris, the Iranians, Hezbollah, the Iraqis, the Turks, and the Americans), and so on. The record, including the Congo (numerous outside parties), South Sudan, Darfur, India (a Maoist insurgency), Nigeria (Islamic extremists), and so on, couldn’t be grimmer.
Moreover, 13 years at the beginning of a century is a rather small sampling. Just think of 1914 and the great war that followed. Before the present Ukrainian crisis is over, for instance, Russian troops could again cross a border in force (as in 2008) along the still fraying edges of the former Soviet Union. It’s also possible (though developments seem to be leading in quite a different direction) that either the Israelis or the Americans could still launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, increasing the chaos and violence in the Middle East. Similarly, an incident in the edgy Pacific might trigger an unexpected conflict between Japan and China. (Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently compared this moment in Asia to the eve of World War I in Europe and his country and China to England and Germany.) And of course there are the “resource wars” expected on an increasingly devastated planet.
Still, for the moment no rising empire and no states fighting each other. So who knows? Maybe we are off the beaten path of history and in terra incognita. Perhaps this is a road we’ve never been down before, an actual new world order. If so, we’re driving it with our headlights off, the wind whipping up, and the rain pouring down on a planet that may itself, in climate terms, be heading for uncharted territory.