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May 7, 2020

New world disorder

Opinion

May 7, 2020

After the demise of the Soviet Union and the US intervention that crushed Saddam Hussein’s attack on Kuwait in 1991, President George H W Bush pronounced a new world order.

His exuberance carried over into academia (Frances Fukuyama’s “end of history”) and conservative punditry (Charles Krauthammer’s “unipolar moment”). The consensus among these American exceptionalists was that for the first time since the end of World War II, the US had the military power and the universal ideals to sweep the world clean of illiberal forces and establish uncontested supremacy. We all know what became of that moment only a decade later with the 9/11 attacks.

Opinions about the shape of the next new world order are plentiful. Not all are pessimistic, but most tend to extrapolate from current events and point to a future of profound disorder. The US is invariably the starting point of any discussion of the future. It not only is a weakened superpower: Under Trump it has retreated from the world stage, abandoned international law and institutions, embraced authoritarian rulers, and consistently displayed ignorance, corruption, and deceit in the conduct of public affairs.

Meantime, the European Union has lost Britain and is willing to accommodate autocrats; China is buying its way into global preeminence while carrying out a “cultural genocide” in Xinjiang, an anti-democratic purge in Hong Kong, and a deceptive campaign to whitewash its responsibility for Covid-19; Russia under Putin aims to restore czarist greatness while silencing its critics; and the world is convulsed by the coronavirus, with competition for protective supplies exceeding cooperation to ensure that everyone gets them.

An optimist might say that once the pandemic comes under control, the world will return to normal. Opportunities will emerge for liberal leadership in the US and elsewhere. International partnership will revive. Climate change will move to the top of the political agenda as national leaders and publics appreciate how, thanks to the pandemic, air quality has improved enormously. Perhaps. But if the trajectory of international affairs and politics continues on its present course, here’s what we might expect.

Governments will devote their resources overwhelmingly to restoring economies as they face a staggering crisis of unemployment, business bankruptcies, and falling trade. Everything else – environmental protection, rule of law, human rights, you name it – will be shelved.

Serious international discussion of the two most worrisome threats to global security – nuclear weapons and climate change – will be “postponed indefinitely.” That means more nuclear weapons in more hands and failure to come even close to meeting the Paris accord’s target of limiting the increase in global warming to 2°C.

Excerpted from: 'The Coming New World Disorder'. Courtesy: Counterpunch.org