Have you taken a peek at the state of the world lately?
I know, I know … considering the state of global society nowadays, there are so many different reasons why we can say that it’s going to hell in a hand basket! Ecologists worry about climate change, economists warn us about fiscal fragility, and militarists fret about the spread of nuclear weapons. All of their concerns, however, might well pale in significance in comparison to a far more human issue.
What can be more human than our global climate, our economy, and our military balance? Why, its the structure of the global political system itself.
A Tour Of The World
Let’s begin a tour of the world by traveling to north-central Africa. South Sudan, a nation that didn’t even exist until it broke away from Sudan a year ago, is now being threatened with an invasion by Sudan. The argument is over Heglig, a disputed territory on the border of the two nations, a slice of land that reportedly holds valuable reserves of energy resources.
Now let’s continue our world tour by visiting east Asia. For over 60 years, the federal governments of Japan, China and the Soviet Union / Russia have disputed sovereignty over small collections of islands that have been controlled by different nations since the closing days of World War Two. Last week, however, the metropolitan government of Tokyo inserted itself into the dispute by declaring its intent to purchase a number of the islands from private investors on behalf of the Japanese people.
Finally, let’s conclude our tour off the west coast of Europe. Scotland, which first joined with England in 1603 under King James to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain, and which then completed its political union in 1707 to form a united Parliament, plans to proceed with a referendum to consider the dissolution of its union and the declaration of full political independence. Despite having fought beside their English countrymen throughout the Hundred Years War, the Napoleonic Wars, and the two World Wars of the twentieth century, there is a possibility that the Scots will now opt to go it alone in global affairs.
To a certain extent, of course, these situations can be considered unrelated events that all “just happen” to be coming to a boil at the same moment in time. Nevertheless, they each share one striking common characteristic: namely, in each situation, a political entity that has never previously been recognized as a “player” (i.e. an entity with its own foreign policy) in global diplomatic circles is emerging on the world stage.
From G-7 To G-20 And Beyond
It’s important to note that the splintering of global political power is not a recent phenomenon. Although the nation of South Sudan, the city of Tokyo, and the country of Scotland all started to come forth as global diplomatic “players” within the past year, many emerging nations began flourishing in clout, stature, and visibility over a decade ago.
In fact, though the so-called Group of 7 (or G-7) largest global economies began meeting as early as the 1970s, they were supplanted by the far broader Group of 20 (or G-20) in 1999. Diplomatically speaking, what impact did that event impose on the United States? America was no longer able to develop global policies with only Japan, Canada, and the European nations of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom; it suddenly needed to coordinate its affairs with nations as diverse as Mexico and Saudi Arabia as well.
So what happens when power is dissolved throughout a world with no single dominant power? To put it simply, it becomes far more difficult for nations to reach consensus about the nature of global problems, and thus it becomes far more unlikely that our governments will launch coordinated actions to address them any time soon.
A World Away From Bretton Woods
How far has the world gravitated from the political structures that defined the post-World War Two era? Although the United Nations itself was founded in 1945, its companion institutions first emerged during a conference of the military Allies in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire the previous year.
That was the conference that witnessed the birth of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It also launched an era of fixed and stable currency exchange rates, all of which were directly or indirectly “backed” by convertibility to reserves of gold bullion.
Although a total of 44 nations attended the conference, none doubted that the United States played as influential a role in dictating the infrastructure of global diplomacy as it did in defining the military strategies that defeated the Axis armies. But given our contemporary world, one in which no nation serves as the dominant power, it is difficult to imagine that our diverse and expanding collection of government leaders will be able to craft any solutions in the classic Bretton Woods manner.