From Interstate - Journal of International Affairs VOL. 2009/2010 NO. 1
Panta Rei: The Next Ninety Years Of International Politics
From Heraclitus to Marx, intellectuals have often recognised changes in the flow of history. Certain periods tend to be more dynamic than others but, in the end, all things move. Just as the past ninety years have been some of the most memorable mankind has known, the next ninety years are promising to be no less intensive. Whilst it is not possible to predict the full ninety years, it is at least possible to see what the current developments and patterns in International Relations might bring in the immediate future. Whether as a result of human nature, folly or the hand of God, we can be almost certain that wars, famines, disappearances and appearances of states and alliances will still occur. Often enough history repeats itself, and sometimes avenges itself with the most devastating effect.
From the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) to the European Union, the bureaucracy of Brussels has evolved from a trading organisation of the post-war era into a supra-national organisation, co-ordinating socio-economic policies of its member states. Whilst bitter arguments rage between Europhiles and Europhobes over the effects of EU’s increased powers on the sovereignty of its member-states, the main focus should be on the direction and effectiveness of the EU policy strategy.
Along with the Lisbon Treaty, the positions of a President of the European Council and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs have been established in order to provide a strengthened forum for common policies. Herman Van Rompuy, President of the Council, has already pledged a more dynamic role for the European Union in solving the current economic crisis, considering it the most important part of the domestic agenda for 2010.1 With the BBC terming it a long-term economic coordination plan, it may be possible to say that the EU institutions are finding a new confidence to deal with issues that were once dealt with by the member-state.2
As the current economic crisis in Greece is showing, the Union may find itself in a position strong enough to prevent in future one of its member-states from announcing bankruptcy, despite the current EU rules that prohibit its members from lending money to member states struggling with high deficits. But, with the Greek debt at 121 per cent of its GDP and a deficit of 12.2 per cent, the German magazine Der Spiegel believes that the EU is prepared to bend the rules, as the ‘consequences would also be dire’ and ‘confidence in the euro shattered’.3
Russia and the US
Despite it being too early to suggest whether the increased powers of the European Union and its President will eventually lead to anything comparable to Schlesinger’s ‘Imperial Presidency’, it is also too soon to predict the direction of the European Common Foreign Policy. Whilst Kissinger will soon be granted the long-awaited dialling code for Europe, the lack of European Armed Forces may prompt the major powers to ask the twisted Stalinist question, ‘how many battalion does Europe have?’ Thus, one can cautiously argue, that if Europe is aspiring to become a major global player it must, in the style of Count Andrassy, be prepared to back its policies with a cannon, whether it is to be interpreted metaphorically or literally.
Whilst a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was reached between the EU and Russia, and the US abandoned its original plans for missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, a degree of tension exists between the West and Russia. Just as the West strongly condemned the Russian intervention in South Ossetia, so Russia took an uncompromising stance on the issue of the missile bases.
But, whilst the first year of the Obama Administration has seen Russia allowing 4,500 over flight rights through Russian territory per year and a promise (however vague it may be) to help in preventing Iran from creating nuclear missiles, political analysts believe that both sides expect too much. Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Moscow’s Russia in Global Affairs, for example, claims that it is a Western ‘fantasy’ that Russia holds a key to solving the Iranian problem, arguing that the best Russia can do is to intensify its diplomatic efforts in the near future. On the other hand, Alexander Rahr of the German Council on Foreign Relations doubts the Western, particularly American and Central European, desire to accept President Medvedev’s rapprochement and desire for ‘eternal peace’, by creating ‘an expanded alliance in which Russia and the West act in concert to stabilize the European continent’.4
However, the Middle-East may prove the testing point for such future alliance. With Turkish-Israeli relations currently being re-considered in Ankara (as, for example, Israeli’s exclusion from the planned military exercises in Turkey shows), the country’s foreign policy is becoming more ‘multi-dimensional’, as it seeks new partnerships with Syria and Iran.5 What is disturbing the West (particularly Israel and the US) is Prime Minister’s Erdogan’s regard for President Ahmadinejad, the man who is threatening to wipe Israel off the map, as ‘a good friend’. Similarly, while Russia agreed to purchase pilotless planes from Israel and Medvedev’s uses rhetoric against the Iranian enrichment programme, there is further tension because of the flow of Russian weapons to Iran and Syria, which are destined for Hamas and Hezbollah, something Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu is not prepared to tolerate and may even prompt West to review.
The UN and Third World Development
If the UN is to function more effectively and is to take on an increasing role in global affairs, it may have to consider the current discontent over the leadership of its Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Most recently, a leaked report by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry states that at a time of world economic crisis and an on-going deadlock in the Middle-East peace process, when the UN should seek solutions , the Secretary-General and the UN are ‘conspicuous in their absence’.6 If such report is to be taken into consideration, then it is not enough for a Secretary-General to just put on a brave face at the end of what has been perceived as a disappointing conference in Copenhagen, but he must become a mediator between nations and a character with a clear agenda able to bring forth a clear agreement on the subject.
Finally, it is very important that there is a review of aid flowing into the Third World. As Jacek Rostowski, the Finance Minister of Poland, recently exclaimed it is neither wise nor sensible that countries such as Poland should be supporting the likes of Brazil which is in real terms richer.7 At the same time, it should be questioned whether countries such as Zimbabwe are capable of directing world aid programmes. Therefore, the UN has the potential to co-ordinate more effective ways of dealing with the Third World just as having a clear stance on other aspects of global affairs. In other words, we must take control of events and not let them run their own course.
As the current developments in IR shows, the next ninety years are promising to be almost as colourful as the past although, let us hope, less extreme. The former ninety years saw the emergence of the European Union and the UN, the fall of the Soviet Union (followed by the subsequent rise of modern Russia) and increased fears about the consequences of the climate change. In the next ninety years new challenging events will no doubt occur, but we will still live with the effects of the current ones. Therefore, we must take control of events and not let them run their own course. If we don’t, in the future history may revenge itself upon us.