Following a methodological review of great transformations in the past 500 years, Professor Nicholas Boyle of Cambridge University advances that we are at the brink of another “great event.” Boyle’s prognosis is the result of establishing a correlation between “great events” that took place in the second decade of each of the last five centuries and our current state of world affairs.
In 1517, it was The Reformation of churches and the rise of Protestantism. 1618 marked the beginning of the 30 years war and decades of religious unrest in Western Europe. In 1715, the Hanoverian and British rule were established. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna took place, and thus began decades of relative peace. In 1914, Wold War I began. Today, the end of one of the worst financial crises to date may mark the beginning of another “great event.”
In light of these events, Boyle claims that “the character of a century becomes very apparent in that second decade,” later adding, “so why should ours be any different?” This argument establishes a strong correlation between chronology and world events. However, is this sufficient enough to make such a drastic claim about world affairs?
According to Gareth Evans, former Foreign Minister of Australia (1988-1996) and President of the International Crisis Group, there is certainly a wide array of events that point to a breakdown in the international system. However, as bad as things seem, they are not bad enough to warrant a doomsday event.
Evans gives several reasons why we should not lose our sleep over the state of current world affairs. First, we are not really at the brink of another world war. While countries like the U.S., China and Russia are periodically competing and sometimes refuse to cooperate, they are widely integrated and dependent on each other for progress. In regard to each country’s desire for influence, Evans adds, “they want greater influence in international institutions, not to overturn them.”
Second, the decline of U.S. influence is not a matter for concern. In the big picture, great imperial powers are bound to slow down at some point, especially when there are other powerful and developed countries. This brings forth a third reason: the struggle for influence does not have to take a military form. While exercising dominance will continue to be something countries compete for, the way in which this takes place can be as much a matter of cooperation as of coercion.
It is undeniable that stability in the international system is a moving target. However, alarmism only leads to further pessimism. As a society, we have learned from past mistakes, and we must acknowledge the fact that the international system has become much more effective in solving problems.
– Sahar Abi Hassan