As this decade draws to a close, it will be remembered for a variety of things. New technology, discoveries, disasters, amongst the other countless individual experiences that people have had. To categorize this period simply, information has further accelerated to no longer be strictly bound to geography but has become more accessible and malleable. Given these developments, and recent world events, it appears likely that this will be the last decade where the continuity of various outcomes from the Second World War are kept in place.
This perspective can be viewed in two ways. It is ‘obvious’ in that the world today resembles little of 1945 and in the fact that this outcome has already occurred before in the gradual collapse of Communism by the 1990s. Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, published in 1992, details this idea. At the time he believed that the following period, in the West’s liberal democracies triumphing over the Soviets, would broadly create a distinctly better geopolitical era removed from the causes and consequences of the Second World War. Ignoring the finer details of Fukuyama’s argument, this seems ‘untrue’ in that there are institutions and ideas which emerged shortly after the war which persist to the present. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the United Nations, the development of international humanitarian laws, contemporary monetary and economic policies, are but some of the outcomes which have mostly survived since then. The word “mostly” should be used however as many of these outcomes look shaky considering a persisting increase in destabilizing events around the world.
For instance, consider NATO. It had its origins in nations across the Atlantic Ocean forming a defensive alliance, to dissuade further conflicts in Europe, but arguably at 70 years has lost all purpose than to perpetually maintain a dead geopolitical era. While its main rival, the Warsaw Pact, collapsed, NATO continued to grow and finally began engaging its members in conflicts after the Cold War. Involved in the Gulf War, the Bosnia and Herzegovina conflicts, the Kosovo War, other adventures in the Middle East, such as their Libya intervention, NATO has grown well beyond the Atlantic. This is perhaps why the current U.S. President has previously threatened NATO’s existence if its 29 members, of whom 13 joined after the end of the Cold War, do not pay more for the insurance of the alliance. Perhaps, as he once wondered why NATO was still necessary, the high costs and strategic viability of the organization has meant more leaders have recently pondered its usefulness. The President of France described it as “brain dead” in the lead up to the recent NATO London summit. He wants the European Union to take over ‘defence’ policy shortfalls that many see in the current President of the United States. Whether or not such a force would be used for defence is another question entirely.
The other institute mentioned, the United Nations, similarly appears to have aged from when it formed at the conclusion of the Second World War. Although described as the successor to the ‘failed’ League of Nations, it has enjoyed global prestige in enabling dialogue between countries and bringing together humanitarian efforts on a scale never previously achieved. Its founding document, the UN Charter, broadly outlines that countries will commit to improve the conditions of people in “economic, social, health, and related problems” with “universal respect for… human rights and… freedoms… without distinction.” Given that it is an international organization without much force of its own, it is no wonder that it has not greatly achieved this vision everywhere with all the complexities of the past 74 years. Critics have naturally charged it with many failings, some of them differing in what the organization should or should not have done over time. However, one of its greatest problems is that where the League had limited members and legal powers, the UN has not addressed the persistence of its permanent security council members. The ability of the five ‘victors’ of the war to veto any proposals they disagree with has meant fundamental aims of the organization are hamstrung. This happens while the UN can be seen to encourage conflict as dialogue sometimes appears futile due to this mechanism. It also says much when all five nations have done and continue to do some very odorous deeds, in contradiction to the Charter, let alone ignoring what other geopolitically powerful nations have done without this power.
Perhaps most important in underscoring these wide-reaching consequences from the Second World War are the economic systems that have persisted since and created more wealth and power than ever before. From Keynesian economics to neoliberalism, the economic consensus and the role of a state in creating wealth has changed over time in accordance with many factors. However, what has not changed is that this has generally resulted in not preventing poverty and disharmony but actually allowing these processes to worsen. Without getting deep into economic theory, many nations rely on central banking and deficit financing, or interact with these economies, which subsequently creates perverse outcomes for those involved. Simply, this issue stems from an institution, usually a public or ‘independently’ run national bank, believing that it can set the value of money and interest rates for managing everything in an economy. While this method does a decent job in helping creating wealth and growth, the result of this economic ‘management’ is that the market will eventually correct itself against manipulated information. The resulting boom and bust cycle thus ends up creating events like the Great Recession, which disproportionately affected the poorest in societies rather than the state. This unsurprisingly happens when a nation’s economy allows for the printing of money and the manipulation of the value of its currency, via inflation, which results in malinvestment and problems like poverty. Naturally, those concerned with this process have called for a change to nation-states getting involved in monopolizing control over their economics, as the effects to societies like inflation were ironically a cause in the lead up to the Second World War. Even if this failed mindset is changed before another Great Recession, there is no telling how deep the effects of this upheaval will have on current international order other than conclude it will have to change.
While the big picture might not look great then, the fact that these persisting institutes and policies, for the ‘betterment’ of the human situation, are able to be discussed and challenged today is positive. It might appear terrible that some of these outcomes from the end of the Second World War could soon fail, but if the ideas in these structures have failed then there is little point continuing them. After all, the world today is almost entirely removed from life in the 1940s. There are now more problems and solutions to consider. As such, NATO should be rethought, even if something were to replace it (despite that there is no open ideological superpower contest happening.) Equally, the UN should realize that it needs to be faithful to promoting diplomacy without being confused by power. Any resulting break up or weakening of it will only come from being beholden to powerful interests, not because of lack of principles. All of this will probably change anyway when another global financial disaster occurs, of which a series of bad decisions will need to be liquidated. Economies built on debt and crony capitalism will have a chance to be reformed, although only if people hold their governments to account and true value in the monetary and governance sense is established. While many finer nuances in this discussion of world events and order have been passed over, it is far from a bad outcome that true value for the individual person may soon stand a chance to properly assert itself ahead of the constructs which claim to protect it. If this was not the case, then the end of history should have already happened.
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