THE FALL OF THE GLOBAL EMPIRE?

WHAT LIES AHEAD?

It has always been my intention to steer clear from international affairs, not because it demands a certain kind of academic knowledge but due to the sheer complexity that is global diplomacy! However, as historians we tend to assess, analyze and draw our attention to moments that appear historic; moments that have the potential to shake hitherto established political and social systems, ideologies and even mighty empires. The historic circumstance of 2016 accentuates the relevance of international relations and directs this historian to interpret current global political situations. For it is in the prevalent times that we seek answers to the future.

Not many decades ago, a wall was pulled down. This action represented the beginnings of a new world order governed by free trade, dwindling boundaries and the intermingling of varied cultures. The wall was in Berlin and the year was 1989. The end of the Cold War ushered in the age of ‘Global Empire’. It was an empire whose physical expanse was infinite and defied territorial norms; its peoples adhering to many a religions, cultures, customs and traditions. The Global Empire was the final culmination of a process that had infact begun as early as the fifteenth century, also termed as the ‘Age of Discovery’. It, however, traced its ‘immediate’ origins to the end of the Second World War, wherein an attempt was made to create a global system that created economic dependence within nations, thereby reducing the risk of yet another bloody catastrophe.

As the world shrunk, the Global Empire flourished. When an individual, more often than not, married to or in love with someone outside his/her nationality, led a life determined by a career that was global in nature, in a country that was not his/her own, surviving on clothes, gadgets, and sometimes even food that was manufactured by a global community created a newer identity for himself/herself and became a part of this glorious empire. Amidst this economic reliance, feelings of nationalism and patriotism were redefined. The Global Empire softened nationalistic fervor – of a jingoist kind – and thrived on the principles of ‘acceptance’ and ‘tolerance’.

Revelling in the spoils of the Global Empire, many of us were oblivious to history’s devious plans. “If lessons of history teach us anything it is that nobody learns the lessons that history teaches us”, says an anonymous writer. History tells us that in every success lies failure, in every rise a fall and no matter how strong an empire it will one day concede to the vestiges of time.

That the Global Empire was treading the path of decadence was unknown until someone – a significant citizen of a western democracy and also a beneficiary of the empire’s economic success – clamoured for building walls; walls that would stall the empire’s distinctive cultural amalgamation. It was also when yet another bustling democracy voted for an exit that the flaws of the empire became more evident. Suspicion, mistrust and disturbing forms of nationalism became the empire’s saddening byproducts.

We mercilessly destroy what we create, over ideologies chosen out of convenience. Dutifully following these principles of history, we have, unfortunately, initiated the collapse of the Global Empire.What is to be ascertained now is the outcome of this inevitable downfall? And what is the future of this ‘uncertain’ present?

Every collapse is followed by tumult. The two world wars were a consequence of the disintegration of the ‘Age of Imperialism’. Are we also looking at warring times? Perhaps we are. However, like its predecessors, this war will also be unique. No, there won’t be innumerous theatres of war or blitzkriegs. Instead, there will be a ‘self-inflicted chaos led collapse’.

This chaos will be characterized by the crumbling of global ties leading to the creation of xenophobic societies and cultures. The global citizen will not only be rendered unemployed but will struggle with his/her now uncertain identity. As ‘great’ the hope of a (reclusive) ‘self-sustained’ economic prosperity promises to be, it will perhaps only lead to an unprecedented economic decay. The ongoing war of religious fundamentalism will only accelerate the collapse.

And like every collapse this collapse too will be steered not by referendums or screeching individuals. On the contrary, at the helm of this collapse will be someone waiting to take over the reins of this displaced political system and laying the foundations of yet another empire; a discreet albeit a potent adversary – a Czar like figure may be?

 

FROM A CONCERT TO AN EXIT:EUROPE’S MANY FACES

Brexit is old news and I do not wish to indulge in details tracing the events that led to the foundation of this geo-political establishment. Many of you may well be aware of the complexities of this economic and social union.

What I do wish to highlight upon, albeit briefly, are the factors that created an ‘exit atmosphere’. Rising immigrations, red tape-ism within the EU, the financial and economic burdens that the EU imposed upon the UK, strict regulations are some of the many arguments cited by the British to leave this historic organisation.

While these factors impinged upon the daily life of those who voted to leave, the Brexit also, exposes the many frictions that lie within Europe; frictions that have been at play for millennia now, have changed the map of Europe several times, and all this much before the idea of a European Union was even remotely conceived.

This discord is not a recent one and goes well back in time. For now, let’s affix 1789 as the year, which was to become a paradigm shift in Europe’s history. It was the year when the French revolted against monarchial absolutism and fought for their social and democratic rights.

The glory was ephemeral as France came under the shadows of Napoléon Bonaparte, who initiated an era of battles and wars. Dominating the years of 1803-1815, the Napoleonic Wars, fought between France and other European countries, changed the map of Europe. In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, it was found imperative to devise a diplomatic policy that ended this decade long conflict and maintained peace.

And thus came about a ‘Concert’ that was to see the beginnings of all diplomacy in Europe. Termed as the ‘Concert of Europe’, a Supreme Council, consisting of Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia, was formulated in order to prevent any further aggressions from the French. Being an innovative political experiment, the Concert of Europe called for a series of conferences and congresses to deliberate upon the welfare of Europe.

Mutual jealousies within Europe were to see the end of this Concert. The Concert and the injustices that it carried, led to the Unification of Italy and Germany, which until now were divided into several confederacies; the movements yet again altering the face of Europe.

As these dissensions within Europe became more apparent, Bismarck, the face of German Unification, shrewd diplomat and statesman foresaw a war, which was unprecedented. He thereby forged alliances with Austria and Russia to form the Three Emperor’s League, and the Triple Alliance with Italy and Austria.

This system of forging military alliances was to mark a new trend in Europe’s diplomatic policy. These alliances, which according to Bismarck were an expression of common interest, also served the purpose of safeguarding oneself in times of diplomatic unease and anxiety. In the wake of this proliferating acrimony, Europe became divided into two major armed camps, known as the Triple Entente, represented by the English, French and the Russians and the Triple Alliance, formulated between the Austria, Germany and Italy.

While alliances and understandings were being established between European powers, empires were crumbling, and the map of Europe continuously changing. The empire in question being that of the Turks, the disintegration of which led to the dissemination of Balkan states such as Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Montenegro.

An uneasy calm prevailed over Europe, until the morning of 28th June, 1914 when an Austrian heir to the throne was shot dead along with his wife. And there began a summer of war; unprecedented in nature, a rarity that the world would witness for the first time.

Witnessing a colossal participation of the armed forces from around the world, and killing millions, the IWW ended with a treaty and a league. The League of Nations, as it was called, functioned more or less on the lines of the Concert, with the aim of maintaining peace and preventing any such bloody calamities. It quite evidently failed, for two decades of peace only gave way to the rise of extremist ideologies in Europe, once again pitting several European powers against one another and resulting in yet another war, fought between 1939-1945.

The outcome of this war was another organisation, with an international stature. The aftermath of the II WW also saw the beginnings of the European Union, with the intention of creating an economic dependence and binding between these countries.

However, the United Nations, as the international organisation was called, could not curtail the descent of an Iron Curtain, which created a strong divide between a Communist Soviet Union and the rest of Europe. The period stretching from 1945 till the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union disbanded giving rise to many independent European nations, came to be known as the Cold War.

In this context, the Brexit seems like a part of a political and historical process that is continuous and has been driving Europe for over centuries now. It only, once again, displays longstanding misunderstandings and distrust that have existed within Europe’s corridors of power. Only this time, the distrust was expressed through a referendum and not war.

Europe’s geo-political situation now looks uncertain. Perhaps, it’s best that two dynamic women decide the future course of action and give Europe yet another face(lift)!