The only truly global power was in rapid relative decline. Not long before, it had won a pyrrhic victory in a costly colonial war. New great powers were on the rise. An arms race was under way, as was competition for markets and resources in undeveloped areas of the world. Yet people still believed in the durability of the free trade and free capital flows that had nurtured prosperity and, many believed, had also underpinned peace.
That was how the world looked to many at the end of the “noughties” of the 20th century. Yet catastrophe lay ahead: a world war; a communist revolution; a Great Depression; fascism; and then another world war. The world order – built on competing great powers, imperialism and liberal markets – proved incapable of providing the public goods of peace and prosperity. It took calamity, the cold war and the replacement of the UK by the US as hegemonic power to re-establish stability. That then facilitated decolonisation, unprecedented economic expansion, the collapse of communism and yet another epoch of market-led global integration.
“History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes,” as Mark Twain is supposed to have said. The noughties of the 21st century now have the same fin de regime feeling as those of a century ago. Then the US, Germany, Russia and Japan were on the rise; now it is China and India. Then it was the Boer war; now it is the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then it was an arms race between Germany and the UK; now it is the military build-up in China. Then the protectionism of the US undermined liberal trade; now conflicts between the US and China undermine our ability to tackle climate change. Then the US was isolationist; now China and other rising powers demand untrammelled sovereignty.The remainder of this article can be read here. Please post comments below.