The End of Contemporary History
Amid today’s brutal confluence of shocks, the world is witnessing the denouement of the Pax Americana that underpinned world affairs for more than 70 years following World War II. If humanity proves unequal to the moment, it will inaugurate an era of irreversible and potentially uncontrollable global crises.
BERLIN – I cannot recall a time during the past 75 years when there has been such a massive accumulation of major and minor shocks. The world today is dealing with intensifying climate change, a pandemic, major wars, surging inflation, disruptions to international trade and supply chains, and acute food and energy shortages.
A significant share of this turmoil stems from new (and renewed) rivalries between major powers. This has had highly visible and chaotic consequences, epitomized by Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. One does not have to be a prophet of doom to foresee that the conflict will be one act in a longer tragedy. In East Asia, China’s claim to Taiwan also threatens to lead to military escalation. And in the Middle East, Iran’s ongoing nuclear program could all too easily trigger a major military conflict.
In short, we are witnessing the denouement of the Pax Americana that underpinned international relations for more than 70 years following World War II. After emerging as the victor in both of the twentieth century’s world wars, the United States went on to win the ensuing Cold War. During that time, it guaranteed peace and stability in Europe – which had been left largely destroyed in 1945 – and laid the foundations for new multilateral systems of trade and international law, established under the umbrella of the United Nations, whose membership expanded as a result of decolonization. But with the rise of China and others, Pax Americana – which certainly wasn’t perfect – has given way to a more multipolar reality.