Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Rise (Again) of Nations

Forerunner, "WorldWatch," September-October 2008

British Prime Minister Henry Temple (1784-1865), known as Lord Palmerston, remarked in the House of Commons on March 1, 1848: "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow." In so many words, his statement encapsulates the age-old concept of the nation-state in relation to other nation-states. Nations are composed of large populations living within definable borders and having common governance, aims, and interests. Nations exist because humanity has splintered into hundreds of massive interest groups, each with its own idea of what is best for it.

However, since at least the Tower of Babel, it has been a dream of mankind to erase the lines that divide these human groups and create a one-world order. Empires—from Babylon to the Third Reich—have tried to impose worldwide rule and usher in a utopian Golden Age. In the last century, the idea of a new international system rose again in the League of Nations, in the United Nations, and finally in the post-Cold War New World Order, but each time an international union has been tried, those pesky nations and their interests have dashed it all to pieces.

And it is happening again.

Since the Cold War's end, globalism has been the watchword of international relations and economics. This has been made possible in part by the fact that, with the Soviet Union consigned to history's recycle bin, the United States has emerged as the lone superpower in the world. Being an economic powerhouse and in most cases benign in its foreign ambitions, America has created and fostered an environment of international amity and cooperation. To be sure, not all has been the proverbial sunshine and roses, but the U.S. has pushed and presided over many international institutions and initiatives, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, NATO, the G7, various military coalitions, and countless U.N. agencies.

Yet, cracks are appearing in the foundations of the present international system. Both of its main pilings—economic prosperity and peaceful relations—have been undermined to the point that the whole structure faces collapse. As Lord Palmerston clearly implied, when national interests are at stake, nations have a solemn duty to see to their own first—and both their allies and enemies be hanged!

The current economic woes and a handful of conflicts and foreign policy maneuvers reveal the instabilities of today's globalism. On the financial side, even with all the meetings of world leaders and the tremendous media coverage of the international economy, in reality only a rudimentary framework of a truly global system exists. While there is interconnectivity and cooperation, the world's sovereign nations are the system's players, each looking out for their own interests, using their own currencies, levying their own taxes, charging their own tariffs, and making their own deals.

In the current world credit crunch, each nation will act in its own best interests, and if, for instance, the cooperative efforts of the G20 put it at a disadvantage, it will simply not comply with and/or withdraw from the regime. No sovereign nation will take the chance of acting for the good of the world if it will be hurt by such altruism.

Something like this occurred in Europe when the credit crisis broke in early October. On October 12, the eurozone nations held a summit to coordinate their efforts to combat the swiftly developing financial disaster. Brussels, the hub of EU bureaucracy, did little but wring its hands and say that it lacked the power to make any significant moves. Picking up the slack were the finance ministries of the individual nations in Paris, Berlin, London, Rome, and the capitals of other sovereign states. They used the resources at their disposal to shore up their own lending institutions, protecting their own national interests. In other words, even within the EU, the international system began to splinter along nationalistic lines.

In terms of foreign policy, nationalism is also making a comeback. This can be seen most easily, perhaps, in Russia's recent maneuverings under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He and President Dmitri Medvedev are rebuilding an anti-U.S. bloc from the handful of non-aligned socialist governments around the world, particularly Venezuela and Cuba. The Kremlin is heralding Medvedev's upcoming trip to Latin America as a means for Russia to expand its economic markets in the region, but it is an open secret that his stops in Havana and Caracas will seek to coordinate the three nations' military and political alliance. It is no coincidence that Russia and Venezuela recently announced a joint naval exercise in Caribbean waters, a gesture of defiance toward U.S. hegemony.

In August, Russia invaded Georgia's sovereign territory, quickly overcoming the smaller nation's defenses and demanding that Georgia allow its breakaway province of South Ossetia to go its own way—that is, into Russia's embrace. Beyond rhetoric, the U.S. and NATO did nothing material to help their ally in the Caucasus region, revealing themselves to be practically incapable of unified action. Each member state criticized or mollified Russia in accordance with its own interests.

If we add into the mix Iran's belligerence, India's increasing confidence and autonomy, and China's expanding power, the world is devolving, as it were, into a dangerous, multi-polar configuration. A new Cold War—head-to-head, non-military confrontation among the world's most powerful nations—seems to be brewing. Hostilities of this kind can quickly turn into shooting wars.

In this vein, we would do well to remember Revelation 17 and 18, which contain several references to kings and nations, not cooperative international bodies. Perhaps the world is shaping up to fulfill these long-awaited prophecies.