Thursday, December 17, 2009


A global order swept away in the rapids of history
Cast around for the figures who shaped the geopolitics of the opening decade of the 21st century and Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush spring to mind. Al Qaeda’s terrorist spectacular on September 11 2001 seemed to describe a new epochal challenge to a west grown complacent after the defeat of communism. The US president’s response defined first the reach, and then the limits, of American power.
Some might add Vladimir Putin to such a list. I am not so sure. Mr Putin has salved Russia’s wounded pride. He now plans to win back the presidency. Yet neither high oil prices nor bare-chested machismo have reversed the underlying trajectory of Russian decline.
Eight years after the destruction of New York’s twin towers, Afghanistan and Pakistan are still the cockpit of a conflict rooted in fractured states, violent extremism and a wider struggle against modernity. Mr Bin Laden has evaded capture; Barack Obama, Mr Bush’s successor, confronts in the war against the Taliban the most dangerous enemy of his presidency.
The risk of unconventional weapons falling into the hands of jihadists – think about Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile – amplifies western anxieties.
For all that, there have been bigger, more enduring, changes in the global landscape. Seen through the long lens of history, Mr Bin Laden and Mr Bush may turn out to be relatively minor players in an era of tumultuous upheaval. The big clashes of coming decades are more likely to be between states as ideologies. The prevailing tensions will be between co-operation and competition, rules and anarchy, order and disorder.

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