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Welcome to the Twenty-First Century

The international order forged in the fires of the twentieth century seems to be disappearing. For Europe, in particular, will the decline of Pax Americana, which has served for seven decades as a guarantor of the continent’s internal liberal order, unavoidably lead to crisis, if not conflict?

BERLIN – The start of 2016 has been anything but calm. Falling equity prices in China have destabilized markets worldwide. Emerging economies seem to have stalled. The price of oil has plunged, pushing petroleum producers into crisis. North Korea is flexing its nuclear muscles. And in Europe, the ongoing refugee crisis is fomenting a toxic tide of nationalism, which threatens to tear the European Union apart. Add to this Russia’s neo-imperial ambitions and the threat of Islamic terrorism, and comets streaking across the sky may be the only thing missing from a picture of a year shaping up to be one of prophetic doom.

Wherever one looks, chaos seems to be ascendant. The international order forged in the fires of the twentieth century seems to be disappearing, and we have not had even the faintest glimpse of what will replace it.

It is not difficult to put names to the challenges we face: globalization, digitization, climate change, and so forth. What is not clear is the context in which the response will come – if at all. In which political structures, by whose initiative, and under which rules will these questions be negotiated – or, if negotiation proves impossible, fought over?

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