The Cacophony of the World

PARIS – In his masterpiece Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger describes, probably too idyllically, the international balance-of-power system that, following the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815, produced what came to be called the “Concert of Europe.” As Kissinger describes it, after the Napoleonic Wars, “There was not only a physical equilibrium, but a moral one. Power and justice were in substantial harmony.” Of course, the concert ended in cacophony with the outbreak of World War I in the summer of 1914.

Today, after the brutality of the first half of the twentieth century, the temporary bipolarity of the Cold War, and America’s brief post-1989 hyperpower status, the world is once again searching for a new international order. Can something like the Concert of Europe be globalized?

Unfortunately, global cacophony seems more probable. One obvious reason is the absence of a recognized and accepted international referee. The United States, which best embodies ultimate power, is less willing – and less able – to exercise it. And the United Nations, which best embodies the principles of international order, is as divided and impotent as ever.

But, beyond the absence of a referee, another issue looms: the wave of globalization that followed the end of the Cold War has, paradoxically, accelerated fragmentation, affecting democratic and non-democratic countries alike. From the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia’s violent self-destruction, and Czechoslovakia’s peaceful divorce to today’s centrifugal pressures in Europe, the West, and the major emerging countries, fragmentation has been fundamental to international relations in recent decades.