WARSAW – Russia-instigated violence has returned to Ukraine. The Islamic State continues its bloodstained territorial conquests. As violent conflicts and crises intensify worldwide, from Africa to Asia, it is becoming abundantly clear that there is no longer a guarantor of order – not international law or even a global hegemon – that countries (and would-be state-builders) view as legitimate and credible.
To develop a strategy for restoring order requires an understanding of the complex drivers of today’s fissures. And the best place to start is with the fate of four major empires.
That story begins in 1923 with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which, at its peak in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, controlled much of southeastern Europe, western Asia, and North Africa. Nearly seven decades later came the dissolution of the Soviet Union, followed by the renaissance of a Chinese empire that aims to translate its economic success into geopolitical influence.
Finally, and most important, there is the declining influence of the United States – what Raymond Aron called “the Imperial Republic.” After all, it is the US that organized and supported the post-1945 multilateral institutions – the United Nations Security Council, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, among others – to sustain global stability. The failure of that system to adapt to changing geopolitical and economic realities has raised serious questions about its legitimacy.