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Boundless Crises, Reckless Spoilers, and Helpless Guardians

MUNICH – The international order may be in its worst shape since the end of the Cold War. Those trying to keep the peace are overwhelmed and often helpless in the face of seemingly endless crises and reckless spoilers. When world leaders convene in Germany for the 52nd Munich Security Conference this weekend, they will attempt to chart a path through some very dangerous territory.

To be sure, the past year has seen its share of good news. Sustained diplomatic efforts brought about two breakthroughs with potentially far-reaching positive implications: the deal on Iran’s nuclear program and the Paris climate agreement. But the rest of the picture is bleak.

The big crises of the day transcend – and even call into question – international borders. The wars in Syria and Iraq have not only fueled the dissolution of political order in the Middle East, but have also left Europe struggling to find a common solution to the influx of refugees. Not since the end of World War II have so many people been driven from their homes.

Indeed, the Middle East has come to epitomize the way a conflict can make itself felt far beyond the battleground. The conflict in Syria has long since ceased to be a civil war; it has become a full-fledged regional crisis. The Islamic State – with its territorial base, aggressive online presence, and international network of militants (including followers in Europe) – has proved to be a truly global organization.