28th April 2018

Political Disorder

Like before the two great wars, the world again faces a series of most profound crises but this time they are categorized as existential risks, i.e. such risks where an adverse outcome would either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential. Taking a big picture view, the chance of one of these risks materializing by the end of this century is between 25%-50%. We already had one such a “near miss” that could have annihilated the entire civilization. That was the Cuban crisis in October 1962, which nearly started the first, and quite probably the last, nuclear war. That was an example of a political disorder risk, in this case the effect of the Cold War.

Global Political Disorder has been with us for most of human history. WWII was the deadliest military conflict in human history, when about 60m people perished (about 3% of the global population at that time). But after the WWII we had at least 7 major wars (no. of victims in brackets): Korean War (1952-1953 – 1.2m), Vietnam War (1965-1973 – 3.8m), Biafra war (Nigerian civil war in 1960’ – 3.0m), Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988 – 1m), Second Congo war (1998—2003 – 5.4m), Afghanistan war (2001- 2014 – 2m victims). There were also over a hundred military conflicts such as in Syria right now, with over 400,000 people killed, and civil wars like in Cambodia (1.7m victims) and Rwanda (1m victims), so that together the number of people killed in military conflicts after the Second World War is about 30m. Europe seems to have learnt a bloody lesson after the WWII and was an oasis of peace for over 70 years, apart from the conflict in Yugoslavia and more recently in the Ukraine.

There are quite a few potentially very serious military conflicts that are brewing up right now, and are the essence of the current Global Political Disorder, such as Russia-NATO, China-USA, North Korea-South Korea/USA, India-Pakistan Israel-the Arab world etc. The most optimistic expectation now is that we will be living in a period of the Second Cold War, this time including several nuclear powers.

There are several fundamental reasons why we are having a Global Political Disorder, which may get much worse quite soon, if nothing of substance is done. These are:

  1. A crisis of Democracy. That crisis regards the practice of democracy in advanced Western liberal countries and the very slow spread of democracy to countries that have never had that political system. The perceived failure of democracy in the recent years, especially in the last 20 years or so, has been no encouragement for other countries to adapt this system. That crucially regards China, which seems to be even more confident that its own autocratic system is superior to a western liberal democracy. That of course is a sheer propaganda, confirmed in February 2018, by removing the limit of number of terms that the Chinese President can serve (used to be maximum 2 terms). For similar reasons Russia, who really only had a very short glimpse of something that resembling Western democratic system under Yeltsyn, can point to the same failures of Democracy in the EU and in the USA.
  2. A total collapse of the United Nations, especially its Security Council, which can make hardly any binding resolution because of the meteoric rise of China as a global power and dangerously overconfident Russia under Putin, who also desperately wants to turn Russia’s eastern neighbours into vassal states.
  3. This is a relatively new factor on the stage of global politics because very tiny groups, mainly Islamists, can hijack the global politics and enforce allocation of significant resources. Secondly, they are being used as valuable pawns in stirring up Global Political Disorder, e.g. in Syria, which has become a testing ground by major powers such as Russia, USA/NATO and other larger countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
  4. The Twitter World. This is a very new phenomenon, so skilfully used by Donald Trump. Its contribution to Global Political Disorder is that when it is used by a top world politician it can stir up political and social unrest on a global scale in a matter of hours. In most cases it can be ignored but if it is a prelude to some more sinister moves by a global power to distract or provoke the opponent, it may have serious consequences.
  5. Cyber war. This is how quickly science fiction becomes reality. That can be really dangerous either directly or indirectly. Directly, information gained can be used for unlocking nuclear arsenals. Indirectly, by getting access to most secret information, which can then be used for getting a political or military advantage and create a temptation for starting a war, having an initial advantage.
  6. Transnationalism. This started as “a new way of thinking about relationships between cultures”, described by Randolph Bourne in the early 20th century. It is a social and economic phenomenon but could have severe political implications in the world of global mobile phone interconnected communities. The Economic transnationalism is commonly known as globalization. In this context, multinational corporations looking for minimizing costs, cross political boundaries and become cultural, economic and quite often political disruptor, with unforeseen consequences. Some of them can be positive but most are negative, especially if they stir up tendencies for unification in bordering regions of two different states. The best example of socio-political transnationalism is the current war in the Middle East and especially the objective of the Kurds to create their own state out of regions in four neighbouring countries: Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

Next: Superintelligence