Wednesday, December 4, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Power In The World - Past, Present and Future

Before we can assess the dynamics of international matters
of economy, and of war and peace, both in the present and in
the imaginable future, it would be useful to know who are the
meaningful players, who might they be, and what do we know
about those who, in the immediate past, were major parties in
the events which have occurred in the past century.

One hundred years ago, the major military powers were
Great Britain, France, Germany, Austro-Hungary, Russia,
the Turkish empire, and (only coming into its own) the
United States of America. China was in a chaotic
pre-revolutionary state; Japan had surprisingly defeated
Russia in their 1904 war, but was isolated; and although
Argentina had the 9th largest economy in the world in 1900,
it was absent from the world stage. Brazil and India, two
nations whose populations and economies would grow
enormously in the next ten decades were in post-colonial
or (in India’s case) still a colony of a world power. The
Persian empire was a force of the distant past, although oil
had been recently been discovered on its lands.

The above powers, many of them still ruled by self-involved
autocrats, managed to stumble their way into a colossal world
war in 1914, set off because a chauffeur took a wrong turn on
a downtown Sarajevo street and his royal passengers were
shot by a lone anarchist assassin who happened to be on the
spot. Such are the vagaries of history, that the immense
violence and suffering of a whole ensuing century could be
ignited by such a small accidental mistake. It might be argued,
of course, that World War I would have eventually happened
anyway. There was already in place not only an arms race
between several of these powers, but also even more critically,
a pathology of naked territorial and economic expansionism,
a rabid spirit of militarism, blatant religious intolerance and
rivalry, and a scandalously historic misappreciation of the
intrinsic value of the tens and hundreds of millions of persons
who made up the individual nations of that time.

One hundred years later, the world’s major military and
economic power, the United States of America, is being
challenged and checked by a new set of aspiring powers.
Great Britain and France are no longer major powers, although
each have a sizable army and nuclear weapons. Europe, as the
European Union, is a world economic and military power,
but does not easily act in a unified manner. Turkey, now a
smaller secular republic, is only a regional and unstable player.
Russia has gone from a despoiled autocracy to a Marxist
dictatorship, and then to a nominal republic. Russia has played
a significant role in both world wars, and was the antagonist in
the ensuing Cold War. Although its territory and population has
now been drastically reduced, its natural resources and natural
ambitions, and its renewing military forces, have again made it
a major power. China, following the world wars, became a
Marxist dictatorship with a huge population. When the socialist
model failed, as it did in the Marxist Soviet Union, the current
regime has adopted a modified capitalist economic model. It has
military and economic resources which, while not yet matching
the U.S. and other western powers, make it a major player in
Asia and on the world stage. Ancient Persia has become modern
Iran with a society more advanced than most other Middle
Eastern states, but controlled by a fundamentalist Islamic
leadership that is hostile to Europe, the U.S. and those Asian
nations influenced by the West. Its nuclear (and other) ambitions
are currently at the center of major international dispute.

Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, and India’s
population at 1.1 billion matches China, but its fledgling
capitalist economy, complicated with its perennial conflicts
with neighboring Pakistan, prevent it from playing a more
suitable global role at the present time. Other nations hold
large populations (Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Nigeria, Mexico),
 others possess nuclear weapons, and still others contain
undeveloped resources which might dramatically increase
their power in the world in the future.

Indeed, if the size of potential economic markets come to define
“power” in the century to come, India, Brazil, Indonesia and
Nigeria might well  be world powers in a later era.

Reconfigurations of Europe, in the Middle East, central Africa,
South America and in the Pacific Rim, now unanticipated,
could also emerge as unified world powers. It might be of
interest to speculate about some of these, but I think a more
pressing need is to understand the endlessly changing dynamics
of the present time when population size is not nearly as
important as national and regional ambitions, strategic location
and level of industrial (and military) development.

These latter conditions, and those who are the major players
with them, are of more urgent interest. The experiences of the
recent past, and its major powers, should be instructive, but as
the human species now walks through contemporary time with
all of its promising and stunning technologies, its atavistic
depravities, and the intrusive vagaries of Mother Nature, we
just might need to be prepared for much more than our history
has so far has led us to believe lies ahead,

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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