This graphic tracks the stages of NATO’s eastern enlargement since 1952. To find out more about Europe’s post-Cold War security architecture, see CSS’ Christian Nünlist’s chapter in Strategic Trends 2017 here. For more CSS charts, maps and graphics on economics, click here.
This graphic provides an overview of estimated global nuclear warhead inventories from 1945 to 2017. To find out more about the Trump administration’s ‘Nuclear Posture Review’ and what it means for US nuclear policy, see Oliver Thränert ‘s recent addition to the CSS’ Analyses in Security Policy series here. For more CSS charts and graphs on proliferation, click here.
As with most civil wars, the war in Yemen is marked by the influence of outside actors. It began in September 2014, when the Iranian-backed Houthis took over the capital Sana’a, and it might well have ended six months later, when the president fled a Houthi advance on Aden. Instead, Saudi Arabia led a coalition of ten Arab countries—supported by the United States—in an air and ground campaign against the Houthis. Since then, the war has ground on, with a new dimension of fighting opening recently between southern secessionist militias—many of which receive support from the United Arab Emirates—and government forces backed by the Saudi coalition. Since taking office, the Trump administration has increased American air strikes in Yemen six fold.
These days, the pulse of the world’s political health is running fast. The general prognosis is terminal, the end of the international world order, as we know it. But determining what order we are on the verge of losing could do with more diagnosis, including tracking the symptoms of the disorder (and order) back to their beginnings. One of the useful roles that historians can play in this regard is to offer a longer view of what we have lost, or, at least, the international order that seems to be disappearing from view. So bear with me as I offer a “Cook’s tour” of two centuries in search of the point where the end possibly began, in order to understand better the history of the aims—or “ends”—of international order itself.
European historians have long assumed that the early nineteenth century made “international” politics possible: In 1814, after decades of continental wars against French hegemony, a coalition led by Russia, including Sweden, Prussia, Austria, and Britain (as well as some smaller now non-existent sovereignties) emerged victorious and established what became known as the “Congress system.” At its most basic, this comprised negotiations through discussion—famously identified with the Congress of Vienna—and transnational cooperation in the interests of permanent peace. In the years that followed, ambassadorial conferences in London, and occasional conferences around the smaller towns of the European continent, became a method for managing territorial and ideological flashpoints. Within a few years, the British foreign minister Lord Castlereagh confidently reported to his Prime Minister the practical value of this transformation of European politics:
how much solid good grows out of these Reunions, which sound so terrible at a distance. It realy [sic] appears to me to be a new discovery in the Science of European Government at once extinguishing the Cobwebs, with which Diplomacy obscures the Horizon – bringing the Whole bearing of the system into its true light, and giving to the Counsels of the great Powers the Efficiency and almost the simplicity of a Single State.
At present, it is very difficult to avoid examples and discussion of terms such as ‘truthiness’, ‘post-fact’, and ‘alternative fact’. We appear to have entered an era in which immediate, subjective, and emotional perception has the power to steamroll clear thinking and rational analysis, reducing public debate to ‘us versus them’ polemics. Pronouncements by many of our political leaders are emotive rather than instructive, ephemeral rather than incremental or iterative, and unanchored from shared experience and intersubjective understanding. And then there is President Trump: a distilled product of decades of corrosive and inflammatory processes.
Enough is enough. For at least 2,500 years philosophers have argued that we are, or should at least aspire to be, rational beings. No matter how much effort it takes to carefully think things through, and how much time it takes to develop effective thinking tools, surrendering rational effort in favour of gut instinct, “it feels true,” can only end badly. As David Eagleman has argued in his book, Incognito, our unconscious mind will happily get on with running our day without our conscious input, and our limbic system will immediately colour our experience with primal emotions, if we do not choose to think our way to deeper awareness and understanding. While the problems we are facing are becoming larger and more dangerous, our collective unwillingness to do more than legitimise unconscious responses is leading to progressively worse circumstances.