The research shows that international orders have a typical life-cycle: Initially, following a so-called systemic war – when typically ‘upgraded‘ international orders are implemented – the average size of non-systemic wars (local/regional wars) is low, but then starts to increase until a tipping point is reached.
This figure shows the typical life cycle of an international order.
Once the tipping point of the international order is reached, the average size of non-systemic wars starts to decrease. This happens, despite that the number of issues and accompanying tensions in the System continue to increase.
From the tipping point onwards (during the high connectivity regime), tensions accumulate in the System, instead of being released by means of non-systemic wars. Durin the high connectivity regime, the System is charging for a next systemic war.
Wars have a function in the System: to solve issues and release tensions. Once the tipping point is reached the high – and still increasing – connectivity of issues in the System increasingly hinder the release of tensions: States and issues become increasingly entangled; states become increasingly reluctant to get involved in wars.
At a certain, point – when the networks of issues become connected – a systemwide cluster is formed, and the System is in critical condition. At that point a small event can cause a cascading – non-linear – reaction of the System, as the start of the First World War (the third systemic war, 1914-1918) shows.
Criticality implies a systemic crisis, which until now in all cases resulted in systemic war.
During the period 1495 (when Europe became a ‘system’) until now, the System has produced four systemic wars, that in each case resulted in the implementation of an upgraded international order.
The last (fourth) systemic war – the Second World War (1939-1945) – was instrumental in the design and implementation of the United Nations international order, that is still in place.
As I mentioned data-analysis shows that the current international order reached its tipping point in 2011; since 2011 tensions in the System accumulate and issues can no longer be resolved: Ukraine, Crimea, Syria, Israel, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan/India, South China Sea, Taiwan, East China Sea, North Korea, to name a few.
Thus, the actual condition of the System is consistent with what the research predicts, including the response – to be more precise, the absence of a response – to the despicable chemical weapons attack yesterday in Syria, which not only should be a red line for the United States. States have become too entangled to (adequately) respond.
The absence of an adequate response to the disastrous situation in Syria, will only add to the buildup of even more tensions.
The high tension levels not only impact on interactions and relations between states, but also on the ‘national’ politics of states. Tensions in the System impact directly on the level of fear in societies, further aggravated by terrorist attacks. Societies feel exposed.
These tensions become politics. Although these tensions and fear are a product of the System – of which we and states are integral parts – they are blamed on politicians, referred to as the establishment. Populism taps into these fears.
Because moderate solutions have caused this dire situation – that is the interpretation- increasingly radical solutions are proposed. During high connectivity regimes, radical ideas and radical politicians find fertile ground for their ideas and proposals. But instead of contributing to solutions, these radical ideas contribute to the buildup of more tensions, issues and fears.
It is because of this high fear level that populist – more radical – politicians have ‘traction‘: Trump in the US, Wilders in The Netherlands, and Le Pen in France, to name a few. These politicians – their traction – is a product of the System’s dynamics. A similar ‘mechanism’ explains the radical ideologies that were ‘exploited’ preceding the Second World War.
Furthermore, humans have difficulty to handle fear and insecurity, especially when this fear is not clearly defined. It also is a typical human trait to – if necessary – ‘invent‘ a crystallization point – an enemy – for their fear to be attributed to.
If fear is attributed to a recognizable enemy, the fear at least has become ‘visible‘ and psychologically easier to handle (is the assumption). Radicalization and the creation of enemies go hand in hand; both are – I argue – closely related to high tension and fear levels.
The psychological mechanism to invent an enemy, is also referred to as mass hysteria.