The period 1495-1945 was a distinct period in the development of the System; in a long-term process of social integration and expansion that is still unfolding.
During this period a powerful-become-more powerful self-reinforcing mechanism shaped successive international orders and the System.
During the period 1495-1945, Europe dominated the System.
Some figures to illustrate this point, regarding integration: Europe evolved from a collection of 300 diverse and sparsely connected communities with a total population of 83 million in 1495, into a tightly coupled (anarchistic) system consisting of circa 25 highly standardised states with a total population of 544 million in 1939; regarding expansion: the same time as the process of integration took place in Europe, European states expanded to areas outside Europe: in 1500 European states controlled 7% of the world’s territories, in 1800 this was 35% and in 1914 84% (!).
Integration and expansion went hand-in-hand and reinforced each other.
In 1939, the (European dominated) system collapsed when the System (Europe) for the fourth time reached a critical point and produced a systemic war.
The (fourth) systemic war – the Second World War (1939-1945) – caused several fundamental changes in the basic structure of the System. From a dynamical system perspective the fourth systemic war can be defined as a phase transition: (1) Europe made a ‘final’ step to a fully integrated non-anarchistic system (a process that was temporarily delayed (but also facilitated, it can be argued) through the intense rivalries between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Cold War (1945/1953 – 1991)), and ‘at the same time’ (and not coincidentally) the System scaled-up from an European to a global system through the merging of the core (Europe) and non-core of the System.
The fourth systemic war resulted in the implementation of the first international order with a global reach; the United Nations.
After the Second World War, the process of decolonisation reduced European control to 7% (again) of the territory of the world.
My research shows that four accelerating war cycles were instrumental in this process; each war cycle consisted of a relatively stable period when an international order was in place, followed by a systemic war, when accumulated issues and tensions were released, and used to upgrade the international order to a next level of organisation.
As I explained, this dynamic is intrinsic to ‘growing’ anarchistic systems, because of a lack of other mechanisms to upgrade its organisation (order).
Data-analysis shows that the current – now global system – is producing a fifth (first global) war cycle; we are now still in the relatively stable period that precedes a next (hopefully avoidable) systemic crisis.This figure schematically shows the typical life cycle of a war cycle.
During the four accelerating war cycles – during the period 1495-1945 – the System produced four systemic wars. A systemic war typically produced a new – upgraded – international order; the most powerful states who determined the outcome of the war could determine the new rules of the System. They ensured that they could enjoy certain privileges that were ‘embedded’ in the new rule set (international order), and especially promoted their (specific) interests. Through this mechanism powerful states became more powerful, by implementing (imposing) favourable arrangements for themselves and their loyal allies.
Through this mechanism – the ‘self-awarding’ of privileges – not only these states became (even) more powerful, but was also the stability of the new international order (best) assured: Especially most powerful states in the System (at that point in time) had a special interest in the stability – the maintenance of the status quo – of the international order. There ‘power’ and commitment to a favourable system contributed to stability.
The establishment of the United Nations order is an illustrative example: The most powerful states (the United States, the Soviet Union (Russia), the United Kingdom, France and China) awarded a permanent membership and veto right in the Security Council of the United Nations to themselves, and in a later stage the legal ‘right’ to possess nuclear weapons. These privileges enabled – and still enable – them to block any threats to the status quo.
‘Obviously’, the United Kingdom and France – apart for their privileges, declined Great Powers – have no intention to give up these privileges, and – as should be the case given the differentiated growth of states – hand them to for example India, Indonesia or Brazil (rising Great Powers).
The (increasing) dysfunctionality of the United Nations can be explained by above mentioned mechanisms and processes.
The crucial question is: Are we now able to make fundamental changes to the United Nations – redistribute power, influence and privileges – without resorting to (systemic) war, when the System – by means of a systemic response rebalances the international order in a natural – and highly destructive – manner?
The current dynamics of the System – the accumulation of unresolved issues and tensions, volatile and unpredictable dynamics – are indicative for the typical phase of development of the international order.
Trump, Brexit, radical ideologies, fragmentation are ‘products’ of the current developmental phase of the United Nations, and vice versa; consequently the System will be pushed towards criticality, a systemic crisis.
Urgent action is now required, not much time is left: The superficial reforms that are now proposed by for example the US, do not address the fundamental issue: The United Nations – as was the case with its predecessors – is about to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.
In the next article, I explain in more detail the typical life cycle of international orders.