In this article, I (again) argue for a scientific approach to international relations and politics. International relations and politics should not be based on wishful thinking, guesswork and self-serving opinions. Too much is at stake.
Based on three ‘ideas’, it is possible to identify several closely related and highly consistent patterns in the (war) dynamics and development of the (International) System.
With the help of these patterns it is possible to formulate a framework – a theory – which can explain several aspects of the functioning of the System, which can be tested repeatedly in accordance with the scientific method, and predict some key-aspects of its behaviour.
The three basic ideas that are at the (methodological) basis of the SIE-theory are: (1) the use of hard data, not opinions, suggestions and assumptions, (2) the use of a long-term perspective (1495 – present), and (3) making a distinction between two fundamentally different types of war: Systemic and non-systemic wars, which are respectively responsible for the implementation of upgraded international orders, and maintaining the status quo when an order is in place.
With the help of these ideas, it is possible to identify four accelerating war cycles, the System produced during the period 1495-1945. This period, is a distinct period when Europe formed the core of the expanding System, and dominated its dynamics, the framework clearly shows.
The theory that can be formulated, I refer to as the theory of Social Integration and Expansion. The process of social integration and expansion started tens of thousands of years ago when humankind grouped into extended families and tribes, to better ensure the fulfilment of their basic requirements and survival. This process is still unfolding, but now at a global scale.
The SIE-theory not only makes it possible to understand the war dynamics of the System, and their function, but also to understand the direction of development of the System. The SIE-theory, allows us to finally see the wood through the trees, and make meaningful interventions in the (war) dynamics of the System.
But until now, the typical short-term focus of historians on specific events, and their narrative (and mostly unscientific) approach, have caused – and still cause – much confusion.
The SIE-theory makes it also possible, to better understand the current condition of the System and of the international order.
International orders – as the four accelerating war cycles show – only have limited life spans: At a certain point an international order (which was implemented by the preceding systemic war, the Second World War (the fourth systemic war, 1939-1945) in case of the current order, the United Nations) needs to be upgraded to ensure it can still regulate tensions in the System.
Typically – and unavoidably – in the final stage of an international order in an anarchistic system, tensions and (unsolved) issues accumulate in the System; consequently, its dynamics become more volatile. We are now in the final stage of the United Nations international order: Tensions accumulate and reinforce each other; everything cracks. The international order is about to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.
The SIE-theory, explains that we now become increasingly trapped in a self-reinforcing and escalating war dynamic. The order cannot regulate the high tensions anymore, and at a certain point the System becomes critical.
Criticality of the System is equivalent with systemic war. During criticality – systemic war – the accumulated tensions (energy) are released and used to upgrade the order of the System. The upgraded order, then allows for a next period of stability and growth.
Because of the current scale of the process of SIE, increasing amounts of destructive energy are – and must be – deployed to implement a new order that satisfies the requirements of states and of the System itself.
It is now time, for historians and policy makers to base their analyses and advise on a theory – consistent framework – that is now available.
Guesswork, wishful thinking and self-serving opinions should no longer underpin our policies and actions.