Apocalypse? The beginning of a new era
Miguel Angel Velasco cmf
UNITAR Master in Development Studies and Diplomacy
We are in an apocalyptic moment but the true sense of the term. Apocalypse means, in its original sense, UNVEILING, in other words: to uncover, to uncover, to bring to light what was previously covered or covered up. Indeed we are in a moment that we could call “apocalyptic”. The same could be said if we affirm that we are at a milestone in history, in a change of epoch.
A long story, but… not so long.
It is not unusual to hear comments calling for the existence of a world authority to resolve intolerable situations in our world. Indeed, some kind of world organization is needed to resolve many current conflicts. Still, this way of “thinking globally” is not very old in the history of the 2 million years since the first hominid appeared on earth.
After thousands of years of historical thinking regarding kingdoms and empires confronting each other, the League of Nations was created only after the terrible First World War (1914) (1919). The League of Nations aimed to prevent something similar to the Great War (1914) from happening again. The main objective of the League of Nations was impossible to achieve, mainly because it was the “winners of World War I” who made the decisions against the defeated. In 1939 World War II broke out, and in 1945 the UN was founded, the second major attempt to create an organization to prevent war and build a peaceful world.
The Charter of the United Nations endows the organization with different fundamental bodies: the General Assembly, where each nation has a sovereign vote; the Security Council, formed by the victors of World War II, with the right of veto; the General Secretariat, with its Secretary as Prime Minister; the Economic and Social Council, with the mission of creating the economic and social conditions to avoid war; the Trusteeship Council with the task of supervising the process of emancipation of the colonies.
The end of World War I led to the disappearance of the Turkish Empire, the Austrian Empire, and part of the Russian Empire. It was not until the end of World War II that the empires of England, France, Germany, Holland, and Belgium disappeared. To realize the tremendous upheaval created by the emancipation of the colonies, we simply have to compare the number of founding nation-states of the UN (51) with the current membership of 191.
The world has changed enormously since 1945. The transformation of international relations has been immense, even if we consider only those that have taken place since 1945. So, likewise, the UN has been greatly transformed since 1945, but it has had to adapt to a world very different from the one it lived in at the time of its founding.
1945 marked the beginning of the era of US global dominance. Since then, the international order has been guided by actions and institutions created by the United States. We can highlight the impulse for the independence of the European metropolises and the creation of nation-states; the impulse for the creation of the UN and the Charter of Human Rights; the creation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Since the end of World War II, conflicts with Russia began, giving rise to the Cold War and the emergence of the three world blocks. The three blocs were: the Western bloc, led by the United States; the communist bloc, led by Russia; and the “Third World” plus China. Everything went on, more or less like that, until 1989, when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics collapsed, the moment when the heir to the Empire of the Czars, the last great European Empire, disappeared. It was also the moment when there was talk, as an expert in international politics said, of “the end of history” (Fukuyama, 1988); the struggle of ideologies and blocs was over. The Western world, the liberal and democratic world, had a clear path to the future; it was only a matter of time before all the countries of the world took the principles of the Western world as their only guide. But history is not so linear, far from it.
The Western World, partly out of pride, partly out of economic ambition, and partly with good intentions, set out to integrate two large social conglomerates into the Western World of free trade and democratic systems. These two countries were China and Russia. Europe and the USA, especially Germany, promoted the movement to integrate the countries in the orbit of the former USSR into the European Union; even the G7 was transformed, for a time, into the G8 by the inclusion of Russia (1997-2014). In 2001 China, hand in hand with the USA, joined the World Trade Organization (2001), with many exceptions to the rules common to the rest of the countries, due to not being a “free market” country; this integration made possible the exponential growth of Chinese exports.
Unveiling what was hidden. The beginning of a new era
Putin’s rise to power in Russia meant a return to the Russian imperial dream, eager to regain lost power, at least in part of Eastern Europe and Central Asia countries. Hence the invasion of Crimea and Ukraine and its growing influence in Central Asia. For its part, China has never forgotten the Western affronts of the Opium Wars (1839-1860), the invasion of Japan, or the wars with Russia. In the same way, China does not want to recognize that the most legitimate government is that of Taiwan, heir to the legitimate government of Chiang Kai-shek, who had to take refuge on the island and proclaim the Republic of China (1949) after the victory of Mao Tse Dong. The recent trip of Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, to Taiwan has served to introduce us to a facet of China unknown to many: the warmongering component of the People’s Republic of China in its various claims. The unresolved issues of the past, or the desires to return to a more glorious past than the present one, are resurfacing and are being “uncovered”.
Certainly, we cannot speak of a “unidirectional” and “unipolar” world for today or the future. We are witnessing an APOCALYPSE, an UNVEILING of many hidden desires of the countries that were once important and that, perhaps, will be important in the future. The year 2023 will be a significantly important year at the beginning of the design of a new era in human history. We do not know where we are heading; we do not know which blocs will remain dominant, perhaps the USA-Europe and China-Russia as the heads of significant alliances. We do not know the role of the UN, the G-7, or the G-20 in world governance; will the European Union model be a valid model of federation or confederation for other parts of the world? Will the USA reach an internal confrontation close to civil war, or will it manage to overcome internal tensions? Where do we place the countries of Latin America? What will be the reaction of the very different countries of Africa to the neocolonialism they are currently experiencing? Where will the immense Asian countries such as India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines be placed? The end of one historical epoch and the beginning of another present these kinds of questions.
The question we should ask ourselves now is the following: what is the role of Catholic Christians in this convulsive moment, full of changes? The second part of the article, in the next Blog entry, will try to give some clues to the answer.
Miguel Angel Velasco cmf