The collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s was a historic milestone, setting the stage for the everlasting and worldwide enthronement of the capitalist system along with liberal democracy.
Or so people thought.
The belief was initiated by Western academics and enthusiastically supported by the political class of the West, as well as counterparts in the developing world. This anticipated wide-ranging transformation was summed-up in the catchphrase the End of History.
Decades into this Brave New World, the more perceptive realise that the End of History is the stuff of myth and make-believe. Certainly, the capitalist growth model has been adopted by almost all countries. But liberal democracy has been far less successful. In fact, capitalism today thrives alongside political authoritarianism in its most repressive manifestations. That should come as no surprise: capitalism has easily outlived every political upheaval over the past few centuries. Its endurance is the only relative certainty in a world riddled with uncertainties.
If the developing world ever gets down to thinking collectively about its lot, it will realise that almost nothing it campaigned for in the aftermath of “political independence” in the ’50s and ’60s, for instance, has been achieved substantially.
Evidence shows that individual and collective socio-economic goals, for example, have deftly eluded it. And now, those goals of social stability and progress are being undercut by a resurgence of individualism and ultra-nationalism, tendencies the post-World War II order thought it had blunted. Tensions have risen to a point where the world heads into 2019 facing a crisis of security.
The decades leading to World War I were characterised by a degree of international peace in the developed West. The Western world had largely reached a common understanding on forms of governance, namely constitutional monarchy and liberal democracy, and on economics had agreed on the need for the capitalist growth model.
Needless to say, insecurity marked the international system in the decades between the two world wars and, unsurprisingly, nationalism and individualism came to be hallmarks of those times.
Fuelled by these broad tendencies, international tensions mounted and led eventually to a second world war.
The cold war then saw developing countries and their peoples enjoy a degree of security, at least when compared to now. This was mainly because the world had divided into two ideological, military and economic blocs, under the US and Nato on one side and the USSR and Warsaw Pact on the other.
These two sides balanced each other’s power and influence in the international system from the end of World War II until the 1990s, when the Soviet Union began to collapse.
While you could argue that the “End of History” prophecy was partially accurate – the capitalist system has after all come to be universally accepted – the rest is patently false. Liberal democracy and accountable governance are conspicuous by their absence in most parts of the developing world, which is also home to a rapid proliferation of emerging economies marching down the capitalist path.
The glaring lack of accountable governance in most regions of the world is emerging as a major factor in growing international insecurity. A tragic fallout from this lack in the developing world is increasing human insecurity.
Civilian casualties of war are rising at an alarming crate. This situation is not helped by the resurgence of the political right in the West, epitomised in the Trump phenomenon in the US. The ultra-nationalist agenda of the Trump presidency is compelling the US to withdraw militarily from conflict and war zones where civilian populations are most exposed and vulnerable to the horrors of armed conflict.
For instance, as I write, President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of US ground troops from Syria, declaring mission accomplished. However, the Syrian conflict has not been resolved to the satisfaction of those members of the international community that have the interest of civilian victims at heart.
Will the US now “cut and run” from Afghanistan, too? Time will tell. What we do know is that US reluctance to honour its commitments to civilians caught up in war in the developing world comes in tandem with its withdrawal from global multilateral economic and related forums which are seen as affecting American interests. It has already jettisoned a couple of Obama-era economic treaties seen as benefiting both the developing and the developed world.
There is plenty in these unexpected developments that should set the Global South thinking. It cannot expect a consensus among world powers on questions affecting its security and economic interests. The South will be valued by the big powers in these “brave new” times to the extent it keeps its markets open for trade and investment. The South cannot expect to be protected by those powers. Rather, it should expect to become the prey of major powers, who naturally favour economically exploitative relations. As such, the South should think of regrouping and presenting a united front in whatever ways available.
South-South ties should be revived and made to prosper in the socio-economic field in particular. Ironically, the South is bound to realise soon enough that the “Third World” development agendas of bygone days are not completely irrelevant in a new era when the rest of the world could not care less about its most vital interests.
The writer is the associate editor of the Island in Sri Lanka. He is also a lecturer on international affairs.