It is not so much that any one of these problems is uncontainable. It is the fact that they come along simultaneously, creating a sense that the shared understandings and responsibilities which have kept some sense of global order since WW2 are giving way to a new 'grab what you can' attitude.
Western policy-makers in particular are paralysed, bogged down in their economic problems and unwilling to use military force since it is no longer clear (a) that Western military force can achieve victory in the sort of conflicts now breaking out in different places, and (b) what a stable outcome in any one place might look like.
Western hesitation is matched by Chinese, Russian and Indian hesitation. Those powers themselves are struggling as world markets seize up, but they see an historic opportunity for themselves to move into the philosophical space created by Western retreat.
World Wars One and Two were conflicts with global reach arising from European power-struggles. But there was at least a clear context, involving thematic rivalries in an understandable form.
World War Three is different. For the first time in centuries the USA and Europe are unable to set or even define the global agenda, and so face philosophical and psychological defeat. Other powers come to the fore, fighting and redrawing the map - and therefore the rules - as they see fit.
The turmoil is all the more dramatic and vicious for being in a sense anarchic and incoherent, even if civilisational principles are implicitly at stake.
Monday, June 07, 2010
After taking a survey of current international crises, Charles Crawford explains how the current approach could lead to war: