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I have a confession to make. Lately I have been prone to watching formulaic romantic comedies complete with simple plot lines and sugary sweet endings. I have done away with my regular menu of high drama thrillers. Real life and the breaking news headlines have recently adjusted my palate. Like most Western Democracies, I am in the midst of an existential crisis.

As a perpetual student of International Relations, I am always fascinated by global affairs - how issues meander or change, and where time is measured by the century and not by an electoral cycle. It is always complicated and every so often it surprises me. Lately though the jolts have been nothing short of unsettling.  The UK’s decision to exit the European Union was a surprise to many and as I write this blog we are expecting the UK Prime Minister to trigger Article 50  and initiate the process for exiting a framework that has affected all aspects of British life for more than 40 years.  Although the UK Prime Minister is keen to expand trade and international affairs beyond the EU toward a Global Britain, I am hard pressed to imagine what that actually means. For the first time in a while I am also worried about the shifting sands in the international system. For all its flaws, the peace and prosperity that was ushered into place in Europe has been monumental. A stable and prosperous Europe is not only good for Europe but is beneficial for global stability.

The Treaty of Paris signed in 1951 ushered into place the European Coal and Steel Community, the precursor to the European Union. Embedded in its mission was to create a strong united Europe and to prevent the outbreak of war amongst its members. The spirit of the Treaty was that never again will countries of Europe retreat into old rivalries but rather to create a supranational framework which entwined the national interests of all member states.

But here we are in 2017 - this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty and the European Project appears more fragile than ever in light of Brexit and tomorrow,  The Netherlands, one of the founding members of the EU, will have its National Elections (on the Ides of March no less). Will this be a referendum on Trump or an embrace of populism with a healthy helping of xenophobia and rejection of liberal democracy? 

Is this the beginning of a domino effect that will continue in the upcoming French elections?  More importantly, will the EU survive?

Alas when I turn to events in Washington DC, I am no less nervous.  All the signals displayed so far by the current US administration indicate an American retreat from its leadership role in global affairs by way of Executive Orders; withdrawal from key trade deals such as the Trans - Pacific Partnership and its muted response to threats such as the North Korean missile testing, or absence from key negotiations such as the recent talks on Syria in Geneva.

But more than this the actions on display from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are not in sync with what was previously a steady diet of liberal values. Although still early in the administration, Foggy Bottom appears to be a hollowed out echo chamber, and there has been no clear articulation or pursuit of US Foreign Policy.[1]

This past weekend was the 70th anniversary of the Truman Doctrine. It remains the most consequential articulation of US Foreign Policy and it was a significant leap for a country, which was until then only, occupied with events within its sphere of influence in the Western Hemisphere.

It essentially propelled the United States of America into its Global Leadership role and shaped US Foreign Policy for decades.

The doctrine stated that “It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.”

Truman strongly advocated his position in which he saw the world through the lens of two distinctly separate ways of life 1) based on the will of the majority based on basic human rights and freedoms that have now been etched into our ideals and 2) the other based on the will of a minority which rules by imposing its will on the majority through force, oppression and suppression of free expression and ideas.

I don’t know what the Trump Doctrine will be. Nor do I hasten to guess what a Global Britain looks like in the 21st century. And I think that is exactly the point. Both the UK and the US, mature democracies to the rest of the world, seemingly entrenched in  their ideals and virtues are now wrestling with the shortcomings of Economic Liberalism and Globalization, at the risk of also rejecting liberal values such of rule of law, Freedom of opinion, expression and the press and Freedom of religion.

These are treasured values which were established during the Enlightenment period and since then Western nations have been working towards embedding them into societal and global norms. The unsettling consequence of the past year is that it appears that the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Rule of law and basic human rights have been supplanted by xenophobia and intolerance.

Instead of protecting and preserving these hard won ideals and international norms it seems that both the UK and US are moving swiftly into the vast unknown. I truly hope this is not the feeling throughout Europe as well.

What I do know is that we are in unprecedented times. Historical norms are out the door and I pray that our intricate architecture of global norms and ideals are not viewed as mere luxury items but a list of key essentials for nations all over the world to collectively thrive.

Both the UK and US were the key architects to the current global system and one can argue that the US has been its main anchor.  Yes I agree that has led to overreach and interventionist policies in many corners of the world and perhaps this will give other nations the opportunity to step up to the plate. But nevertheless we are heading into uncharted waters and if history is a lesson, vacuums do not last for long. Something will eventually take its place.

When Fukuyama declared the end of history I am sure he did not mean that we forget all the lessons learnt and forgo all the positive gains made.

In short, history has its eyes on us all.

 

 



[1] Foggy Bottom is the familiar name given the US Department of State  and the Washington DC neighbourhood where its headquarters is located.

 

 

 

 

 

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