Newspaper article International New York Times

New Year Brings Old Problems

Newspaper article International New York Times

New Year Brings Old Problems

Article excerpt

The euro crisis is back; Russia is behaving like a revisionist power; the Middle East remains in chaos; and nationalism in China and Japan is on the rise.

The past and its problems weigh like a hangover on this new year. The euro crisis is back, with a dicey Greek election this month and debt problems in Italy and France; Britain votes in May with European Union membership at stake; Russia continues to behave like a revisionist power; the Middle East remains in chaos with Syria broken, Iran's nuclear program unresolved and Israel in its own bitter election campaign; Chinese and Japanese nationalisms are ascendant, perhaps more dangerous than even North Korea's pique over a goofy satirical movie.

To all these various problems, the United States, with its own political and ideological warfare, seems to have few answers. Allied confidence in American leadership is low, even as more Americans say they want a less active global role.

Like empires, world orders grow old, fissiparous, complacent and grumpy -- despite the Champagne, the thrill is gone. The European order created at the Congress of Vienna lasted nearly a century; the post-World War I order lasted barely 20 years. The post-World War II order seemed to some perfected with the collapse of the Cold War and the apparent spread of liberal democracies.

But those assumptions can seem hollow now. In a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, Richard N. Haass, a former American diplomat and president of the Council on Foreign Relations, described what he called "The Unraveling," a "disordered world" of instability, economic stagnation and increasing inequality.

The hegemony of the United States, which Hubert Vedrine, a former French foreign minister, liked to call the world's "hyperpower," is increasingly questioned, even ignored. The post-Soviet order is under direct fire in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, but revisionist challengers to the world as we knew it also include authoritarian autocracies like Russia and China, oddball North Korea and a more nationalist Japan.

The United Nations Security Council seems ever more ineffective, incapable of creating peace in the most dangerous places -- including Syria, Gaza, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Ukraine. …

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