Wednesday, July 3, 2019

A Century of Disorder

From Chronicles:
A hundred years ago, on June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed in the illustrious Hall of Mirrors, the same spot where the German Empire was proclaimed in January 1871. It was the most ambitious gathering of its kind in history. Leaders and diplomats of 27 nations convened to establish a new order and make the world “safe for democracy,” as President Woodrow Wilson had summarized America’s war aims in his message to Congress two years earlier.

Far from reestablishing a solid new order after over four years of carnage and destruction, the Treaty was deeply flawed from the outset. It produced an unstable system which lacked legitimacy in the eyes of the vanquished states, especially Germany. This hindered their prospects of eventual integration into the new order, or even their willingness to try doing so in good faith. Perhaps it could not have been otherwise:
The war had been of such magnitude – affecting so many lives directly, creating both domestic and international divisions, and engendering insatiable expectations of the peace – that the peacemakers were all but impotent to deal sensibly with its consequences. This was not a settlement in which the peacemakers carelessly let the opportunity for consensus–building slip through their fingers: the basic problem of Versailles was that no such consensus could possibly be found.
“Versailles” contained the seeds of another, even more destructive war a generation later. On the centennial of the convening of the conference I wrote an article for the print edition of Chronicles (“A Century of Disorder,” January 2019) dealing with the Treaty’s shortcomings and their consequences. Today’s anniversary calls for a rewrite and more detailed treatment of some key themes. The subject is relevant in our own time: since the end of the Cold War, the bipartisan “foreign policy community” in Washington has been trying to create and uphold an international system based on America’s self-proclaimed authority to impose the universal regime of “benevolent global hegemony.”

The misnamed “international community” of our more or less reliable allies and partners excludes over two-thirds of humanity (China, India, Russia, Iran, subsaharan Africa, most of the Muslim world, much of Latin America). Outside its domain, the “rules-based liberal international order” is regarded as illegitimate ab initio and tainted by wanton illegality (as illustrated by the hegemon’s regime-change mania, promiscuous sanctioning of friend and foe, and undeclared wars against optional enemies).

A major weakness of the Versailles system was that two major European powers were not present. Germany and her allies were excluded until after the details of all the peace treaties had been agreed upon by the Big Four – France, Britain, the United States and Italy – and presented as faits accomplis to each of them separately. This was in marked contrast to the Congress of Vienna (November 1814-June 1815), which secured almost a century of relative stability and unprecedented prosperity to Europe. (Read more.)


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