Friday, July 6, 2018


If you didn't think Donald Trump was doing Russia's foreign policy bidding - while abandoning America's strategic priorities - before it's time for you to take another look. After clashing with G-7 leaders, antagonizing NATO allies, getting outplayed by Kim Jung Un in Singapore, and pining like a school girl for Vladimir Putin at the G-7 Summit, the European Union is now worried that Donald Trump's "America First" stupidity will get out of hand.

They're especially worried that he will start bringing American troops home from the European continent.

Characteristically, Trump's supporters are eating it up.

Unfortunately, while Trump's supporters act like a rapacious mob in the Roman Colosseum with his every Tweet, they also have no understanding of international relations. They have even less knowledge of history and how centuries of cataclysmic (hegemonic) war have provided the backbone behind the treaties and stability we've experienced since World War II. Simply put, Trump's mob have no clue how centuries of war and international agreements have worked to create a modicum of cooperation on so many global fronts that the (homeostatic) stability we've experienced over more than 75 years is now taken for granted, as if it "just happened."

Nothing could be further from the truth.     

Drawing from a previous post designed for my International Relations students, below is a brief overview of some of the historical developments that helped shape the world we have today.

I doubt Trump's supporters will read this. It is longer than a Tweet, and too conceptual. So cut and paste any part of what's posted below, and send it to them. It will make for a fun exchange (for you at least).


While it's clear that war and conflict are very much a part of human history, we can see that advances have been made. Nation-states do cooperate with one another, and this practice has been picking up steam over the last half of our millennium. Specifically, nation-states have learned how to cooperate because of three long-term trends and developments we may not notice on a daily basis but we see come to life when we take a long look at history.

LIBERAL REVOLUTION: Contrary to what many pessimists (or "Realists") might want to believe, we have a long series of events and eras that speak to the more positive elements of the human condition. Specifically, after the Magna Carta and the fight to end slavery (especially by the British), many in the global community embraced the ideas from the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment, and worked to develop and promote individual rights and liberty. Fighting for both helped create the modern Liberal Republics that promote treaties and the liberal spirit of cooperation between nation-states today.  

TREATIES & THE SHADOW OF WAR: War has cast such a long shadow over humanity that we've learned to agree to disagree, if for no other reason than we've gotten tired of fighting increasingly destructive and ugly wars. Multi-lateral treaties in 1648 (Westphalia), 1714 (Utrecht), 1815 (Vienna), 1917 (Versailles) and 1945 (Bretton Woods / San Francisco) have forged patterns of cooperation between nation-states. These patterns have maintained a degree of cooperation that otherwise would not exist, and have breathed constitutional characteristics into the world's post-war treaties.

TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTIONS: As technological advancements have been made we find it much easier and faster to communicate and see one another. This has created problems that many never anticipated. For example, soon after the arrival of the steam train we learned that trains traveling across the continent arrived at uncertain times. They also took longer to arrive when moving west to east. All of this made train schedules both uncertain and even dangerous. Technology forced nation-states to figure out how to cooperate on issues like time - leading to the Prime Meridian Conference in 1884 - which requires nation-states to work together.

So, yes, the long roots and driving force(s) of cooperation and institution building between nation-states are tied to the shadow of war, the Liberal Revolutions, and the new realities created by technology. I will discuss the first two only below. 

A portrait of the signing of The Treaty of Westphalia, 1648

Since the end of World War II the United States has helped u
nderwrite global security. Specifically, what's been called the American Peace - or Pax Americana - has been maintained because the United States openly embraced the creation of multilateral institutions, on many levels (after failing to do so after WWI, in part because we embraced the functional equivalent of "America First" then)

The institutions that were built after WWII (NATO, the United Nations, and others created at Bretton Woods, N.H.) helped shape diplomacy and maintain order. Perhaps most importantly, while wars have been fought and atrocities committed, there has been no World War III. Just as importantly, the Cold War ended with the Russians deciding against slugging it out, as empires have done in the past when confronted with their demise. 

The Russians under Boris Yeltsin saw, as have many other nations, that the halting and even stunted promises of liberty within the post-WWII institutional order afforded enough opportunities for them to operate and succeed as an independent nation-state. 

Simply put, in the modern world institutions and treaties mattered. Diplomacy and global stability in the 20th century moved beyond the simple embrace of balance of power, shifting alliances, coercion, and brute force.

This is critical to note because history tells us that global order built on shifting alliances and simple coercion not only breaks down, but tends to swallow the world into increasingly destructive wars.   

The bloody wars of religion brought on the Protestant Reformation, which reached a climax with the Thirty Years War, ended with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. These wars were followed by new intrigue and the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), which ended with the Treaty of Utrecht.

The instability and carnage that occurred during the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) was brought about by new ideas (liberal revolution) and a new distribution of power. The Napoleonic Wars were finally brought to a close with the Treaty of Vienna (1815), which led to the Concert of Europe. The European continent experienced relative (homeostatic) stability for almost 100 years, which was especially important to the United States because the nation could now focus on trade and westward expansion. 

But the Treaty of Vienna failed to take into consideration new political realities (especially how Napoleon had planted and inspired new liberal ideas that would swamp the continent). The post-Napoleonic era of European stability would be followed by the ugliness and destruction of World War I, which ended with the signing of the flawed Treaty of Versailles (1917). 

The United States famously failed to participate in the institutions created after WWI, which insured the Treaty of Versailles would be a failed treaty. And so it was. The destruction of World War II followed, which inspired scholars to think of both WWI and WWII as modernity's version of the Thirty Years War. 

All of this is important to understand because we've learned over time - i.e. those of us who study this stuff, not Trump - that strong and binding treaties can have an impact. 

Treaties crafted at Westphalia (1648), Utrecht (1713), Vienna (1815), Versailles (1919), and at Bretton Woods (1944), San Francisco (1945) and Potsdam (1945) helped to establish international rules, protocols, and global patterns that in many ways create the functional equivalent of a global constitution (all of this is laid out in G. John Ikenberry's classic After Victory). 

Established patterns have created expectations that have built - as we discuss in in my international relations class - islands of order in our international sea of anarchy. This doesn't mean that war can (or will) be eradicated. It simply means that the proclivity towards war and conflict can be reduced. This only happens if other nation-states see global institutions and agreements, and the nation-states that create those institutions and agreements, as legitimate. This is what happened after WWII. 

What was especially significant after WWII was how the United States demonstrated a "more sophisticated understanding of power" and took the lead by granting allied powers (except Russia) a say in how the world would be administered. Still, the U.S. didn't take a back seat - and everyone understood who was on top - but the broader environment was inclusive, and driven by international agreements. 

The United States - like the Roman Empire, the British Empire, etc. before them - understood that everyone could not pitch in to pay for the defense of the system that was created. The fact that the U.S. understood this and tolerated "free riders" is one of the elements that granted the U.S. a degree of moral legitimacy and, perhaps more importantly, unchallenged leadership in the west.

This is what the U.S. is losing under Donald Trump.


Donald Trump clearly does not understand history or the concepts that drive our world. This helps explain why he has no problem cozying up to dictators, while turning his back on our allies.

Will Trump pull U.S. troops out of Europe? I don't know. But all of his actions to date suggest he'll at least put up a trial balloon up, and test the idea. Putin will praise him for it (in private). His cult at home will cheer his every act, ignoring the path Trump is putting us on. 

Given Trump's ignorance of history, his clashes with our G-7 allies, how he's worked to undermine NATO, how he's pined for Putin on the global stage, and how he got out maneuvered by Kim Jong Un (and China) in Singapore - I'm just going to say it - it's clear we're witnessing, in real time, the unraveling of our world.  

What a mess.

There's more to how this works. Much more. For those of you interested in the long-term economic trends, and how they are undermining the ties that bind our global economy together - something Donald Trump also has no clue about - click here.

- Mark

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