Undoubtedly, in recent decades the international arena experienced and continues to evince unexpected developments, some of them veritable “game changers,” in other words prompting unpredictable consequences. But the circumstances in which concern about the immediate future of the international order manifested itself as poignantly as it does today were few after the end of the Second World War. Of course, there were events that raised the grave issue of peace and war in the ensemble of the system during the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, when humanity was on the brink of the nuclear abyss, being undoubtedly the most eloquent from this standpoint.
The management of these dangerous moments made possible an amplification of institutional construction at international level, so that the systemic order would continue to exist, and such crises would be prevented or rapidly managed so that systemic war would be avoided. After the aforementioned missile crisis, apart from some measures of direct communication between the main protagonists of the bipolar period – U.S. and USSR –, such as the setting up of a “hotline,” an ample systemic effort of institutional construct started, an effort that is unfolding today too: the conclusion of a nuclear non-proliferation treaty (1968), the launch of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe, hence the codification of stability and security in the Euro-Atlantic space, the result being the construction of the current institution of the OSCE.
On the other hand, these days, experts of international renown, as well as heads of state or politicians of scope, express serious concerns about the evolution of the global situation and warn about the major risk of entering a world without rules, in which the force of law is replaced by the law of force, hence of maximum instability that generates systemic war. We are not talking about the forceful return of power politics at international level, already obvious and accepted as a major trait of contemporary systemic life, but about the fragility, even the reduction to insignificance of some international institutions deemed the “nerve centres” of stability and of solving global problems (G7, UN etc.). We see that where we would not expect it, namely in areas where there are actors with old experience in international cooperation and the solving of conflicts, but systemic turbulences manifest themselves and can trigger unexpected conflicts.
A recent tweet posted by Carl Bildt drew attention to a less known aspect, namely the litigation between Denmark and Canada regarding the sovereignty over the Hans Island, in the Arctic area between the two states. “Risk of war between Denmark and Canada over Hans Island receding. We need good news these days” – Bildt wrote on his Twitter account on 8 June 2018, also outlining the interested parties’ joint desire for a peaceful solution. Some states, knowers of the volatility of the international situation, the likes of the one today, have taken relevant measures, knowing from their own history that “forewarned is forearmed,” as is the case of Sweden, which has not only reintroduced conscription but has also reorganised its home guard units that had been abandoned for decades. Bildt’s Twitter account informs us on June 5 that these units (40 battalions of 22,000 soldiers) are being tested: “Sweden tests readiness of its Home Guard units for the first time since 1975.” Likewise, today there are express signals pointing to the start of a global trade war, the U.S. slapping tariffs on imports from Europe and China, and the latter two’s retaliatory reaction is already expected. Hence, the simple and rapid browsing of social networks reminds us of a major trait of international life: profound concern about the immediate future of the global system. Taking ever more poignant shape is, on one hand, the finding that certain things are taking place, things that cause profound concern about the chances of a peaceful global evolution and, on the other hand, the attempt to identify the causes of this situation, possibly also solutions to block its worsening. Thus, in consensus with this mental predisposition at international level, Gideon Rachman notes on his Twitter account on June 16, with easy to perceive sarcasm: “So let me see, we have a global trade war, Merkel under threat, the virtual collapse of the G7, rise of the alt-right in Europe, an emerging markets crisis, families being forcibly separated at the US border, political chaos in U.K. Other than that – all good.” Whether the sarcasm aims at the tweets of American President D. Trump – who show that, unlike the hostile press that proliferates ‘fake news,’ the G-7 summit in Canada was very efficient and he got along well with the leaders present there – is up to us to figure out. But the listing of simultaneous crises is clarifying in what concerns the actual state of the global system.
The most recent illustration of this concern about the future of the system has materialised in the opinions expressed at the summit that took place, on 17-18 June 2018, at the summer residence of the Finnish President, the ‘Kulturanta’ in Naantali, under the topic “Power and Strength or Shared Order?” Ever since the start of the ‘Kulturanta Talks’ summit this year, a series inaugurated in 2013 and consecrated to debating international security issues, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari outlined several facts that must not be ignored: “Recent events in the world scene have made me, and many others, concerned over multilateral world order. We hear countries threatening to leave international organisations and claiming international cooperation undermines their national interests. We have witnessed unilateral decisions to withdraw from international agreements that have required years of negotiations. The threat of a violent confrontation between great powers has re-emerged.”
While incumbent Finnish President Sauli Niinisto was very blunt in his speech: “We seem to be sliding into a world where strongman personalities outweigh permanent institutions, where unilateral power speaks louder than multilateral agreements and common norms and values.” And his warning for the gravity of this situation to be assessed and for appropriate measures to be taken is addressed not only to the responsible politicians of the great powers or the small and medium powers who are at the helm of international institutions, but to the global public opinion alike: “This is a very serious situation. We have to stop and think: what is at stake here? To put it bluntly, the absence of order means disorder, or even chaos. The absence of rules means no rules. Or somebody else’s rules, rules dictated without our consent.”
What must be mentioned in this context is that such opinions have not been expressed until now so bluntly and with such welcomed sincerity and obvious concern for the immediate future of the world. What world are we heading toward? And the Finnish President’s concern, openly expressed yesterday, has a fundamental reason that is not Finland’s alone: “There is ample reason to be concerned about the international order falling apart in front of our eyes. For a country like Finland, a reliable multilateral system is an essential component of our security and welfare.”