The Age of Discontent: Reflections on the Contemporary International System and its Challenges


Raja Kadri

Release Date

Saturday, August 17, 2019


The central theme of recorded historical account shows that wars and conflicts have been instrumental in shaping most of human history-irrespective of cultural or geographical imperatives. The human departure from the cave and plantation world led to creating territories. The defense of those territories needed force and organized aggression, which resulted in more wars and conflicts. The perpetual hunger for more physical space, led to further violence as tribes fought and gained more territorial space, and as the strongest defeated the weakest, the empires were born. The territorial control and its defense are the consistent human activity in all historical ages. The modern military strategy of conducting proxy wars is an extension of this historic truth where two or more separate powers using external strife to attack the interests or territorial holdings of the other.

However, our contemporary international system is nothing like in the past. What distinguishes the modern era from the previous epochs is the truly global nature of chaos and turmoil where diverse societies and nations view certain core human ideas such as order, justice and legitimacy from the prism of their own local experience, and are willing to kill and be killed to defend their version of value system. The spread of a conflict is not bound by any physical border, especially if the border is inside a volatile region. In a globalized world, social, economic and political conflicts are no longer regional issues; they are a global game-changer as seen with the current refugee situation in Europe; or turmoil in the Persian Gulf; or ever-rising tension in the South China Sea. The chaos and anxiety are now global and challenging the traditional ways of handling the crisis.

From an economic standpoint, the trade and currency wars are becoming a norm and the failure of economic policy, especially the monetary policy as a tool to calm the economic turmoil is a result of dealing with structural global economic malaise with the national central bank rate. It has not worked and it will not work. The ever-rising inequality and debt are making the populace very nervous and angry and if not addressed, the boiling point may be closer than many talking heads chose to believe.

In the Age of Discontent with global implications - an economic turmoil or a sectarian war in nation A can cause a huge spike in unemployment or launch a sectarian conflict in nation B and soon, both nations A&B are caught in deeper chaos and turmoil as people demand jobs and security. The interdependent nature of the global system has created a paradoxical situation where policymakers are not only concerned about the conflict and chaos at home but how it will impact the entire region. These challenges are causing enormous stress for strong states and choking weak ones. The rigid patterns of the Cold War, which defined the last half of the previous century, are no longer valid to resolve the fragmentation of weak and unstable societies in this century. All the geopolitical and economic risks happening simultaneously in many parts of the world have made an old truth of chaos and war shaping human history more convincing, visible and bloody. In this global age, the threat of economic and political disorder does not respect state sovereignty. We better get used to this mayhem.

Never has there been such an extraordinary growth in violence and chaos within various regions of the world in which economic, social and political tensions have created an explosive situation. And never have we seen such a setting where a regional turmoil can translate into global mayhem and anarchy. We are witnessing a deadly trend where chaos is breaking out simultaneously in many regions, and governments are less capable of meeting those challenges than before, including the restoration of order and security. The lack of stability and order-politically, socially and economically, is the hallmark of the Age of Discontent.

Prediction is an occupation of immature. Describing the future through the past is the task of the prophets, and giving a wise counsel to a ruler about what must be done presently to balance the future is the work of a great statesman. It is a solemn responsibility of great statesmen to tame the passions and curtail the chaos of social, political and economic order through serious analysis, assessment and, advice. If teachers are the prophets of souls and knowledge; statesmen are protectors and guardians of order and stability and the last line of defence against discontent and turmoil. The unending chaos in multiple fronts will continue to define the character of this new stage in international history. If there were an epoch which desperately needed wise statesmen, it is now in the Age of Discontent.

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