...WARS OF THE ROSES, a name given to a series of civil wars in England during the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III. They were marked by a ferocity and brutality which are practically unknown in the history of English wars before and since. The honest yeoman of Edward III's time had evolved into a professional soldier of fortune, and had been demoralized by the prolonged and dismal Hundred Years' War, at the close of which many thousands of ruffians, whose occupation had gone, had been let loose in England. At the same time the power of feudalism had become concentrated in the hands of a few great lords, who were wealthy enough and powerful enough to become king-makers. The disbanded mercenaries enlisted indifferently on either side, corrupting the ordinary feudal tenantry with the evil habits of the French wars, and pillaged the countryside, with accompaniments of murder and violence, wherever they went. It is true that the sympathies of the people at large were to some extent enlisted: London and, generally, the trading towns being Yorkist, the country people, Lancastrian — a division of factions which roughly corresponded to that of the early part of the Great Rebellion, two centuries later, and similarly in a measure indicative of the opposition of hereditary loyalty and desire for sound and effective government. But there was this difference, that in the 15th century the feeling...
On Syria, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has been wholly ineffectual. A succession of Special Representatives for Syria have achieved nothing. One of them, Kofi Annan, himself a former Secretary General, complained that, “when the Syrian people desperately need action, there continues to be finger-pointing and name-calling in the Security Council”. On Syria, as on so many other issues, the UN Security Council, the organisation’s executive engine, has been paralysed by profound splits between the permanent members, with Russia and China in one corner and the US, UK and France in the other. All of which, incidentally, tells us that there will be no peace in Syria without Russia and Iran, President Assad’s principal supporters, at the forefront of diplomatic efforts.
As the UN sinks beneath the waves, other pillars of the post-1945 international order crumble. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, two institutions established in 1944 under the dominant influence of the US and the UK to promote financial stability and economic development, are now diminished creatures. The authority of the IMF has been hit by its unhappy involvement in the Greek financial crisis. The World Bank is under challenge from China and its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, of which Britain is a founding member. The World Trade Organisation, set up in the Forties with the goal of liberalising trade, has not sealed a global deal for over 20 years. The little-known Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, once one of the great pillars of détente, or conflict prevention between the West and the old Soviet Union, has proved powerless before Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and Georgia.
Most of these institutions have been in decline for years. More dramatic is the sense that the EU, whose origins go back to 1951, is coming apart at the seams. Frontiers are being re-erected. Member-states are abusing each other in public. Policy is crippled. It has become obvious that the EU is a fair-weather organisation that prospers only when the good times roll, an organisation that proclaims the advent of the “post-modern state”, but which is riven by old-fashioned nationalism. To this poisonous brew we must add the resentment of Germany. As I remember from my time as ambassador, Chancellor Helmut Kohl saw deep integration in the EU as the means of calming fears of German hegemony. Today this vision has been turned on its head and Angela Merkel has become the bully from Berlin.
The unravelling of an international order, put in place some three generations ago on Anglo-American and European templates, is no surprise as the global power axis shifts.
Can anything be done to restore stability? It is anyone’s guess what will happen in Europe. But could the UN be brought back to life? In truth, it can do no more than its member states allow. Perhaps there lies the solution. It is astonishing that the permanent membership of the Security Council is exactly the same as when it first met in 1946 – the US, UK, China, Russia and France. So why not inject it with new blood and recognise the rise of new powers, such as India and Brazil?
We in the West have to get away from the notion that we should continue to be the dominant arbiters of what constitutes international order as if it were still 1946. Rightly or wrongly, other powers see this as selfishly serving our national interest. But what is our place? One yearns for a statesmanship and a diplomacy to guide us through the difficulties of this disorderly Hobbesian world. Sadly, as the crises rage on, and the 193 leaders gather to slap each other on the back, I detect neither.
Sir Christopher Meyer is a former British Ambassador to the United States and Germany