Thank You for Being Late by Thomas L. Friedman

Thank You for Being Late by Thomas L. Friedman

Author:Thomas L. Friedman
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Holocene of Geopolitics

It is easy to forget today just how much the global order that settled on our planet after World War II and lasted through the post–Cold War era was—in retrospect—the geopolitical equivalent of the Holocene climate era. That is, just as the Holocene presented the perfect Garden of Eden climate for Mother Earth, and the perfect economic climate for middle-class workers, it also presented the perfect climate for newly independent states. And there were a lot of them.

In the wake of World War I and the fall of several empires, scores of new independent nations were created. The Austro-Hungarian Empire gave way to Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Russia ceded Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. And Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire also birthed a new Poland and Romania. The Ottoman Empire gave way to a raft of newly independent or colonized states, including Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Cyprus, and Albania. And in Africa the dismantled German Empire was carved into states such as Namibia and Tanzania. Then, in the wake of World War II, a wave of decolonization was unleashed, giving birth to an independent India, Pakistan, Libya, Sudan, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Morocco, Mali, Senegal, the Republic of the Congo, the Somali Republic, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria, Rwanda, Eritrea, Zambia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea—and more. And then after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, all of its peripheral satellite states were set free, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova, not to mention the various parts of Yugoslavia—Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Lithuania, Latvia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Estonia also became independent.

While very few of these new states had the economic, natural, or human resources to develop into strong industrial democracies, or even autocracies, their weaknesses were masked for many years—during the Cold War and immediately after—by a variety of factors that made being an “average” or “below average” state quite sustainable.

For starters, the global geopolitical environment around them was, relative to a century that saw two world wars, quite stable. Neither system was led by a Hitler or a jihadist. The two superpowers even maintained a “hotline”—a special communication system connecting the White House and the Kremlin—so each could clear up any misunderstanding with the other to prevent any direct hot wars with nuclear weapons. Strategically, both sides deployed enough nuclear weapons to guarantee not only a first-strike capability but also a retaliatory second-strike capability if the other side fired first, creating a system of “mutual assured destruction,” or MAD, which all but guaranteed that neither side would ever use any of their atomic weapons.

More important, though, the intense competition between America and the Soviet Union to collect allies on their respective sides of the chessboard provided a steady flow of resources to create and reinforce order in so many of these new states, which enabled many of them to get by with just C+ leadership—or, to put it


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