Ian Kershaw's magisterial new history of Europe, 1914-1949,"To Hell and Back" reminds us that during the 40 year period from 1914 to 1945 Europe came close to "self-destruction" in two World Wars and an economic depression that cost over 50 million lives.
Yet, defying centuries of internecine warfare and history, Europe came together in the second half of the 20th Century to form organizational constructs (NATO, ECM, etc.) that make the prospect of another war between the European nations inconceivable.Yes, tensions still exist: economically and socially. And will continue to. But the common interests were so clear and the bonds now so strong that war is not conceivable.
Today, in the early years of the 21st Century, I believe our civilization faces a question not dissimilar to what was faced in the 20th Century: "will we allow civilization and the world as we know it and want it to be, to self-destruct?"
This may strike the reader as a needlessly draconian question. I do not think it is.
What are the risks to our civilization as we know it? I believe there are three.
One is the threat of fundamentalist driven terrorism seeking to expand its reach across borders and annihilate "non-believers" via a new caliphate.
The second is the threat of nuclear disaster. Let us not allow the half century which separates us from the first hand ravage of the hydrogen bomb to disguise the annihilation to civilization which will result from atomic warfare. To our knowledge, we are the only celestial body with life as we know it. The possibility of our ending it is in our hands.
The first and second threats are related for a dooms-day scenario is having a nuclear device in the hands of terrorists.
The third threat, while less immediate is no less real: climate change which would cripple life as we know it on earth.
It is clear that confronting and curtailing these threats will require Nations to work together as they have not before. Without trying to identify an exhaustive list, these Nations must include the United States, Russia, China, Western Europe, Japan,
Saudi Arabia, and India.
There are those who will object to Russia and China being included, attributing to these Nations the intent to expand their geographic reach. The evidence that this is their intent is frail, defies what their leaders assert and what is in their own best interest.
Neither China or Russia are driven today by a Mission which seeks to convert other Nations to a given ideology (unlike Germany under the Nazis or ISIS today). Neither have a need for more land. Like the United States and Western Europe, they are threatened by ISIS. Yes, their values, their economic and judicial systems will not be identical to ours. Corruption may exist at higher levels. And they will look for good relations with neighboring countries just as we in the United States always have with countries near our own.
But the commonalities of their interests--preserving peace and safety for their citizens, being treated with respect--will be far greater than the differences.
Just as world leaders following WW II had the wisdom to bring together organizational coalitions to normalize cooperation and the creation of stronger bonds so must the world leaders do that today.
With regard to Russia, we had the opportunity to create an organizational construct which would have bound its interests to those of the West post glasnost and perestroika in the early 1990's. We missed that opportunity. We have the opportunity again, confronted by the greatest threats we have had since that of Nazi Germany in the 20th Century.
Today's leaders will be judged by how well they seize this opportunity. I believe the future of civilization as we know it depends on it.