In Vote, Hints of a Larger Unraveling
[Accompanied by an upending of politics and middle-class assumptions in both the developed and the developing worlds, these forces are combining as never before to challenge the Western institutions and alliances that were established after World War II and that have largely held global sway ever since.]
By Jim Yardley, Alison Smale, Jane Perlez and Ben Hubbard
A protest against the so-called Brexit in
Credit Adam Ferguson The New York Times
Slow economic growth has undercut confidence in traditional liberal economics, especially in the face of the dislocations caused by trade and surging immigration.
Populism has sprouted throughout the West. Borders in the
Middle East are being erased amid a rise in sectarianism.
is growing more assertive and China more adventurous. Refugees from poor and war-torn
places are crossing land and sea in record numbers to get to the better lives
shown to them by modern communications. Russia
Accompanied by an upending of politics and middle-class assumptions in both the developed and the developing worlds, these forces are combining as never before to challenge the Western institutions and alliances that were established after World War II and that have largely held global sway ever since.
symbolizes the cracks in that postwar
foundation. Its leaving the European Union weakens a bloc that is the world’s
biggest single market, as well as an anchor of global democracy. It also
undermines the postwar consensus that alliances among nations are essential in
maintaining stability and in diluting the nationalism that once plunged Europe
into bloody conflict — even as nationalism is surging again. Britain
“It’s not that this, in and of itself, will completely destroy the international order,” said Ivo H. Daalder, a former American representative to NATOwho is now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “But it sets a precedent. It is potentially corrosive.”
The symbolism was pointed in
on Saturday morning, two days after the
British vote. In the packed ballroom of a China hotel, Beijing ’s new international development bank held
its first meeting of the 57 countries that have signed up as members. The new
institution, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, is designed to give China a chance to win influence away from the
World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. China
“History has never set any precedent,” the new bank’s president, Jin Liqun, once wrote of the
and its Western allies, “that an empire is capable of governing the world
Even as European leaders held a flurry of meetings on Saturday to weigh a response to
’s departure, President Xi Jinping of Britain welcomed President Vladimir V. Putin of China to Russia for a brief state visit. More than Beijing , China is an outlier to the American-led
international system, and Mr. Putin — at best a wary partner of Russia , which itself has severe economic challenges
— in recent years has worked to divide and destabilize China Europe.
Mr. Putin has troubles of his own, including an economy hurt by low oil prices, that could limit his ability to exploit the moment. Still, for him, analysts say, the British vote is an unexpected gift.
“Vladimir Putin will be rubbing his hands in glee,” the British historian Timothy Garton Ash wrote in The Guardian. “The unhappy English have delivered a body blow to the West, and to the ideals of international cooperation, liberal order and open societies to which
has in the past contributed so much.” England
The end of Pax Americana is not a new theme. Predictions of American decline were rampant after the global economic crisis in 2007 and 2008, amid parallel predictions of the dawning of a new Chinese century.
But the American economy steadily recovered, if imperfectly, while
has unnerved many of its Asian neighbors
with a newly aggressive foreign policy. Chinese overreach opened a path for
renewed American engagement in China Asia, the fastest-growing region in the world, as
President Obama called for a “pivot” to Asia.
Analysts disagree on whether this pivot signaled a declining American interest in European affairs and contributed to the Continent’s current problems. Part of the Obama administration’s rationale was to extricate the
from decades of costly involvement in the United States Middle East at a time when that region was in upheaval.
There, the breakdown of the postwar political order has been more fundamental and violent than in
Europe. The uprisings of the Arab Spring erupted
from widespread frustrations with stagnant, autocratic politics and economic
lethargy. But these rebellions failed to yield stable governments, and the
borders drawn by Europeans a century ago in , Syria and Lebanon have been rendered largely irrelevant. Iraq
The nationalism surging in
Europe is not the problem in the Arab world; rather,
populations have retreated into greater reliance on sects, ethnic groups and
militias. Jihadist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have fought
national armies and won, providing a religious alternative to the nation-state
that has been embraced by some.
Bassel Salloukh, an associate professor of political science at the
in Lebanese American University , said the problems in the Beirut Middle East and Europe shared a common origin in the anxieties
caused by tectonic shifts in the global economy. But while fear and frustration
in the West have shown themselves through democratic elections, brittle Arab
states lacked the flexibility to respond.
“Here, we have hyper-centralized, homogeneous, authoritarian states which, when facing these transformations, just exploded,” Mr. Salloukh said.
And those explosions were not contained within the
Middle East. Refugees have poured out of and Syria . Iraq , Turkey and Jordan have absorbed several million refugees. But
it is the flow of people into the European Union that has had the greatest
geopolitical impact, and helped to precipitate the British vote. Stabilizing Lebanon and permanently curbing the refugee flow
could be one of the critical factors in determining whether Syria Europe can steady itself politically.
Before the refugee crisis, the European Union was already an unwieldy and unfinished entity. Its contradictions and imperfections were exacerbated by the economic crisis. Yet it was the onset of more than a million refugees marching through
and the Balkans toward Greece that may ultimately prove to be the most
destabilizing event in Germany Europe’s recent history.
European countries erected border fences despite the bloc’s system of open internal borders. Populist parties raged against immigrants.
was relatively insulated, yet British
politicians campaigning to leave the European Union depicted an island under
siege, mixing the very different issue of immigration from other European Union
states with the perceived threat from an influx of poor Muslims. This anti-immigrant
strain twinned with the economic anxieties of many Britons who felt left out of
the global economy to drive support for the country going its own way. Britain
In the wake of
’s choice, Britain Europe faces the parallel challenges of holding
itself together and of retaining its global influence.
NATO has rediscovered its purpose in the aftermath of
’s intervention in Russia . Yet the Baltic countries still worry
whether the military alliance would truly defend them against Russian
aggression, and the alliance has had trouble defining its role in fighting
terrorism or dealing with the migrant flow. Ukraine
The European Union often frustrates American presidents, yet the disintegration of the bloc would be a geopolitical disaster for
. Even before Washington ’s exit, Britain was Germany Europe’s dominant power, and Chancellor Angela
Merkel was Europe’s dominant leader.
leaving the E.U. now poses a challenge for Britain ,” said Nicholas Burns, a former top American
diplomat who now teaches at the Germany . “It will need to provide even greater
leadership to keep Harvard Kennedy School Europe united and moving forward.”
“There is no point beating about the bush,” Ms. Merkel said Friday.
Europe has reached “a turning point,” and “more and
more often, we encounter basic doubts” about ever-greater union.
The markers of European decline are not hard to find. For the first time in modern history,
Asia has more private wealth than Europe, the Boston Consulting Group said last year.
And will account for 70 percent of China Asia’s growth between now and 2019, the group
China’s development of its own international bank partly derives from its frustrations over its role in the I.M.F. Policy makers in Beijing were infuriated that they were not granted a bigger share of power at the I.M.F. as a show of gratitude for helping stabilize world economies in 2008.
Many Asian leaders have tended to view the European experiment at unity as a proposition that could not last. Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of
, once called the European Union a motley
crowd trying to march to a single drummer. He predicted it would fail. Singapore
Jim Yardley and Alison Smale reported from
London, Jane Perlez
from Beijing, and Ben Hubbard from . Yufan Huang
contributed research. Beirut,