Einstein, once reached by Grenville Clark of Dublin and asked, “Dr Einstein, why is it that when the mind of man has stretched so far as to discover the structure of the atom we have been unable to devise the political means to keep the atom from destroying us?” The sage physicist replied: “That is simple my friend: because politics is more difficult than physics.” Yes, politics is more difficult than physics, in fact, it is more difficult than any science; no world needs more accomplishment, more expertise and more mettle than politics; for most it is formidable; to so many, it is foreboding; it forecasts something tremendous when in silent, it eclipses everything when it speaks; it’s new to some; to others, it only echoes stories from the past; it swallows measures and throws anomalies; it’s looped, it’s convoluted, yet there is no escape; it influences everyone.
Predictably with global politics is the trend to place individuals, nations and their states at crossroads and critically challenge their capacities and abilities to confront and respond. Whether it’s any major economic activity in China, financial conditions of Europe with Greece facing austerity measures, Great Britain, France, and Germany emerging, though slowly, from the recession, the United States moving toward economic stability; the raging death and destruction in the Middle East or even emergence of non-state terrorist network, ISIS, all are deeply entangled in a complex matrix of world politics and cast inescapable influence over the whole lot of paradigms persisting in whatever context of national, regional and global politics.
Since the end of the Cold War era, and recognition of the significance of other issues of important nature like environmental degradation, diseases, development challenges and human security agenda and their subsequent inclusion in theoretical and practical framework of policymaking, complacency gradually took hold in the major developed parts of the world and scholars thereafter started imagining out of their observations of obsolete interstate wars among major powers that whether war as a phenomenon belonged to a bygone world.
But the paucity proved to be brief and the beliefs were soon shattered in the calm summer of 2001 when among the four closely coordinated terrorists attacks, two successfully targeted World Trade Centre causing massive destruction and losses forcing the United States to launch Global War on Terrorism. Soon, in the aftermath, a series of integrative and disintegrative trends followed that at a massive scale radically shaped and altered the continuing political, security and strategic discourses of the global world reinforcing the conviction that the world of politics is dynamic.
With this acknowledgement that politics and affairs at regional and global levels matter and that even a single event can change circumstances and affect future the challenges for policymakers of accurately perceiving events and precisely putting in information to best infer from tumultuous global political trends have exacerbated.
There are currently 193 sovereign members of the UNO as opposed to the earlier 51 founding members. The world population has crossed 7 billion and is exceeding at an unprecedented rate to touch numbers never known before. With the end of post-War bipolar rivalry between the US and the USSR, the post-Cold War era has rather been characterized by the dramatic onslaught of non-state actors. The ever multiplying and diversifying base of transnational actors has become an instrument to effect the dilution of sovereign authority associated with traditional Westphalian state-system. With the proliferation of actors at individual, national and global level, the policymaking has become an all-time difficult venture.
Though the international system chiefly remained fixed around states and the states continue to exert emphasis on their authority and sovereignty, however, increased flows of trade and transactions have unsettled traditional sources of power and prestige and caused reconfiguration of the premises on which international system lies ultimately redefining states’ competences and capacities.
Economic interdependence and interconnectivity are increasingly coming under severe criticism as overall increase in global wealth failed to equate itself with cumulative welfare of all individuals across the globe. Rich and developed world have surely been the chief beneficiaries of economic globalisation and for the poor and the marginalised communities that constitute the larger part of the humanity the promises of economic interdependence have rather proven to be a myth. The fact remains that they continue to suffer grave economic exploitation of their cheap labour and raw materials.
Traditional narrow realists-led assumptions of security that privilege state as the primary referent and military as the ultimate source of power and security are being challenged by broad, holistic and people-centred approaches of security. The inclusion of normative approaches and human security agenda to international affairs, however, have provoked new controversies among both, practitioners and scholars, who fear that the unbound, indefinite and ever-broadening nature of such approaches may lead to severe global political consequences.
State’s relationship to its individuals has been redefined by heightened awareness toward protecting individual rights which found expression in several conventions on human rights like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). “States are now widely understood to be instruments at the service of the people, and not vice versa. When we read the Charter today, we are more than ever conscious that its aim is to protect individual human beings, not to protect those who abuse them,” puts Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of UNO. Contemporary global politics has advanced further from merely emphasizing states to preserve its individuals’ rights toward establishing normative assertions over safeguarding population facing severe human rights violation at the hands of repressive regimes, political collapse or natural disaster, thus generating space for controversial humanitarian intervention. Nevertheless, in short, the expanding legal protection of human rights has broken states’ monopoly over its citizens.
The foregoing discussion captures mere a glimpse of the large cascade of events and their consequences occurring all over the world that imply, according to many scholars and observers, a revolutionary restructuring of the global politics; revolutionary because the pace at which various configurations are unfolding over time and the momentum that increasing number of players in global politics are gaining are more profound than ever. The departure of ongoing discourses of history from continuity and current direction is, though, not a new phenomenon as the play of disruptive forces has marked all eras of history with certain and in some cases significant changes, however, it signals a great and difficult task for the policymakers to most suitably perceive the time, identify and predict unfolding pattern of events and produce outcomes accurate enough to become bases for prudent strategies.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, cautioned George Santayana to underline the importance of appreciating history. Winston Churchill, former British Prime Minister, speaks in similar tone, “The farther backward you look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” Therefore, to look for the context of current events is fundamentally essential especially to long-term policy and decision-making otherwise history not just assists us in understanding current realities; it also reminds us of the consequences of a strategy of choice and what choice a person ‘who cannot remember the past’ will make.
“The ability to learn how to learn will be the only security you have.” — Thomas L. Friedman