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FOR centuries, the cessation of hostilities between great powers resulted in settlements that framed relations between sovereign states. Treaties like those signed in Westphalia (1648) or Vienna (1815) ushered in lasting eras of peace, notwithstanding their limitations in scale and scope. This stands in contrast to the broader ambitions of the founders of the present international order, anchored by the UN system and the Bretton Wood s institutions.
SINCE 1945, an ever-growing number of multilateral treaties and organizations have determined global norms and rules of behavior. It is an impressive feat of history that this framework is still honored by most governments most of the time. Despite much turmoil and strife in the interim, the general peace has been kept and humanity grown more prosperous. Subjugated nations have won their liberty; the universality of human rights has been enshrined into laws; and billions have been lifted out of poverty.
YET this global safety net has become brittle with age. Although the increasing weakness of the system has been manifest for some time, one cannot point to any single cause that has led to its attrition. A cumulative train of events has produced a divergence of strategic interests amongst the great powers, limiting the number of issues that may be efficiently addressed in concert.
THE range of contemporary challenges requiring heightened engagement is wide, as attested by the analyses of the distinguished authors writing in this edition of Horizons. They include how to accommodate Trump’s unconventional approach to world politics, the ensuing conundrum of the Brexit vote, Europe’s ongoing populist threats, the Gulf ’s rising tensions, Russia’s Eurasian turn, ASEAN’s geopolitical maneuvers, and mounting instability in Southeast Europe.
NOT every nation has been equally affected; but few, if any, have been able to avoid the consequences. Strategic options are being reevaluated in capitals around the globe, as intensifying winds of change shake up the universal framework within which international relations have been conducted in our lifetime.
MENDING multilateral safety nets should become a shared priority; neglecting to do so would raise the risk of the world falling into a geopolitical chasm the likes of which we have not seen in living memory.
AGREEMENTS reached in 2015 on sustainable development and climate change remind us that significant breakthroughs can still be reached when statesmen choose to leverage their diplomatic influence for the sake of strengthening the international system.
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