Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Major World Upheaval Coming?

Just in case you weren't depressed enough by the economic situation here in the U.S., historian Niall Ferguson has a article up at called, "The Axis of Upheaval," in which he compares the world situation to the early 1930s. He identifies nine countries "where there are already signs that the economic crisis is exacerbating domestic political conflicts." Ferguson points out that the U.S., which has been the world policeman for quite awhile, is now forced to look inward because of its own economic difficulties, limiting its ability to keep the lid on worldwide problems. Here's his summary:
Economic volatility, plus ethnic disintegration, plus an empire in decline: That combination is about the most lethal in geopolitics. We now have all three. The age of upheaval starts now.
I'm inherently skeptical of these types of predictions, although it is difficult to take issue with Ferguson's examples. And unfortunately, there are even more possible trouble spots than he mentions in the article.


  1. The main reason the world situation of the 1930s turned into WW2, the rough power parity among the possible belligerents, doesn't really exist now. Germany was tied with the UK for second largest economy in the (capitalist) world; the Soviet Union was rapidly growing; the US had a strong economy but little force projection. Nowadays, when the US and its first-world allies have a majority of the world's economic activity, the situation is stabler.

    Another factor that existed in the 1930s is that the US was almost the last country to recover from the Depression. Germany had recovered early by spending on public works and war preparation; even then, it took it a few years to be war-ready. The Nazis themselves didn't plan on WW2 breaking out in 1939 - they were aiming for about 1943. Right now, the US is expected to recover from the crisis before Russia. China is more intractable, but China is not interested in WW3 - its economy is based too much on exporting to the countries it would be fighting against.

  2. Yeah, I don't think the 1930s is a good comparison, but he just kind of threw that out there. The actual examples of major potential trouble spots that he gives are a bit more convincing though.