The New Normal
Humanitarian Catastrophes and Global Disorder

We seem to be in an era of relearning lessons of the 1930s, as the post-Cold War order shudders under a combination of attacks from its enemies and paralysis among its friends. For example: we are learning that the world’s ability to respond to refugee crises in a humane fashion is largely dependent on policies that promote global stability, thereby limiting refugee flows in the first place. The plight of the Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar, for example, has been all over the news last week:

A wooden fishing boat carrying hundreds of desperate migrants from Myanmar moved farther out to sea on Friday after the Thai authorities concluded that the passengers wanted to continue their journey, instead of disembarking in Thailand, according to an aid group involved in negotiations over the vessel’s future.

But a Thai reporter who witnessed the boat’s departure said that some of those aboard did not appear to want to leave.

The vessel, which passengers said had been turned away from Malaysia, is part of a rickety flotilla from Myanmar and Bangladesh carrying thousands of migrants, many of them Rohingya Muslims, fleeing persecution or economic hardship, with no country willing to take them in.

Should the world situation continue to deteriorate, we will see a deadly and discouraging mix: on the one hand, growing humanitarian problems that become larger and more urgent; on the other, diminishing will and capacity to do anything about them. Today’s plight of the Rohingya, the Syrians and the Libyans point toward the kind of change and turmoil that is bound to accompany any serious decline of American power and will to support a world order.

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