New World Disorder
The Return of the “Old Normal”

Once again, as before the age of the European empires, political order has become weak in much of the world.

Appeared in: Volume 13, Number 3 | Published on: August 29, 2017
Seth D. Kaplan is a Professorial Lecturer in the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University, Senior Adviser with the Institute for Integrated Transitions, and an adviser to organizations such as the World Bank, United Nations, Africa Development Bank, USAID, and U.S. State Department. He is the co-author of the United Nations–World Bank flagship report Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict (forthcoming) and the author of two books on fragile states.
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  • FriendlyGoat

    Colonial adventurism was for profit for the invading conquerors. Post-colonial efforts to bring order to wild places are for the sake of shared human rights. Do those human rights matter? Depends on who you ask.

  • Angel Martin

    The author left out a major weapons technology change compared to the colonial era. The military power of small groups is vastly increased compared to 100 years ago.

    When the UK occupied Iraq with 20,000 troops after WW1, primitive armoured cars and aircraft gave them a huge military advantage.

    By contrast, during the Iraq Occupation the USA had 10 times as many troops, trillions of dollars of equipment, and even their most sophisticated aircraft and heaviest tanks were vulnerable to hand held SAMs and remote control roadside bombs.

    And the USA never really had the country under control.

    During the occupation, flying into Baghdad Airport featured a “corkscrew landing” followed by an even more dangerous car trip on “Route Irish” to get to the Green Zone.

    The cost of projecting power has increased disproportionately to the benefits. So power projection and centrally enforced order is going to happen less.

    Terrorist groups, substate actors, criminal gangs and separatist groups have become militarily more powerful, and exponentially more expensive to suppress.

  • Bankotsu

    “Ever since Europeans used their superior technology to colonize virtually the entire world between the 16th and early 20th centuries, power on a more or less global scale has been concentrated in the hands of the state…”

    I think below analysis is more accurate:

    ‘The chief weakness of the volume appears in its chronological structure,
    expressed in the title as “from the eighteenth century.” In the text this
    is divided into a twofold sequence (“Before 1815” and “After 1815”), which the
    author calls the “first” and “second” expansions of Europe, with a transition
    period, 1763-1830, in between. This periodization of the subject is sufficiently
    inaccurate to influence the book adversely. The “first expansion of
    Europe,” of course, was that of 1100-1350, which culminated in men like Marco
    Polo; the second expansion of Europe was from about 1420 to about fellow 1650
    and was followed by a long retraction of Europe, including the almost complete
    withdrawal of European pressure from Japan, China, tropical Africa, tropical
    South America, and the southern United States area. This withdrawal of European
    pressure, which included the cessation of the Russian intrusion into China by
    the Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689), is of some some importance to Mr. Fieldhouse’s
    discussion, but he does not seem to see its significance. This is one of
    several reasons why the brief section on “The Russian Empire in Central Asia”
    (pp. 334-341) is the weakest part of the book….’


    “…McNeill’s discussion of this major reversal of the power pattern of the Old World is not completely satisfying, especially in view of his outstanding success in dealing with the much longer and more complex earlier periods. He handles the extension of Russia across the Heartland and of Europe across the oceans well enough, but is not nearly as convincing in his analysis of the disintegration of the fringe empires. Nor are his explanations of the expansion of either Russia or the West adequate. He treats the expansion of the West as a steady process from the Renaissance onward, when this expansion dearly hesitated and even retreated in the period 1600-1800, as marked by the exclusion of Europeans from Japan and China, the revival of India’s autonomy between the Portuguese and the British intrusions, the long delay in tropical African exploration between the sixteenth century and the nineteenth, and, above all, the slump in the internal developments of Europe between the “price revolution” of the sixteenth century and the agricultural revolution of the eighteenth century….”


  • Bankotsu

    “Ever since Europeans used their superior technology to colonize virtually the entire world between the 16th and early 20th centuries,
    power on a more or less global scale has been concentrated in the hands of the state…”

    “..This view easily leads to neglect of the real influences of Asia on Europe,
    since these arose from artifacts and technology, often received without
    any European awareness of their origin (as European men over recent
    centuries came to wear trousers without knowledge of their Asiatic
    steppe origin.)

    In his introduction Lach makes the astounding assertion that
    “knowledge of Asia before 1500 effected no fundamental alterations in
    Europe’s own artistic, technological, or religious premises.”

    In view of the fact that Europe’s technology and religious premises until 1500 were
    almost entirely Asiatic in origin, this statement indicates a very
    serious deficiency based on the author’s almost exclusively literary


    While we cannot judge the extent of this deficiency until we get
    volume II, the first chapter of the present volume dealing with
    “Antiquity and the Middle Ages” indicates that this weakness could be
    very serious. In good, old mid-Victorian fashion, Lach starts with a
    reference to Homer and, on the same first page, begins his subject about
    600 B.C.

    This omits the whole Asiatic foundation of European culture
    including food (fowl, swine, cattle, grain), technology (the plow, arch,
    wheel, weapons, etc.), and basic culture (writing, alphabet, units of
    measurement, basic religious and cognitive attitudes) from the archaic
    period (before 600 B.C.). But even more serious is the fact that Lach’s
    discussion of the medieval period also omits the same kind of Asiatic
    influences (such as Europe’s basic religious outlook, including the
    heresies, and much technological innovation which, over the last
    thousand years, has embraced such items as horseshoes, stirrups,
    effective harnessing of horses so they could be used for heavy work,
    windmills, the compass and rudder, fore-and-aft sails, an efficient
    number system, gunpowder, printing and paper, steel-making, a variety of
    crops of vital significance to Western agriculture, among them those two
    indispensable legumes, alfalfa and soybeans, many food products, and
    much else)….”


    “Even in Parkinson’s day under the great Queen Victoria every school
    boy knew Ex Oriente Lux.

    Europe’s peoples and languages came from the
    east as did the very basic attributes of European life: its food (wheat,
    beef, lamb, swine, fowls), its textiles (wool, linen, cotton, silk), its
    systems of measures (12 eggs in a dozen, 12 inches in a foot, 12 hours
    in the day and in the night, 60 minutes in the hour), its basic
    technology (writing, the wheel, paper, printing type, gun powder, the
    plow, the number system), and those three major targets of Parkinson’s
    antipathy, governmental bureaucracy, taxation, and state regulation of
    economic life.

    Even today, a London economic consultant wears trousers
    and a jacket slashed in the rear so that the sides will hang straight as
    he sits on his horse, attire derived from a Turkic cultural predecessor
    in the central Asian grasslands of two millennia ago….

    … These numerous outbursts of personal prejudice are buried in great
    masses of simple factual errors. Parkinson’s knowledge of geography,
    despite his personal travels, is woefully deficient. Roman military
    control of the Balkans in the 3rd century, he says (galley 47) required
    “the reconquest of Dacia and Mesopotamia”, a statement which is not only
    nonsense, but implies that Rome had previously held Mesopotamia. Or
    again (galley 51), he tells us that the Arabs, about 800, controlled the
    whole trade route between Canton and Cordova — “from end to end.”

    Among numerous factual errors are statements: 1. that the Hittites
    taught Babylon to train horses (gal. 1; it was the Mittani); 2. that the
    people east of the Halys River in Asia Minor were “of Semitic character”
    (gal. s; they were largely Hurrian); 3. that the Hittites first coined
    money (gal. 6; it was the Lydians almost 800 years later); that all
    “Phoenician” literature was lost in the destruction of Carthage by Rome
    (gal. 13); 5. that no Greek would discard his possessions to become a
    beggar (gal. 17; there was a whole school of Greeks, the Cynics); 6.
    that the militarization of Spartan life was not based on “necessity” but
    on “self-respect” (gal. 17; it was based on the need to keep down ten
    times as numerous Helots); 7. that “the Greeks ceased to be discoverers
    when they became teachers” under Alexander (gal. 22; this ignores the
    amazing achievements of Hellenistic science, such as Hipparchus or
    Archimedes); 8. that the middle classes were “a Greek invention” (gal.
    26; the Phoenicians were more middle class than the Greeks and much
    earlier); 9. that Rome obtained its original culture from the Greeks
    (gal. 30; it was from the Etruscans); 10. that the Greeks had a belief
    in Progress (gal. 39; on the contrary, the Greeks believed in
    retrogression from a remote “Golden Age”); 11. that the “pastoral type
    of economy” was earlier than the rise of agriculture (gal. 1; it was
    several thousand years later); 12. that Indo-European invaders about
    1600 made Babylon “the center of the Hittite Empire” (gal. 2; Babylon
    was never a Hittite city); 13. that Alexander’s Empire brought four “of
    the five known civilizations…in a single monarchy” (gal. 27; it did
    not include either India or China); 14. that Roman ships reached India
    (gal. 37); 15. that the Russian choice of Byzantine Christianity
    [presumably over the Latin type] brought Russia “into the western rather
    than the Eastern Camp” (gal. 48); 16. that “Gothic architecture is
    plainly Islamic” (gal. 58); 17. that the United States “began to look on
    the Chinese and the Japanese as possible customers and converts” because
    of the completion of the trans-continental railway in 1869 (gal. 73;
    American merchant ships were trading extensively with both peoples
    before the Civil War); and 18. that “discoveries in navigation did not
    precede but followed the great voyages of discovery” (gal. 81; in fact,
    the compass, rudder, sails, hull construction, and methods of
    determining latitude were all in use before the great navigations.)…


  • D4x

    This reads as yet another Stealth Attack on the 2017 re-organization/deconstruction/reconstruction of Departments of State and Defense. The fear of ever more think tanks and ‘scholars’, the fear that their millions of words will no longer be subsidized by President Trump’s Executive Branch, is cleverly disguised, once again “common-sense Change from the Bottom Up Feature”, at TAI.

    Not one mention of the AU rule to maintain colonial borders, the #1 reason why Libya, Somalia, DRCongo fail at ‘national identity’ .
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d192f856adcfa487c5d99373af5b902751050db66c3a73431ab02333f757b367.jpg 1827 Finley Map of Africa source: Wikimedia commons

    Not one mention of Somaliland’s 25-year quest for statehood, denied by that AU rule.
    Not one mention of UNPO.org
    Not one mention of the (British) Commmonwealth.
    Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier does not include Pakistan’s FATA: Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Huge difference between Mohmand Pashtuns of NWF and Mehsud Pashtuns of Waziristan.

    “or where there is a long history of suppressing a particular identity group (such as the Kurds in Iraq).” IDENTITY GROUP to describe the Kurds displays an ignorance based on the author’s unfortunate implicit bias for viewing the world through what pretends to be post-modern historiography, using language lifted from the DNC.

    The author, and Johns Hopkins University should try this approach in their own neighborhood: Baltimore, MD, good practice:
    “U.S. government should be focused on providing low-cost, low-visibility, politically astute technical and financial assistance to promote local efforts to improve governance, reconstruction, and development. Such a mission requires that Washington reconfigure American institutions in order to better respond to complexities on the ground; shift and grow 3D resources to better understand community-level contexts; [too many syllables] and improve the capacity for policy to reflect feedback from the ground.”


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