In the United States, and much of Western Europe, the 1990s have often been remembered as a decade of triumphant stability, while the expected somnolence of the 2000s too often appeared marred by crises and upheaval. Consequentially, there has been a lot of handwringing amongst historians of the recent past and other political and social prognosticators searching for the moment of change. Questions about whether or not there was a tipping point, when it occurred, and what the transition from stability to instability consisted of, continue to plague writers looking at the last two decades. Yet a partial answer to questions about the location and nature of the point of inflection between stability and instability after the Cold War begins to emerge in Daniel Yergin’s latest book, The Quest.
The Quest for All-encompassing Theories
Enshrouded in the fog of the present, observers turned to competing theories about the nature of great politics within the labyrinth of international relations, to define the sources and to prognosticate the longevity of Western ascendency at the end of the Cold War. Arguments about the durability of the Pax Americana and the triumph of liberal democracies in general were initially framed as a contest of ideas between the triumphalism of Francis Fukayama, best articulated in his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, and his fierce debate with his critics from within the political science community, Samuel Huntington and John Mearsheimer.  On the one hand, Fukayama argued that the success of an alliance of liberal democracies, which emerged out of the wreckage of the Second World War, in their decade long struggle with Communism showed decisively that a fundamental truth of human nature was the quest for freedom and the realization of respect for the individual, and that these values could best, and perhaps only be actualized in capitalist, liberal democracies. One of the core implications of Fukayama’s argument was that the very human quest for self-realization would inevitably compel individuals, and consequentially whole societies, to build liberal democratic states, which shared a universal set of core values out of which a new harmonious and cooperative international order could be constructed. 
In early December of last year, the UN Security Council passed a resolution strengthening existing sanctions on the State of Eritrea. UNSC 2023, which passed by a vote of 13-0 with two abstentions, was the direct outcome of a scathing report published by the UN’s Somalia Monitoring Group in July of 2011. The report chronicled, in some detail, the full gambit of Eritrea’s destabilizing activity in the Horn of Africa, including Eritrea’s material assistance to Somalia’s Al-Shabaab.
Critics of the resolution have focused their attention on the veracity of the SMG’s claims, and by extension, the fairness of the UNSC 2023. While the truth of Eritrea’s activity in the HOA remains difficult to discern, it is clear that the UNSC resolution was somewhat arbitrary: Al-Shabaab has a number of external supporters, of whom Eritrea is likely the most marginal. But the discussion of “fairness” is beside the point, as such principles, though often invoked in international politics, are rarely of consequence. Power matters on the international stage, and for Eritrea, it is a commodity in short supply. Continue reading →
As 2011 comes to a close it is time to reflect on the year. What have we learned about world politics and what still eludes us? Without a doubt the principle dramas of 2011 concerned revolution and political turmoil. And the unrest unfolding throughout the year has again and again caught even the most sure-footed analysts off balance. While, we all knew that the Mubarak regime had to end, who last January could predict that the regime would crumble so easily and so soon?
Why were we so often wrong and caught off guard? What about the ways in which we see the world has held true and what has been proven false? One way of getting at this problem is to refer back to the questions and assumptions we asked about the revolutions and uprisings of 2011 during the year that has just ended. We have to ask how and why we framed our discussion of the events of 2011 in the ways we did? Continue reading →