03.11.2023

Avert simplifying the polycrisis

Peace by Piece · Issue 06

A polycrisis is what we’ve come to call the manifold crises (re-)surfacing all around us and disrupting what remains of normalcy. Europe is currently plagued by security crises in almost every direction, the kaleidoscope is mind-numbing: Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, the looming war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Zangezur corridor, heightened tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, and, last but not least, rekindled war in the Middle East following Hamas’ terrorist strikes on Israeli civilians.

Well-known simplifications are back

Understandably, there is a strong political urge to subsume these very different crises under a single logic and identify common driving forces. Rhetorical figures such as the ‘axis of evil’ have re-emerged, with all their dangerous simplifications and underestimation of regional idiosyncrasies, not to mention the complex steps needed to deal with them. But while ‘polycrisis’ might be a handy umbrella term covering all the above mentioned events, these are very different crises with fundamentally different historical contexts and actors. It’s simplistic to posit some invisible hand orchestrating one crisis after another. The popular new ideological faultline between democracies and autocracies too falls well short of what we need to get to grips with the situation.

The last hurrah of the global unilateral moment

Nonetheless, there is at least one common feature. The rapid succession of crises in Europe and its immediate neighbourhood casts a harsh light on the increasingly threadbare nature of the so-called ‘rules-based international order’, even in the region where it was probably best established, and on whose ruins it was once built. The many international organisations and states attempting to stop these events from escalating and endangering peace and security even further show the desperate aims to uphold order. Here, the role of the United States cannot be underestimated. But once again the all too evident international dependency on Washington as an ordering actor makes the fragility of the current order even more tangible. One year out from the crucial presidential elections in an increasingly polarised political climate, the massive engagement of US diplomacy in recent weeks and months might be the last hurrah of the global unilateral moment. Other actors, not least the European Union, but also countries of the Global South will be needed to uphold, revitalise and sustain the various elements of global order.

(Re-)building international order

This ‘polycrisis’ is thus a stark reminder of the need to (re-)build international order in a common effort. This cannot be done on a drawing board. The only viable response is to tackle the respective crises constructively, mobilising all available resources and interested actors, and (re)building peace step by step. Otherwise this polycrisis might deteriorate even further, and the only appropriate term might be ‘catastrophe’.

About Peace by Piece

Peace is one of the major achievements on the European continent after 1945, yet it is barely being mentioned anymore. When it is, it is all too often accompanied by a connotation of appeasement and defeatism. That shouldn’t be the case. Peace is one of the most precious achievements for humankind. But building it and sustaining it requires effort, ideas, political will, and perseverance. However far out of reach it may appear, peace should nonetheless serve as the long-term aim of politicians in Europe. This series of comments provides ideas for a new European Security environment able to provide the basis for a more peaceful future in the face of new challenges.

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