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The calm before the storm

01 July 2007

<p class="allgemein">Before attacking the Persians, King Croesus asked the Delphi oracle about his fate. According to Herodotus, the oracle said: ‘if you cross the Halys river, a great empire will be destroyed’. Croesus attacked and the next winter Cyrus the Great retaliated and defeated him. The empire that Croesus had contributed to destroy was in fact his own.<br /><br />Current oracles, i.e. analysts of international relations, make less ambiguous predictions. In ‘Building the future: the EU’s contribution to global governance’ (Chaillot Paper no. 100), this author foresees an auspicious period as from 2009 for jointly addressing global challenges. A new US President, the emerging powers’ willingness to cooperate with the traditional great powers, the new momentum that the EU may acquire after the constitutional crisis is resolved, and the impact of one or more catastrophes, whether natural or man-made, will probably lead to global negotiations and agreements. At that point in time numerous issues will have to be seriously addressed: UN Security Council reform, global trade and financial governance, peace and institution building in the Middle East region, fossil fuel consumption, climate change and the spectre of extreme poverty in Africa.<br /><br />Therefore, out of sheer necessity world powers will be compelled to define a concerted framework for global governance in the future. The problem is how to get there. From summer 2007 until autumn 2008 many unpleasant events may intervene and may put the international system, which currently looks rather weak, severely to the test. While it must be hoped that the future will be brighter, the present situation is reminiscent of the uneasy calm that usually precedes big storms. <br /><br />During the last five years a virtuous economic circle has propelled global growth. But our economies today are more vulnerable than ever, owing to increasingly close commercial and financial interdependence. In addition to problems of a purely economic nature, geopolitical risks and contingencies, such as hurricanes and other natural disasters, terrorist attacks, war in the Middle East region and internal turmoil in key international actors, can disrupt the global economic circle. Most probably, reactions to those events will be measured and judicious, since global civil society will favour peaceful, constructive responses. However, coming to terms with the negative effects of those risks may prove a very painful process.</p>
<p class="allgemein">Today’s oracles may be right or wrong. For their part, political leaders, like Croesus, continue to interpret their advice as they wish. Most analysts highlight the fact that the situation in the Middle East is dangerous, the deterioration of the global environment is almost beyond control, all weapons of mass destruction must be contained and the situation in most parts of Africa is desperate. But many Western political leaders are not paying attention. This is a pity, for the question they should be asking themselves is: are we ready for the gathering storm?</p>