The past year in global politics offered plenty of fodder for conspiracy theorists. Three high-profile scandals in particular – WikiLeaks, the Arab Spring and the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn – lend themselves to fanciful explanations.
The massive leak of confidential (but unclassified) diplomatic cables from the U.S. State Department gave way to many disputes and increased instability in the world. This was followed by the flare-up of unrest throughout North Africa and the Middle East, which spread through social networking sites (and it’s no secret who controls them). Two regimes fell, a third is under assault by NATO forces, and the rest are balancing on the brink. Finally, there was the DSK show. He was fiercely condemned as soon as the charges surfaced. But once he left politics, the case against him began to look much more shaky. It seems as if someone is controlling the course of events.
However, with the possible exception of the third case (it would be hard to believe it was all a coincidence), there was no “invisible hand” at play. Quite the contrary. They are best explained by a lack of any control. The idea of an open society has been stretched to its limit with the advent of pervasive communications technology. Now politics no longer controls information as it used to. Now a never-ending tide of information (not all of it accurate) controls politics. Officials have to react quickly to this flood of information every day. They don’t have time to verify it because if they delay their response they may be swept up in the course of events. Incidentally, WikiLeaks has merely shown that official government reports contain the same allegations and assumptions that the press publishes every day.
For example, the war in Libya was triggered by the pressure politicians felt from all the media hysteria, the lack of a clear understanding of what was happening in a country engulfed in tribal strife, and the desire of some leaders to score easy political points back home – again because of their failure to grasp reality. As a result, the leading world powers united in what has been described as “the most successful military-political alliance in history” have been trying futilely, for four months running, to oust a peripheral and poorly equipped kinglet.
In brief, the past year has been dominated by confusion. Nobody expected the Middle East to erupt in protest and nobody can say for sure how it will all end. On the contrary, everyone knew deep down that the crisis in the eurozone would get worse after last year’s “rescue” of Greece but preferred to pretend it would somehow be enough, as otherwise EU leaders would have had to take fundamental steps – something they were unprepared to do. It is also obvious that Greece is inexorably moving toward bankruptcy, but the political will to try something else just isn’t there.
America is confused and demoralized as it approaches default. The strictly technical matter of raising the debt ceiling has become a showdown between the two parties, carrying the threat of total economic upheaval. Even China, which has stood above the fray in global politics for the last few years as an indestructible monolith, is showing some signs of nerves. It is worried by the general global instability given that power is about to change hands in Beijing – planned in advance and thoroughly prepared for, but still…
Meanwhile, international institutions continue to slide deeper into crisis. This process started long ago, but new themes emerged in the past year: NATO’s toothless strategic doctrine adopted against the background of its failures in Afghanistan and Libya; the continued inadequacy of the CSTO, which may prove fatal given the unpredictable situation in Afghanistan; the European Union’s political fragmentation, resulting from economic woes and rising anti-EU sentiments in its member countries; the IMF’s problems, which have less to do with DSK’s sex scandal than with the growing doubts about using this organization to rescue Europe from its financial quagmire. BRICS, which had only recently come forward as an alternative, fell apart on the IMF issue, which was a great opportunity to make common cause. The UN Security Council, which seemed to have reclaimed its title as the chief decision-making body, looks less effective if we consider the results of its decisions, for instance in Libya or Cote d’Ivoire.
Conspiracy theorists seek to create a world that we can understand – a world in which someone is in control. The reality is much bleaker. Nobody is in control, not even those who sincerely believe they are.