Brexit and the long-term consequences of action
For five hundred years, the civilization in Atlantic Europe dominated the world. What started with Columbus’ quest for a new passage to India ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in its own backwardness in 1991. The industrial revolution took off in Great Britain with tremendous consequences: it pushed the British to the forefront of modernization. They kept that position up until World War I. Ever since then, the former imperium has seen its global power position continuously erode.
The 21st century will witness two major trends in global geopolitics: first, global power will be distributed far more widely around the world. Asia, Africa and also South America will develop into modern societies with systems for democracy and welfare - the only permanent sources of stability. Second, there will only be one dominant player in this century: the United States. While the U.S. is not going to “rule” in the old sense, it will definitely exert its influence in every part of the world. As futurist George Friedman has noted in his great book “The Next 100 Years”, United States is the only great power bordering both Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This geographical fact has given great advantage for its phenomenal rise to world domination.
This, in a nutshell, is the context we have been witnessing as United Kingdom turns away from the European Union. Brexit is on the line of events that will take Europe to a new trajectory. World dominance by Atlantic Europe is no longer at stake - rather, Europe needs to redefine itself.
The entire drama surrounding the referendum has its roots in the Great Britain's past role as the forbearer of modernization. Consciously or subconsciously, Boris Johnson and his comrades were referring to the times when British ruled the world. No other country in the world, since the Roman Empire, has ever possessed such a tremendous productivity growth engine as Britain did, with it’s industries and colonies. That growth enabled its global leadership at the time.
Mind you, for British politicians, like David Cameron, blaming the European Union for every misfortune in order to camouflage Britain’s own weaknesses became a national hobby. The sheer manipulation throughout the campaigning had its toll. And we should know from history that uninformed and uneducated population masses can play a major role when manipulated.
Brexit will help European Union redefine its role in the coming century – this is positive. Europe cannot be centrally led. Instead, it will grow towards a genuine network state with well thought-through common policies. In the best case, it will show unity in its diversity.
There is more to consider, however. Europe will, in the future, find its role in the global system very naturally due to its imperial past. Europe will bring the voice of reason and responsibility to global concerns. Whether it is about climate change or defending basic human rights, Europe should take the lead in bringing global matters to the international table and make sure that national self-interests don’t dominate the agenda.
United States, Japan, China or India will never assume the voice of global conscience. It is for Europe to pioneer the new form of consciousness our global system needs.
It is well known that the Chinese word crisis consists actually of two letters, one signifying threat and risk, the other signifying opportunity and a new beginning. Let’s hope the shock of Brexit will help Europe and the European Union find much needed clarity of mission.