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The crisis in world leadership


We all have very short memories. Looking back over the 20th Century, we can see how a global conflict like the First World War can break out over what seems like a tiny, inconsequential incident in Austria. The key national leaders of the day, both political and military, failed to understand that the world economy was not only going through one of those major reconstructions that take place over time, but also that the technologies of the day would change completely the manner and cost of conflict. The result was a contagion that swept across Europe and pulled in the rest of the world in a senseless conflict that would destabilise Europe and kill a third of the young generation of its time. The aftermath would haunt the 20th Century for over 100 years.

Guest column: Eddie Cross

Then another global failure of leadership – Western leaders demanding reparation from Germany and forcing the German into the arms of Hitler and his national socialism. Nazi Germany was the result and another global conflict which drew into its maws over three quarters of the globe. However, this time, the world was endowed with leadership that saw beyond the conflict and its aftermath and were able to pick up the pieces and put them back together in a way that has transformed the world and in the process has given us seven decades of comparative peace accompanied by unparalleled prosperity.

The first that comes to mind was MacArthur, who was the General Commanding Allied forces in Japan after the war in 1945. He is credited with starting the rebuild of Japan after the war as a democratic nation with a free market economy and sound government. In many respects, he was responsible for modern Japan. The situation in Europe was very different – the allied forces were concerned with containing the territorial ambitions of the Soviet Union and the process of reconstruction was left to the Europeans themselves.

They were aided by the Marshal Plan – another US conscript and general who also made a lasting impact on the post-Second World War world. But all that this remarkable programme did was to aid the efforts of European leaders – Monnet, Schuman and Adenauer. This unlikely trio led Europe out of the morass left by the conflict which had killed an estimated 60 million people and once again robbed the world of its best and brightest in a senseless conflict.

Even before the war ended, in 1944 allied leaders were thinking of a new world order which would help bring about stability and aid recovery. A conference was organised at Bretton Woods in the US and out of that came the present global system of multilateral financial institutions that have made such a massive contribution – first to reconstruction and later to monitoring and maintaining global financial stability. The founders recognised that without such institutions, the collapse that took place in the world economy in 1929 and which had made such a contribution to the preconditions for war, could occur again.

These initiatives were followed by the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations and between them these great global organisations, transcending the nation State, have given the world unparalleled stability, progress and growth. Today the world is more wealthy and stable than at any time in history. But it all depends on leadership and our dependence on our leaders, political and military is just as great as ever.

We remain a collective which is only as good as its individual members. So a crisis of leadership in any of the major States is of concern to us all. We have become complacent and now we pay the price.

In the US we have a President who is hell bent on unravelling much of what has made the USA such a leader in the post-war world. He is unpredictable, unstable and makes key decisions on what he sees on Fox Television. He disregards the advice of his most senior colleagues and has done more damage to the global consensus in the past two years than any other US leader. Free trade – he has unleashed a trade war that is now cutting global growth in half and threatens recession in all major economies. He has abandoned many of the things that has made America such a power house – immigration, open markets, free competition, pursuit of American values in world affairs.

The USA has a military that leads the world in power and sophistication. It has the most advanced technologies and as was shown in the recent wars in the Middle East, when unleashed can smash a powerful modern army in days. Having such power places enormous responsibility on American military and civilian leadership.

Just when the intelligent and careful use of that power is needed to maintain global order and stability, the USA is withdrawing from Nato, from the European frontier with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, from the boundaries of expansionist China. The unilateral withdrawal of US forces from Syria is welcomed by everyone who has a stake in its instability – Iran, Russia and Syria itself.
The threat of Islamic extremism is recognised by all responsible countries – including, if not mainly, by Muslim States themselves. This is not going to go away and no one has the capacity that the USA has to deal with this global scourge.

Then Europe – floundering under leadership that is toying with the extreme right, or just plain uninspiring, so much so that even the bureaucrats of the EU look good. The only “real man” in Europe, Angela Merkel (Germany chancellor) is on her way out and I hope the new leadership will continue with her principled and powerful leadership style.

And then there is Britain – two years ago I wrote that Brexit was impossible. It was not in Britain’s interests and with an economy which is 80% services, the majority of which are EU-based, it would cost her dearly. It was a silly idea to call for a referendum in the first place. I still think the idea is silly and that only pride holds back the Conservatives from recognising it as a monumental blunder which should be reversed.

Europe is never going to give up the key pillars of its union – it knows from history what that might lead to and anyway, they are all doing better inside than out. Britain now faces really hard choices – leave Europe without a post-withdrawal deal and try to make her way in the big wide world or recant and stay in the union. Britain already knows she has lost any influence in Europe and that outside a major trading bloc like this is a very cold and isolated experience. In my view if they held another referendum it would say “stay” and the unruly dogs in the House would all sit and obey.

And in Africa? Just look at the transformation taking place in Ethiopia and Rwanda – one word “leadership”. Look at the shambles in South Africa and Zimbabwe – “leadership”, nothing else. If African States are to join in the league of countries that are already playing the game of global interaction and engagement, then they have to accept the rules. If we want to use the wind to push us into the future, then we have to have direction and management and a compass to guide the process.

Without it, we are adrift and going nowhere. What we need to recognise is that it is a choice – only 30% of all Americans cast their vote in an election, that reflects a choice, leave leadership to others and we will never cross the Jordan and possess the promised land.

Eddie Cross is an economist and former Bulawayo South legislator (MDC). He writes in his personal capacity. This article first appeared on his website: eddiecross.africanherd.com

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