I expect that the following fictitious speculation will prove completely unfounded, but it is interesting to consider how impermanence can play out....
History Regarded from 2050
"Looking back on the early part of the 21st century, one can see that it was 2016 that was the turning point that has brought us to the position that we are in now at mid-century, when, rather as happened in the 20th century, everything that was taken for granted about the political order in the first decade or so of the century had been completely over turned by 1950.
Yes, 2016 was the year that Britain voted to leave the European Union and Donald Trump was elected president in the USA. Prior to these events, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, one of the most experienced statesmen on the planet at that time, had played his cards very close to his chest, but he had been, perhaps, one of the very few who saw the real possibilities in the unfolding drama.
The departure of English speaking influence from the EU left a situation where the complementarity between the technologically sophisticated and industrial Western part of Europe and the resource rich domains of the former Soviet empire became much more obvious. The election of a president intent on cutting back American military involvement was also leading to a fundamental rethink of NATO. An accommodation between Mr Putin and Mrs Merkel soon made it apparent that the balance of forces in the world had decisively shifted.
The American pull back was further accelerated by the emerging, yet predictable, difficulties with Mexico. The insistence by the new American regime that Mexico pay for the wall along the southern border of the USA was not ruinous to the Mexican exchequer, but it was felt as unbearably humiliating and pride can count for a lot more than money. Almost overnight, attitudes across Latin America hardened. For some decades, the Latin countries had been trying to detach themselves from their northern neighbour. Now the matter had a new earnestness. If they could not look to America for aid, then where? Mr Putin's phone lines were open.
These two parallel processes of rapprochement brought Russia into the centre of things as never before. The English (for we cannot really include the Scots in this) had voted for independence out of pride and xenophobia, little imagining that what used to be called the Iron Curtain would soon arrive at the English Channel. America too, had elected the Republican candidate on similar considerations and similarly soon found themselves in a parallel plight. The wall that was supposed to keep the Mexicans out, became the symbol of the new world division in which America now found itself very much on the back foot having lost most of its allies and being too much in debt to sustain dominance purely from its own resources. When, in 2022, the world stopped using dollars as the main support currency for international trade, the American economy suffered a massive cutback that made the financial crises of the beginning of the century seem trivial by comparison. England no longer had worries about an excess of immigrants - the country was now too poor to be a magnet any more.
England - Scotland having severed itself and rejoined the EU - soon found that it had, in effect, become an appendage of a declining USA which was not a happy situation, especially since America was increasingly concerned with its own 'enemy within' in the form of the millions of Latinos who had been needlessly alienated.
In a strange irony of history, the English speaking world now found itself as much surrounded by enemies as the soviets had done in the second half of the 20th century. When so surrounded one can hardly afford such luxuries as 'civil liberties' and soon the Greater European Alliance, that now reached from Vladivostok to Cape Horn, taking in Berlin and Paris on the way, felt itself increasingly to be the defender of all true human values in contrast to the repressive 'patriot' rump of the English speaking lands.
Eventually, the struggle of America to maintain its identity collapsed. The dominant language of the country was rapidly coming to be Spanish. The real political game had, in any case, by now become the tension between the GEA and the powers of East Asia. England was an irrelevance, about as significant as Austria (also once centre of a great empire) had been after 1918.
What a fantasy! Of course, none of this will ever happen. History is not predictable. I am, however, somewhat surprised that the debate over the EU referendum has contained virtually no reference to such geo-political considerations. After all, this is not really about money and immigrants, it is about the 'Great Game' as it used to be called.
There seems to be a naive assumption that all can be relied upon to go on just as before, rather as, in the second half of the 20th century, the 'Cold War' was taken for granted as the inevitable and perennial backdrop to all world events - until, suddenly, it wasn't. The referendum vote is being taken as though it does not really make much difference to the balance of power in the world, but this is surely a great mistake.
Is it inevitable that in a democracy the public cannot be made aware of the really big consequences of the actions they contemplate? Perhaps so. Politics is a game of cat and mouse and to tell the public is to also inform the mouse that one is trying to catch and so make success impossible. Democratic parties, therefore, must, for the most part, keep the public focussed on short term irrelevancies and not let them ever see the bigger picture until it is too late.
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