In the days following Russia’s incursion into Ukraine last February, I cautioned that Europe was fast approaching its Lyapunov horizon. The mathematical concept of “Lyapunov time” is the span in which it is possible to predict the state of a chaotic system — beyond which predictability fails and all that remains is but chaos. How far not just Europe but the world has since gone beyond that horizon. This is a new place.
War in Ukraine. Military coups and a French retreat in the Sahel. An assertive Communist China poised for an eventual move on the Republic of China and — together with its comrades in Moscow and Tehran — resolute in its ambition to herald a new global order. A perverse leftist ideology on the march, camouflaged by such platitudes as “diversity” and “equity.” An opioid crisis, a European migrant crisis, an American border crisis.
And now, horror in Israel. It might be months or even years before the full consequences of Hamas’s savagery will be known. It is also presently not clear whether war in Gaza might spread across the Middle East or possibly beyond. Yet what has, in the most horrific of ways, become clear is that the world is in a new state. For none of these events are isolated. All are part of a wider global revisionist agenda that — by any means necessary and absent any moral limits — aims to destroy, and ultimately displace, Western society.
This threat is not new. For decades it has festered beneath the surface of our ostensible peace dividend that followed the supposed end of the Cold War. Occasionally, as on September 11, 2001, and now again in Israel, it would surface, and we would be briefly reminded that, for regimes such as those in China, Russia, Iran, and their proponents, the Cold War did not end. It entered a different phase, and the struggle has continued.
For the most part, though, Western leaders have misunderstood the threat and underestimated its gravity. It has largely been framed — as it is now by the Biden administration — as a struggle between political systems. “A battle between democracy and autocracy,” as President Biden has said.
The remedy, then, has been democracy promotion and flawed attempts at integrating rogue regimes into existing international architectures. The hope, as President Clinton remarked on the occasion of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, was that “the genie of freedom [would] not go back into the bottle.”
Yet, as it turns out, the genie never left the bottle.