Nationalism—The Gathering Storm

Nationalism and World War One

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 was the spark that set off WWl. However, historians suggest that Militarism, Alliances, Imperialism and Nationalism (known as MAINS) were the underlying cause. Some might argue that it was principally nationalism that fueled the seeds of conflict.

Nationalists maintained the singular objective of advancing their country’s interests regardless of the impact on other countries. The need for military superiority, more colonies, or a response to a perceived offense by another country justified such aggressiveness.

The League of Nations

Subsequent to the War, many countries recognized the need for collective security and a means for settling international disputes. They formed the League of Nations. World War One Great Powers—France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan—became permanent members of the Executive Council. The United States never officially joined the League, weakening the organization’s credibility.

The Great Depression, which began in 1929, gave rise to strong fascist and communist movements in several countries. They all reflected the nationalist instincts of their citizens. Virtually every country initiated protectionist policies to shield their citizens from economic harm. It was nationalism run amok and the League was incapable of arresting that development. The appeasement policy of Britain and France together with the isolationism of the United States allowed Germany to rearm, Italy to invade Ethiopia and Japan to expand in China.

The League had failed in its primary purpose to prevent war. The Second World War had begun.

The United Nations

Before the United States had entered the war, President Franklin Roosevelt met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Together they issued the Atlantic Charter, a statement of their vision for the postwar world. This led to the Declaration of United Nations by 26 Allied countries in January 1942. They pledged to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers.

The war ended in September 1945 and the United Nations officially came into existence in October 1945.

The Marshall Plan and NATO

The war had caused massive destruction. European countries struggled to produce food, establish industries and insure their security from aggressive Soviet expansionism. The Soviet Union sponsored a coup in Czechoslovakia that brought a communist government to power on the border of Germany. It blockaded West Berlin, then under joint U.S., British, and French control, but surrounded by Soviet-controlled East Germany. The Soviet hand was also seen in a civil war in Greece, tensions in Turkey and elections in Italy.

In 1948 the United States initiated a program of large-scale economic aid in the European Recovery Program, or Marshall Plan. Then in 1949, specifically to counter Soviet expansionism, the United States and its allies created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Under its collective defense arrangement, the countries agreed to consider an attack against one an attack against all.

The European Union

The European Union (EU) is both a political and economic union of its member states. It began as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951 and formally became the European Union in 1993. The organization established the principle of European citizenship and freedom of movement of people, goods and services across its member countries. It is also responsible for monetary policy in those member countries that utilize the euro as their currency.

Trump and the United Nations

Some might argue the United Nations has not achieved its principal goals, and they would be correct. Much remains to achieve international security, economic development, social progress, human rights and world peace set forth in its Charter. There have been failures and successes. But perhaps the real issue is whether the world would be a better or worse place if that organization did not exist. In his 2018 address to the UN, the President of the United States literally criticized the international system itself. He rejected the ideology of globalism, the fundamental underpinning of the United Nations.

Trump and the European Union

In the past Donald Trump has expressed his dislike for another multilateral organization, the European Union. He called it “a foe” that had taken advantage of the United States in its trade policy. He even went so far as to offer French President Emmanuel Macron a bilateral trade deal with better terms than the E.U. as a whole gets from the United States. Taken with other statements, it is clear Trump wishes to destabilize the European Union.

Trump and NATO

He has also been critical of NATO, initially calling the organization obsolete, and ambiguously threatening to leave the alliance and not support smaller countries if attacked. But Donald Trump has no understanding of NATO’s role in maintaining peace in Europe since the end of WWll. Nor does he appreciate NATO’s effective curtailment of the Soviet Union’s expansionist policies. This was recently revealed by Washington Post Associate Editor and author, Bob Woodward.  He said, “Trump would ask Jim Mattis, the Secretary of Defense,’Why are we doing all of these things, investing in NATO?’ Finally, the Secretary of Defense explained to Trump they were ‘doing these things to prevent World War III.’ ”

The Gathering Storm

Globalization since the Second World War brought stability, prosperity and relative peace to Europe. Thus, it is fair to say that globalization has been a success. But its benefits have not extended to the entire populace. Many felt left behind. Additionally, the huge influx of refugees caused great resentment among large segments of the population. Middle Eastern and Hispanic individuals became the largest groups of refugees in Europe and the United States, respectively. Immigration became a cause celeb for nationalists.

This displeasure has given rise to nationalism as populists and far right parties have made significant electoral gains across Europe. In Great Britain this dissatisfaction resulted in a decision to leave the European Union. In Poland and Hungary strong and authoritarian men, who put national sovereignty above everything else have emerged. Democratic norms such as a free press and independent judiciary are at risk.

Nationalism and Dictators

Nationalism is the perfect cloak for dictators who use its tenets to justify their authoritarian rule. Russia, the Phillipines, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Syria are among such countries. And where nationalism exists, democracy suffers. Additionally, when that all powerful dictator wants something, nationalism provides the pretext to get it. Look no further than Russia’s adventures in the Ukraine or Saudi Arabia’s excursion in Yemen. Nationalism gives rise to trade wars as tariffs are imposed to remove a supposed advantage held by the other country. History has demonstrated that nationalism is a root cause of war—a shooting war.

Trump the Nationalist

Recently Trump declared that he is a nationalist. The bigotry, hatred and anti-Semitism he projects in the United States gives license to white supremacist, nationalists and neo-Nazis.  It is no wonder hate crimes are up some 17% in the United States.  Where the United States should stand as a stop sign to worldwide nationalist movements, it has become a green light.

We now have a President that is determined to undermine the very institutions that have made the world a better place. He has no knowledge or understanding of history. His statements and conduct make that clear. But his failure to understand the historical damage done by nationalism as it spreads throughout the world is perhaps the greatest threat.

We as a nation are forewarned. Winston Churchill said it best in a speech in the House of Commons in 1948. “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

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