WWII and the World Order
On May 8th, 1945, Nazi Germany formally surrendered without conditions to Allied Forces in Berlin. The act of surrender was signed by Karl Donitz, Adolf Hitler’s successor following his suicide on April 30th. This ended what is universally regarded as the deadliest and most widespread conflict in human history, which lasted from 1939 to 1945, involved all of the world’s major countries, and left an estimated 70 – 85 million dead through a combination of massacres, strategic bombings, starvation, disease, and most infamously, genocide.
The war fundamentally restructured the global order. The level of destruction left all but two major powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, completely devastated and set the stage for the 50 year struggle for world hegemony between these two superpowers known as the Cold War. It also marked the permanent decline of the traditional European great powers, who were no longer able to maintain their global empires, and led to a wave of decolonisation across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Many global institutions were founded after the war, as the need for political, military, and economic cooperation to prevent another conflict of this magnitude was more than apparent. These include the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and precursors to the European Union.
75 years on, the conflict appears to have been a turning point in world history. In the time since, there has been no major full-scale conflict between major powers, an unprecedented period of peace compared to the wars that ravaged the great European powers for most of their history. This is attributed to multiple factors, one being the technological advance of military weaponry (including nuclear weapons) that has made the costs of full scale war so devastating that few objectives are seen as worth it (this is often referred to as “Mutually Assured Destruction”). It is also attributed to the creation of international institutions, such as the United Nations, that provide a political mechanism for resolving conflicts without resorting to violence, and provide a moral cover for the assertion and enforcement of international norms
As we move further from the war, there are growing domestic political movements within nations that question these institutions and whether they’re worth the sacrifice of sovereignty to international bodies. Before we question the need for these institutions, we need to remember the horrible circumstances that led to their creation, and the fact that a repeat of these circumstances has been averted.