The author is Professor of International Politics at the Free University of Brussels. He teaches diplomatic history and International Politics. This book was initially written for his students, who commented on earlier versions of his book. The book is presented in 3 ‘acts’ one for each decade.
The book is in no way western-centric, presenting a clear world view that is lacking in many narratives. It is well researched and referenced and provides a list of further reading. The author presents his arguments clearly showing how actions taken in one part of the world have effects in other areas. The west has historically taken action without taking this into account and the author gives us clear examples of this. He doesn’t just write about the fall of the Berlin Wall (which is the starting point) or the break up of the Soviet Union but of the incremental changes that occur but we don’t notice as we are living through them. Those things that are ‘the road in between’ drawing on multiple perspectives.
As Joyzine readers know, I always seek the musical in any book I read. I struggled a bit in this quest although he does quote Morissey’s opinion about British identity. Personally, I may question the validity of the quote but it is swiftly followed by the author’s view that Ryanair is the ‘Walmart’ of airlines’
The section on the 1990’s looks at how the west missed many opportunities for economic reform, the dot com crisis and the development of consumerism. Holslag continues this investigation to show how the west’s actions led to anti-American feeling and how this has developed with lethal consequences.
Act Two leads us into the first decade of the new millennium with the rise of Chinese power, alongside that of Japan and India. For example, cheap mobile phones developed and produced in China have led to access to health care in Africa, as people can now call for help when needed. He explores the west’s attempts at influence in Iraq for political reasons rather than paying heed to military advice, the consequences of that, with the perceived fight against evil rather than justice.
In the last section the first chapter is entitled “What the hell happened?” which I think has to be one of the best headings in an academic book. It leads us nicely on to the Trump era, Brexit, and European presidents’ broken promises. The book finishes with a brief look at Covid mismanagement coupled with the growth of Amazon and the loss of physical shops. Its discussion of our impulse buying habits and the effects on the world stand as a sharp reminder to us as readers.
As current events unfold in Afghanistan Holslag’s book adds to the understanding of how we got to this point. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to develop their world view and wishes to look for new perspectives. It is not a dry academic read and not just for students of politics.
World Politics Since 1989 is out now, published by Polity Books.
Review by Carolyn Batcheler