His overall point is that, while the unicorns-and-rainbows vision of an unprecedented era of international harmony is, in and of itself, laudable, the only hope for even remotely approximating it is for the nation-states that are the most relatively righteous in this fallen world to wield power justly.
His launching point for discussing the spread of wild, outlaw behavior on the world stage is the recent uptick in tests of missiles and nuclear weapons by North Korea:
This tells us many things. It tells us that the security situation is going to continue to deteriorate in East Asia. It tells us that China has resigned itself to an era of confrontation with Japan. It tells us that both South Korea and Japan are losing confidence in America’s will and ability to do anything serious about the scariest security problem they face.
Beyond that, it’s a harsh reminder that, despite the illusions and the optimism of the liberal internationalists among us, the world still runs much the same way it did one hundred years ago. When hard power fails, all the UN Declarations of Human Rights, all the Security Council resolutions, all the noble speeches about the “international community” are just so much hot air.
Kim Jong-un is getting away with a nuclear build-up and a murderous dictatorship because he can. In theory, the world’s great powers have the ability to stop him. In practice, they are too divided, too busy knifing each other in the back, to cooperate against even a very small and poor country. China won’t cooperate with the United States to stop North Korea because the government in Beijing doesn’t think it is in its national interest to do so. The United States can’t compel China to change its mind about its Korea policy because we lack the strength.
Mead hesitates to draw quick conclusions. He does say that too much has changed about the way human beings live for the model that worked (in the sense that, for all the carnage, the human species kept materially and intellectually advancing) to be viable now:
Given 21st century technology and the vulnerability of our large urban populations to anything that disrupts the intricate networks on which we all depend, old-fashioned great-power politics with its precarious balance of power shored up by recurring wars is a recipe for utter disaster and, maybe, the annihilation of the human race.But then he goes on to acknowledge that there is one constant through these changes:
Liberal internationalist methods won’t achieve liberal internationalist goals. Power, not communiqués, is what makes the world go round.He then goes on to illustrate how the fact that ours is a spiritually fallen species plays itself out on the world stage, and concludes by saying that it is that glaring fact that means that history calls on imperfect figures leading relatively righteous nations must be resolute when encountering clearly bad actors:
Specifically applied to the North Korean situation, this means that, instead of the Agreed Framework of the 1990s and the Six-Way Talks of the following decade, the grownups on the world stage should have united and gone to the Kim dynasty and said, "At present, your nuclear program is still in its nascent stages. Our combined destructive-force potential is too great for you to continue what you are doing. Stop it now."
Freedom and peaceful advancement are only possible in this imperfect world when forces of virtue communicate the implicit capacity for ugliness. Until our Lord returns, that's just how it is.