This is not abstract. These are the issues of today's headlines. This year, scientists noted that atmospheric carbon dioxide had passed the "red line" daily threshold of 400 parts per million. Syria appears to have passed U.S. President Barack Obama's "red line" threshold of using chemical weapons, and Iran continues, despite the most sophisticated sanctions regime ever conceived, to edge closer to crossing the "red line" of gaining a nuclear weapons capability. In Syria, in parts of Libya, in Mali, and across much of sub-Saharan Africa, failed states and regions fester and promise only conflicts that will deepen and seep across regions like the blood that spills in each daily.
In each instance, we see that the greatest problems facing failed states and more pernicious, pervasive international failures are not somehow endemic to isolated places on the globe. For example, global warming and nuclear weapons proliferation have clear global consequences. But so too would 10 more years of war in Syria, of millions of refugees pouring into places like Turkey and Jordan and Lebanon, of extremist groups establishing themselves as they have in Mali and as they wish to in Syria and northern Nigeria.
In each instance, our narcissistic, head-in-the-sand nation-statism is putting us at risk. Our unwillingness to recognize that our lack of strong international institutions, be they global organizations or multilateral alliances, formal ones or ad hoc efforts, is doing us in. We need the ability to effectively punish states and others that fail to protect or that actively harm the environment, or that make the world more dangerous. We need to endow those organizations with the resources they need and with the sovereign powers we have guarded so jealously that we've actually undercut them. In our zeal to protect national prerogatives, we have made a more dangerous, fragile world -- one from which no single state can protect us.
The problem is made measurably worse by the United States, which used to, at least periodically, reach out and flex its muscles and extend its generosity despite its historical isolationism, but which today seems much less inclined to do so. While book clubs across America debate whether working moms should lean in, nationally the country seems to have made the decision to lean away. Getting involved has had its costs. It has been bungled and abused. And so Americans are washing their hands of it and retreating behind the country's walls.
Which raises the question: Which are the failed states? The ones so weak they can't help themselves? Or the ones that are strong enough to help, yet do not?