Editor’s Note: Nic Robertson is CNN’s international diplomatic editor. The opinions in this article belong to the author.
Theresa May, the UK’s Prime Minister, has nearly won.
Barring some last-minute intervention, Brexit will happen – with or without a deal – on March 29. It is the logical conclusion of May’s strategy to date.
Britain can get on with being an island, which it has managed moderately well through most of its history, ignoring the days of empire when it got tangled up with the rest of the world and mistook the colonies as an extension of itself.
So what place will the UK take in the world? And more to the point, what does the wider world even look like now?
When Britain began its embrace with Brexit, few read it as a symptom of global change – more a case of parochial politics on steroids.
Yet emerging from the miasma, the UK enters a geopolitical landscape hard to imagine when all this began.
Take, for example, the UK’s special relationship with the United States.
Uncle Sam appears on track to downgrade not just its relationship with the UK, but the whole continent of Europe. Past certainties are no longer certain.
Today’s America, versus the America led by generations of previous presidents, questions trans-Atlantic ties to the point that the NATO military alliance has never seemed so imperiled.
It withstood the Cold War, but struggles with the hot and cold vacillations of President Trump, whom, whatever Europeans think, still commands a loyal base back home of about one-third of American voters. His views won’t die with his presidency.
Europe’s post-Brexit hopes perhaps of a successful separation will also face a rude awakening. Once extricated from Brexit’s tiresome diversions, a slew of burning issues will demand attention – not least the EU’s other internal feuds and rising nationalism questioning the core values of the union.
Europe now has a relationship with Iran at a variance with that of America. And America is upending decades of foreign policy, demanding a new, transactional world order that keeps it in the driving seat.
The world has moved on, no matter where you live.
Climate change is now in fact global warming. It has happened. Banning straws and plastic bags doesn’t even put a finger in the dyke. We are past that. We are consuming the planet beyond its means.
The event horizon that precipitated all this has arrived. I can order a jacket and new shoes on my phone on the way to work, by lunchtime they are at my desk. But the real cost way exceeds the debit to my bank account.
Russia touts smarter, faster missiles than the United States. China has militarized islands and demands acceptance of its maritime domain.
The United States is letting Kim Jong Un and therefore China run rings around whatever passes as White House policy on North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
The new world order has arrived. The one we cherished for two generations is over.
That world order was built in the ashes of World War II and lasted as long as the lessons of that mass slaughter existed.
My mother will be 80 next month. She was born as Hitler was putting a match to his European kindling. My father, who was 3 when the war began, today struggles to remember his career, never mind the reasons he embarked on it.
My point is this: The memories and minds that steered us over the past seven stable and prosperous decades of growth with the United States at the helm are gone.
The legacy of those careful, consensus-building leaders is replaced by populist risk-takers, willing to roll the dice with no empirically crafted calculation of what lies on the other side of the decision.
They’ve come to the table pockets loaded, but short on what hard knocks to a nation can feel like.
A symbol for this may be how the crisis in Venezuela is being handled. Quick decisions are leading to lasting divisions.
Trump takes the lead and backs self-declared interim President Juan Guaido. Europe pauses and follows suit. China, Russia, Turkey, come down for incumbent Nicolas Maduro, who also seems to have Saudi support.
You could be forgiven a sense of deja-vu, like the cold war march music restarted. But this time the poles align differently, and there are more of them, not least the suddenly unpredictable pull of Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Middle East.
At its simplest level, China is in the ascendancy and goes a little way to explain why Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is falling out of favor in the United States, is heading there soon.
Russia, not quite the pole it once was as part of the Soviet Union, is a spoiler, eying a weakening Europe itself undergoing realignment. And Trump, still as America’s President, the most powerful man in the world, holds the keys for how turbulent the next few years will be.