This month sees the end of an era, a period of history which has (with brief interruptions) lasted for over two years: the Pax Pacifica, or hegemonic rule by NPO-led blocs. With Pacifica itself toppled from the no. 1 position, and the meat of the most recent hegemonic power structure deposed and halved in strength, there is little doubt that historians will look back to April and May 2009 as the moment that global politics changed forever. Many authors are already discussing the new era, before it has really begun; I would like to take a moment to tell the story of the old, now that it is coming to a close.
The seeds of hegemony were sown in late 2006, with the signing of first the Axis of Awesome (original thread) in October and then the World Unity Treaty, less formally called the Initiative (original thread), in December. At this time, the world was effectively dipolar, with the Orders and their allies on one side (the 'North Web', due to their location at the top of the graphical MDP web at that time) and what would become the League (led by GATO, LUE and NAAC) and allies (notably ODN and Legion) on the other (the South Web). The signing of the AoA drew GOONS, a new but large and fast growing invasion alliance, to the Orders' side, and the signing of the WUT tightened the bonds and added important strength to it.
The hegemony was not yet born; the North and South webs were roughly equal in size, and both were trying to improve their position in order to obtain a position from which to beat their historic rivals. A number of public tests of diplomatic strength occurred, most notably New Reverie (then of LoSS, a South Web alliance) and his two campaigns for the Red Senate. By December everyone knew a war was inevitable, and that it would be between the two halves of the web – but the outcome was uncertain, and therefore neither side wished to start it.
In the end, the catalyst was another invasion alliance, Fark. Because of their historic rivalry [ooc]between off-site communities[/ooc], GOONS did not want Fark to be successful, and seeing them treatyless, attacked without provocation. LUE claimed to have a secret protectorate, and attacked GOONS, triggering the activation of the WUT and starting Great War II. The Initiative alliances successfully persuaded key South Web alliances ODN and Legion not to fight, and had also created a taboo over nuclear weapons, two key diplomatic victories that meant the Initiative won the war relatively easily, and now dominated the political scene, with the South Web under surrender terms and greatly reduced in strength.
Some historians consider GW2 to be the start of the Hegemony, but the South Web was still quite strong, with ODN and Legion untouched, and GATO and NAAC able to rebuild. In my opinion the real beginning of the Age of Hegemony was when the NPO attacked GATO over alleged plotting to start Great War III. This war resulted in the disbandment of LUE and NAAC, then-record reparations for GATO and the destruction of much of their infra, and complete military and diplomatic domination for the alliances of the Initiative. (Great War III has been featured on this series in more detail before.) The second pole of international politics had been destroyed, and the hegemony was in place.
Its first act was to destroy one of its own, Viridia. The Viridian Entente had fought for the Initiative in both the Great Wars of 2007, and saw in the destruction of the opposition a chance for a fresh political path of friendship and enlightenment. In early April, they cancelled all their major treaties, embarking on a course of 'independence, not neutrality' (consciously echoing IRON's position at that time); in mid May they announced the creation of a long-awaited project, the colony alliance Obsidian Entente. Despite having previously cleared the project, GOONS became angry and issued an ultimatum: remove the OE or we will attack it. The OE was removed, being welcomed onto Aqua as the Oceanic Entente, but regardless, on the update of 24th/25th May, Viridia was declared upon by several members of the Initiative, in what became known as the Viridicide (commemorated every year on the 25th in Seria).
The Viridicide was the first great injustice of the hegemony, but more importantly in the long term, it demonstrated that the world was now under a hegemony. Despite widespread condemnation and diplomatic opposition from outside the Initiative, there was no force which could prevent such a projection of power. This was demonstrated again and again under the Initiative, for example GOONS' Shark Week (in which they attacked member nations of other alliances), FAN's Yellow No. 5 (in which they dictated other alliances' raiding policies) or \m/'s flouting of international conventions on attacking unaligned nations. The continued oppression of Fark was a constant reminder of the impotence of non-Initiative alliances, after two losing wars had failed to free them, until their acceptance of terms and a viceroy in June 2007.
The first major threat to the hegemony came late that summer, as tensions between the two main alliances of the Initiative – GOONS and NPO/NpO – began to take their toll on bloc unity. These were first exposed to the public during the Moldavi/Revenge leadership crisis in August 2007, as GOONS backed Revenge's claim and NpO backed Moldavi's. While the issue was resolved diplomatically, there was a feeling that the Initiative was strained and that something would happen soon, despite the denials from senior Initiative figures whenever the matter was raised.
In early September this impression was proved correct, first with obvious issues between GOONS and GGA (a close follower of NPO) over a supposed tech raid on an unaligned 'GGA member', and then with Gen[M]ay declaring war on BotS, an NpO protectorate, over various past disagreements. As we all now know, the latter incident escalated into the Unjust War, causing the splitting of the hegemony, dissolution of the Initiative and a great loss of strength for the ruling group.
However, because the Unjust Highway collapsed in the face of some high profile losses of senior figures (OOC: bans) and uncondonable personal attacks by senior GOONS, and because the NPO never entered the war, the Orders' position after the war was unchallenged. They had gained the key mass of IRON during the summer, and while the Initiative was gone, there was still a strong group of alliances bound by treaty (BLEU, the Ordinance of Order, and bilateral alliances between NPO and GGA, IRON and TOP) and no opposition. Shortly after the war, the Lux Aeterna (Citadel) was signed, but apart from TOP the alliances at that time were not strong enough to cause a major reaction.
Two months later, One Vision was signed, and a month after that, Continuum, restoring the legal certainty of monopolar, hegemonic rule, with Pacifica (as the no. 1 alliance) back at the centre. The hegemony would not be challenged again for well over a year, as Continuum was by far the strongest bloc in existence, although it did not exist in isolation, with Polaris's BLEU maintaining a strong position and able to project power itself.
Continuum's power was exercised almost immediately, with a redeclaration on FAN for supposedly breaking surrender terms, something being brought back to the top of discussion boards this week with FAN's freedom and their victory thread, although that thread marks the original VietFAN and not just the redeclaration. Further actions were carried out through 2008, with GPA, Illuminati and Norden Verein being seriously damaged and destroyed in aggressive Continuum wars – in two of those three cases, against a storm of public protest similar to that during the Viridicide, showing once again the impotence of the opposition. BLEU also reminded everyone of its hegemon status within the more limited realm of Blue by destroying another neutral alliance, NADC.
With two strong power blocs, albeit bound together through the OoO and One Vision, it seemed likely that eventually tensions between BLEU and Continuum would split the hegemony. Valhalla had long-standing issues with Polaris from their early days, as did Citadel, both from NpO's support of GGA during GGA-Grämlins disputes over Green and from hostility between TOP and NpO government. This hostility grew to the point where the Polar/Hyperion War was started in Augest 2008, but due to careful diplomatic moves beforehand, crucial mutual allies of both Orders (notably MCXA, IRON and GGA) fought on behalf of the Pacifican coalition, not the Polar one, resulting in an uneven war and a quick victory for the Continuum. (Although Pacifica did not fight Polaris directly, their entry on opposite sides means that the war was effectively a battle for control, particularly after the obvious fractures exposed by De Profundis and the cancellation of the OoO.) While the fracturing of the hegemony between BLEU and Continuum had the potential to destroy it, just as the Unjust War did, the unevenness ensured that BLEU was simply removed from the picture and the Continuum-based hegemony was preserved.
The first major cracks in the hegemony began to appear soon afterwards, however. Just as the Initiative began to break apart after its opposition was destroyed in GW3, the removal of BLEU's threat from the political scene allowed Continuum alliances to see their differences more than their similarities, and arguments over some actions taken during the war accentuated them. After a protracted discussion period, Grämlins withdrew in December; FOK likewise in January. The loss of two sanction-strength alliances in peace-time was unprecedented, and the rumours of 'Continuum civil war' began to circulate, although at that time there was no such thing being considered in governments.
During April, as various credible plans for an aggressive attack by a Continuum alliance were rumoured, allies of the rumoured targets began to meet and discuss possible scenarios for defence – particularly after Viridia's cancellation of treaties with the hegemony. The MDP web, for so long a tool of the hegemony for protecting itself from the consequences of war, now protected those it wished to attack, and bound several allies in conflicting treaties, rendering them unpredictable. Former enemies, and potential targets, such as MK and PC were bound into the web. The strategic enemy, Superfriends – growing in strength and confidence – was connected to the rest of the web and could not be directly attacked. This period of recent history is more thoroughly covered in recent Newsweek shows, particularly this one.
In the end, historians will record that the hegemony died as it lived, prosecuting an aggressive war in an attempt to project its power and dominance over weaker alliances. The attack on Ordo Verde was a strategic attempt to attack Superfriends by proxy, and intimidate undecided alliances with the weight of their military strength, allowing an easy victory and the removal of a growing second pole of power. This tactic had worked well in the past as we have seen, particularly in GW2 and the Polar war. However, this time the Hegemony's high command underestimated the scale of anger in the memberships of undecided alliances, most of which engaged on behalf of their Karma allies – including, crucially, TOP and MHA, who were both members of Continuum at the start of the war.
As with the mistakes made by the South Web in GW2, history will also record that the Hegemony's downfall is largely due to their own mistakes, detailed in Newsweek, which resulted in the loss of those alliances bound to both sides. With different decision-making, it could be Karma facing deletion and ZI today, and the Hegemony continuing for another year, another challenger destroyed. But with the loose coalition of Karma marching forward to victory, inevitably to break up after the war, the two year Age of Hegemony is truly over. A new age of multipolarity is upon us, one which has not been experienced before: several power groups of comparable strength (Citadel, SF, C&G, NpO and allies, ex-Hegemony) will be present after the war, and a new diplomatic dance will emerge.