A 'Doomsday' moment will take place in 2014 - and will determine
whether the 21st century is full of violence and poverty or will be
peaceful and prosperous, according to a Cambridge University professor.
In the last 500 years there has been a cataclysmic 'Great Event' of international significance at the start of each century, he claims.
Occurring in the middle of the second decade of each century, they include events which sparked wars, religious conflict and brought peace.
- In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of Wittenburg church, sparking the Reformation of the church and rise of Protestantism.
- 1618 marked the start of the 30 Years War and decades of religious conflict in Western Europe
- That conflict ended with the establishment of the Hanoverians in 1715. They ruled over Great Britain and Ireland, and Hanover (in Germany).
- The enlightened Congress of Vienna took place in 1815, following the defeat of Napoleon, and heralded a century of relative stability across Europe.
- In 1914 the First World War broke out, a catastrophic conflict that would claim millions of lives and set the tone for international discord throughout the 21st century.
And he claims the U.S., with its waning economic influence but unrivalled military power, holds the key to determining the course and character of the next 90 years
Professor Boyle said: 'The character of a century becomes very apparent in that second decade, so why should ours be any different?
'If a century is going to have a character it is going to become apparent by the time it is approaching 20 years old, the same is true of human beings.
'Another factor is the sequence of generations. By about two decades in the generation that was really dominant in the last phase of the previous century has had its day.
'The future is beginning to be defined by their children who will only have lived in or have memories of the new century.'
The professor, who lectures in German and German history, said the recent economic collapse set the wheels in motion of a wider breakdown in international relations.
The U.S., he said, will become the key player in a series of make-or-break decisions and either condemn us to a century of violence and poverty, or usher in a new age of global co-operation.
But he cautioned that peace is only possible if the world realises that an age of individual nation states is over and an effective system of global governance is introduced.
Flashpoints of world politics such as climate change and the rise of China and India, as well as the global credit crisis, will need international co-operation to be resolved, he said.
'Big economic changes lead to big political changes and we have not seen them yet.
'My thesis is that we have got another crisis to come, and you can already see that in the questions being raised over the debts of nations rather than private credit debts.
'One thing that has not changed is the colossus that is the American military which means the USA has to be a key player in any major politicial shift.
'We are going to see disparity in America's perception of its declining economic significance and continuing military and political absolute power.
'Everything, in the end, may depend on whether America can react more imaginatively to that decline than Britain was able to do in the years before 1914.
'It is a profoundly hopeful sign that we begin the 21st century with very many more international and intergovernmental organisations than we had at the start of the 20th.'
Professor Boyle: 'The only conceivably peaceful route to that goal is through a continuation of the pax Americana.
'But both the world's understanding of America, and America's understanding of itself, will have to change fundamentally for that goal to be achieved.'
Professor Boyle's book 2014 - How to survive the next world crisis is published today by Continuum Books.