Rene — A new world order

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A new world order
Part 1: The South strikes back
Part 2: Europe’s 3D vision
[ ed. note: an straighforward but interesting set of articles that comment on the Habermas/Derrida vision of Europe as well as points to the recent meeting between South Africa, Brazil, and India as an example of other groupings / possibilities. Of course the author plays it straight and well it is largely a top-down vision of the world, but interesting the realignment of nations, allies is surely one of the critical questions raised by the “war on terror”. r.g. ]
A new world order
Part 1: The South strikes back
By Pepe Escobar
SAO PAULO – Last week, India, Brazil and South Africa – key regional leaders in South Asia, South America and Africa respectively- created a sort of poor-man’s G8, a G3 charged to increase the bargaining power of developing countries vis-a-vis the United States and the European Union. The foreign ministers of India (Yashwant Sinha), Brazil (Celso Amorim) and South Africa (Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma) for the moment make references to a G3 only as a joke: the official name of the group is IBSA (the initials in English of the three members).
Sinha has pointed out that “in a more incisive way than before, we must speak as much as we can with only one voice”. IBSA’s agenda is ambitious, with the heads of state of the three countries scheduled to meet later this year to discuss it in detail. But it is already known that at the United Nations level they are bound to exert pressure for an urgent reform of the Security Council – which should also include developing countries. India and Brazil are already supporting each other’s membership bids. This is a G3 that aims to represent the whole developing South. It may soon become a G5 as diplomats confirm that China and Russia are definitely interested.
The evolvement of this tri-nation grouping reflects other realignments on the world stage. At the recent G8 summit in Evian, French President Jacques Chirac invited heads of state of selected developing countries to hear their opinions. The European Union wants to forge itself as an alternative political and social model for the rest of the world. Russia, and especially China, are keen on forming special relationships with regional powers in the South. What are the chances of these overlapping developments finally converging and of the South making itself heard? Jose Luis Fiori is arguably one of Latin America’s foremost political scientists. At the center of what is now becoming a global debate, Fiori says, lies the question of national development projects and in how to offer “hope to the damned of the Earth after the failure of the globalitarian Utopia”.
There are 193 nation-states in the world today: 125 of them are former colonies that became independent in roughly two waves of modern history: the first around the beginning of the 19th century (most American states), and the second after World War II (most African and Asian states).
Fiori emphasizes how Adam Smith, already in the 18th century, was in favor of colonialism being discarded in favor of the free market. Smith and Lord Shelbourne (who negotiated independence with the Americans) were betting on English economic superiority caused by the industrial revolution: by exporting their commodities, the decolonized economies would inevitably become a politico-economic “periphery” of the richer and more powerful states. “And this would be beneficial to the economic development of all, including the former colonies.”
Against this view there were almost all conservative politicians and intellectuals who, in the second half of the 19th century, defended the territorial expansion and the civilizing mission of Europeans across the world. Examples are Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Palmerston as politicians in Britain and Oswald Spengler and Wilhelm Dilthey as intellectuals, as well as Cecil Rhodes, “a real prototype of the English colonialist, and the first to sustain the thesis that the way to universal peace necessarily meant the submission of the rest of the world to Anglo-Saxon laws”, says Fiori.
Adam Smith’s recipes were eventually applied. There was a flurry of trade deals – often imposed by force on countries all over the world and which meant free access for Europe’s capital and goods. The former colonies became exporters of commodities essential for European industrialization. Fiori says, “With this new situation, the governments of these countries had to go into debt with English and French banks to cover for the lost revenues in customs fees. That’s why, in moments of cyclical retraction of European economies, these peripheral countries invariably faced problems in their balance of payments and were forced to renegotiate their external debt or face default.” Fiori stresses that in the case of Latin America, the debt was constantly renegotiated with the creditors, and the burden of the costs was transferred to their national populations. But in the rest of the world, collecting the debt “justified the invasion and political domination of almost all new colonies that sprang up in the 19th century”.
Fiori recognizes that during the 20th century the US and the Soviet Union played a crucial role in the decolonization of Africa and Asia. Socialism and “developmentalism” became “the Utopia or the reason for hope for many peoples, and alternative paths towards the same objective: economic development, social mobility and the easing of asymmetries of wealth and power in the global system”. But at the end of the 1970s, “American foreign policy seriously started reviewing its financial support for national development projects”. It was, says Fiori, “a response to the crisis of American hegemony and to the world economic crisis in the 1970s”. But also a reaction to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ oil shock of 1973 and to the emergence of the Group of 77, “with its proposal of radical reform and the creation of a new international economic order”, approved by a UN special session in 1974 (but never implemented).
The 1980s are widely considered in Latin America as “the lost decade”. No wonder, says Fiori, because for all indebted Latin American countries there was only one way out: “Better conditions for debt repayment were offered in exchange for deregulated markets, open economies, non-interventionist states and radical shelving of each and every kind of national development project.”
Finally, in the 1990s the whole South was faced with a new configuration. Fiori mentions Robert Cooper’s “The Postmodern State and the World Order ” as the key paper to put it into context. Cooper – a key adviser to British premier Tony Blair – made the connection between the process of financial globalization, neoliberal economic policies and, in his words, “a new type of imperialism acceptable to the world of human rights and cosmopolitan values”. So, according to Cooper’s conceptualization, we now live under three forms of imperialism:
1) A “cooperative imperialism” – regulating relations between the Anglo-Saxon world and other developed countries.
2) An “imperialism based on the law of the jungle” – regulating relations between the group of major powers that “became honest” (Cooper’s expression) and “pre-modern” or “failed” states. (Afghanistan and Iraq were dealt with militarily, other official and unofficial “axis of evil” members will be dealt with one way or another).
3) The “voluntary imperialism” of the global economy – essentially managed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and (in Cooper’s words) “supporting states that open themselves and peacefully accept interference of international organizations and foreign states”.
Fiori sums up, “A sort of ‘ultra-imperialism’ inside the group of major powers; the ‘law of the jungle’ for ‘pre-modern’ states, and ‘free market’ imperialism for the countries which Adam Smith in 1776, in the chapter on colonies included in The Wealth of Nations, called ‘our most faithful and thankful allies’.” Fiori identifies the same common denominator in all cases, “The veto to each and every autonomous national project capable of threatening the status quo of the imperial system articulated on the basis of post-modern states.”
But a key problem is now in the forefront of any debate: since the Seattle protests in 1999 against the World Trade Organization, it’s clear that the neoliberal globalization project has failed, as well as the neoliberal reforms in scores of countries in the “periphery”. There was negligible economic growth in these countries, coupled with an explosion of social inequality, and this all increased the frightening asymmetry in the distribution of wealth and power in the global system. And “in the void created by this immense frustration”, as Fiori puts it, comes the June 2002 George W Bush doctrine of preemptive strikes against states and peoples judged to be threatening America’s national interest.
Fiori contends that the Bush doctrine is nothing but an add-on to the “humanitarian imperialism” of former president Bill Clinton and Blair. “For a long time the Anglo-American international economic policy has been subjected to the same strategic objective of its military policy: the containment of each and every state bent on altering the status quo and ascending in the international hierarchy.”
This looks like a direct message to, first and foremost, China – and it certainly is. Fiori quotes John Mearsheimer’s The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (Norton, New York, 2001) when the author stresses that a rich and powerful China simply won’t accept the current international status quo. Mearsheimer worries that the American establishment is not worried enough by the fact that China will become the hegemon in northeast Asia (it already is, anyway).
Fiori reminds us that China’s national project of becoming an economic and military big power is no mystery to anyone. It’s also instructive to remember that before its derailment into a succession of regional wars, Iraq in the 1970s was carrying a clearly defined national development project. But Fiori touches the real nerve when he identifies “the badly-disguised nervousness of the American establishment facing ever-more-evident signs that Germany, Russia and Japan start to return to their national development projects as a way of getting out of the swamp they fell into during the 1990s”.
Fiori argues that “some still believe that the US may try to repeat the experience of so-called ‘development by invitation’ in which a country abdicates from its national project and also any hegemonic pretense in exchange for privileged access to the American market”. It’s unlikely that the newly-formed grouping of India, Brazil and South Africa will fall for this carrot – not to mention Russia and China. It’s fair to argue that much more than any hegemonic pretense, each of these actors would rather pursue its own national development project its own way. Their closer integration is not a “no” to the US, like an instrument to force the US to listen. As to privileged access to the American market, Fiori correctly laments this may be the “only Utopia offered to the poor of the world in the beginning of the 21st century”. The candidates are many, the slots a few.
Jose Saramago, the Portuguese writer and winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for literature, adds to this perspective when he talks about the pain of living in these times where, from a humanist point of view, nothing is changing for the better, “Hopes vanish, Utopias vanish and humanism, as we know, is a quality of hope.” Apart from the merely material Holy Grail of privileged access to the American market, for “the damned of the Earth” there seems to be no other reality left than to try to survive under the shadow of Cooper’s “voluntary imperialism”.
Part 2: Europe’s 3D vision
By Pepe Escobar
SAO PAULO – A new idea of Europe is at the center of frenetic realignments currently evolving on the world stage. The European Union is fully engaged in the complex process of forging itself as an alternative political and social model for the rest of the world. But the EU still grapples with the fact that from 193 nation-states in the world today, 125 were its former colonies. And the EU still has not come up with a meaningful project to offer to most of these former colonies.
Neo-conservatives in the Bush administration love so-called “new Europe” (pliable, money-hungry, former communist, Eastern European states, plus starry-eyed opportunists like Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar). They dismiss “old Europe” (whose core, France and Germany, is nothing else but the core of the European Union). But as many political scientists have stressed, the dismissal barely masks extreme unease. What really worries the neo-conservatives and selected parts of the American establishment is how Germany, for instance, and Russia (whose destiny is inextricably linked with Europe) are increasingly giving full force again to their national development projects – away from the American model.
The EU as a whole does not have a national development project: it is shaping a continental and even global project that it would like to sell to the world. American neo-conservatives may dismiss “old Europe” at their own peril. There has been virtually no serious discussion in American corporate media on why France and Germany went against the Bush doctrine. But in Europe three key themes have been at the center of the debate as far as the Franco-German coalition is concerned – an entente cordiale revitalized by the whole Iraqi episode.
The three themes are the widespread European popular opposition to the war on Iraq and the unilateralist hegemony of the US; the meaning of this evolving, elusive “European identity”; and the current debate over the EU constitution. Nothing better illustrates what’s at stake than a text published simultaneously on May 31 by the French daily Liberation and the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, written by two towering intellects of the European Union: Jacques Derrida and Jurgen Habermas.
Derrida (b El Biar, Algeria, 1930) is arguably the leading living French philosopher: his ideas also exert tremendous influence in leading American universities. Habermas (b Dusseldorf, 1929) is part of the second generation of the legendary Frankfurt School, which has congregated thinkers of the Critical Theory like Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Herbert Marcuse. Since the 1930s, the Frankfurt School has conceptualized many developments in modern and post-modern history by stressing that the capitalist system was “closed” and without any possibility of “concrete negation”: the only challenge to it would come from fringe social groups (today personified by the globalization movement) and from the peoples of the Third World (the former colonies with which the EU still does not know how to deal).
Asia Times Online has learned that Habermas himself invited other European intellectuals to write manifestoes in their country’s newspapers, to be published on the same day, May 31: that was the case with Umberto Eco and Gianni Vattimo in Italy, Fernando Savater in Spain, and the philosopher and Stanford University professor Richard Rorty in the US.
Derrida and Habermas start with “two dates which we should nor forget”: the day European newspapers published “new Europe’s” declaration of loyalty to Bush’s war at the end of January; and February 15, the day of massive anti-war protests in most European capitals. Derrida and Habermas say that “the simultaneity of these magnificent protests, the largest since the end of the Second World War, maybe will enter the history books as marking the birth of the European public sphere”. One wonders when and if one day there will be an “Asian public sphere”.
To configure a new form of future global politics, Derrida and Habermas stress that Europe “must show its weight to counterbalance the hegemonic unilateralism of the US”. But where will this “attractive and even contagious vision” come from? It can only be born from a current “sense of perplexity” and “it must be articulated in the febrile cacophony of a public sphere of multiple voices”. And indeed there’s a lot of debate going on now all over Europe, from universities and parliaments to the streets.
Derrida and Habermas say that “Christianity and capitalism, natural science and technology, Roman law and the Napoleonic code, the urban and civilian form of life, democracy and human rights, the secularization of state and society, these conquests are no more an European privilege. The ‘West’, in the quality of a spiritual profile, includes more than only Europe.” This should connect to “the desire of a multilateral and juridically regulated international order and the hope of effective global politics in the framework of a reformed UN”.
Derrida and Habermas also make a crucial point: “The constellation that allowed privileged Western Europeans to develop such a mentality under the shadow of the Cold War has disintegrated since 1989-90. But February 15 shows that the mentality itself has survived its original context. This also explains why ‘old Europe’ considers itself challenged by the energetic hegemonic policy of the allied superpower. And why so many in Europe who salute the fall of Saddam as a liberation reject the character contrary to international law of the unilateral, preemptive invasion, justified in such a confusing and insufficient manner.” Both philosophers barely disguise their irony when they add that “in our longitudes, it’s hard to imagine a president that starts his daily activities with a public prayer and ties his political decisions full of consequences to a divine mission”.
Neo-conservatives could learn a thing or two from Derrida and Habermas: “Each of the great European nations lived the flowering of imperial power and, what is more important in our context, had to assimilate the experience of the loss of an empire: with increasing distancing from imperial domination and colonial history, European powers also got the chance of taking a reflexive distance from themselves. Thus they were able to learn to perceive themselves, from the perspective of the vanquished, in the dubious role of victors which would have to be accountable for an authoritarian modernization. This might have nurtured a refusal of eurocentrism, and stimulated the hope for a truly global politics.”
Will the neo-conservatives listen to “old Europe”? Hardly. Another towering intellect, Italian Toni Negri, co-author with Michael Hardt of Empire, says that he relies on John Dewey – an American author – to, in Negri’s words, “stimulate the conscience of necessary reforms to fight Bush’s brutalizing philosophy”. For the best European minds – and for much of its public opinion – neo-conservative-inspired American unilateralism is just another brand of terrorism. And if the world is forced to choose between barbarism and barbarism, it’s up to Europe to offer an alternative.
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