Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The House that Tom, Dick and Harry Built

Thomas Jefferson envisaged a nation of small, independent and probably agnostic farmers. He has been consistently ignored. In the twentieth century Harry Truman ordered the atom bomb to be dropped on two Japanese cities, and Richard Nixon hired plumbers to spy on Democratic activist Daniel Ellsberg, after he released the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War. More than forty years later, we need a new roof on the American house.

If I am not mentioning the most recent ‘builders’, it’s merely because they would not have made for a catchy title needed to draw readers into an analysis of the current situation that relies on unfamiliar theories.  Its author is Richard Falk, whom I began reading when he was a Princeton Professor of International Law in the nineteen seventies, and who currently serves as the U.N. rapporteur on Palestine. He posted the piece 'Is there a New Geopolitics?' on Al-Jazeera’s website http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/08/201281123554276263.html.

I am paraphrasing it here because I believe it to be more relevant than the contributions of alternative media darling Noam Chomsky, although the two academics are roughly contemporaries and claim the same progressive high ground.

What Falk calls the Old Geopolitical Framework relies on the “juridical idea of the equality of sovereign states while being fully responsive to the geopolitical facts of life stressing their inequality.”

At its founding the UN reflected this framework, “with the General Assembly exhibiting the idea of equality while the Security Council incorporates inequality via the veto power given the five permanent members.”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the international political framework became unipolar, as illustrated by the international coalition that under American leadership threw Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991.

Recent developments suggest that a New Geopolitics is being born, “premised on the primacy of soft power criteria of influence and status, and (which) is more universalistic and less statist.”

The spread of soft power can be seen in the growing number of countries that have launched English languages channels which are American in style but carry a universalist message. Among these are China, Russia, France, Japan and Germany. The latter’s self-described mission is to “promote intercultural dialogue and work to further international understanding and tolerance”...

If you watch any of these channels you will sense that they all share this mission.

But while Falk and others talk about ‘soft power’ as opposed to military or hard power, I believe its most significant aspect is what I have been calling the legacy of the socialist ethos that exists in Russia, China, and the BRIC countries such as Brazil and India where socialism remains part of the political culture, regardless of the economic system.

Falk writes that “The claim of (the BRIC) states to (...) high stature is not based primarily on their military capabilities or their alliance affiliations, but is associated with their economic endowments, and their astonishing record of growing importance in trade, investment, and financial settings. Such a trend is also being formalized in relation to economic globalization, with the shifts from a Cold War Group of Seven, to an enlarged Group of Eight, and finally to the present Group of Twenty.”

This appears to present the newly important world players as perhaps more ‘neo-liberally’ than ‘social-democratically’ inclined, by which I mean that they recognize the basic rights of employment, food, education and health care denied by the United States.

Falk then refers to the end of colonization in these terms: “The successful challenge of the colonial order by various movements of liberation throughout Asia and Africa strongly established a trend in conflict resolution in which the militarily superior side was being compelled to accept political defeat,” leading him to the failed conflicts initiated by the U.S. over the last fifty years, starting with the Korean War and the fact that “the staple currency of the Old Geopolitics - military power - seems recently to erode and discredit rather than extend the historical role and agency of political actors.”

As happened with Japan and Germany, defeated in the WW II, “(in) a telling sign of the emergence of the New Geopolitics as now defining contemporary strategic goals, Brazil is far more interested in acquiring a permanent seat in the Security Council than in becoming a member of the nuclear weapons club.” Ironically, American politicians tend to discount the international organization....

Falk notes that “hard power is increasingly frustrated when tested by determined nationalist forces, even those with seemingly modest military capabilities. The greater complexity associated with globalization has created new political spaces that are being filled in various ways by both civil society representatives and private sector actors.

True, but I disagree with his conclusion that: “Such patterns of participation exert strong pressure to move the New Geopolitics toward more peaceful and less war oriented standard operating procedures.”

The double-headed financial and climate crisis demonstrates that this statement does not accurately describe the motivations of independent actors, which are overwhelmingly opposed to what Falk describes as “the civil society vision of the New Geopolitics strongly inclined toward the transformative direction of Global Democracy, making all institutions of governance subject to the imperatives of transparency, accountability, stakeholder participation, rule of law, and attention to the human interest/global justice/climate change diplomacy.” The evidence is overwhelming that the 1% show no sign of bowing to the demands of the 99%.

While indulging in a wishful thinking that denies growing popular opposition to austerity, Falk admits there are two models of the New Geopolitics:

A de-Westernized Minimal Model that envisions a state-centric world order that defined by soft power criteria of status and influence, while remaining dominated by a few state actors and  the prescriptions and values of neoliberal globalization.

A Maximal Model dedicated to institutions and practices that embody Global Democracy, and reorient Economic Globalization toward sustainable development that puts peoples and earth first, with priority to the most deprived.

Falk recognizes that in the current transitional phase the Old Geopolitics subsists “but is rarely capable of translating its preferences into desired outcomes.... turning the world into a borderless and terrorized war zone.”

Implicitly countering those who reject the idea that terrorism stems from inequities, Falk notes that Old Geopolitics wars against distant countries are an inadequate response to the 9/11 attacks given that the adversaries are not territorial sovereign states but a non-territorial network of political extremist adding that the problem can only be successfully addressed by soft power methods that identify the legitimate grievances that induced recourse to violent political behavior in the first place.

Falk appears to be unique in pointing out that popular uprisings reveal a yearning for what he calls ‘substantive democracy’, a new transformative politics that includes a ‘distrust’ (sic) of military and police operations and opposition to Western manipulation. The backlash in the Arab world shows the resilience of the hard power governance typical of the Old Geopolitics: as its main centers become increasingly discredited, they produce a tightening of control at home, and an intensification of military operations abroad, a pattern followed by American presidents from both political parties in response to the 9/11 attacks.

Falk wraps up his piece noting that for the New Geopolitics there is likely to be increasing tension as the minimalists seek realignment without attending to social and economic inequities, while the maximalists insist on the long march to Global Democracy. Another way of saying that the house that Tom, Dick and Harry built is not about to get a new roof: neo-liberalism is going to have a long and painful death as the 99% struggle to enact participatory democracy in a world teetering on the brink of economic and climate collapse.



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