Archive | November, 2021

Climate Change in an Unjust World

23 Nov

Climate Change in an Unjust World

–It is a great pleasure to participate once again in this annual Congress on Agricultural and Food Ethics. The fact that it coincides with the UN COP-26 Summit on CC taking place is especially appropriate for at least two reasons: (1) it recognizes the degree to which ethical limits pertaining to agriculture and all aspects of food security are being tested by the worsening of the climate change crisis; (2) looking ahead it becomes apparent that conflict patterns and the source of the majority of migrants will arise from global warming impacting on agriculture and food security in ways that call attention to the unjustness of the world on many levels, including geoeconomics, ecological, political, with the ethical lines most crudely drawn to display the boundaries between the Global North and the Global South.

–My topic is somewhat broader than the explicit focus of the Congress as it does not directly consider the agricultural and food dimensions of an unjust world. Yet if the specificity of the victimization of societies and peoples in the Global South are analyzed it will be quickly appreciated that the nature of their vulnerability to climate change reflects above all the relevance of agriculture and food security. There is little doubt that these more vulnerable countries, whose challenges have been aggravated by neoliberal globalization, gross inequalities, elite corruption, the paucity of resources, exploitative foreign investments, as well as the vagaries of climate. Such practices as large-scale land-grabbing by foreign companies to enable the development of industrial agriculture often disrupting communities inhabited by people dependent on traditional farming and agricultural become among those hardest hit by CC and least able to cope with it. These conditions of deprivation, which characteristically exhibit the cumulative impacts of various forms of injustice, including the greening of Europe at the ecological expense of Africa. In effect, the dynamics of climate change, including adjustments made to lessen or postpone its impacts—‘buying time’—have the effects of reproducing and accentuating the myriad injustices of the global system of international order;

–a root reality of injustice experience in the way global warming points to data that shows that the 1% of the world population is currently subject to barely livable climate conditions, This figure is expected to increase in the future reaching an incredible anticipated 19% by 2070. What should disturb us is that literally all of the affected countries are situated in the Global South, mainly Africa and large portions of Northern South America and Central America. It is estimated that these extreme conditions of livelihood will alone produce more than a billion climate refugees; in addition, even the rich countries of the Gulf may face severe crises in coming decades if the fossil fuel phase out is implemented in the Global North as seems increasingly likely. This core of CC adaptation is almost certain to take no more than minimal account of the inequities of the preoccupation in the North with reducing carbon emissions as rapidly as possible, which will entail its own more local adjustment calamities, and would lead these governments to give much attention by way of funding to the effect of softening the human impacts of such dislocations. It seems evident as never before in human history that it has become an urgent and practical necessity to find win/win solutions to CC challenges. This will not be easy as Western capitalism and geopolitics has ascended the ladders of wealth and power by relentlessly pursuing win/lose logics. It may be time to appreciate and learn from Chinese mastery of a win/win approach to foreign policy as exemplified by their Road and Belt Project and their ascent from a poor and weak nation to a challenger for the top position. Of course, the challenges of development are not the same as those of CC but the reliance on soft power as a prime policy mechanism is highly relevant both ecologically and ethically.

–Climate change in the world we know operates as what policy analysts call ‘threat multipliers.’ For instance, Syria suffered from poverty, discontent, and ethnic/religious tensions before 2011, but when climate change seemed responsible for drought in the North, undermining agriculture as a way of life, it internally displaced Syrians in the North, aggravating tensions elsewhere in the country. This Syrian crisis was further aggravated by a Chinese food shortage at the time that led China to make large purchases on world markets driving food prices much higher. This produced a tipping point in Syria where long simmering tensions turned to massive violence at a time of regional upheaval known as the Arab Spring. The resulting decade long civil strife caused more than 494 & 606k deaths, and more that 6.7 million internally displaced and 5.1 refugees (3.8m in Turkey, 670k Germany). It also exported extremes of chauvinistic or anti-migrant nationalism throughout the Global North, especially in Europe. Gross injustices were intensified for the direct victims of the Syrian strife that illuminate patterns of victimization on a global scale. The tragedies experienced by Syrians forced to leave their homeland in search of livelihoods and even subsistence to support themselves and families encountered hostility wherever they went, and were treated as disposable human beings;

There is some moderately good news: Quincy Institute—rethinking national security to overcome grip on policy of political class holding onto obsolete paradigm of ‘political realism’ what Anatol Lieven in an important article calls the anachronistic influence of ‘residual elites’ [“This is not a failure of the Biden administration alone. Rather, it stems from deeply embedded cultures, traditions, and interests within the U.S. establishment as a whole. America today is suffering from an acute case of “residual elites” — elites that came into being in one historical context and to meet one set of historical challenges, and are by nature unfit to deal with a new historical era and a new set of national tasks.”] that are out of touch with threats to national security; in the U.S. seems more enlightened about CC than the foreign policy establishment, elevating the dangers of CC high above those being caused by the deepening geopolitical rivalry with China. Will the leaders listen? Will the public, especially the

awakening youth, exert enough pressure to make the political class cut themselves off from the militarist mind-set and traditional special interests.

–increased recognition that the cost of not offsetting the damage being caused by CC with substantial financial assistance will cause local conflict, material shortages, and generate streams of climate migrants desperate to escape the devastation and loss of livelihood due to rising sea levels, extreme weather events, industrial agriculture that lead to massive human displacements as well as mutually beneficial interdependence of natural habitats and human wellbeing;

–only a transnational ethos of human solidarity based on the genuine search for win/win solutions can hope to respond effectively to the magnitude and diversity of the growing CC challenge. Only a transition to such an ethos alter the world trend of retreating into nationalist enclaves of protectionism that intensified the political and psychological fragmentation of the world. A midway position between the functionally necessary and the ethically desirable meta-nationalist perspective would be what is being called ‘responsible statecraft’ by the richer, more powerful countries—an acknowledgement of their rising national self-interest in maximizing CC adaptation and mitigation efforts at their source. For this to work it requires a sufficient consensus in the Global North to apportion assessments for assisting countries in need, mainly in the Global South, while encouraging responsible internal statecraft in the recipient countries.

–altering the present mismatch between gravity and proximate causes of harm and mobilizing effective responses; importance of civil society activism and local initiative, also procedures for responsibility, accountability, and enlightened self-interest, precautionary principle; overcoming short-termism; reciprocity present due migrants, source of food supply, overall stability, promotion of basic human rights.

On the Collective Will of the Human Species to Survive

23 Nov

The human will to survive is often uncritically taken for granted, which was of little consequence prior to the advent of the nuclear age in 1945. That the first atomic explosion was the event chosen by the scientific community agreed to signal the advent of the age of the Anthropocene is of added significance. The general understanding of the Anthropocene is that of human activity that is impactful on the basic equilibrium of the planetary ecosystem. Subsequent developments associated with the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming have confirmed the alarming extent of reckless human agency with respect to the ecological equilibrium of the planet.

The inverse effects of the Anthropocene have received less attention, that is, of the ecological backlash that imperils the survival of the human species. For the first time in world history the intentional activities of the human species endanger its own existence and future, as well as various global, regional, and local ecosystems that have collapsed or are collapsing. Of course, throughout world history species in particular locales have behaved in ways that brought about their collective destruction, and this certainly includes the human species. In the past, there have been waves of non-human extinction that have altered the biodiversity of the planet. {see Collapse; Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: The Unnatural History (2014)]. The scale of past threats to human existence were all at the sub-species level, affecting the destinies of imperiled society or civilization. [See Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2004)].

What is unique about the present historical conjunction of circumstances is that the dominant threats so far posed in this century are directed toward the species as a whole. This threat is compounded by the realities of human experience that have been organized so as to promote sub-species survival, especially, at the level of the territorial sovereign state. This fundamental organizational feature of world order in strongly reinforced by ideologies of nationalism that rely on sub-species optics of appraisal, and unreflectively solidify sub-species loyalty as the loftiest aspiration of a fragmented species. Extra-nationalist identities do exist, sometimes strongly, in the form or religious affiliation, civilizational sentiments of belonging, ethnic, ideological, and gender bonding of various sorts. What does not exist with sufficient strength to counter the tyranny of sub-species primacy are mechanisms of sufficient capability to protect the distinctly human interest in species survival or the global interest in essential forms of inter-species coexistence.  

After the major wars of the prior century, there were let loose strong bio-political impulses on the part of publics and leaders of victorious powers to regulate and even institutionalize the human interest. The Just War Doctrine had earlier tried to give a religious and quasi-legal underpinning of universal justice to recourse to and conduct of war, but its interpretation was subordinated to the interpretive manipulations and geopolitical ambitions of leaders of sovereign states especially in the West, making clear that sub-species priorities prevail over international law whenever they clash. The historical disruptions of the major 20th century wars gave rise a widespread sense of human jeopardy in the West that led to the establishment of global institutions. The carnage of World War I led to the establishment of the League of Nations and the atom bomb imparted a sense of urgency after World War II to the prevention of a feared World War III. Yet the outcomes of these institutional strivings did not seriously challenge sub-species dominance, and provided convenient venues for global communication and cooperative arrangements that served the reciprocal and mutual interests of sovereign states while leaving global hierarchies intact. Despite the rhetoric of globalism, the heavy lifting of war prevention was self-consciously attached to the nationalist mechanisms of sub-species management of statist and alliance security systems that featured deterrence and crisis management. The UN has proved to be valuable in many contexts, despite being designed to fail when it came to the protection of species well-being as distinct from promoting the interests of one category of sub-species political actors, that is, dominant sovereign states. This deliberate dynamic is signaled in the case of the UN by giving the most dangerous states a generalized veto power that indirectly confers impunity and non-accountability. UN deference to geopolitics was also expressed by leaving funding under the control of the member governments, and by curtailing the authority of the chief executive officer, the Secretary General. This shortcoming of the UN was more telling than the earlier experience with the League as the atomic bomb forewarned of an unprecedented apocalyptic menace to the entire species, a new reality in human experience, perhaps not entirely new, given earlier experiences with pandemics that created political imaginaries of the end of the world and the acknowledged possibility that a giant meteor might crash into the planet changing its orbit and habitability. 

Europe has experimented since after World War II with efforts to overcome the dangers of sub-species conflict at the level of the region, with mixed results. Its achievements include almost totally avoiding intra-regional warfare of the sort that had ravaged Europe for centuries, as well as defending Western Europe against real or imagined threats posed by feared Soviet aggression (a result achieved with the help of the American-led NATO alliance).  Europe also established a common currency that allowed European economies to flourish over a period of seven decades, and also facilitated trade and travel with Europe. At the same time, regional identity never took root, and most Europeans continued to define themselves by reference to their country, a dynamic manifested most clearly by the BREXIT withdrawal of the United Kingdom from European Union membership despite the material benefits of belonging. Even if the EU manages to fulfill most of the dreams of its supporters it would still be a sub-species actor, perhaps with a more enlightened outlook, but still subject to the priorities and worldview associated with sub-species perspectives on the formation of global policy. If there were any doubts about this, they were removed in recent years by the hostile receptions accorded to migrants from combat zones in the Middle East and African countries most victimized by global warming.

Even if nuclearism as security posture and near catastrophe didn’t tip the balance in the direction of species due to its abstract character and the coherence of the sub-species regimes set up to exert allegedly rational control under geopolitical auspices, I would have supposed that climate change would do the necessary job of reconstructing in globalist directions the way we think, feel, and act. [See Martin J. Sherwin, Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis (2020)] Unlike recourse to nuclear war, which stimulated a genre of dystopian literature and scenarios of doom, the climate change threats were confirmed as virtual certainties by a strong consensus prevailing among those climate experts, and presented to the world by a host of reliable interpreters, including the UN Panel on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) [See especially dire warnings, Sixth Assessment Report 2021: The Physical Basis (on climate system and climate change)]. In other words the knowledge paradigm that was associated with modernity, which was supposedly based on science, rationality, empirical observation, data, and experimental validation, would have led to transformative energies that gave emergency backing to a species-scale imperative to transcend national interests in favor of human and global interests.[Naomi Oreskes & Erik W. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2004)] Yet despite the evidence, the sub-species framework for problem-solving remains unchallenged except by civil society activists. [Robert C. Johansen, Where the Evidence Leads: A Realistic Strategy for Peace and Human Security (2021)]

There is a widespread recognition that the COP-26 Glasgow Climate Change Summit was a major disappointment. Not only was the sub-species architecture entrusted with responding to the multiple challenges, but disparities of national circumstances precluded meaningful levels of sub-species cooperative arrangements and left the commitments that were made in the aspirational language of pledges and voluntary undertakings.. Entrenched interests exerted far too much influence, as did embedded notions of ‘political realism,’ which continued to link security of people to governmental protection against military threats and geopolitical rivalry and paid far too little attention to the critical challenge of a looming bio-ecological-ethical-political-spiritual crisis that cannot be overcome without the emergence of robust collective will of the human species to survive, which implies a radical transformation of what makes life worth living for most human inhabitants of the planet.  

Is This a Sputnik Moment? or a Paranoid Geopolitical Moment?

6 Nov

US Military Interests Are Promoting a Culture of Fear With China

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley listens to a question during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on September 28, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley listens to a question during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on September 28, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington,

[Prefatory Note: What follows is a slightly modified interview with Daniel Falcone that was publisher on Nov. 5, 2021 by TRUTHOUT. It attempts to challenge the pathological geopolitics that diverts attention from climate change and the global justice agenda in a period of growing dangers.]

Daniel Falcone introduction: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley recently interpreted China’s testing of a hypersonic missile as designed to evade U.S. nuclear defenses as “very close” to a “Sputnik moment” for the United States. The comments underscore an ongoing pattern on the part of the U.S. government and corporate media structure that reinforces and instigates dangerous preexisting geopolitical tensions with China, a rhetorical theme unnecessarily produced by a Sinophobic bipartisan U.S. political elite.

In this interview, international relations scholar Richard Falk provides the historical context of Sputnik and summarizes U.S. interests in promoting a culture of fear with China. Falk also outlines how prospects for a new Cold War could ultimately subside due to increased focuses about the climate emergency and COVID, thus rendering geopolitics less relevant, which is both fortunate and unfortunate for its own sets of reasons. 

Daniel Falcone: On Bloomberg Television, Gen. Mark Milley referred to China’s hypersonic weapons test as close to a “Sputnik moment” that has our attention. Can you comment on the meaning of this language and provide historical context.

Richard Falk: I interpret General Milley’s remark as primarily intended to raise security concerns relating to the deepening geopolitical rivalry with China, or perhaps as a reflection of these. To call the hypersonic weapons test by China “close to a Sputnik moment” was suggesting that it was posing a systemic threat to American technological supremacy directly relevant to national security and the relative military capabilities of the two countries. The reference to a Sputnik moment was a way of recalling an instance when the geopolitical rival of the day, which in 1957 was of course the Soviet Union, suddenly caught the U.S. by a frightening surprise, becoming the first sovereign state with the capacity to send a satellite into space with an ability to orbit the Earth, and possibly in the future by this means dominate the political life of the entire planet. 

This capacity was not in of itself a threat but was taken to mean that the Soviet Union was more technologically sophisticated than was understood by the public, and apparently even by the U.S. intelligence. It was politically used as a spur to increased investment in space technology, and it led some years later to a triumphant moment for the United States when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969, enabling the U.S. to reclaim the lead in the space dimension of the Cold War rivalry and to indirectly recover confidence in its military prowess and geopolitical preeminence. In retrospect, the actual relevance of the Sputnik moment was in the domain of symbolic geopolitics without real relevance to the course or outcome of the Cold War, or even the course of space exploration, although it may havCe infused these technological developments with the feverish spirit of Cold War competition. 

Supposedly the aim of the Chinese test is to develop a supersonic missile capable of encircling the Earth by means of a spatial orbit and a flexible reentry capability, which is perceived as having the ability to evade radar and existing defense systems currently in use to intercept incoming missiles. In that sense, Milley’s pronouncement in the course of the Bloomberg interview can best be understood as an intensification of the slide toward geopolitical confrontation, and an accompanying arms race with China, a set of circumstances that already possesses many features of a second Cold War, although occurring under radically different historical circumstances than the rivalry with the Soviet Union, and with its chief political actors much less similar in their modes of behavior.

It will likely become the beginning of agitation and a campaign to increase the bloated defense budget still further, which is as always likely to find a receptive and gullible bipartisan audience in the U.S. Congress. No recent statement by a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has enjoyed such success as Milley in setting off national security alarm bells, uncritically highlighted and endorsed by mainstream media.

What I found surprising, yet in keeping with the mobilization of anti-China public opinion, was the failure of both Milley and the commentary to suggest a different twist to this news item. It could have been presented a dangerous and expensive technological threshold that calls for mutual restraint and possibly agreements limiting further developments or even contemplating cooperative arrangements. President Joe Biden or Secretary of State Antony Blinken could have used the occasion to declare that the world at this stage could not afford such costly and risky distractions, as an all-out arms race in space. 

It seems that this Sputnik moment by an imaginative military leader could have been turned into an opportunity for peace rather than a threat of future war. It might have provided a dramatic moment to embark upon a path of reconciliation with China that would benefit not only the two countries but humanity in general. Of course, such a turn would be viciously attacked by the militarists in both parties as weakness instead of strength. Remember the derision heaped on President Barack Obama for daring “to lead from behind” in the 2011 North Atlantic Treaty Organization intervention in Libya. Given the mess resulting from that military operation, there is reason to view Obama’s reluctance as a show of strategic wisdom as well as prudence. 

Q: Is this a political statement in your estimation, or a sober comment by high-ranking official?

I do consider Milley’s statement, made without qualifications and accompanying comments, as providing the basis for two possible lines of response: a geopolitical reflex of alarm and heightened tensions in keeping with the confrontational character of recent American foreign policy, or a measured reaction that urged mutual restraint and a search for a cooperative framework with respect to the militarization of space in the interests of world peace, but also with respect to the avoidance of an expensive and highly uncertain extensions of arms competition. 

The fact this “road not taken” was not even mentioned by Milley as an alternative is deeply disappointing, although in keeping with the prevailing mood in Washington. As well, the feverish media reportage of his provocative sounding of Sputnik alarm bells suggests that public policy debate is taking place in an atmosphere of ideological closure if the issue involves China. This should be deeply worrying.

Q: President Biden recently participated in a CNN “town hall” and again instigated China. China does not seem to be intimidated by the United States. Can you elaborate on how that reality impacts heads of state overall?

We are witnessing once again a superpower interaction that threatens to dominate international politics — this time in a global setting still trying to recover from the COVID pandemic and faced with dire warnings in the form of a consensus from climate experts that if more is not done with a sense of urgency to address climate change, catastrophic harm will result. In this new configuration of global social, political and ecological forces, if rationality prevails, geopolitics will be moved to the sidelines so as to focus on ecological challenges that cannot be ignored or deferred any longer. It is unfortunate that that political will in the U.S. remains mainly geared toward addressing real and imagined traditional security threats stemming from conflict and nothing else when it comes to foreign policy. 

Q: Some advocates for peace are worried that a failed or stalled infrastructure legislative package will force liberal Democrats into more hawkish positions in order to show “resolve.” Can you comment on the validity of this concern?

A persisting shadow hovering over American politics is the sobering realization that there seems to be no down side for hawkishness by a politician when it comes to embracing the warped logic of geopolitical rivalry or military spending. Whether this will have an impact upon the bargaining component of the search for sufficient support in Congress to fund a domestic infrastructure program is not knowable at this time, but it would come as no surprise. Many liberal Democrats do not depart from the bipartisan mainstream if the issues at stake are defense, Israel and now China, especially when a favored domestic program seems in jeopardy. 

Q: NPR has reported on how “Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on countries to support Taiwan’s participation in the United Nations. The self-governed island has not been a member of the body since October 1971, when the U.N. gave Beijing a seat at the table and removed Taiwan.” What are the regional implications of the Taiwan factor regarding Biden’s and Milley’s remarks? How is this pertinent and what is happening here? 

It was a most unfortunate departure from the Shanghai Communique of 1972 establishing relations between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to speak in favor of giving Taiwan a more active role in the UN system. First, it seemed contrary to the spirit of what was agreed upon with respect to Taiwan in 1972, centering on an acceptance by Washington of a “One China” policy. As Henry Kissinger has argued, the language used deliberately avoided endorsing the PRC view of “One China,” leaving open the interpretation followed by Washington that Beijing could only extend its territorial sovereignty to Taiwan by way of a diplomatic agreement with Taiwan (formerly, the Republic of China, which had lost the right to represent China at the UN). 

Despite efforts by Taiwan to gain diplomatic recognition as a separate political entity, it has only managed to secure a favorable response from 15 countries, and not one “important” country among them, with even the United States refraining. At one point, Taiwan did attempt to become a member of the UN, but the effort was firmly rejected by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, relying on UN General Assembly Resolution 2756, which set the terms of Chinese representation in 1971, relegating Taiwan (what had been represented by China at the UN until that time as the Republic of China) as “the province of Taiwan” within the larger reality of China. A strenuous U.S. effort in 1971 to retain the Republic of China as a participant in UN activities was rejected, leaving the PRC as the sole representative of China.

What makes the Blinken comment doubly inflammatory is that it occurred in the midst of increasing overall U.S.-China tensions with a growing focus on the security of Taiwan. With China apparently testing the nerves of Taiwan and the resolve of the United States by a naval buildup and air intrusions, for Blinken to choose this moment to support an increased independent status for Taiwan is either misguided or clearly meant to be provocative. Such irresponsible talk was further amplified by Biden’s implications that the U.S. would defend Taiwan if attacked rather than calling for a tension reducing diplomatic conference. Then comes General Milley’s “Sputnik moment” remark, as if the Chinese security challenge has crossed a threshold of strategic threat to the United States that it dares not ignore. Further signals of hostility were sent to China by activating the QUAD informal alliance (U.S., Japan, India and Australia) some months ago, and more recently establishing the AUKUS alliance, which included Australian development of nuclear-powered submarines.

There are two lines of structural threat that seem to be creating an atmosphere of pre-crisis confrontation: firstly, the so-called Thucydides Trap by which a hitherto dominant power faces an ascending challenger and opts for war while it still commands superior military capabilities rather than waiting until its rival catches up or gains the upper hand; the Milley comment and reaction must be viewed in this light. And secondly, the insistent belligerent assertion that what is at stake with Taiwan is the larger ideological struggle going on in the region and world between those governments that are democracies and those that are authoritarian. The Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, in a recent articlein Foreign Affairs stridently articulated this theme, and so imparted larger meaning to what was at stake by keeping Taiwan safe and independent.

From a longer temporal perspective, the right-wing of the political class in Washington has never gotten over the trauma of “losing China” as if it were the U.S.’s to lose! It is the persistence of this geopolitical hubris that edges Taiwan tensions ever closer to an armed encounter, with true losers on both sides. A further reason to favor diplomatic de-escalation while there is still time is the apparent realization that the U.S. cannot match China in the South China Sea by relying on conventional weapons and can only avoid defeat by having recourse to nuclear weaponry. This is not alarmism. It has been openly declared by leading voices in the Pentagon.

This geopolitical context should not lead the world or the region to overlook the well-being of the 23.5 million people of Taiwan. Given what is at stake, the best approach would be to restore the “constructive ambiguity” that was deliberately written into the Shanghai Communique, and work for an atmosphere where Taiwan and the PRC can negotiate their futures on the basis of common interests. Although the recent experience in Hong Kong suggests that this, too, is a treacherous path, but less so than flirting with a geopolitical flare-up that could easily get grotesquely out of hand.

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