Tag Archives: China

Human Rights and Confronting China Geopolitically

16 Jun

[Prefatory Note: The collaborative opinion piece below written by the Geneva jurist, Alfred de Zayas, and myself, is a reaction again the criticism directed at the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, about her recent mission to China. The complaint of Western governments, mainstream journalists, and some China experts was that the Chinese deflected criticism of their human rights record by manipulating the mission as shown by the mission report failing to echo the most strident charges directed at China, especially of genocide in relation to the Uyghur minority mainly living in Xinjiang Province. Our response was published in COUNTERPUNCH on June 9, 2022 under the title of The Unjustified Criticism of High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s Visit To China. Rather than provoking a critical storm the mission, in our judgment, should have been applauded with a sustained shout of BRAVO! The sad sequel to this incident is the announcement that Ms. Bachelet has decided not to seek a renewal of her term as High Commissioner. I would point out that it will be a long time before the U.S. is as forthcoming, inviting an investigative mission by the Human Rights Commission and subjecting its future internal policy to review and cooperative mechanisms with a UN agency.

Bachelet during a television debate in 2005.

As former UN rapporteurs we are committed to the promotion and protection of human rights in all corners of the world, including China.  Progress can only be achieved on the basis on good faith implementation of the UN Charter and UN human rights treaties, and requires patience, perseverance, and international solidarity.

An artificial atmosphere of hostility, sustained by geopolitical agendas, double standards, fake news and skewed narratives has made it difficult to tackle specific human rights problems and advance the progressive enjoyment of human rights in larger freedom. Human rights allegations have been selectively deployed as a geopolitical tool, above all to stoke the embers of confrontation, so high on the agenda of both the Trump and Biden presidencies.

Already in April 2021, in an essay on China published in Counterpunch[1], we noted that spreading propaganda about a supposed “genocide” in Xinjiang was highly irresponsible and would poison relations between the US and China besides weakening the human rights discourse.  We then warned that such hyperbolic narratives would make it more difficult to increase respect human rights concerns in other more appropriate settings.  A similar essay was published by Professors Jeffrey Sachs and William Schabas in Project Syndicate[2]. In a variety of fora we have since repeatedly called for more professionalism on the part of politicians, journalists and human rights activists in addressing human rights issues, which are always delicate matters as infringing upon sovereign rights unless reliably grounded in objective appraisal of evidence. Otherwise, as in relation to China, allegations can be perverted into serving the ends of coercive diplomacy and even war-mongering.

The invitation by the Chinese government to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to come and see for herself, and the invitation to UN rapporteurs were very positive signs, and rarely has a government under scrutiny been so forthcoming. It represents an important show of confidence by China and its leadership in its own willingness to uphold international norms and to have trust in the impartiality of the HRC and its High Commissioner. China should have been applauded along with Ms. Michelle  Bachelet instead of being subjected to a barrage of geopolitically motivated hostile propaganda. She accepted the invitation some months ago, dispatching in April an advance-team of five OHCHR professionals to prepare her mission.[3]

While many welcomed China’s opening to the United Nations, some politicians who evidently are not interested in objective assessments but a priori already have their standard condemnation of China, criticized Bachelet’s intention to visit China and advised her not to go[4].  This is not unlike the experience of the UN independent expert, co-author de Zayas, on international order, who prior to his mission to Venezuela in November/December 2017 (the first in 21 years) received letters and emails from some NGO’s asking him not to go, because, of course, as everybody already knew, the Venezuelan government was corrupt and incompetent and that the only proper function of a rapporteur would be to demand “regime change”[5].  This disturbingly politicized approach to human rights missions – and indeed any form of independent assessment – misuses and inflates human rights wrongs as part of a mobilization of public opinion against the targeted state, and often preceded regime-changing interventions as in Iraq, 2003.  Partaking of such a politicized approach to human rights should be unworthy of a High Commissioner, UN rapporteurs or special envoys, and should not be indulged, as it sometimes is, by human rights NGOs.

At the end of her six-day mission to China, Bachelet issued a highly informative, comprehensive, and nuanced end-of-mission statement in Guangzhou on 28 May 2022. https://vimeo.com/714742493 that constitutes the most trustworthy assessment of China’s human rights record that is now available.

To our dismay, instead of hailing the breakthrough achieved by Michelle Bachelet in opening the door to OHCHR monitoring and cooperation, a number of academics and NGOs criticized the High Commissioner’s mission to China, condemning it as  a “failed visit”[6]  with some critics even calling for her resignation[7].  As UN former rapporteurs who recognize the ground-breaking nature of Bachelet’s visit, we strongly reject such unjustifiable criticism and consider that impressive progress has been achieved by this highly professional mission to China, a first to China in 17 years by a UN High Commissioner. We note with satisfaction that Bachelet returned to Geneva with positive prospects for future cooperation, including the formalization of a mechanism for future activities to strengthen the observance of human rights in China.  A likely first step will be to arrange future visits by the High Commissioner of the HRC,  by UN rapporteurs and working groups, and even by other UN agencies such as ILO, WHO and UNHCR. We would take note of the fact that no comparable gestures of cooperation with UN on human rights matters has been exhibited by China’s leading adversary, the United States.

It appears that some critics have misunderstood the High Commissioner’s mandate[8] pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 48/141, and disregard the over-all purpose of the Human Rights Council, which is to assist countries in improving their human rights performance.  Progress in human rights terms is not achieved by confrontational policies, by “naming and shaming” or by insulting governments, but rather by patient investigation of the root causes of problems, rigorous compilation of evidence, balanced evaluation of the facts in their proper context, due consideration of all views by governments, civil society, non-governmental organizations, academics and victims.  That was precisely the focus of  the High Commissioner’s mission to China.

Pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 48/141, High Commissioners:

“Function within the framework of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, other international instruments of human rights and international law, including the obligations, within this framework, to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and domestic jurisdiction of States and to promote the universal respect for and observance of all human rights, in the recognition that, in the framework of the purposes and principles of the Charter, the promotion and protection of all human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community.”

Among the duties of every High Commissioner are

“To provide… advisory services and technical and financial assistance, at the request of the State concerned and, where appropriate, the regional human rights organizations, with a view to supporting actions and programmes in the field of human rights;

To engage in a dialogue with all Governments in the implementation of his/her mandate…”

The end of mission statement made by Michelle Bachelet demonstrates she diligently listened to the views and grievance of all parties, pursuant to the rule “listen to all sides”  — audiatur et altera pars. Her mission encompassed a wide range of issues bearing on  civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, including the rule of law, the administration of justice, the death penalty, civil society participation in the political processes, freedom of expression, human rights defenders, climate change, world peace, the sustainable development goals, and others.

With regard to the allegations concerning grave human rights violations in Xinjiang, the mission statement notes:

“In the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, I have raised questions and concerns about the application of counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation measures and their broad application – particularly their impact on the rights of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities. While I am unable to assess the full scale of the  Vocational Education and Training Centres, I raised with the Government the lack of independent judicial oversight of the operation of the program, the reliance by law enforcement officials on 15 indicators to determine tendencies towards violent extremism, allegations of the use of force and ill treatment in institutions, and reports of unduly severe restrictions on legitimate religious practices. During my visit, the Government assured me that the VETC system has been dismantled. I encouraged the Government to undertake a review of all counter terrorism and deradicalization policies to ensure they fully comply with international human rights standards, and in particular that they are not applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory way.

Before coming to China, I heard from some Uyghur families now living abroad who have lost contact with their loved ones. In my discussions with the authorities, I appealed to them to take measures to provide information to families as a matter of priority.”

With regard to Tibet Bachelet observed:

“it is important that the linguistic, religious and cultural identity of Tibetans be protected, and that Tibetan people are allowed to participate fully and freely in decisions about their religious life and for dialogue to take place. I discussed education policies in the Tibet Autonomous Region and stressed the importance of children learning in their own language and culture in the setting of their families or communities.”

With regard to Hong Kong she noted:

 “Hong Kong has long been respected as a centre for human rights and independent media in the region. It is important that the Government there do all it can to nurture – and not stifle – the tremendous potential for civil society and academics in Hong Kong to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights in the HKSAR and beyond. The arrests of lawyers, activists, journalists and others under the National Security Law are deeply worrying. Hong Kong is due to be reviewed by the UN Human Rights Committee in July, as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

The mission must be seen as the beginning of a process that will hopefully contribute to the gradual improvement of the human rights situation in China.  This must be welcomed by all governments, civil society and professionally responsible NGOs. In this regard we are appalled by those private sector organizations (NGOs and think tanks) proclaiming a commitment to human rights yet in their operations, often funded by the U.S. Government or wealthy right-wing donors, exemplified by the  National Endowment for Democracy.

Among the many successes of the Bachelet mission, we highlight arrangements calling for further cooperation between OHCHR and China. In the words of the report:  “We also agreed to establish a working group to facilitate substantive exchanges and cooperation between my Office and the Government through meetings in Beijing and in Geneva, as well as virtual meetings. This working group will organize a series of follow-up discussions about specific thematic areas, including but not limited to development, poverty alleviation and human rights, rights of minorities, business and human rights, counter-terrorism and human rights, digital space and human rights, judicial and legal protection and human rights, as well as other issues raised by either side.

This will allow for structured engagement of my Office with China on a number of human rights issues. This is especially important as my Office does not have a country presence. The working group will also provide a space for us to bring to attention of the Government a number of specific matters of concern. The Government has also stated that it will invite senior officials from the Office to visit China in the future.”

By any objective standard, such results represent a considerable success, which many countries in the West do not begin to match.  As we know, the United States has not allowed the UN to visit Guantanamo in more than 21 years.  Similarly, Israel does not allow UN rapporteurs to enter the territory in order to conduct independent fact-finding on the ground in territory seized during the 1967 War, and subjected to harsh military administration for more than half a century with no end in sight. Indeed, the silence of those most shrilly complaining about China’s human rights violations are embarrassingly silent about the abundantly documented findings that Israel is guilty of apartheid. Such findings an apt occasion for media criticism and governmental reaction, but for opposite reasons to the push against China, we note this failure to respond to the grossest of human rights violations not only in Israel, but such flagrant disregard of human rights by the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and a host of others.

What strikes us as independent observers, is the intellectual dishonesty of the mainstream  media platforms –as abetted by those academics and NGOs that selectively view human rights through a geopolitical optic that demonizes some situations while exempting others more severe from scrutiny.  The chorus of Sinophobia and “hate speech, itself in contravention of article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, manifests opportunism and intellectual dishonesty, because the same ngo’s turn a blind eye toward other geopolitically inconvenient transgressions.

It is worth contrasting the use of the term “genocide” by the United States and its friends in their referencing of the situation in Xinjiang with other instances, far better documented, of genocide in the world.  Such inflammatory language would have to be backed up by verifiable evidence, but it is not.  Even the one-sided Uyghur Tribunal in London refrained from making a finding on genocide with regard to killings or population transfers.  Whoever has followed developments around the Uygur tribunal and the disinformation in the corporate media realizes that the tribunal was pre-determined to reach certain conclusions, namely that genocide occurred. The so-called “trial” was conducted on the basis of  a “presumption of guilt.” Therefore, it would not deserve our attention, except that it has functioned as a tool of dangerous hostile propaganda by which the “narrative managers” in the corporate media  are now channelling in mounting their malicious campaign against Michelle Bachelet.

The judgment as rendered is not as sensationalist and inflammatory as the tribunal convenors and Sinophobic media hoped for. The Tribunal reviewed the five acts of genocide listed in article 2 of the 1948 Genocide Convention, and rejected four of them, observing that there is no evidence of genocidal intent. The judgment of the Tribunal does go on to examine the fourth listed criterion of genocide–imposing measures on a racially distinct group  to prevent reproduction and this practice was deemed sufficient to uphold the allegation of genocide. There is really no relevant antecedents to support such a finding.  The Uyghur case is a peculiar candidate for such a momentous finding. The clear purpose of the Chinese measures is not and never was to “destroy in whole or in part” the Uyghur group by suppression of births, but reflects a general population-control strategy in a country that already has 1.4 billion human beings, and has long experimented with various kinds of population control and stabilization policies and practices.

Considering the Sinophobic articles that have been published in the Western press, it is remarkable how the media keeps silent about the highly credible documentation of the Apartheid[9] allegations against Israel and gross human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  As well, the media downplays the responsibility of the United States and Saudi Arabia for the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today – Yemen[10].  The use and abuse of human rights as a geopolitical tool is so irresponsible to the genuine protection of human rights that it is itself worthy of an investigation by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as by genuinely dedicated members of the global human rights community.

For now, we content ourselves with this show of support for the breakthrough success of Bachelet’s HRC mission to China, and decry those who would distort such an achievement so as to continue with their efforts to rationalize confronting China coercively. Opportunism in relation to human rights is not a path to peace and justice in our tormented world, which depends on cooperation and multilateralism, and should reject as irresponsible all efforts to split the world into a self-righteous struggle between good and evil. Such a normative binary will exert serious damage on the world economy, causing harsh suffering in the least developed countries, and spark more wasteful and dangerous spending on military capabilities that should never be used.

Notes.

[1] https://www.mfa.gov.cn/ce/cgjed/eng/xgxw/t1874614.htm

[2] https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/biden-should-withdraw-unjustified-xinjiang-genocide-allegation-by-jeffrey-d-sachs-and-william-schabas-2021-04

[3] https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/05/bachelet-conduct-official-visit-china-23-28-may-2022

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/20/un-human-rights-commissioner-xinjiang-michelle-bachelet-criticised

[5] See the report of the IE to the Human Rights Council https://www.ohchr.org/en/special-procedures/ie-international-order/country-visits

[6] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/06/01/uyghurs-michelle-bachelet-china-visit-failure/

[7] https://www.news24.com/news24/world/news/dozens-of-ngos-call-on-un-rights-chief-to-resign-after-china-visit-20220608

[8] http://www.un-documents.net/a48r141.htm

[9] https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/27/threshold-crossed/israeli-authorities-and-crimes-apartheid-and-persecution

[10] https://www.unfpa.org/yemen

Alfred de Zayas is a lawyer, writer, historian, expert in the field of human rights and international law and retired high-ranking United Nations official. Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Was China’s amazing rise due to ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ or ‘capitalism with a Chinese facade? Or a little of both?  

23 Dec

There has in recent months many discussions centering around the proper characterization of China from an ideological point of view. The Chinese leadership has its own reasons for doing this, seeking to present what it deems a glorious self-image. In contrast, the West, especially the United States has wanted to offer an ideological explanation of its confrontational stance with China. Part of the ideological confusion is whether or not China can be considered to be a type of ‘democratic’ state, which it sometimes claims to be. China was not invited to take part in Biden’s Summit of Democracies, but questionable democracies as Israel, India, and the Philippines received invitations. What the United States has refrained from doing is to attribute China’s success to its mastery of and reliance upon maket-managed economic policy.

In my judgement, China’s self-identification as ‘a Communist state’ in certain contexts is no more misleading than the U.S. assumption that it possesses all the credentials to be claimed the world’s leading ‘democracy.’ There are features of both political systems that defy such labels from a descriptive perspective. China accelerated its amazing development process of the last 50 years by sometimes defining its system of governance as ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics,’ which was a coded way of expressing its participation at home and internationally in the capitalist world economy guided by a perspective usually described as ‘neoliberal globalization.’ Such an identity was underscored by Chinese membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), widely accepted as an institutional body entrusted with overseeing and promoting global capitalism in its neoliberal phase. It is became common for economists to describe China after the market friendly reforms to attract foreign investment and promoted trade associated with Deng Xiaoping leadership in 1991 as establishing a ‘socialist market economy.’ To ideological militants in the West to be ‘socialist’ amounts to being ‘communist,’ a negative characterization applicable not only to China but also to social democracy in Scandinavia or liberal tendencies of the Democratic Party in the United States.

It is obvious that invoking the label ‘Communist’ by a party leader in Beijing is quite different than its use as a political slur by right-wing politics in Europe and North America. When Chinese officials insist on ascribing a Communist identity to China it functions as a claim of  legitimacy, confirming fidelity to its founding ideology and recalling its revolutionary struggle. When agitators inside and outside of government in the West call China ‘Communist,’ or even ‘Socialist’ it is meant as both as an insult and a warning about an alien ideology that poses a domestic threat by way of leftist and even left liberal politics.

Looked at differently, China exemplifies the Communist political tradition after the Cold War associated with Marx and Lenin, and later Mao, in certain crucial respects. The Communist Party provides authoritative ideological guidance in relation to its own governing process, overseees one-party rule, provides guidance for political education and citizenship, and entrusts leadership to a single person essentially for lifetime. The current leader, Xi Jinping exemplifies this tradition in all respects. No political alternatives are accepted as legitimate challengers to Communist rule. In periodic five-year high-level conferences of the Chinese Communist Party leadership ideological articles of faith are reaffirmed and adjustments made by expressions of consensus seemingly shaped by the leader.  The Chinese government from the moment of its takeover of the Chinese mainland in 1949 has suppressed dissent, and insisted on an extreme form of secularism that has regulated religious movements strictly, sometimes harshly, particularly if they dare to exhibit political ambitions.

Despite some superficial resemblances to the Soviet Union, and the Cold War, it would be deeply misleading to view China through a Soviet lens or by way of post-World War II geopolitics. Two extraordinary differences highlight the gaps between the Cold War era and the present confrontation with China: first, in contrast to the Soviet Union, China has compiled a remarkable record of administrative competence, which has overseen the greatest economic and geopolitical ascent of any country in all of history, a story confirmed by spectacular growth, alleviation of extreme poverty, and increasing dominance of the most significant technological frontiers of 21st innovation; secondly, China’s expansionist foreign policy has been completely reliant on soft power instruments of influence, producing many win/win solutions, including its hyper-ambitious Belt and Road Project, and contrasting dramatically with the Western rise and Soviet attainment of superpower status which were based on military conquest and imperial forms of coercive control. It is the U.S. hostile reaction that confronts China rather than cooperates that seems mainly responsible for

inducing China to place an ever greater emphasis on military capabilities to maintain its national interests by discouraging U.S. provocations. The West should be learning from China rather than treating China as the second coming of the USSR, necessitating an ideological and militarizing mobilization for a new cold war that the world cannot afford, diverting attention and resources from a series of urgent global challenges posed by climate change, pandemics, global migration, gross inequalities that did not seriously impact on international relations.

Only the costly arms race, especially its nuclear dimension, made the last half of the 20th century vulnerable to catastrophe on a global scale, threatening species survival, prepared the public sphere for its present policy agenda.

Xi Jinping has been claiming that he is adapting Marxism to contemporary condition under the banner of ‘Marxism for the 21st Century.’ As near I can tell this terminology is used mainly as a way to identify and highlight the charismatic relevance of Xi Jinping personal leadership, and in the process elevate him to the status of the most eminent of revolutionary leaders, above all as the equal of Mao Zedong. Xi’s  ideological viewpoint has been also associated with explaining what is meant by the phrase ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics.’ In ideological discourse, especially internationally, Xi commonly refers to the ‘socialist’ nature of the Chinese approach rather than to claim its ‘communist’ character.’ Xi clearly wants his various audiences to believe that Marxist thought remains as dynamic and relevant as ever, being ‘full of vitality,’ and thus the key to future human happiness.


The Chinese references to 21sst century Marxism is also a way of entering dialogue with Marxist political parties in other societies and creating a common global discourse. It also seems a way to be faithful to Markist-Leninis traditions of thought without having to comment critically upon the Soviet-led interval as a departure from Marxism. Put in positive terms Marxism in the 21st century calls for dedication to ‘human progress’ focused on building ‘a shared future for humanity’ in collaboration with congenial forces around the world

Whether China is viewed as a Communist center of power or not is less important than for the West to relate to China in a manner that is mutually beneficial for world peace and multilateralism. The policy emphasis on the West should be on not only learning from China but on bringing out the most constructive responses in relation to China’s potential indispensable contributions to world order. Such a view is not blind to Chinese violations of human rights or the excesses of Han nationalism, but it views these undeniable blemishes as best left to dynamics of internal reform and to the pressures mounted by global civil society, rather than as presently, a form of geopolitical harassment and anti-Chinese mobilization.

Reflections on Genocide as the Ultimate Crime

26 Apr

[Prefatory Note: Subsequent to our article addressing alleged genocide by China against the Uyghur people, President Joe Biden declared the Armenian massacres of 1915 to be an instance of ‘genocide.’ The following paragraph addresses this issue in summary form:

“Biden has added another dimension to the misuse of ‘genocide,’ making another indirect controversial intrusion on past memories and present realities by fulfilling on behalf of the United States Government his campaign pledge to declare what befell the Armenian community in 1915 as ‘genocide’ on April 24, 2021 without bothering to clarify whether this was a legal, political, or moral assessment of events that occurred in the midst of World War I. The Nuremberg Judgment was very clear that for action to legally qualify as an international crime it must have been preceded by the enactment of the relevant legal norm. Otherwise, it is an instance of retroactive criminalization, and cannot validly be prosecuted, however abhorrent. As we know the word ‘genocide’ was a linguistic innovation of the 1940s, and it only became criminalized by the adoption of the Genocide Convention in 1948. For Biden to come along in 2021 and pronounce these events as genocide is again to trivialize this ultimate crime for the sake of domestic political gain and as a way of demeaning Turkey because of some foreign policy differences. If genuinely motivated for historical redress, a responsible approach might have been to call for an independent international inquiry to interpret the events, giving Turkey, as well as representatives of the Armenian community, an opportunity to present its narrative which is more an explanation than a justification.”] 

APRIL 23, 2021

Reflections on Genocide as the Ultimate Crime

BY ALFRED DE ZAYAS – RICHARD FALKFacebookTwitterRedditEmail

This photograph depicts the Armenian leader Papasyan seeing what’s left after the horrendous murders near Deir-ez-Zor in 1915-1916. Photograph Source: Bodil Katharine Biørn – National Archives of Norway – Public Domain

The misuse of the word genocide is disdainful toward relatives of the victims of the Armenian massacres, the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide – and as well a disservice to both history, law, and the prudent conduct of international relations. We already knew that we were adrift in an ocean of fake news. It is far more dangerous to discover that we are also at risk of being immersed in the turbulent waters of “fake law”. We must push back with a sense of urgency. Such a development is not tolerable.

We thought that Biden’s election would spare us from menacing corruptions of language of the sort disseminated by Donald Trump, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo. We thought that we would no longer be subjected to evidence-free allegations, post-truth and cynical concoctions of fact. It now seems we were wrong.

We recall Pompeo’s bragging about the usefulness of lying, we listened to his incendiary allegations against Cuba, Nicaragua, his outlandish claims that Hezbollah was in Venezuela, his antics on behalf of Trump — all in the name of MAGA.

Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo did not succeed in making America great again. They did succeed in lowering the already low opinion that the world had of America as a country that played by the rules set forth in international. A decisive development in this downward spiral was George W. Bush’s megacrime — the unprovoked invasion and devastation of Iraq, which UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called an “illegal war” on more than one occasion. We observed Barak Obama’s involvement in the destruction of Libya, given a bitter resonance by Hillary Clinton’s unspeakable words on Qaddafi’s demise uttered with imperial glee: “We came, we saw, he died”. We cannot forget Trump’s criminal economic sanctions and financial blockades punishing whole societies in the midst of a crippling pandemic. These were crimes against humanity committed in our name. Such sanctions reminded us of merciless medieval sieges of towns, aimed at starving whole populations into submission. We think back to the one million civilian deaths resulting from Germany blockading Leningrad 1941-44.

No, to make America great again, it seems perverse to suppose that this can come about by continuing to behave as an international bully, threatening and beating up on entire peoples. No, in order to make America respected and admired in the world we can and should start by reviving the legacy of Eleanor Roosevelt, by rediscovering the spirit and spirituality of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and more broadly reenacting the peace-oriented humanism of John F. Kennedy.

We can and should be demanding more from Joe Biden and Antony Blinken. Evidence-free allegations of “genocide” in Xinjiang, China, are unworthy of any country, and most of all, of the country that wants to act as the prime international champion of human rights. Raphael Lemkin would turn in his grave if he learned that the crime of “genocide” has been so crassly instrumentalized to beat the drums of Sinophobia. The sudden flurry of United States interest in the fate of the Uyghur people seems less motivated by compassion or the protection of human rights than lifted from the most cynical pages of the Machiavellian playbook of geopolitics.

Genocide is a well-defined term in international law – in the 1948 Genocide Convention and Article 6 of the Rome Statute.The most respected international tribunals have separately agreed that proof of the crime of genocide depends on an extremely convincing presentation of factual evidence, including documentation of an intent to destroy in whole or in part national, ethnic, racial or religious group. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Court of Justice – all have endeavoured to provide authoritative tests of “intent,” treating intent as the essential element in the crime of genocide. This jurisprudence is what should be guiding our politicians in reaching prudent conclusions as to whether there exist credible grounds to put forward accusations of genocide, given its inflammatory effects. We should be asking whether the factual situation is clouded, calling for an independent international investigation followed by further action if deemed appropriate, and in nuclear-armed world, we should be extremely careful before making such an accusation.

Mike Pompeo’s allegation that China was committing genocide in Xinjiang was unsupported by even a hint of evidence. It was a particularly irresponsible example of ideological posturing at its worst, and besides, an embrace of reckless geopolitics. That is why it is so shocking to us that the 2021 US State Department Human Rights Report repeats the “genocide” charge in its Executive Summary, yet doesn’t even bother to mention such a provocative charge in the body of the report. This is an irresponsible, unreasonable, unprofessional, counter-productive, and above all, dangerously incendiary allegation, which could easily spiral out of control if China should choose to respond in kind. China would be on firmer ground than Pompeo or the State Department if it were to accuse the United States of “continuing genocide” against the First Nations of the Americas, Cherokees, Sioux, Navajo, and many other tribal nations. We can only imagine the angry backlash if it hadbeen China that had been the first to put forward loose talk about genocide.

By making non-substantiated claims the U.S. Government is seriously undermining its own authority and credibility to revive its role as global leader. To play this constructive international role is not on display by “weaponizing” human rights against China – or Russia. Instead, a foreign policy dedicated to the genuine promotion of human rights would call for international cooperation in conducting reliable investigations of gross violations of human rights and international crimes, wherever they occur – whether it be in India, Egypt, China, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Yemen, Brazil, Colombia. We would hope that Biden’s Washington is confident enough to be even receptive to investigations undertaken in response to allegations of violations against the United States of America and its closest allies in Europe and elsewhere.

The Orwellian corruption of language by U.S. Government officials, the double-standards, the dissemination of fake news by the mainstream media, including the “quality press” and CNN, self-anointed as “the most trusted name in news” are eroding our self-respect. Indeed, the manipulation of public opinion undermining our democracy as we succumb

to the exaggerations of the wrongs of others that give an added bite to hostile propaganda, and are leading the world to the very edge of a forbidding geopolitical precipice, and in the process, heightening the prospects of a new cold war – or worse.

The Biden Administration at the very least should show respect for the American people and for international law by stop cheapening the meaning of the word “genocide” and cease treating human rights as geopolitical tools of conflict. Such irresponsible behavior may soothe the nerves of Trumpists, and fashion a façade of unity based on portraying China as the new ‘evil empire,’ but it’s a foreign policy ploy that should be rejected as it seems a recipe for global disaster.

Alfred de Zayas is a lawyer, writer, historian, expert in the field of human rights and international law and retired high-ranking United Nations official. 

Will China Run the World? Should it?

14 Dec

[Prefatory Note: Interview Responses to Questions of Javad Heiran-Nia on world order in the time of COVID-19, with emphasis on China & United States, especially as reflected in the restructuring of the world economy. The underlying issue is whether the Chinese or U.S. approach to global policy and world order will gain the upper hand, and at what costs to humanity. The interview will be published in a forthcoming issue of Age of Reflection, a monthly magazine. (http://www.asreandisheh.com/). This post adds some observations at the end that do not appear in the interview.]

  1. In recent years, and especially with the spread of the Corona virus and the way China and the United States have dealt with this virus, the issue of Chinese and American order has received more and more attention. Do you think it is relevant to talk about Chinese order?

Yes, I think it has become extremely relevant to talk about the comparative approaches of China and the U.S. to problem-solving and political order, both their differences and similarities. There exists a preliminary question relating to the seemingly unusual character of American political leadership during the past four years of the Trump presidency, and the probability that it is about to change in style and substance shortly after Joe Biden is inaugurated as the next president. Trump is the first American leader to reject the authority of science and expert guidance in a period of national crisis, greatly aggravating the harm caused by the Corona-19 virus through the advocacy of behavior that contributes to the spread of the disease rather than to its containment. It is also notable that other illiberal leaders of important states have also acted in extremely irresponsible ways during the crisis, including Bolsonaro, the leader of Brazil, and to some extent, Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, among others.

The comparison between China and the United States, current leadership aside, suggests some important differences. The most important difference relates to the role of the central government, and in China’s case, the state. China has more of a unitary system in which policy is set in Beijing for the entire country. In the United States, the reality of federalism means that all 50 internal states enjoy a measure of autonomy, which results in diverse responses to the COVID challenge, some following the approach taken by Trump while others following health guidelines and produce overall better results.

In general, it is possible to suggest that the role of the state is more effectively and efficiently deployed in China in response to COVID, although exhibiting a disturbing disregard for the freedom of citizens and their human rights, especially with regard to political dissent and peaceful opposition. The extraordinary success of the Chinese economy over the course of the past 50 years, confirms the importance of providing centralized guidance in promoting technological innovations and in managing the allocations of capital investment in rapid and sustainable patterns of development. 

The U.S. has long suffered from the effects of massive over-investment in military capabilities, which has led to a series of costly foreign policy failures going back to Vietnam, compounded by a refusal to adapt to a global setting in which the politics of national resistance prevails over the superior weaponry of the United States, producing endless wars with unfavorable political outcomes for the intervening. So far China has avoided this trap, expanding through reliance on a variety of soft power instruments, but whether it can maintain this posture in the face of the U.S. current disposition toward confrontation and the initiation of a second cold war is not clear.

The U.S. also suffers from ideological inhibitions that are leftovers from the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union. Any reliance on government to perform roles relating to health, education, and social protection are labeled as ‘socialism,’ which is treated as such an evil mode of governing as to foreclose serious discussion. The result has been disinvestment in the social justice agenda, which is compounded in bad effects by the continuing over-investment in the militarist agenda.  

  • Liberal order after World War II, with Trump coming to power, became more and more threatened, and Trump weakened the institutions and organizations that were the manifestation of economic liberalism; Like the World Trade Organization. China, meanwhile, is currently benefiting from a liberal order in the international arena. What is the reason for this?

This is a crucial question. There is no doubt that neoliberal globalization led to a surge in international trade and investment, fueling sustained economic growth, but it also led to great inequality of benefits from economic development, sharpening class tensions, and in the American case caused acute alienation among workers and rural communities. The Trump phenomenon arose as an ultra-nationalist impassioned backlash to these negative domestic impacts of liberalism. Trump’s insistent call for ‘America First’ coupled with a rejection of all phases of globalism resonated with many Americans. Such a strident outlook struck heavy blows against global cooperation and hospitality to asylum-seekers and refugee, and even immigrants, at the very time these more cosmopolitan behavioral patterns were most needed to address such serious challenges as climate change and migration flows that could not be handled satisfactorily by states acting alone. In some respects, this retreat behind borders worked politically and economically for Trump until the unanticipated COVID pandemic came along. Trump missed no opportunity to boast about the stock market reaching historic highs, low unemployment figures, and somewhat rising wages for workers. The down side of Trump’s approach led to repudiations of the authority of international economic institutions, produced accelerating inequality, and was accompanied by ugly reactions against immigrants and people of color who were denied the full benefits of citizenship and were treated as hostile threats to nationalist identities of supremacy claimed by discontented white Americans who felt understood, energized, and supported by the Trump leadership.

In contrast, China was able to benefit from market forces while simultaneously overcoming the impoverished condition of more than 300,000,000 of its citizens and rapidly building an efficient modern market society on the largest national scale ever known. China’s state-guided public investment policies have seemed very well coordinated to develop an economy that is not only remarkably productive in industrial era manufacturing, but has started to dominate the technological frontiers that have military and reputational implications as threatening to the West as was post-1945 decolonization. China managed to combine taking advantage of liberalism while avoiding most severe forms of domestic alienation, and found win/win ways to help with infrastructure development of less developed countries without seriously interfering with their sovereign rights or political independence, thereby raising its status internationally. From a human rights perspective, China built an impressive record with respect to economic and social rights, while limiting political and civil rights rather severely, and imposing an unacceptably discriminatory regime on the large minority Uighur population in Xinjiang province. 

  • The Biden team is set to amend the World Trade Organization’s constitution to make trade more profitable for the United States. They seem to be looking to make tariff changes and a kind of economic protectionism so that China does not benefit much from free trade. What is your assessment?

The Biden approach to China reflects a bipartisan, and largely mistaken, view that China has taken unfair advantage of world economy through improper subsidies of exports and by way of strict regulation of imports and foreign investment in China, including with respect to technology. I am not equipped to assess the reasonableness of these grievances, nor of the Chinese concerns with unfair responses to their activities in global markets. There is a danger arising from this attempt to control Chinese economic behavior that it will lead China to retaliate and give rise to the sort of protectionism that caused the Great Depression of the 1930s, characterized as a ‘beggar thy neighbor’ ethos in foreign economic policy. There is also present an impression that the United States is neglecting its own economic shortcomings by shifting blame to China rather than making reforms such as a more prudent allocation of resources and a more effective and equitable public allocation of public sector revenues to promote research and development in non-military projects. The U.S. political taboo preventing even discussion of the shrinking the military budget and the worldwide network of overseas bases is more explanatory of American decline than are accusations of improper behavior directed at China. The U.S.’s military budget is larger than the combined military expenditures of the next ten countries, and yet the U.S. has never felt more insecure throughout its entire history. It is these realities that are at the root of the relative world decline in the economic sphere, and the overall crisis confidence, currently besetting  the United States.

  • Fifteen Asia-Pacific economies formed the world’s largest free trade union, an agreement backed by China that does not include the United States. The Economic Partnership brings together the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The pact came as the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The pact that Obama believed would establish the Asian trade order in the 21st century and would not allow China to do so. China is now shaping the Asian order with a new treaty. What is your assessment?

This question points to another major deficiency in the global turn toward economic nationalism and away from economic multinationalism during the Trump presidency. China has taken intelligent advantage of the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which incidentally excluded China reflecting Obama’s interest in containing China’s regional outreach. China has helped fill the cooperation vacuum by adopting a multilateral framework designed to facilitate Asian growth of trade and investment. Trump’s preference for ‘transactional’ bilateral deals over negotiated cooperative frameworks seems ‘ is very shortsighted, and is almost certain to be rejected as an approach during the Biden presidency. But it is probably too late to reverse these regional developments by U.S. inclusion unless Biden’s leadership moves away from confrontation and toward accommodation, which seems unlikely. This China-led 10 country Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership includes Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and Brunei is off to an impressive start. This arrangement has been under negotiation since 2012, and just now formally endorsed by member governments. India had been expected to become a member, withdrawing recently because the expected lowering of tariffs was thought to harm Indian producers. As it is this Asian bloc comprises 30% of the world’s population, and just under 30% of the world’s GDP. 

  • With Biden coming, it seems that we will see a kind of limited liberalism in the international system. What is your assessment?

I anticipate a double movement with regard to the world economy: one movement would be toward restoring the spirit and substance of market driven transnational agreements and frameworks designed to encourage trade and investment within a rule governed framework that is mutually beneficial and inclusive; the second movement is more ideologically delimited, seeking frameworks that are ideologically and geopolitically more closely aligned, excluding China, and possibly Russia. This post-Cold War restructuring was somewhat anticipated by the Obama ‘Asia reset’ that deliberately excluded China from the TPP, and Biden is likely to go further in Asia, and possibly joining with India in adopting a new containment approach to foreign policy and world order. It is difficult at this stage to know how China will react if it is faced with geopolitical encirclement and a more exclusionary economic atmosphere. It is possible that China, which is more pragmatic and opportunistic than the West, will do its best to encourage a less conflictual new phase of economic globalization, which would spread benefits worldwide, is also responsibly concerned with the global public good, which translates into greater support for clean energy, environmental protection, human rights, denuclearizing initiatives, and a more equitable distribution of benefits of economic growth. 

  • Trump received over 70 million votes. This is almost equal to Biden, especially if Biden’s big margin in California is discounted. That means almost half of American voters like Trump. That is, his views on nationalism in all its dimensions, and his economic protectionism and unilateralism, are popular with the American people and are tied to the interests of the people. How can Biden balance the values of liberalism, of which globalization is a manifestation, with this demand of Trump supporters at the domestic level?

Biden’s efforts to find a consensus on foreign economic policy will definitely pose a crucial test for his presidency. If he seeks to act on the basis of domestic unity, policymaking will likely be paralyzed, especially if Republicans remain able to put roadblocks in the path of Democratic proposed initiatives. If Biden decides to ignore the priorities of this lingering large Trump support he will be confronted by resentment and disruption. It is a dilemma no recent American president has faced. Whether the dilemma can be overcome also depends on whether Trumpist Republicans retain control of the U.S. Senate, and that seems to rest on the Georgia reruns of the two senatorial elections, which will be decided in early January. Unless the Democrats win both races, the Republicans will control the Senate, and as they did with Obama’s second term, be in a position to obstruct and block most legislative initiatives that are seen as antagonistic to the Trump approach. Biden’s pledge to be president for all Americans sounds good, but whether it will be a successful governing style remains in doubt. My understanding is that most Trumpists want power not compromise or responsible government. In this regard, restoring civility to the American political scene will be welcomed even by some Trump supporters, but to uphold his policy goals it may well be necessary to confront Republicans and mobilize the support of the citizenry. With the recent election revealing the depth of polarization, further revealed by the Trump refusal to accept the outcome as certified by the long reliable voting schemes operative in the 50 states, including those presided over by Republican officials, there are many signs of domestic trouble ahead for Biden whether he gives way on his policy agenda or tries to have it fulfilled. Biden may have more success in reviving the bilateral consensus on foreign policy that existed during the Cold War, and would be now focus on restoring European alliance relations and challenging China regionally in South and East Asia, and globally with regard to a U.S. oriented revision of rule-governed globalization. Again, much depends on the degree to which the Biden leadership with continues to address global security through a militarist optic. Early indications suggest that the demilitarization of the American political and moral imagination will not be forthcoming in the near future whoever is president. 

  • If Biden wants to deviate from the principles of free trade in order to contain China, he has deviated from one of the main principles of economic liberalism. This means that liberalism has faced a serious challenge in practice, especially at the international level. What is your opinion?

Again, I think the way to consider such a departure from global scale, inclusive liberalism is to reevaluate the operation of the world economy during and after the ending of the Cold War in the early 1990s. On the basis of my prior responses is a return to a modified Cold War orientation toward foreign economic policy. Unlike the Soviet Union, China’s participation in the world economy is indispensable for world stability and sustainable development, which creates a realization of mutual benefits. There is no realistic prospect of resurrecting the ‘Washington consensus’ shaped by the Bretton Woods institutions as projecting American values onto the global stage as the more legitimate future than that projected by Moscow. What might be feasible is some reform within the neoliberal framework that gained certain concessions from China but more or less retained the inclusive structures of neoliberal globalization that have controlled the world economy since the Soviet collapse in 1992. Thinking optimistically, we might even witness an upgrading the quality of Chinese participation. If reform fails and geopolitical confrontation occurs, then a lose/lose future for the entire world looms as the likely outcome, which could work more to the disadvantage of the West than to China. It needs to realized that China has been adapting its public investment priorities in light of expanding the economic performance of its huge domestic market, including satisfying rising consumer demand, as well continuing with the largest international/transnational development in world history, The Road and Belt Initiative or One Belt, One Road (OBOR), a new Silk Road adapted to the circumstances of the present. As Deepak Nayyar has shown in his breakthrough book, Asian Resurgence (2019), China is no longer dependent on Silicon Valley and Europe for technological progress, but the West, including the United States, may increasingly look to China for the latest technological innovations. Undoubtedly, part of the rising tension with China reflects the threatening reality that the country has graduated from its non-threatening role as ‘the factory of the world’ to becoming dominant on some of the most dynamic technological frontiers, which is a symbolic as well as a substantive blow to America’s reputation and leadership credentials, and possibly even to its dominance with respect to innovations in military technology.  

8. Given that liberalism is not in America’s best interests internationally, and theorists such as Prof. John Mearsheimer warn the US government against pursuing liberalism globally, what do you think will replace the current liberal order?

John Mearsheimer has long intelligently stressed the geopolitical dimensions of world order, which inevitably emphasizes patterns of conflict between major actors. As an extreme realist he regards ‘liberalism’ as naïve, and a sign of weakness, which invites cynical adversaries to take advantage economically and diplomatically. Mearsheimer is convinced that history is shaped by those political actors that prevail militarily, and as adjusted for present realities, the first priority of foreign policy should not be cooperation with rivals but their deterrence. He has gone so far as to credit nuclear weapons with the avoidance of World War III during the Cold War.

A complementary view to that of Mearsheimer has been influentially formulated by Graham Allison in his book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape the ‘Thucydides’s Trap’ (2017), which puts forward the thesis that high risks of war occur when the hegemonic hierarchy is challenged by an ascending actor in international relations. The present ascendant political actor that perceived a rising challenge from below is likely to provoke war rather than give way, which according to Allison is what has almost happened throughout world history.

Whether such abstractions should be given much weight considering several factors:

–the globalizing adaptations in the post-COVID world, giving increased role to WHO, and UN

Generally, as offset by persisting ultra-nationalist governance trends, despite defeat of Trump;

–a growing anxiety about global warming producing climate change with many harmful effects, including dangerous erosions of biodiversity;

–the Chinese challenge to American global primacy arising in a manner unlike earlier geopolitical confrontations, most notable with respect to economic performance, technological ascendancy, and soft power expansionism rather than by way of military challenge and territorial ambitions;

–U.S. relative decline globally, reflecting a continuing over-investment in military capabilities, a militarized permanent bureaucracy entrapped in an outmoded political imagination with a disposition that exaggerates security threats and under-invests in domestic infrastructure and social protection of its citizenry;

–a resulting intensification of uncertainty about the future of world order, some recovery of functional multilateralism under Biden leadership accompanied by increased reliance on coercive geopolitics involving relying on military ‘solutions’ for political problems. 

Nuclear Complacency and the Dangerous Drift Toward a New Cold War with China

22 Aug

[Prefatory Note: The text below is a somewhat modified text of an interview conducted by

Daniel Falcone, and published in Counterpunch on August 11, 2020. I am increasingly worried by the either/or quality of the U.S. November elections effectively suppresses concerns about

a bipartisan drift toward a second cold war focused on China as geopolitical adversary that will be confronted. Because it is desperately important to defeat Trump, with its fascist undertones, a view I share, the conventional wisdom of the moment is to wait with such concerns until Biden is safely in the White House. But suppose ‘later’ never comes!]

 

 

Nuclear Complacency and the Dangerous Drift Toward a New Cold War with China

 

  • On this 75th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can you reflect on that moment historically and how it has shaped your view of American foreign policy since?

 

At the outset, I would point out that for me this is the saddest of anniversaries, and I try my best to avoid the use of the word ‘anniversary.’ I prefer ‘observance,’ which signals a certain solemnity in the course of acknowledging the occasion. Such an observance is not merely looking back as this weaponry has unfortunate continued relevance to human destiny after the horrifying events of 75 years ago.

 

It is also notable that the United States has never officially apologized for these unlawful attacks on heavily populated cities with no military significance in the closing days of World War II, nor even expressed public regret for the unprecedented suffering imposed on the Japanese civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a result of the atomic bombs, which was experienced as a deadly assault on the Japanese people as a whole. Barack Obama was the first sitting American president to visit the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park in 2016, but refrained from offering an apology, and directed his remarks to the future, affirming efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

 

As a frequent visitor to Japan I can testify that despite the extraordinary recovery made by the country after 1945 the national wounds inflicted by the bombing have not healed, nor can they heal so long as nuclear weapons are poised for use and relied upon by several countries for security.

 

As many specialists have argued, the principal motivation for dropping the two atomic bombs, grotesquely named ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’ was not, as in the publicly proclaimed justification, to avoid the loss of American lives arising from an invasion of Japan, and so to bend the will of the Japanese leadership toward an immediate acceptance of the demands of ‘unconditional surrender.’ Historians increasingly agree that the overriding purpose was to send Moscow and Joseph Stalin a chilling message: don’t push the West too hard in negotiating European political arrangements after the defeat of Germany and don’t challenge the United States in relation to the spoils of war in the Pacific or your future might come to resemble that of these two devastated Japanese cities. In other words, the decisive motivation was geopolitical and not based on the only relevant international law justification, which required upholding a claim of military necessity in an ongoing war. Given the indiscriminateness of the devastation it would be highly doubtful that such a claim would be accepted by any impartial tribunal. Such a claim would be especially flimsy here as Japan had indicated through diplomatic circles that it was ready to submit to Allied terms subject to only one condition–that Japan be allowed to retain its emperor system. In the end, this condition was dropped by the victorious Allied Powers. This meant that the war could have been ended diplomatically without the atomic attacks. This also meant that the much relied upon pretext of the bombing being necessary to achieve ‘unconditional surrender’ was at best misleading, and more probably, simply false.

 

As indicated, a consensus among respected historians have concluded that the main idea behind the use of this weapon of mass destruction was to warn the Soviet Union, still a supposed ally, a country that endured as many as 30 million deaths in the common anti-fascist war effort. In retrospect the bombs were the opening salvo in an all-encompassing geopolitical rivalry that would last for more than four decades under the rubric of the ‘Cold War,’ This geopolitical confrontation diverted energies and resources from constructive uses as well as causing acute anxieties about the onset of nuclear war at crisis moments. It is a matter of conjecture as to whether the Cold War would have been the sequel to World War II if the atomic bomb had never been used, and instead unilaterally placed by the United States under strict and responsible international control as codified in a lawmaking disarmament treaty. Of all the roads not taken this may have been the most crucial one as it might have allowed post-1945 history to evolve in a less violent, more benign, manner, giving grounds for hopes to build world order around peace, justice, and ecological stability rather than rest the future of humanity on militarism and predatory capitalism.

 

Passing the 75th year since the bombs were dropped should remind us of another moral deficiency that has given a distorted shape to the nuclear age. The atrocities inscribed in world memory most vividly can be summoned to awareness by citing two place names: Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Because Germany lost the war it was made to repudiate the Holocaust, pay reparations to Jewish and other death camp survivors, and join the front ranks advocating the criminalization of genocide. Because the United States won the war its atomic attacks on Japanese cities was never subject to political, legal, and moral scrutiny, let alone repudiated or properly commemorated, much less made subject to criminalization.

 

Despite the clear treaty obligation in Article VI of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to seek nuclear disarmament in good faith negotiations, a legal obligation unanimously affirmed in 1996 by the International Court of Justice in its Advisory Opinion on the legality of nuclear weaponry, the United States and Russia retain large arsenals of nuclear weapons, backed by deployments and doctrines mandating use under certain undisclosed conditions. Seven other countries also have nuclear arsenals whose numbers, deployments, and doctrines of use are kept secret in many cases from even elected officials. This means that a sociopathic leader of these governments could make a snap decision to end life on the planet as we know it, and even an accident or mistake could change the course of global history.

 

There are many abhorrent features of the nuclear age that have not been given appropriate attention from its very outset. In the most dramatic possible way, it was demonstrated that losers in a major war will be held individually accountable by reference to international criminal law while the winners will enjoy absolute impunity.

The London Charter, also known as the Nuremberg Charter, setting forth the framework for the prosecution and punishment of surviving German civilian and political leaders was formally adopted on August 8, 1945, two days after the bomb dropped on Hiroshima and one day prior to the bombing of Nagasaki. Such monumental insensitivity has never attracted the bitterly ironic commentary it deserves. There is not much doubt that had the Germans or Japanese developed an atom bomb and used it against Allied cities, and nevertheless gone on to lose the war, those responsible would have been prosecuted as war criminals, nuclear weapons criminalized, and a likely effect that this weaponry might never have been developed.

 

Such double standards were carried forward in the UN System by endowing the five winners in World War II with permanent membership and a right of veto in the Security Council, the only UN political organ with the authority to impose obligations as distinct from offering recommendations. Even during the pandemic, in the face of humanitarian appeals, the U.S. maintains unilateral sanctions meant to exert pressure on a range of. countries the governments of which it disapproves, including Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, and Zimbabwe. It is one more manifestation of the enforcement mechanisms used by geopolitical actors to impose their arbitrary and often greedy political will on weaker sovereign states. Such coercive tactics represent a defiant repudiation of the first principles of international law in contemporary state-centric world order: the equality of sovereign states.

 

With specific reference to nuclear weaponry this hierarchical and hegemonic character of world order is nowhere more clearly present than in relation to nuclear weapons. The countries that possess, develop, deploy, and deter, rely on threat diplomacy, and might at some point use nuclear weaponry remain internationally unregulated whatever form their reliance on nuclear weaponry assumes. In contrast, the more than 180 other countries in the world are legally and geopolitically prohibited from acquiring the weaponry however much under threat from hostile countries. Iran, threatened by hostile political actors possessing nuclear weapons, is geopolitically prohibited from acquiring such weaponry. These non-nuclear states face threats of aggression and occupation if seen as moving close to the nuclear threshold. Such a regime is illustrated by the experience of Iraq since 2003 or the pressures exerted on Iran.

 

Such coercive implementation of the nonproliferation regime runs contrary to the spirit of the treaty itself, which in Article X gives parties the right to withdraw from the treaty if ‘extraordinary events’ ‘jeopardize the supreme interests of the country.’ Withdrawal is achieved by submitting a notice three months in advance that specifies the extraordinary events. The geopolitical regime of counterproliferation ignores this sovereign right of non-nuclear states to determine their own security needs, including by the acquisition of nuclear weapons. The geopolitical regime possesses the features of ‘nuclear apartheid’ in which the dangerous nuclear weapons states are unregulated while the non-nuclear states are subject to the most coercive imaginable regulation that overrides basic sovereign rights. Additionally, the regime has not even been applied in a non-discriminatory manner. Israel’s covert acquisition of nuclear weapons as abetted by the complicity of France (documented in Seymour Hersh’s The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Option (1991)) was completely overlooked.

 

Reflection and commentary on all of these aspects of this 75th year after the initiation of. the nuclear age is as necessary in 2020 as it was in 1945, and yet remains more absent now than it was then when the moral triumphalism of victory in just war blunted critical discussion. Alarm bells are clanging but almost no one is listening, and those that could do something, seem more than content to do nothing. The overall public mood is now one of dangerous complacency, bordering on calculated indifference, while nuclear establishments around the world continue to go effectively and mainly covertly about their nefarious business. This includes undercutting any serious denuclearizing initiatives of world leaders, and includes even the occasional positing of denuclearizing visions by the leaders of the dominant states (e.g. Gorbachev, Reagan, Carter, Obama).

2) You recently stated that it’s never been more urgent that we repudiate nuclearism in all forms. What rationales or forms do proponents of nuclearism put forth?

 

It is important to view with skepticism the justifications offered by the governments of nuclear weapons states for retaining the weaponry, and to articulate the unacknowledged, yet true, rationale that relates to geopolitical status, leverage, conflict, and expanding the foreign policy options of leading nuclear weapons states. Secondary nuclear weapons states, including India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea are motivated by a mixture of considerations: regional rivalry, defensive security, and regional geopolitics. There are several different rationales given for retaining nuclear weapons that can be enumerated in distinct categories, but there exists the need to take account of operational variations in motivation and situation of each state that further reflects evolving conditions and varying leadership styles:

 

General Arguments:

–despite global tensions no nuclear weapon has been used since 1945, suggesting that the management of nuclear weaponry has stood the test of time;

–nuclear disarmament is not considered practical given this record of non-use, It is viewed by the governments possessing nuclear weapons and strategic discourse as more dangerous than management as abetted by prudent measures of arms control;

–leading nuclear weapons states rely on nuclear weaponry for defensive security via deterrence, and for geopolitical leverage in some global crisis situations.

 

Regional Arguments:

–the possession of nuclear weapons elevates the status of a country in world politics;

–regional hegemons and expansionist states rely on geopolitical leverage within geographical limits;

–beleaguered countries claim security imperatives to support their acquisition of nuclear weapons capabilities;

–international practices suggests that secondary states that do not possess nuclear weapons are more subject to military intervention than those that possess the weaponry (for example, Iraq, Libya versus North Korea).

 

The most explicit and unqualified overall rationale for nuclearism is set forth in the statement issued by the U.S., France, and the UK as to why these governments are unalterably opposed to the UN Treaty of Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), stressing distrust of North Korea and others combined with a reaffirmation of confidence in the managerial capabilities of the NPT regime and collective security arrangements to continue to offer the best approach to the prevention of nuclear warfare. In effect the objectives of the TPNW are considered neither politically attainable nor a constructive contribution to world order. See response to Q-5 for more detail.

3) Can you comment on the most concerning geopolitical shifts or points of confrontation that are directly pertinent in this current age of autocrats?

 

The most serious geopolitical concern to rise to the surface relates to the increase of tension and hostility between the United States and China. This disturbing development that threatens a second cold war, with a mixture of similarities and rather distinct differences from the Cold War between the Western alliance led by the U.S. and the Soviet Bloc dominated by the USSR, and waged mainly on Third World battlefields and via ideological competition for hearts and minds in the West. In contrast, the emergent confrontation with China focuses on trade wars and friction between China’s claims of  to a regional sphere of influence and growing technological superiority and the U.S. resolve to retain its globality, an extensive reality as the first global security state in history with even cosmic pretensions manifest in extending geopolitical rivalry including war preparations to space. In the background is the Thucydides Trap by which historical experience would seem to incline the U.S. to have recource to war to fend off China’s challenge to overtake the U.S. as the ascendant world power. We should also be nervous about what I call ‘the Clausewitz Trap’ by which ‘the fog of peace’ blinds powerful states to the benefits of peace, as well as to the terrible costs of war and the high costs of preparations for geopolitical war, which is raised to apocalyptic heights by risks of nuclear war. Unlike the Cold War, there was not present challenges of the magnitude or severity of the climate change crisis, which requires focused geopolitical attention which will be almost impossible to achieve if the U.S. and China end up with a confrontation comparable to that of the post-1945 Cold War.

 

The alignments of such a struggle for global ascendancy emphasize the secondary roles of India and Russia, as well as the diminished role of Europe as the geopolitical epicenter of geopolitical confrontation. Also, the West relied on ‘containment’ to address the supposed danger of Soviet expansionism, but can China be similarly ‘boxed in’ considering that its primary modes of expansionism have been based on soft power instruments, which have been economistic, as well as by providing win/win infrastructural assistance to vulnerable countries throughout the world, especially in Africa and Central Asia.

 

There are also significant shifts in geopolitical alignments at the regional level. In the Middle East, although commentary is fraught with uncertainty, the primary alignment of the Arab countries has shifted from antagonism toward Israel to Iran, with Israel becoming a tacit partner and coupled with U.S. backing. This has effectively marooned the self-determination struggle of the Palestinian people, leaving them more dependent than ever on their own efforts to resist Israeli occupation and annexation as reinforced by global solidarity initiatives such as the BDS campaign. It should be noted that this geopolitical shift from an anti-Israeli to an anti-Iranian focus is fragile, reflecting elite recalculations that ignore the continuing solidarity of the citizenries of the Arab countries with the Palestinian struggle.

 

The various Asian regions have also shifted their policy agendas due primarily to the greater regional assertiveness of China as well as the more geopolitically aggressive stance taken by India under the autocratic leadership of Modi. There have been several severe issues of human rights in Asia that have raised regional tensions and global concerns that are manipulated by the background of U.S./China confrontation: suppression of protest activity in Hong Kong, oppression of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang Province, genocidal treatment of the Rohingya by Myanmar, repression in Kashmir.

4) The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) website currently has their doomsday clock reading 100 seconds till midnight. This is a terrifying and unspeakable reality. What are your thoughts on the Bulletin as an indicator of possible nuclear war and devastation?

 

I believe the editorial consensus at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is the most objective and informed assessment of the risks of nuclear war that is available, and should be accorded respect by the public, media, and political leaders. In this case grave concern as was expressed by moving the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight than at any time since it was established in 1947, and is now placed at 100 seconds away from doomsday, that is, nuclear conflagration. In an unusual move signifying deep concern, the Elders, a group of global leaders established by Nelson Mandela in 2007 to promote peace, justice, and human rights, endorsed this challenge to nuclear complacency.

 

What prompted this august body to issue this ominous distress signal is worth pondering, and commenting upon. The BAS called attention to three developments: deteriorating efforts to seek stability via arms control, highlighted by the abandonment of agreements in the context of U.S./Russia relations, which is alleged to weaken nonproliferation barriers; failures to address adequately the challenges of climate change; disinformation technologies that have undermined trust in state/society relations. I would question whether this assessment is adequate as it ignores the greater relevance of nuclearism to militarized geopolitics and it does not refer to the greater risks of war arising from the most dangerous intensification of geopolitical tensions, especially U.S./China but also U.S./Russia. The prospect of geopolitical confrontation, entailing arms races and periodic global crises is greater now than at any time since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. As the current preoccupation with the Coronavirus Pandemic has dramatized, diverting attention from the urgent need to address the menace of climate change, world order will be greatly undermined by a new cold war even if it manages to avoid any use of nuclear weaponry. The global policy agenda seems incapable of mobilizing systemic responses to more than one issue at a time.

5) Can you talk about anti-war organizations and peace groups around the world at the local, state, national, and global level that are working hard to ensure that a cataclysmic event is avoided? How has this work changed over time over the course of your career and what are the prospects for it impacting policy.

 

There are many civil society organizations around the world dedicated to peace with and without support from some governments. In line with my earlier responses, the overall geopolitical situation is giving rise to a warmongering global atmosphere that is more dysfunctional than ever from the perspective of humane values, including ecological stability. I would stress the troublesome reality that the U.S. global decline in legitimacy and capability has left Washington without the confidence or imagination to exert global influence except by relying on its military might, making threats, imposing sanctions, while flaunting international law and the UN that has included repudiating the most important recent instances of global cooperation with respect to climate change and Iran’s nuclear program.

 

The realities of geopolitical confrontation and nuclearism are overshadowed in public consciousness by the concreteness of immediate pressures associated with the pandemic, climate change, global migration, economic downturns, and autocratic patterns of governance. This has led to public complacency about nuclear dangers, making the work of the global anti-war movement more difficult at the very time that it has never been more necessary. This necessity flows not only from dangerous international developments but also from complementary national developments associated with the spread of autocratic leadership more disposed to seek militarist and nationalistic approaches to security, including choosing sides in the intensifying hostility between the U.S. and China, especially in the region surrounding China.

 

Civil society energies have been devoted in recent years to promoting the UN Treaty on  Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), seeking the 50 ratifications needed to bring the agreement into force among the parties. So far, 44 countries have ratified the TPNW, although when negotiated in 2017, 121 countries approved, with only The Netherlands voting against, and Singapore abstaining, and at the time 82 governments signed the agreement as a step toward ratification. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in 2017, and widely understood as a step taken in recognition of the significance of its worldwide efforts to encourage support for TPNW, and of the assumed importance of the treaty.  We need ask the hard, somewhat uncomfortable question, ‘of what real impact will the TPNW if the nuclear weapons states oppose the treaty and are not bound by its terms?’

 

In view of the refusal of NATO countries to take part in even the negotiations of such an international agreement, and the issuance of a defiant statement of opposition by the U.S., UK, and France after the TPNW text was released, it has become evident that there is a fundamental cleavage in world politics between the nine nuclear weapons states, and especially the NATO nuclear powers, and most of the rest of the world. The NATO view implicitly affirms the permanence of nuclearism, resting its claims for stability and order on preventing further nuclear proliferation via the geopolitical implementation of the NPT regime to control non-nuclear states from acquiring nuclear weapons. For relations among states having nuclear weaponry, stability is achieved by relying on various forms of deterrence combined with the implementation of the nuclear apartheid regime.

 

It seems appropriate and timely to challenge this managerial approach to nuclear weapons, which actually supersedes the Nonproliferation Treaty, which called for reciprocal commitments to forego nuclear weaponry and to pursue in good faith nuclear disarmament. Instead the NATO managerial regime that emerged, has refused ever to consider nuclear disarmament as a policy option, refuses to validate the security claims of non-nuclear states facing dire threats, and claims a right of enforcement that contravenes the UN Charter and is not conferred by the text of the NPT. The illegitimacy and unlawfulness of nuclear apartheid should be a major focus of civil society activism and aspiration, but it should not be the whole story.

 

There are continuous developments that call for civil society initiatives, ranging from exerting pressure to seek verified nuclear disarmament, to opposing any resumption of weapon testing and the development of smaller nuclear weapons designed for possible battlefield use, to warning against costly and destabilizing nuclear arms races, and to exploring the connections between nuclearism and militarism.

 

Is the United States a Failing State? A Failed State?

22 Jul

Is the United States a Failing State? A Failed State?

 

To ask whether the United States, the world’s dominant military power, is ‘a failing state’ should cause worldwide anxiety. Such a state, analogous to a wounded animal, is a global menace of unprecedented proportions in the nuclear age. Its political leadership is exhibiting a reckless tendency of combining incompetence with extremism. It is also crucial to ascertain at what point a failing state should be written off as ‘a failed state’ for which there is no longer a clear path to redemption. The November elections in the United States will send a strong signal as to whether the United States is failing or has failed.

 

Even raising these issues suggests how far the United States has fallen during the Trump years, despite already being in sharp decline internationally ever since the Vietnam War, and continuing, despite a few redemptive moves (now renounced), during the Obama presidency. The responses of the Trump presidency to the two great crises of 2020 were helpful in solidifying the image of the world’s #1 state as truly failing, and not just sour grapes taking the form of an expression of partisan frustration with an appalling leadership. It was appalling because it was affirming the most regressive features of the American past while unconvincingly claiming credit for the stock market rise and low unemployment. The COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter campaign against systemic racism gave Trump the opportunity to exhibit his lethally systemic incompetence as a crisis manager producing thousands of deaths among his own countrymen. He also seized the occasion to show the world his seemingly genuine racist solidarity with the Confederate spirit of the American South that tried to split the country and preserve its barbaric slave economy and supportive culture in the American Civil War 150 years ago, and has been a sore loser ever since.

 

With these clarifying developments, it no longer captures the full reality of this downward trend to be with content by calling attention to America’s ‘imperial decline.’ In the present setting, it seems more relevant to insist on describing America as ‘a failing state,’ and try to understand what that means for the country and the world. To make the contention more precise, it is instructive to realize that the United States is not only a failing state, but the first instance ever of a failing global state, which takes due account of its multi-dimensional hegemonic status as concretized by the planetary projection of its military might to air, land, and sea, to space and cyber space, as well as by its influence on the operation of the world economy and the character of popular culture whether expressed by music or cuisine.

 

There are several measures of a failing state that cast light on the American reality:

functional failures: inability to respond adequately to challenges threatening the security of the society and its population against threats posed by internal and external hostile political actors, as well as by ecological instabilities, by widespread extreme poverty and hunger, and by a deficient health and disaster response system;

normative failures: refusal to abide by systemic rules internationally as embedded in international law and the UN Charter, claiming impunity and acting on the basis of double standards to carry out its geopolitical encroachments on the wellbeing of others and its disregard of ecological dangers; patterns of normative failures include endorsements of policies and practices giving rise to genocide and ecocide, constituting the most basic violations of international criminal law and the sovereign rights of foreign countries; the wrongs are too numerous to delimit, including severe and systemic denials of human rights in domestic governance; economic and social structures that inevitably generate acute socio-economic inequalities on the basis of class, race, and gender.

 

Some additional considerations accentuate the failing state reality of the U.S. due to the extensive extraterritorial dimensions that accompany the process of becoming ‘a failing global state.’ This new type of transnational political creature should be categorized as the first historical example of a ‘geopolitical superpower.’ Such a political actor is neither separate from nor entirely subject to the state-centric system of world order that evolved from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, and became universalized in the decades following World War II. Although lacking a true antecedent, the role of European ‘great powers’ or ‘colonial empires’ give clues as to the evaluation of the U.S. as a global state or geopolitical superpower;

effectiveness: the loss of effectiveness by a failing state is disclosed by its inability to maintain and exert control over challenges to its supremacy. Such an assessment if vindicated by failed military operations (regime-changing interventions) and the inability to learn from and overcome past mistakes, disclosures of vulnerability to homeland security (9/11 attacks) and overly costly and destructive responses (9/12 launching of ‘war on terror’; declining respect and trust by secondary political actors, including close allies, in the context of global policy forming arenas, including the United Nations; as a further reflection of this failing dynamic of lost control is the pattern of withdrawal from arenas that can no longer be controlled (Human Rights Council, WHO) and the rejection of agreements that appear beneficial to the world as a whole (Paris Climate Change Agreement and Iran Nuclear Program Agreement-JCPOA;

legitimacy: the legitimacy of a global state, which by its nature potentially compromises the political sovereignty and independence of all other states, reflects above all else, on its usefulness as a source of problem-solving authority, especially in war/peace and global economic recession settings; the degree of legitimacy also depends on perceptions by political elites and public opinion that the assertions of global leadership are in general beneficial for the system as a whole, and as particularly helpful to states that are vulnerable due to acute security and development challenges; in this regard, the U.S. enjoyed a high degree of legitimacy after the end of World War II, as a source of security, and even guidance, for many governments in most regions of the world throughout the Cold War, and was also appreciated as the architect of a rule-governed liberal economic order operating with the framework of the Bretton Woods institutions charged with avoiding recurrences of the Great Depression that undermined stability and economic wellbeing during the 1930s, developments that then contributed to the rise of fascism and the outbreak of a systemic war costing upwards of 50 million lives. The American leadership role was also prominent in achieving global public order in such settings as the management of the oceans, avoiding conflict in Antarctica and Outer Space, establishing international human rights standards, and promoting liberal internationalism as a way to enhance global cooperative approaches to shared problems.

 

As suggested, the United States as a failing state has been graphically revealed as such by its response to the COVID-19 pandemic: refusal to heed early warnings; unacceptable shortages of equipment for health personnel and insufficient hospital capacity; premature economic openings of restaurants, bars, stores; contradictory standards of guidance from health experts and from political leaders, including falsehoods and fake news embraced by the American president in the midst of the health emergency. Beyond this, Trump adopted an inappropriate nationalist and commodifying approach to the search for a vaccine capable of conferring immunity from the disease, while at the same time immobilizing the UN, and especially the WHO, as an indispensable venue for dealing with epidemics of global scope, including its role in dispensing vital assistance to the most disadvantaged countries. These failings have shockingly resulted in the United States recording more infected persons than any country in the world, as well as having the highest incidence of fatalities attributable to the disease.

 

In contrast, has been the responses of several far less developed and affluent countries that effectively contained the disease without incurring much loss of life or severe economic damage by way of lost jobs and diminished economic performance. Judged from the perspective of health such societies are success stories, and instructively, their ideological identity spans the political spectrum, including state socialist Vietnam to market-driven countries such as Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Such results parallel the finding of Deepak Nayyar who reports in his breakthrough book, The Asian Resurgence (2019), that the remarkable growth experience of the 14 Asian societies that he empirically assesses, supports the conclusion that ideological orientation is not an economistic indicator of success or failure. Such findings are relevant in refuting the triumphalist claims of the West that the Soviet collapse demonstrated the superiority of capitalism as compared to socialism. The crucial factor when it comes to economistic success is the skilled management of state/society relations whether in relation to investment of savings in prioritizing development projects or seeking to impose a lockdown to curtail the spread of a deadly infectious disease.

 

Yet, there is a normative side of response patterns as suggested above. China treats the desperate search for a workable vaccine as a sharable public good, while the United States under Trump maintains its standard transactional approach despite issues of affordability for many countries in the South, as well as the poor in the North. From a 21stcentury perspective, the ethos of being all in this together is the only foundation for grappling with the increasingly challenging dilemmas of world order. It is a sign of a failing state, whatever its capabilities and status, to use its leverage to gain national and geopolitical advantages. Along this line, as well, is the normative disgrace of refusing to suspend unilateral sanctions imposed on countries such as Iran and Venezuala, already stressed, for at least the duration of the pandemic in response to widespread humanitarian appeals from civil society actors and international institutions.

 

A final observation as to whether the U.S. vector points toward a failed or redemptive future. If Trump loses the election and gives up the White House to his opponent the prospects for reversing the failing trend improve, while if Trump is reelected in November or succeeds in cancelling the electoral outcome then the U.S, will have moved closer to being a failed state as the citizenry would have endorsed failure or the constitutional order shown to be enfeebled, insufficiently resilient to reject failure. Even if Trump is replaced and Trumpism subsides, the momentum behind predatory capitalism and global militarism will be difficult to curtail without a revolutionary push that rejects the bipartisan consensus on such matters and challenges the sufficiency of procedural democracy centered upon the role of political parties and elections. Only a progressive movement from below will shatter that consensus, ending laments about the U.S. being in transition from failing to failed. Whether the BLM leadership of a movement alternative is robust and comprehensive enough to end American freefall will become clearer in coming months.      

Will China be the New Russia? The Future of American Geopolitics

16 Jul

Will China be the New Russia? The Future of American Geopolitics

 

[Prefatory Note: The text below is a slightly modified interview conducted by Daniel Falcone, and published in Counterpunch on July 9th. Even the passage of a few days has made it seem more likely that a new geopolitical confrontation could dominate the global peace and security landscape for years, with likely dire economic consequences coming on top of the dislocations arising from COVID-19 pandemic and heightened risks of war and regional tensions. One question is whether the differences in the global setting and main geopolitical actors sufficiently resemble the Cold War circumstances to make designating a U.S./China confrontation as a Second Cold War. As my responses below suggest, I have my doubt.]

 

[Daniel Falcone’s Introduction to the Interview: Should there be a Second Cold War an alleged US concern for human rights would indeed become another ongoing tool of propaganda. In this interview, International Relations scholar Richard Falk breaks down the grave dangers and prospects for a New Cold with China. Falk worries that tensions and rivalries both regionally and economically could result in a series of hot war conflicts set off by nuclear complacent countries that fail to recognize the catastrophic risks at stake.

In retracing the collapse of the Soviet Union and China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization, Falk analyses the origins of US resentment towards China’s remarkable market growth that is absent of liberal democratic structures. Aside from commenting on how ‘cold war’ with China, an economic rival, is different from 20th century Russian tension, which was largely militaristic and ideological, Falk suggests additional motivations for an escalation on the part of Trump and the possibly forthcoming bi-partisan consensus.]

 

Will China be the New Russia? The Future of American Geopolitics

Daniel Falcone: Do you anticipate the United States entering a new Cold War with China? What are the prospects for a new Cold War? Can you also discuss the fall of the Soviet Empire and the modern rise of China to better contextualize the present set of diplomatic tensions?

 

Richard Falk: I think there are grave dangers of either sliding into a new Cold War by unwitting interactions, especially with China, and possibly with Russia. More complex opposing alignments could also take shape, for instance, an alignment that features the U.S., Europe, and India on one side and China and Russia on the other. Such an encounter would likely be less ideological than the Cold War that broke out after World War II and also less preoccupied about the outbreak of an all-out nuclear war. The next cold war is likely to be more focused on economic rivalry, cyber dimensions of conflict and major regional wars involving Iran, the Korean Peninsula, India/Pakistan, or elsewhere. In this regard, what might start as a cold war has a greater prospect of producing major hot wars as there could be present less of a self-deterrent. In this altered global setting, there are distinctive risks arising from what I would call ‘nuclear complacency, underestimating the dangers and catastrophic results of nuclear war.

 

In the background of this look ahead is the extent to which China has spoiled the triumphalist narrative that was spun in the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union. One somewhat notorious version, associated with Francis Fukuyama ‘s claim, which seemed ludicrous when it was put forward in the early 1990s, is that after the Cold War the world had reached ‘the end of history.’ Western secular values had prevailed both with regard to state/society relations and in relation to the organization of the world economy. The future seemed, for some years, almost to vindicate this myopic interpretation, with a virtually universal endorsement of neoliberal globalization, which Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the previously left socialist leader of Brazil explained in the 1990s as ‘the only game in town.’

A cruder version of this clear vision of a victorious West was the assertions of the Tory leader in Britain, Margaret Thatcher, who aggressively shouted down the British opposition to her economic policies with the slogan ‘there is no alternative’ (to market driven economies), or simply TINA. This idea had been initially attributed to Herbert Spencer, notorious for suggesting in the 19th Century that history of society parallels human evolution in the sense of privileging ‘the survival of the fittest.’ Not surprisingly, given such an uncongenial atmosphere, progressive forces felt demoralized.

 

Left perspectives often adopted defeatist postures after the Soviet collapse, and were derided as having endorsed political oppression and backed economic failure. Perhaps worse for progressive prospects, was the awkward fact that the only surviving major socialist economy, post-Mao China after the ascent of Deng Xiaoping in 1978, seemed itself to be opting for joining the capitalist choir, seeking and gaining membership by in the World Trade Organization and rationalizing its active participation in the neoliberal world economy as ‘market socialism’ fooling almost no one, least of all capitalist investors and traders.

For many years, this seemed like a win/win reality. China’s economy expanded at a remarkable rate, but world trade increased and Western investors were pleased with their profits, associated with the low costs of skilled labor in China and the absence of strict environmental and safety standards. All was well as long as China stayed in its lane as ‘the factory for the world,’ but when it made the transition to a sophisticated high technology innovating economy it began to pose a new kind of geopolitical challenge to the primacy of the United States and the West, and murmurs began to be heard about stealing Western technology, unfair trade practices, and currency manipulations. In my view, although these issues were significant, they were capable of negotiated solutions, and were not the core concern. What began to bother the West was the degree to which China for all of its superficial adaptations to capitalist logic was dramatically outperforming its competitors in the West, seeming benefitting from the state management of economic activity, despite political authoritarianism, in a manner superior to what seemed possible in the developed societies of the West, especially with respect to savings, the investment of public funds, and even with regard to technological innovativeness relating to the post-industrial, digital age.

 

This extraordinary Chinese dynamic is brilliantly depicted for Asia as  whole by the Indian economist, Deepak Nayyar, in The Asian Resurgence: Diversity in Development (2019). The book explains the overall post-colonial Asian challenge to Western ascendancy in which 14 Asian countries, led by China, produced the most remarkable record of economic growth and poverty alleviation in the past 50 years that the world has ever known. These countries achieved these remarkable results without the private sector trappings of liberal democracy, thus drawing into question the American claim that market-driven constitutionalism was the only modern arrangement of state/society relations that was both legitimate and materially successful.

 

With these considerations in mind, three rather distinct alternative futures for the U.S./China relationship deserve scrutiny if the objective is to avoid the onset of a lose/lose second cold war. On a preliminary basis it would seem helpful to take notice of a serious language trap that suggests misleadingly that  because the words ‘cold war’ are convenient to designate a new central geopolitical confrontation, if it occurs, it would resemble in its essential features the Cold War that followed directly from the contested peace arrangements of World War II, and represented two major states that both conceived of international relations through the realist postwar prisms of hard power as complemented by adherence to rival ideologies that temporarily suspended their enmity toward each other in order to join forces to defeat fascism. There are many differences between the global settings then and now. First, there is only a rather shallow ideological difference among the leading political actors at this time, although those on the far right in the West are seeking a renewal of intense geopolitical conflict by portraying China as a Communist, socialist, even Maoist, and hence an ideological adversary of the supposedly freedom-loving West. In contrast, old style Cold War liberals are thinking more along traditional lines of geopolitical competition among principal states promoting national interests as measured by growth, military capabilities, wealth, status, and influence, with ideological differences and human rights invoked, but put situated far in the background.

 

With these thoughts in mind it becomes reasonable to depict three world futures that portray relations between China and the West. The first, and most evident one, arises from the kind of provocative Trump diplomacy that combines blaming the COVID pandemic on Chinese malfeasance with intensifying the divergencies relating to economic policies and in relation to the island disputes in the South China Sea. Such a conflict-generating diplomacy is best understood as a diversionary tactic to obscure the multiple and shocking failures by the Trump presidency to provide unifying leadership or science-based guidance during the unfolding of the health disaster that continues its lethal sweep across the country with undiminished fury, and should be exposed as such. If China takes the Trump bait, the world will be plunged into a new ferocious geopolitical rivalry that will divert resources and energies from an agenda or urgent global-scale challenges.

 

A variation on this theme is connected with the possibility that Trump thinks he faces a landslide defeat in the November election, and esscalates hostile diplomacy to stage a confrontation with China, possibly accompanied by declaring a national emergency, or by contriving Gulf of Tonkin style false incidents as a pretext for launching some sort of attack on China that is the start of a hot war, which if saner minds prevail, would be contained, and toned down to mere Cold War proportions, and likely becoming a multi-dimensional rivalry that comes to dominate international relations.

 

The second more subtle drift into a Cold War with China would arise from a deep state consensus reinforcing a bipartisan consensus in Congress, and further encouraged by private sector war industry pressures. The likely objective would be to challenge China militarily in the South China Sea or in the course of some regional confrontation, possibly arising from tensions on the Korean Peninsula, along the Indian border, or in the Indo-Pakistani context. It would represent a more common structural militarist response patterns to growing evidence of relative Western decline in the face of a continuing Asian rise.

 

The third future is even more abstract and structural, and has been influentially labeled ‘Thucydides Trap’ in a book by Graham Allison [Destined for War: Can America and China escape the Thucydides’s Trap? (2017)], who accepts the analysis of the classical Greek historian on the basis of case studies over the centuries finds that when an ascendant Great Power fears the loss of its primacy to a Rising Power, it frequently initiates war while believing it still retains a military edge, which it will not retain for long. Note that such an assessment presumes actual warfare, and should not be perceived as a sequel to the U.S./Soviet Cold War, which came close to war in several situations of bipolar, but managed to restore order in a series of tense crises without engaging in direct combat.

 

There is a further complication with an analysis that extrapolates from the Cold War. Unlike the Soviet Union, China’s rise and challenge is far less associated with military capabilities and threats than it is with a remarkable surge of economic growth and soft power expansionism by pursuing win/win approaches that combine infrastructure aid to foreign societies with the growth of influence. In this regard, China has not weakened its domestic society by excessive investment in a militarist geopolitics, which depends on maintaining an expensive and vast global military presence that produced a several failed interventions that cast doubts on the United States’ capacity to uphold global security. This loss of credibility with respect to global security, despite its military dominance can be traced back to the Vietnam War in which overwhelming combat superiority on the battlefield nevertheless led to a political defeat.

 

The United States has repeated that fundamental failure first fully exposed in Vietnam in several other military misadventures. This inability to adjust to the realities of the post-colonial era in which nationalism mobilized on behalf of self-determination often neutralizes and eventually outlasts an intervening external power despite having grossly inferior weaponry has still not been overcome by the United States as it continues to act as if its military prowess shapes contemporary history. There is a second Thucydides trap that Allison doesn’t mention, which is that Athens lost its ascendancy from internal moral and political decay more than from the challenge posed by rising Sparta, succumbing to demagogues who led Athens into imprudent military adventures that weakened its overall capabilities, and especially its political self-confidence. Such a downhill path has been traveled by the United States at least since the 9/11 attacks in 2001 in which wars and contested long occupations of hostile societies has been expensive and contributed to alienation, extremism, and unrest within the United States.

 

Daniel Falcone: Can you draw on specific historical comparisons to the Soviet Union and China in terms of what is at stake geopolitically?

 

Richard Falk: There are several important comparisons. To begin with, the Soviet Union emerged from a devastating war as a victorious military power, and soon acquired nuclear weapons, posing a direct threat, ideologically and militarily to the European heartland of the Western alliance. The Cold War unfolded out of the tensions associated with the mutual disappointments of the peace diplomacy, especially as it divided Europe, including the city of Berlin.

 

The other flashpoint that provoked extremely destructive and dangerous wars in Korea and Vietnam, and recurrent crises in Germany, was the problems arising from unstable compromises between the victors in the war taking the form of countries divided without the consent and against the will of their national populations, and in disregard of the right of self-determination. In the present historical situation, the only leftover divided country is Korea, which after a serious and devastating war, 1950-52, ended as it began with the division remaining along with crises, tensions, threats, and periodic diplomatic efforts to achieve normalization leading to some form of reunification. It should be noted that although China’s geopolitical profile is overwhelmingly economistic as compared to the U.S. militarist profile, China become very sensitive about threats and disputes along its borders, and has had fighting wars with both India and Vietnam, as well as a defensive engagement in defense of North Korea.

Tensions rising to confrontation levels with China would probably either derive from disputes within China’s sphere of South Asian influence with respect to Taiwan, Hong Kong, island disputes or in some way related to China’s economic rise to a position of primacy, which contrasts with the grossly inferior economic performance of the Soviet Union if compared to the U.S. and the other major world economies, including Germany and Japan. The Soviet Union was never an economic rival or mounted a challenge in the manner of China.

 

The Cold War also coincided with the decolonizing process in Asia and Africa, which put the West and the Soviet bloc on opposite sides in a variety of struggles. In one respect this provided a safety valve that shifted bipolar confrontations to peripheral countries while trying to keep nuclear peace and stability at the center of the world system, which both sides assumed to be Europe, as well as their relations with one another. If a prolonged geopolitical confrontation emerges with China, Europe will not likely be an important site of struggle, and Europe even might sensibly opt to be non-aligned. Asia, including the Middle East, will become the main geopolitical battlegrounds, and Africa will offer a peripheral zone of contention where a Cold War II rivalry might assume its most direct expression as escalation risks would seem lower than in the various Asian theaters of encounter.

 

Unquestionably, the biggest difference is between the nature of the two challengers to Western systemic hegemony. The Soviet Union was a traditional geopolitical actor relying for expanding influence on its material capabilities and ideological penetration, while China focuses its energies and resources on soft power economic growth at home that is sustained and managed by the state in a manner that attracted massive foreign investment and domestic reinvestment based on a high rate of savings, a skilled labor force, and benefitting from highly favorable trade balances. China’s expansionist energies relied on win/win forms of economic and infrastructure assistance to countries in need with minimal interference with their political independence. The Soviet Union never undertook anything remotely comparable to China’s Road and Belt extraordinarily massive infrastructure initiative, again stressing huge win/win gains for a large number of countries, including in Africa. Aside from the special case of Cuba, the Soviet Union provided only military support to its allies in the so-called ‘Soviet bloc,’ and in East Europe intervened militarily to avoid ideological deviation.

It remains to be seen whether now that China is being challenged geopolitically by the United States it will begin to adopt a hard power mode, and the resulting confrontation between the two countries will come to resemble the Cold War. It is likely that China will emerge from the COVID pandemic with a reputation for greater efficiency in controlling the spread of the disease, reviving its economy, and understanding the functional benefits of global cooperation than the Trumpist West. At the same time, the Chinese image has been badly tarnished by damaging disclosures documenting the repression of the 10 million Uighur minority in Xinjiang Province and by forcible extensions of direct control over Hong Kong.

 

Daniel Falcone: The Cold War featured widespread propaganda in all facets of American cultural and political life. How could the United States attempt to sell the concept of an ideological confrontation with China in these times? The Republicans and Democrats are both constructing similar policy proposals it seems.

 

Richard Falk: I believe there are two approaches to confrontation with China that might be followed in the coming months, depending on which leadership controls American foreign policy after the November elections. Neither is desirable in my opinion. There is the approach of provocation adopted by Trump, which blames China for the pandemic and imposes various sanctions designed to roll back their economic and technological advances coupled with Trump’s normal transactional emphasis on securing a more favorable trade deal for the U.S. tied to a promise of warmer diplomatic relation.

 

The second approach is more closely associated with a reenactment of the Cold War bipartisan consensus that formed after World War II, and continues to animate the national security establishment in Washington. It involves a new version of containment as focused on the South China Seas island disputes, sometimes more loosely described as ‘boxing China in’ with India playing the role that Europe played in the earlier Cold War, along with an emphasis on China’s human rights abuses to achieve liberal backing, or at least acquiescence.

 

This approach is more likely to be pursued by a Biden presidency  reasserting U.S. global leadership, with a Carteresque revival of ideological emphasis on Western liberalism as a superior mode of governance and global leadership due to its record on human rights and democracy, proclaiming its dedication to ‘a new free world.’ It is this approach that is more usefully and accurately regarded as a successor to the first Cold War. This softer version of confrontation with China would not challenge the structural features of America’s geopolitical posture adopted during the Cold War based on militarism at home and globally, capitalism, Atlanticism, and ‘special relationships’ with Israel and, somewhat less stridently, with Saudi Arabia, India, Egypt.

 

At the same time, there are some strong disincentives for so engaging China in a post-pandemic setting when policy priorities should be directed at restoring the economy and addressing climate change/biodiversity, which was almost forgotten about during the health crisis. The wisest course for future American foreign policy is providing constructive global leadership with an emphasis on inter-governmental cooperation for the human interest, a receptivity to compromise and conflict resolution in dealing with economic and political disputes, a radical defunding of the military, and strong commitments to restoring the spirit and substance of the New Deal with respect to social protection and national infrastructure.

 

Daniel Falcone: Are there any specific human rights issues and regions that would present immediate concerns and be jeopardized in your estimation within a new Cold War framework?

 

Richard Falk: Neither China nor the United States are currently positioned to promote human rights in other parts of the world with any credibility. The U.S. has lost credibility due to its handling of asylum-seekers on its borders and the maintenance of sanctions against such countries as Iran and Venezuela despite widespread humanitarian appeals for temporary suspension. In addition, the worldwide surge of support for Black Lives Matter after the Floyd police murder has called attention to the ugly persistence of systemic racism in gun-toting America. With these and other concerns in mind, it is hypocritical for the U.S. to be lecturing others, complaining about human rights abuses, and imposing sanctions allegedly as punitive responses to human rights failures.

 

China has never treated human rights as an element of its foreign policy, and with its own failures to adhere to international standards at home it is unlikely to engage the West on these terms. At the same time, there are at least two positive sides to China’s treatment of human and humanitarian issues that are rarely acknowledges in the West. First, China has lifted tens of millions of its own people out of extreme poverty (while the U.S. has widened disparities between rich and poor, and oriented growth policies over the course of the last half century to benefit the super-rich causing dysfunctional forms of inequality and acute alienation and rage on the part of working class). The Chinese achievement could easily be interpreted as a great contribution to the realization of the economic and social rights and to some extent should balance its disappointing record with regard to civil and political rights.

 

Secondly, during the COVID pandemic China has displayed important contributions to human solidarity while the United States has retreated to an ‘America First’ statist outlook that is combined with very poor performance with regard to both preventive and treatment aspects of responding to the virus. China has added funding to the WHO, send doctors and supplies to many countries, and most impressive of all has pledged to place any formulas it develops for effective vaccines in the public domain, placing this vital intellectual property on the web accessible to public and private sector developers. China deserves to receive positive recognition for such acts of what is sometimes described as ‘medical solidarity,’ while the United States deserves to be shamed for its blending of capitalist greed and nationalist selfishness.

 

Should there be a Second Cold War, human rights would become even more than, at present, a tool of cynical propaganda, especially if the bipartisan consensus regains the upper hand in U.S. policymaking. As with the First Cold War, human rights considerations would be brought to bear on countries deemed hostile to U.S. geopolitics and ignored with respect to friends and allies. At present, such a dichotomy is evident by way of an emphasis on Turkish human rights failures while ignoring the far worse failures in EgyptSaudi Arabia, and Israel. Because the Second Cold War would be more explicitly geopolitical rather than ideological, I would expect less emphasis on ‘free world’ definitions of the core issues giving rise to the conflict.

 

Daniel Falcone: Although it’s a long-standing concern of strategists and planners, how do you see or anticipate China becoming an issue in the upcoming presidential election?

 

Richard Falk: It seems likely that Trump will campaign on a new strategic threat to the United States emanating from China, primarily aimed at its unacceptable economic manipulations to deprive the U.S,  of trading benefits and jobs as well as its charging China with responsibility for American deaths due to the pandemic resulting from its refusal to release information about the virus immediately after it struck Wuhan and by way of conspiring with the WHO to conceal information about the international dangers of the COVID-19 disease. As in 2016 with its inflammatory message about immigrants, it can be anticipated that Trump will use the same techniques to cast China as an evil challenge to American greatness that only he has recognized and possesses the will and ability to crush.

 

I would expect that the Democratic Party election strategy would not take fundamental issue with the Trump approach, although its emphasis might seem quite different, attacking Trump for using China as a means to distract Americans from his gross failures of international and domestic leadership. A Biden campaign would also condemn China with regard to curtailing Hong Kong democracy and autonomy, as well as its abusive policies toward the maltreated Uighur minority. Biden might also agree that Chinese behavior has been unacceptable with respect to trade practices, stealing industrial secrets, including advocating militarization and confrontation in the South China Seas.

 

Where Biden and the Democrats would differ from Trump quite dramatically is with respect to Russia. Biden Democrats would likely make Russia enemy #1, sharply criticizing Trump for being ‘Putin’s poodle,’ and arguing that Russian expansionism and its alleged responsibility for killing Americans in Afghanistan is a more frontal threat to American interests in the Middle East and Europe than are the China challenges. Depending on the rhetoric and supporting policies being advocated there is a risk that Biden’s approach would lead to geopolitical fireworks, but probably not with China, and with less preoccupation with Europe than the First Cold War that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

 

Daniel Falcone: How does our ongoing and continual: medical, racial, economic and environmental pandemics help in exploiting Cold War narratives and approaches for heads of state around the world?

 

Richard Falk: I believe it is not yet clear whether these competing narratives will outlive the health crisis when pressures to revive the economic aspects of the ‘old normal’ will be intense. It is possible that if Trump remaining in control of the U.S. Government, there would be an opportunity for China or possibly a coalition of countries to exercise global leadership by seeking to promote a global cooperative approach to health, while also seeking common ground and shared action on climate change, global migration, food security, and extreme poverty.

 

If Biden becomes the U.S, president and reasserts U.S. leadership it will likely strike a balance between pushing back against Russian and Chinese challenges and learning from the pandemic to seek global cooperative solutions to urgent problems confronting humanity. This renewal of liberal internationalism would likely be signaled on Day One by rejoining the Paris Climate Change Agreement and soon thereafter restoring American participation and support for the Iran Nuclear Agreement, supplemented by such internationalizing initiatives as returning to active membership in and robust funding for the WHO and support for the UN.

 

In conclusion, the buildup of anti-Chinese sentiments is establishing this dual foundation for a Second Cold War. Not surprisingly, the Editorial Board of the NY Times calls on Trump to use sanctions against China in response to reports of its mistreatment of the Uighur minority and its Hong Kong moves. Such advocacy is set forth without a mention of the hypocrisy of Trump being an international advocate of human rights given his record of support for autocratic denials at home and abroad, not to mention border politics and cruelty toward those millions in the U.S. without proper residence credentials. This kind of belligerent international liberalism, if not moderated, would recall the ideological joustings that made the First Cold War such a drain on resources and destroyed hopes for a rule-governed geopolitics, anchored in respect for the UN Charter and embodying commitments to promote a more peaceful, just, and ecologically responsible world.

 

 

Sputnik News Agency Interview on G20 Meeting and U.S./Russia Relations

2 Dec

 

Sputnik News Agency Interview on G20 Meeting and U.S./Russia Relations

 

(Prefatory Note:What follows are my responses to questions addressed to me by Sputnik News Agency in Moscow. These responses were submitted on December 1, 2018. Although the focus was on the ongoing G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, the real concern was the future of U.S./Russia relations and how these relations should be managed to avoid arms races, geopolitical rivalry, and ideological tensions. Ironically, of all the weaknesses in the Trump approach to the world, his apparent wish for a normalized relationship with Russia was what most antagonized the American political class, whether Democrat or Republican. Indeed, it so antagonized the established order in this country to such a degree as to undermine Trump’s apparent intention to downgrade NATO and Atlanticism while normalizing and improving relations with Russia. It is always uncertain to assess the real motivations of Trump, which here may involve some kind of vulnerability on his part for undisclosed and awkward economic entanglements or embarrassing personal behavior, but whatever the explanation, the world would be better off with a positive geopolitical atmosphere, and that means cooperative behavior with Russia and China. In our delegitimizing of Trump it is important not to lose sight of the ingredients of sustainable world peace. The Sputnik text is slightly modified.)   

  1. The talks of G20 leaders led to a possible breakthrough on the global trading system. How likely is any progress to be achieved? Will the US be onboard with this?

 

I would be very surprised if there is any outcome of the G20 meeting that can be properly called a ‘breakthrough.’ The leaders of these governments do not have a shared understanding of what would constitute a mutually beneficial world trade framework. Perhaps, such a consensus never existed, yet in the period after World War II, the United States leadership of the West was able to generate what has alternatively been call ‘the liberal economic order’ or ‘the Washington consensus.’ These arrangements rested on giving the World Bank and IMF a central role in stabilizing global conditions, including currency markets, and rested on a rule-based set of procedures. Its performance was assessed almost solely by the rate of global economic growth, which overlooked both issues of the equitable distribution of the benefits of growth and the regulation of adverse ecological side effects.

 

Since the Trump presidency, there has emerged serious ambiguities as to whether the United States, the leading world economy, was itself willing to participate any longer in the liberal world order. Such doubts arose after Trump rejected the Trans Pacific Partnership, sought the renegotiation of North American arrangements set forth in the NAFTA agreements, and adopted a series of protectionist measures inconsistent with the promotion of the most efficient use of capital, a major guideline of the neoliberal ideology that guided American foreign economic policy ever since 1945.

 

The United States, in particular, during the Trump presidency regards world trade as a s sequence of transactions rather than as systemic aggregate of institutions, rules, and procedures by which to regulate and facilitate transnational capital flows and trade relations. By this I mean, that the U.S. wants now to proceed on the basis of economic advantage for itself in each economic policy context rather than promote an overall framework that benefits all participants in the world economy. Under Trump the United States no longer perceives the more structural advantages of having a global trading system that provides a framework that binds together all countries that adhere to principle of market economics on the assumption of shared interests. Of course, such a framework is only a practical possibility if there is a strong political will on the part of leading governments to proceed in this manner. It is difficult to be confident about making assessments of government intentions, but I think most governments would still like to retain a systemic framework for the world economy with the exception of the United States, which wants to leverage its strength in a more flexible and muscular diplomatic atmosphere. We should await the final declaration from Buenos Aires before reaching firm conclusions as to whether this cleavage will be exposed or hidden from public view.

 

This is a different cleavage than existed during the Cold War when fundamental ideological differences led to dual structures for international and transnational economic relations. During the Cold War the market economies organized their trade and fiscal relations within the liberal framework established under American leadership. The Soviet bloc of countries was neither invited to join this liberal world order nor did it seek entry, but rather maintained its economic relations based on the orientation of state socialism as tempered by Soviet hegemonic leadership and the pursuit of national and regional interests.

 

  1. Meanwhile, Trump is reportedly ready to hold talks with Putin after Russia releases Ukrainian sailors. How high are hopes that the two leaders will sit down for talks in the future given the development?

 

It is important for Russian society to understand that Trump seems to be handling diplomacy particularly with Russia, but also with other countries, mainly on the basis of his calculations of domestic politics in the United States as connected with his ‘America First’ mantra. Anti-Trump forces in the U.S. have, wrongfully in my view, concentrated their criticism of Trump, including the apparent focus of the investigations of wrongdoing by the Special Counsel, on the supposedly improper relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential elections. In doing this, it overlooks the importance of establishing peaceful and constructive relations between Russia and the United States, keeping in mind that these two dominant states are the world’s leading nuclear weapons states. World peace depends on avoiding a second Cold War in any form, and this reality is obscured by the focus on alleged Russian interference in the American elections and Trump’s supposed collusion in this process.

 

Some degree of interference no doubt occurred, but it should have raised few eyebrows in Washington, have been a staple instrument of American soft power intervention in many countries over the course of several decades. Furthermore, the belligerent tone of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, as well as the outlook of her closest advisors, gave good reason for Moscow to fear a Clinton victory in 2016, and do their best to avoid such an outcome. This is not intended to reject efforts to insulate American elections from manipulation from without or within. When thinking of the wrongfulness of Russian tactics we as a country tend to overlook the wrongfulness of gerrymandering, racial bias, special interests and money being used to manipulate election results in the United States. Both types of interference are incompatible with a legitimate democratic political process.

 

On the immediate prospects for productive relations with Russia following the Ukrainian incidents, I think it is likely that bilateral talks can be held in coming months, maybe even in coming weeks. It should be realized, however, that the main American focus now is in resetting the economic relationship between the United States in China in ways that avoid a trade war and do not make either side appear to be the loser in this important confrontation. In actuality, most attention at the G20 meeting in the West was given over to the question as to whether the U.S. and China could use the occasion to agree on a political compromise, which would undoubtedly benefit the world as a whole. The failure to reach such a compromise could produce detrimental effects for the world economy, as well as raise political tensions and risks of regional, and even global warfare. Therefore, the so-called ‘truce’ reportedly agreed upon by Trump and Xi Jinping were viewed positively at the G20 as constituting an informal agreement to defer American tariffs on Chinese metal exports in exchange for a Chinese commitment to purchase more exports from the United States. It is notable that this stepping back from an economic confrontation required China to make a gesture of acceptance of the American complaints as well as deferring indefinitely American efforts to gain short-term advantages by raising tariffs on goods imported from China. The central drama on the global stage is now how the United States and China will handle their conflicts in the South Asia islands and with regard to trade. The relationship of the West with Russia is of secondary importance. The status of Russia as a major political actor has been significantly restored in the era of Putin’s leadership, but it remains secondary except in certain limited spheres, such as Syria or along its own borders.

 

Unfortunately, the relationship between Trump and Putin is seen by a broad spectrum of political opinion in the West as one where the challenge being posed is how to stand up to perceptions of renewed threats of Russian expansionism. This is why the Ukrainian incident is viewed as something more serious that the event itself. There is a fear, whether justifies or not, of Russian territorial ambitions that is being relied upon by militarist forces in the West to generate anti-Russian sentiments and expanded defense spending.

 

Unfortunately, President Putin did not help those seeking more benevolent relations with Russia by his unseemly show of friendship when greeting Mohammed bin Salmon (MBS) at the G20 meetings. These images were caught on camera by journalists, and widely shown here in the United States evoking commentary that interpreted this greeting as a cynical indirect endorsement by Putin of the gruesome murder of the Saudi journalist, Kamal Khashoggi. Trump has been under pressure to react to this murder, and widely criticized for reaffirming close alliance ties between Washington and Riyadh in the aftermath of the murder, but at least in the G20 context he displayed the good sense to keep his distance from MBS at least when cameras were around, and avoided any public or personal display of friendship for this discredited foreign leader.

 

At this point, the relationship between Putin and Trump are on the American side primarily reflections of political calculations about the effects on the upcoming 2020 presidential elections. Although still two years away, these forthcoming American elections are already shaping the behavior of Trump on such delicate matters as relations with Russia, and the American mood seems now to favor the adoption of a more confrontational approach toward both Russia and China.

 

  1. What is Trump’s earlier move to cancel the meeting indicative of?

 

As I have indicated, Trump’s recent behavior is responsive to growing pressures on his leadership from within the American political system, especially due to his low popularity with the public, the prospect of a damaging report by the Special Counsel investigating Trump’s alleged improper behavior, and the loss of control of Congress due to the outcome of the recent midterm election. He no longer acts as if free to pursue a policy of accommodation with Russia even if this is what he would wish. It is true that when he ran for president in 2016 Trump’s outlook dramatically contrasted with that of Hillary Clinton on the question of relations with Russia. Many Americans then worried about a new Cold War, voted for Trump solely to avoid a rise in tensions with Russia that seems certain to have followed had Clinton been elected. At the same time there remains a strong consensus that is bipartisan in character, and included the Pentagon and CIA, that leans toward a more aggressive approach toward Russia, even more so than toward China. It is in this general atmosphere that it is best to comprehend and interpret Trump’s behavior with regard to Putin and Russia generally. The revelations of Russian interference in American elections further hardens public attitudes in an antagonist direction.

 

On the other side, it is not clear what Russia seeks to achieve during G20 meetings and in its relationship with the United States at this point, although Moscow clearly seemed earlier to be receptive to the Trump approach, and gave many indications of wanting to restore normal peaceful relations. It also seemed that Putin would have welcomed a positive political atmosphere and encouraged robust economic and cultural interactions between the two countries.

 

The fault associated with these deteriorating prospects is not only with America. Russia could achieve a more favorable image in the world if it made some constructive initiatives such as the renewal of nuclear disarmament negotiations or the establishment of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East or the establishment of a global migration compact. Perhaps, we in the West are not aware of Russian attempts to contribute to a more peaceful and just world order, in which case a greater effort needs to be made to set forth the positive content of Russian foreign policy. As matters now stand, the Russian role is viewed through the prism of bullying the Ukraine and propping up the criminal Assad regime in Syria.

 

The End of Democracy?

8 May

[Prefatory Note: This post is an expanded and somewhat modified version of an opinion piece published by the online publication, global-e on May 1, 2018. It seeks to raise questions and suggest different ways of conceiving of democratic governance.]

 

The End of Democracy?

As demagogic leaders with popular approval or at least acquiescence now dominate the political process of several important ‘democratic’ states, questions about the core or indispensable content of democracy are more appropriate than ever. How should we understand the meaning of democracy in a variety of national circumstances? Is democracy, as properly defined, the best mode of governance under all conditions for every society enjoying sovereign rights? Or in the more reserved spirit of Churchill’s quip, is democracy just ‘the least bad?” Do China or Singapore offer the world, or at least certain societies, a preferred alternative compared to democracy as it evolved and perceived in the West?

 

Many states seek the imprimatur of ‘democracy’ but limit drastically the choices open to the citizenry or proclaim themselves ‘a Jewish state’ or ‘an Islamic Republic,’ which means they are more accurately regarded as an ethnocracy(Israel) or theocracy(Iran). The legitimating imprimatur of democracy should be based on something more objective than the language of self-identification, that is, claiming to be a democracy because the governing arrangements have a formal appearance that resembles what is expected in a democracy, nothing more, nothing less. Instead, it seems an opportune time to delineate the particular institutions, values, and practices that identify the distinctive features of democratic forms of governance.

 

It is not only a matter of taking note of the weakening of the democratic character of ‘democracies’ in recent decades. It is also the attractiveness of China as an efficient developmental model and functional problem-solving mechanism. This Chinese political system is recently being identified as ‘pragmatic authoritatianism.’ Such a comparison of political systems is currently of particular interest because of the disturbing behavior of the United States in this period, both its repudiation of liberalism at home when it comes to the protection of human rights and a kind of blustering militarism abroad that is accentuated by Trump’s retreat from responsible global leadership that had previously given American foreign policy a certain legitimacy despite being the first ‘global state’ in world history. In this regard it is notable that China has shaped its ascendancy in recent decades by mastering soft power diplomacy while the U.S. decline has been accompanied by costly demonstrations of the growing deficiencies of continued reliance on the hard power geopolitics, unsuccessfully defying the realities of the post-colonial world in the early 21stcentury.

 

Against this background, the remainder of this essay explores the notion of democracy from a number of perspectives, seeking to distinguish between political arrangements that serve their citizens normatively as well as materially. There are also historical questions about whether democracy can flourish in an atmosphere in which intense stresses are generated by wide inequalities in circumstances that produce hardships and resentments, creating a susceptibility to opportunistic politicians who scapegoat outsiders and vulnerable groups. Such a pattern has surfaced in the West, increasingly so after the declaration of ‘the war on terror’ that has contributed to the massive generation of refugees, especially as a consequence of prolonged warfare and chaos in the Middle East. This has itself exerted pressures on humane governance by pushing political parties and publics further and further to the right, creating a populist base for fascism if the system becomes further stressed by economic crisis or through fears of terrorism, whether real or contrived.

 

Procedural and Republican Democracy

The idea of ‘free elections’ is certainly a prerequisite of a governing process in which the leadership is somehow accountable to the citizenry. It is not possible to think of a political system as democratic if it does not allow its citizens to select, without fear or interference, among a wide range of candidates of their choice, even if the process is filtered through political parties or primaries or otherwise. What qualifies as a free election can be debated endlessly, but it seems enough to suggest that candidates should represent significantly divergent societal viewpoints on major issues that compete for support, that votes are counted honestly, and no obstacles are intentionally placed in the path of those in the electorate who are poor, less educated, and not fluent in the native language.

 

The relationship of money to the electoral process is increasingly problematic, and abetted by well-funded lobbying. As might be expected, the configuration of these issues varies from state to state. A crisis of democracy in the United States has highlighted these issues. On the one side, many, perhaps most, qualified candidates are discouraged from taking part in the political process or are subjected to defamatory treatment if they do. On the other side, NGOs such as the NRA and AIPAC distort the political process, making it politically impossible to serve the public interest, for instance, by rendering unlawful the sale and possession of assault weaponry and in the case of AIPAC making it as difficult for the United States to pursue foreign policies in the Middle East that reflect the national interest of the country and the global interest of people due to the overwhelming and often mindless pressures to follow Israel’s policy priorities no matter where they might lead. The pressure exerted to repudiate the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration in 2015 illustrates the way lobbying obstructs the implementation of the public interest. In some sense, it is this interplay of money, influence, and regressive policies that raise fundamental questions about the political and moral legitimacy of governing process. A clouding of public interest in democratic practiceresults from this lethal mixture of private sector money and a frustrated public that poses fundamental threats to American democracy as it formerly operated, and in different ways, to other political systems that purport to retain a democratic system jiust because they hold periodic, free elections. 

 

Looked at from a different angle, a state should not necessarily jeopardize its democratic credentials if it disqualifies candidates and parties that deny basic human rights to segments of the citizenry on some principled basis or espouse fascist agendas, or if rights are somewhat abridged during periods of national emergency as during wartime. This contingent dimension of democratic governance is almost always controversial. It can be discussed in relation to specific instances by reference to the acceptable limits that can be imposed on the practice of procedural democracy. Such a form of government is sensitive to the dangers of abuses and corruptions when power becomes too concentrated, invoking ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers’ as institutional bulwarks of restraint on ‘the tyranny of the mob’ or the predatory behavior of the tyrant. To the extent that such restraints are regularized the governmental form is more precisely identified if labeled asrepublican democracy.’ There is some concern that minorities with strong agendas can encroach on free speech by overreaching by suppressing dissident views of contested historical happenings, as with the Holocaust denial laws of several European countries and in relation to the effort by Armenian communities to make it a hate crime to question the description of the 1915 massacres in turkey as ‘genocide.’

 

Such restraints on the capricious exercise of power tend to be challenged, however, by technological legerdemain and excessive government classification procedures that seriously undermine political transparency and the constitutional constraints on war making by leaders if present, leaving weighty decisions in the hands of an unaccountable few. Without democratic accountability in such instances, democracies lose legitimacy, especially considering the risks and dangers of the nuclear age. Whistleblowers, although often subjected to a criminalizing backlash, are an indispensable resource of contemporary democracy.

 

It may be that only the elimination of nuclear weapons from the arsenals ofallcountries can restore a semblance of substantive reality to a procedural or republican understanding of democracy, and the primacy that could then be again accorded ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers.’ There is growing concern that what Bruce Franklin and Chas Freeman call ‘the forever war’ can be reconciled with the political freedom of the citizenry. Security concerns are now associated with the behavior of persons not necessarily associated with formal military or intel activities, putting the whole society perpetually under suspicion, a condition that provides pretexts for pervasive intrusions on privacy and technically feasible totalizing surveillance.

 

Liberal versions of democracy—especially in their republican form—almost always includes a guaranty of intra-governmental friction and judicial protection of civil and political rights, especially freedom of expression and the right of assembly, but not necessarily (and likely not at all) social and economic rights. In this sense, these seemingly unresolvable tensions between neoliberal versions of capitalism and political democracy are of paramount importance in many societies widely regarded as ‘democratic.’

 

Normative Democracy

To achieve an inclusive political order a substantive commitment to deal with basic social and economic rights is essential, although infrequently acknowledged. This raises questions about the potential compatibility of real democracy with contemporary forms of capitalism. The protection of social and economic rights are necessary so as to satisfy the material needs of all people under sovereign control, especially with respect to food, health, shelter, education, environmental protection, responsibility to future generations. Yet a market-driven ethos has not been effectively challenged in ideologically or behaviorally even by large-scale homelessness or extreme poverty so long as the gates of opportunity pretend to be available to all. This dimension of democratic governance is rarely analyzed, and is best considered by reference to values-driven, inclusive, andnormative democracy. A society should also be protected against war-prone leadership that defies transparency by relying on claims of secrecy and national security, and authorizes leaders to engage in reckless coercive diplomacy and even to make war on their own without the participation of other branches of government.

 

Somewhere in between selecting leaders, upholding rights, and ensuring a minimal standard of living that entrenches human dignity and enables a humane society are considerations of internal and external security. Meeting the threats from within and without while avoiding hysteria, paranoia, and different forms of suppression is a fundamental responsibility of every legitimate state, and especially of those that claim a democratic pedigree. There is no satisfactory label, but since a state unable to protect sovereign rights and internal political order loses the respect and allegiance of its citizenry, the security dimension of governance can be associated witheffective democracy. For without political order, and a capability to address external threats and internal disorder, no form of governance can avoid chaos, foreign penetration, and a hostile backlash from its own citizenry, although specific assessments of this kind involve subjective appreciations of capabilities and political will.

 

There are increasing critiques of democratic states for having weakened the bonds between what citizens seek and what the government does. In the United States, for instance, special interests inflate the prices of pharmaceutical products to astronomical heights, insulate gun control from public opinion to a grotesque degree, and allow corporations, banks, and billionaires to contribute unlimited amounts to (mis)shape political campaigns. Markets are further distorted by corruption of various kinds that undermine the capabilities of government to serve the people. This dimension of democratic governance can be considered under the rubric ofresponsive democracy. Without a high degree of responsiveness on central policy issues, a governing process will steadily lose legitimacy, especially if seen as deferring to special interests.

 

Majoritarian Democracy

It becomes increasingly evident that in some political systems free elections occur, demagogues participate—and sometimes prevail—and a majority of the citizenry is either submissive or supportive. In this kind of atmosphere toxic, win/lose polarizations develop, with extremist and paranoid rhetoric justifying suppression and demonization of undocumented immigrants, refugees, and even asylum seekers. Walls are proposed and built; borders are militarized; and exclusionary ideas of political community gain traction in the marketplace of ideas. One result is that the values, views, and security of vulnerable and oppositional populations are ignored or even condemned. Genuine news is dismissed as fake news, and vice versa, creating fact-free political leadership. This kind of political order can be termedmajoritarian democracy, and contains worrisome attitudes that are pre-fascist in character.It also generates a mirror-image opposition that demonizes the leadership, as in Turkey, in ways that grossly exaggerate wrongdoing, generating a vicious circle of denunciation and abuse.

 

This majoritarian form of democracy tends to rest its claims on passion and a perversion of Rousseau’s ‘general will’ rather than on reason and evidence, and is contemptuous of limits on the exercise of state power on behalf of the nation, especially if directed against foreign or domestic ‘enemies.’ As a result, the rule of law and, especially, respect for international law and the authority of the United Nations are weakened, while deference to the ruler increases in conjunction with claims of indefinite tenure atop the political pyramid, ratified by periodic votes of approval in which the opposition is ineffectual, being demoralized, split, suppressed, and disfavored by most of the mainstream media. Such leaders as Putin, Xi, Trump, Erdoğan, Sisi, Modi, and Abe manifest the trend, remaining popular while often treating ‘citizens’ as if they were ‘subjects’, thereby blurring the distinction between democracy and authoritarianism when it comes to state/society relations.

 

Aspirational Democracy

In opposition to these disturbing trends are more humanistic and spiritual concerns that focus attention on the protection of human rights, especially of those who are vulnerable and poor. The idea of ‘democracy to come’ as depicted by the deceased French philosopher Jacques Derrida, and recently developed further by Fred Dallmayr, is being taken more seriously by those dedicated to achieving genuine democratic forms of governance.

 

This idea centers on the belief that democracy in all its manifestations, even at its best, remains an unfinished project with unfulfilled normative potential. It represents a call to work toward an inclusive democracy based on the serious implementation of ‘the spirit of equality’ (Dallmayr), the goal of humane governance best articulated by Montesquieu. Such a political order goes beyond upholding the rule of law by seeking to promote justice within and beyond sovereign borders. Such a democratic political order would now subordinatenationalinterests tohumanandglobalinterests as necessary in relation to climate change, nuclear weaponry, migration, disease control, peace and security, and the regulation of the world economy. No democracy of this kind has so far existed, but as a goal and ideal this political vision of democratic fulfillment can be understood asaspirational democracy, and might take different forms depending on the societal context and civilizational orientation.

 

Concluding Comments

These different forms of democracy overlap and are matters of degree, but do call attention to the various and variable features of political life that rest on the shared proposition that ‘the people,’ or their representatives, should be regarded as the proper source and validation of political authority and legitimacy. Yet such a mandate for democracy as flowing upwards from the people, superseding God-given or self-anointed authority figures legitimized by ritual and reinforced by claims of a monarchical or divine aura of absolutism, is in many societies again being scrutinized, and under all conditions, is precarious and must be safeguarded and periodically revitalized. Many informed and concerned persons are asking whether democracy is any longer the least bad system of governance for the challenges confronting their societies, yet these critics seem at a loss to propose an alternative. In this setting, the question posed for many of us is whether democracy, as now practiced and constituted, can be restored and extended by legitimating reforms. As engaged citizens we must accept this challenge in ways that are sensitive to the particularities of time, place, traditions, challenge, and opportunities.

 

Because of globalization in its manifest forms, it is no longer tenable to confine the ambitions of democracy to national spaces. Global democracy has become, is becoming, a matter of ultimate concern. Issues raised concern transparency, accountability, participation, and responsiveness of global policy processes, and of course, how the global is to be linked to the regional and national so as to pursue the goal of global humane governance: equitable, stable, sustainable, peaceful, compassionate, and attentive to threats, challenges, and policy choices.

 

 

 

 

Alternate Worldviews: Davutoğlu, Kissinger, Xi Jinping

25 May

 

[Prefatory Note: This post is a much modified version of a shorter
opinion piece published by the global-e online publication on May 18, 2017. It is a response to and commentary upon an essay of Ahmet
Davuto
ğlu, former foreign minister and prime minister of Turkey, published under the title ‘Response to Ahmet Davutoğlu’s “The Future of National and Global (Dis)order: Exclusive Populism versus Inclusive Global Governance.”’It contrasts the global outlook of Davutoğlu with that of Henry Kissinger, yet does not discuss the specific policies pursued by either of these public figures while they acted on behalf of their respective governments, and ends with an allusion to Xi Jinping’s speech at the World Economic Forum a few months ago.]

 

In his global-e essay of March 30, 2017, Ahmet Davutoğlu provides a provocative and comprehensive assessment of current global trends, and their impact on the future of world order. What sets Davutoğlu’s diagnosis of the global setting apart is his insistence that the current crisis of governance, including the ominous dangers that he identifies, can only be overcome in an enduring manner if it is fully appreciated that present maladies on the surface of world politics are symptoms of deeper structural disorders. He gives particular attention in this regard to the failure of the United States to support a reformist agenda that could help establish global governance on foundations that were effective, legitimate, and humane after the end of the Cold War. Implicit here is the contrast between the benevolent global role played by the U.S. after World War II and its harmful dedication to neoliberal globalization after the end of the Cold War without attending to the historic opportunities and challenges of the 1990s.

 

At first glance, Davutoğlu seems to be echoing the lament of Henry Kissinger, the chief architect of Nixon’s foreign policy during the 1970s. Kissinger plaintively asks, “Are we facing a period in which forces beyond the restraints of any order determine the future?” This is coupled with Kissinger’s underlying worry: “Our age is insistently, at times almost desperately, in pursuit of a concept of world order.” [World Order, Penguin Press, 2014, 2] Not surprisingly for those familiar with Kissinger’s approach, he expresses a nostalgic fondness and airbrushed account of the liberal world order that the U.S. took the lead in establishing after World War II, as well as his signature nostalgia associated with the construction of the European state-centric system of world order in the aftermath of devastating religious wars in the seventeenth century. His idealizing of this post-Westphalian framework is expressed in a language no one in the global south could read without a good belly laugh as it totally ignores the predatory geopolitics by which the West subjugated and exploited much of the non-Western world. According to Kissinger the new golden age of Westphalia after 1945 was reflective of “an American consensus—an inexorably expanding cooperative order of states observing common rules and norms, embracing liberal economic systems, foreswearing territorial conquest, respecting national sovereignty, and adopting participatory and democratic systems of governance.” [p.1]

 

The best Kissinger can offer to repair what he now finds so deeply disturbing is “a modernization of the Westphalian system informed by contemporary realities.” By the latter, he primarily means accommodating the rise of China, and the consequent dewesternization of the global relation of forces. Such an adjustment would require some restructuring, taking steps to integrate non-Western values into the procedures, norms, and institutions of governance facilitating geopolitical cooperation between dominant states. The content of these cooperative relations would emphasize the establishment of mutually beneficial trade and security governing relations among states. For this to happen the liberal West would have to accept the participation of states that based national governance on authoritarian patterns of national governance without passing adverse judgment. Kissinger, never an advocate of ‘democratic peace’ as theory or policy, is consistent in his promotion of a world order that does not pass judgment on the internal public order systems of sovereign states, leaving human rights to one side, and not making the adoption of democracy an ingredient of political legitimacy. In this regard, Kissinger’s version of geopolitics revives the ethos of a pre-World War II realpolitik prior to the sorts of ideas of ‘democracy promotion’ associated with the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush

 

What makes the comparison of Kissinger and Davutoğlu of interest is less their overlapping concerns with the current deficiencies of global governance than their differing articulation of alternative explanations and recommendations. Kissinger writing in a post-colonial period where hard and soft power have become more globally dispersed, especially moving toward Asia, considers the challenge mainly to be one of reforming state-centric world order by a process of inter-civilizational accommodation and mutual respect with a particular eye focused on how to properly address the rise of China alongside the partial eclipse of Europe.

 

In contrast, Davutoğlu sees the immediate crisis to be the result of inadequate global responses to a series of four ‘earthquakes’ that have rocked the system in ways that greatly diminished its legitimacy and functionality (that is, the capacity to offer adequate solutions for the major challenges of the historical moment). This sequence of earthquakes (end of Cold War, 9/11 attacks, financial breakdown starting in 2008, and Arab uprisings of 2011) occasioned responses by global leaders that Davutoğlu derides as “short-termism and conjectural politics,” that is, ‘quick fixes,’ which failed to appreciate either underlying causes or structural factors. This meant that the policy remedies adopted did not address the problems presented in ways that would avoid recurrent crises in the future. It is this failure of global leadership to address causes and structures that is partly blamed for the present malaise. Davutoğlu characterizes the present period as marked by “a rising tide of extremism,” constituted by a political spectrum with non-state groups like DAESH (also known as ISIS) at one end and the populist surge producing such dysfunctional statist outcomes as Brexit and Trumpism at the other. Davutoğlu does not treat the ascent of China as a fifth earthquake, exhibiting a conceptual understanding of the complexities and originality of the present global setting, while according less attention to the shift in the geopolitical hierarchy associated primarily with China’s rise.

 

Davutoğlu identifies three sets of disappointing tendencies that clarifies his critique: (1) the American abandonment of the liberal international order that it earlier established and successfully managed; (2) the disappointing reactions by the West to anti-authoritarian national upheavals, illustrated by the tepid reactions of the United States and Europe to the Arab Spring, withholding encouragement and support, despite its declared commitment to democratization and human rights; (3) and the structural numbness illustrated by failing to reform and update existing international institutions in the economic and political spheres, particularly the UN, which has been unable to act effectively because so little has been done to take account of drastic changes in the global landscape over the course of the last 70 years.

 

The comparison here between Davutoğlu and Kissinger reveals fundamental differences of analysis and prescription. Kissinger sees the main challenge as one of geopolitical chaos that needs to be overcome by forging realistic, yet cooperative, relations between the U.S. and China. Although he is not explicit, Kissinger seems to be preoccupied with what Graham Allison influentially labels as ‘the Thucydides trap.’ In such circumstances a reigning dominant state feels its status threatened by an emerging challenger, and the rivalry eventuates in war. In the nuclear age even political realists search for alternatives to such a dire prospect. Additionally, Kissinger clearly believes that unless the U.S. and China can agree on world order there will be chaos even if it not outright war. Underlying this imperative is the idea that dominant states are alone capable of creating order on a global scale, making the UN irrelevant, a distraction, and considering international law as a proposed regulative enterprise to be a house of cards.  

 

Kissinger favors a live and let live geopolitical equilibrium presiding over a state-centric world order that works best if the power of the dominant states is balanced and their core interests served on the basis of a shared understanding of how best to govern the world. In a fundamental sense, by proposing the incorporation of China at the apex of global governance Kissinger is advocating the global expansion of the Westphalian approach that was historically developed to minimize war and maximize stability in Europe. As might be expected, Kissinger utters not a word about justice, human rights, the UN, climate change, and the abolition of nuclear weapons. In effect, Kissinger traverses the future as if embarking on a perilous journey across a normative desert. It is hardly an occasion for surprise that Donald Trump should summon Kissinger to the White House amid the Comey crisis or that Kissinger would make himself available for an Oval Office photo op to shore up the challenged legitimacy of an imploding presidency. Trump knows less about foreign policy than my ten-year old granddaughter so that when he described Kissinger’s visit as ‘an honor’ it is left as a complete mystery why this was so. It is amusing that Trump also described his audience with Pope Francis at The Vatican as an honor. The irony of the pairing should not escape even the most casual scrutiny.

 

Davutoğlu’s offers a far more sophisticated and nuanced response to his equally pessimistic diagnosis of the current global situation. His fears and hopes center on an approach that might be described as ‘normative realism’ or ‘ethical pragmatism.’ In this fundamental respect Davutoğlu analyzes the challenges confronting humanity in light of the international structures that exist. He advocates the adaptation of these structures to current realities, but with a strong normative pull toward the fulfillment of their humane and inclusive democratizing potential. He optimistically hopes that the United States will again play up to its weight on the global stage, especially as a normative leader and problem-solver. For this reason he strongly disapproves of the shrill Trump call of ‘America first’ as well as worries about the varieties of right-wing populism that have led to the rise of ultra-nationalist autocrats throughout the planet.

 

Davutoğlu, a leading political figure in Turkey over the course of the last fifteen years, is both a Turkish nationalist and an internationalist. He urges greater representation for emerging economies and states in international institutions and procedures, and the necessary reforms of procedures and practices to bring this about. No personal achievement during his years as Foreign Minister brought Davutoğlu greater satisfaction than Turkey’s election to term membership in the UN Security Council. For Davutoğlu such a supreme soft power recognition of status on the world stage epitomized a new kind of cosmopolitan nationalism. As Kissinger is (hard)power-oriented, Davutoğlu is people-oriented when it comes to global politics. In this regard, Davutoğlu’s worldview moves in the direction of normative pluralism, incorporating diverse civilizational constructs to the extent possible, globalized by crucial universalist dimensions, particularly with respect to human dignity, human rights, and a diplomacy focused on conflict resolution. Davutoğlu gives scant attention to working out a Kissingerian modus vivendi between dominant state actors, but is receptive to practical solutions and political compromises for the sake of peace, justice, and stability.

 

Although I share Davutoğlu’s diagnosis and overall prescriptions I would take note of several differences that might turn out to be only matters of emphasis if our respective positions were more fully elaborated. I think the most distinctive feature of the current world order crisis is its insufficient capacity to address challenges of global scope, most notably climate change, but also the persistence and slow spread of nuclear weapons as well as the pestilence of chronic poverty. The Westphalian approach to world order was premised on the interplay of geopolitical actors and state-centric territorial sovereignty, and was never until recent decades confronted by threats that imperiled the wellbeing, and possibly, the survival of the whole (species or world) as distinct from the part (state, empire, region, civilization). With nuclear weapons, rather than seeking their abolition, the United States exerts as much control as possible over a geopolitical regime seeking to prevent their proliferation, especially using coercive diplomacy to threaten governments viewed as hostile. Claiming to act on this basis, the United States, in coalition with the United Kingdom, launched a devastating attack in 2003 on Iraq followed by a decade of chaotic occupation. This anti-proliferation outlook presupposes that the principal danger to world peace and stability arises from countries that do not possess the weaponry rather from those that have used, developed, and deployed nuclear weapons. Considered objectively, Iran and North Korea are two countries under threat in ways that make their acquisition of nuclear weapons rationally responsive to upholding their security by deterring attacks. It is time to realize that nonproliferation ethos is precarious, misleading, and self-serving, and contributes to a cleavage that splits human community at its core. This split occurs at the very time when greater confidence in human unity is urgently needed so that shared challenges of global scope can be effectively and fairly addressed.

 

In effect, I am contending that Davutoğlu’s prescriptive vision does not directly address a principal underlying cause of the current crisis—namely, the absence of institutional mechanisms and accompanying political will to promote human and global interests, as well as national and local interests. Under present arrangements and attitudes, global challenges are not being adequately met by geopolitical leadership or by multilateral mechanisms that seek to aggregate national interests. The Paris Climate Change Agreement of 2015 represented a heroic effort to test the outer limits of multilateralism, but it still falls menacingly short of what the scientific consensus informs us as necessary to avoid exceedingly harmful levels of global warming. Given the current geopolitical mood, it seems unlikely that even the inadequate Paris approach will be properly implemented.

 

Similarly, the sputtering response to the situation created by the North Korean crisis should be treated as a wakeup call as to the dangerous dysfunctionality of a militarist approach to nuclear weapons policy, relying on threat diplomacy and punitive sanctions. The only approach that seems likely to be effective and deemed reasonable over time is one based on mutual security considerations, a serious embrace of a denuclearization agenda, and what might be called restorative diplomacy.

 

In the end, I share Davutoğlu’s call for the replacement of ‘international order’ (the Kissinger model) by ‘global governance’ (specified by Davutoğlu as “rule- and value-based, multilateral, consensual, fair, and inclusive form [of] global governance.” Such a shift to a governance focus is sensitive to the role of non-state actors and movements, as well as to the relevance of national ideology and governing style. It rejects a top down geopolitical approach.

 

It could be a hopeful sign that such a way of thinking is gaining ground that a recent speech in the West by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, moved in Davutoğlu’s, rather than Kissinger’s direction. When Xi addressed the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos he endorsed a worldview that rejected geopolitics, encouraged an inclusive multipolarity, and advocated nuclear disarmament. As Washington continues to conceive of the Chinese challenge as materialist and military, the real challenge being posed by China seems to be on the level of ideas, values, and survival instincts.

 

 

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