‘End of History’ Found Dead at Moscow’s Gates

July 28, 2015 at 11:03 am (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , )

Battle of Cape St. Vincent of 1833. A squadron of Portuguese frigates commanded by British Admiral Napier on behalf of the Liberal faction (Queen Maria) defeated the Absolutist squadron loyal to King Miguel, in the Portuguese Civil War

Battle of Cape St. Vincent of 1833 – a squadron of Portuguese frigates commanded by British Admiral Napier on behalf of the Queen Maria’s Liberal faction defeated King Miguel’s Absolutist squadron, in the Portuguese Civil War

Ukraine and the Euromaidan revolution were a turning page in History. One could argue that the Colour revolutions, the Arab Spring, the Ossetia War and even the Atlantic interventions of the preceding decades, had been proof enough of the limits of the ‘end of history’ but Ukraine is more meaningful because it had everything to become the poster child of globalism: it is an avowedly pro-Western movement, nurtured by the West, while not depending on the West in military hard-power terms. Yet, Ukraine’s economy is the worst performer of 2015, corruption endures, extremists now occupy positions of importance in the government and armed forces, such civil liberties as gay rights might actually be more in peril today than during the Yanukovych days, and far from being a triumph for NATO, Ukraine quickly revealed itself the quicksand of Western soft-power (potentially also hard-power) that many had foreseen.

It was not always so. The record of Atlanticist interventionism at the service of universalist policies spans all the way back to the Enlightenment. Liberal governments in London, Paris and Washington have been proselytizing their creed for centuries, now. Before the Islamic world and the pan-Slavic territories, it was the Catholic world and Latin-America. With the possible exception of the Russian Civil War, Atlanticist interventions have consistently sought to exclude Traditionalists from power and replace them with Liberals, in the Atlantic Ocean rim. For the most part such support has been discreet but at times also overt. Led by Britain and America, liberal governments intervened in Spain’s Carlist Wars, in the Portuguese Civil War, waged successive wars against the South African Boers (against independent Boer states and then the Apartheid regime) and encouraged coups, actions and secessions throughout Latin America.

The instance of the American Civil War was also a slight deviation as France and Britain were divided between their interests, their ideology and military calculations. Ideologically opposed to slavery, economically and strategically motivated to preclude New England from building an industrial competitor apparatus to their own and from raising tariffs on cotton exports, and finally fearful of projecting power over the Atlantic, considering the results of the American Revolutionary and 1812 wars.

Is interventionism always successful? The rare occasions when domestic liberal forces, supported by exogenous Liberal financing and political endorsement, were not effective was usually when some alternative power was willing to equally sponsor the opposing faction in the domestic conflict, as was the case in the Spanish Civil War, or earlier when the Holy Alliance was willing to finance the status quo against the 1848 movements. The instances of the Arab Spring and of the Colour Revolutions diverge from the otherwise victorious streak of liberal Atlanticism because in both examples the host society was poorly suited to manage a liberal socio-economic model but mostly because the economic and political pressure of the Liberal governments had to contend with opposing economic and political pressure, spoiling the endeavour: be it the reactionary GCC in the case of the Arab Spring or the counter-revolutionary Russia in eastern Europe.

BloemfonteinThe main conclusion then is, as always, that structural forces carry more weight than normative ones. Just as was discussed a propos of the Second World War, in the case of Atlanticist triumphalism there are also pecuniary and strategic incentives speaking louder than values. As Timothy Garton Ash once observed, democracy tends to implant itself more easily in those societies economically dependent and culturally more permeated by already democratic powers.

To be clear, it is not a foregone conclusion that a liberal latin world would exist without express northern Atlantic pressure. Same being true for the ‘reconstructed’ American South, the ‘British’ Boers or ‘decolonised’ Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Atlantic Liberals bear a fundamental intolerance for the concept of sovereignty because the Enlightenment philosophical foundation of the ideology is inherently universalist and thus, structurally incompatible with the Westphalian system.

Does this then mean that liberal expansionism is over? Not so. It is difficult to imagine how the Atlantic rim can in any way digress from the normative consensus of the rim’s hegemon, especially considering such a hegemon is itself structurally a deterritorialised idea-state. Russia, as strong as it may be, does not possess the power to challenge the North-Atlanticists in the rim and China cannot efficiently project power that far either. The southern hemisphere is devoid of any major military power that might help.

The only possibility would be a collapse from within. If the USA were to undergo a second civil war, particularly one that opposed New England to the Midwest, then the vacuum of power would provide countries like France and Brazil, the opportunity to conciliate an alternate centre of power. This, however, is not a plausible eventuality.

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Corrosive Legacy of the ‘Good War’ Standard

April 28, 2015 at 12:22 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

331689-Berserker

The Second World War is still held by many intellectuals as the best example of ‘the good war’. Hollywood often pays it tribute by devising heroic epics that depict Allied courage in the face of Nazi barbarism – the same honour is not bestowed to Vietnam War films… Pundits in the West spend their days portraying contemporary conflicts in the light of WWII teachings: analogies with Munich or Pearl Harbor are invoked ad nauseam, Churchillian anecdotes and quotes abound.

For Liberals, WWII represents a true victory of good Vs evil and no other conflict comes close to such a clear moral crusade. In fact, it is probably the worst possible conflict to admire. Yes, Liberals won, and yes, a very destructive force was defeated but it is not a coincidence that it was a ‘moral war’ that caused the greatest conflict the world has ever seen. While technology played an important part in the scope of the war, it was conventional means that caused the most causalities; gas chambers , atomic bombs and planned starvations being responsible for roughly only 15% of total casualties. The key factor was in fact the totalitarian nature of the conflict. If states had not been fighting wars of absolute survival/annihilation, the methods employed would not have been equally absolute. Also relevant are the exceptions: liberal Finland was an enemy of the Allies and an ally of the III Reich, the totalitarian USSR was an ally and did most of the leg work of the ground war – not to mention co-presiding over the Nuremberg Tribunal… – and then of course it was the Allies that burned Dresden, used atomic weapons and equally starved indigenous populations.

Yet, it is crucial to realise that the current narrative is highly pernicious in this regard: a student of International Relations or History will learn that the Bismarckian balance of power system was very flawed and that WWII’s outcome – however horrific – was in fact a blessing in disguise because it set the world on the righteous path of progressive ethics. Then there are those who believe that the result of WWII was not even a matter of chance but that Liberal values would have always triumphed, given their natural superiority.  In truth, as Azar Gat demonstrated very lucidly, WWII was won largely because of “contingent factors”, not because of any practical superiority of Liberal ideals. If the Axis powers had enjoyed the large imperial holdings of the British Empire, the USA or the USSR, they too would have won what it ultimately became a war of attrition.  

The Second Great War should instead be regarded as  the worst possible conflict because it consisted in a complete erosion of the Westphalian system in Europe. Whereas Münster and Osnabrück had established a structure averse to moral/ideological interventionism and reliant on geostrategic alignments to ensure a balance of power – and, in turn, limited war – the outcome of WWII was precisely the destruction of Westphalia by allowing as victors two out of three universalist powers. If in the east of the old continent the Brezhnev doctrine was to rule until 1989, in the west the Washington Consensus would, in its triumphalist moment of the post Cold War, seek to intervene to punish dissenters on a regular basis and even promote gratuitous evangelizing interventions.

The direct result of the victory of one of the ideological empires was a predictable hegemony of the values of said empire in the predominant political narrative; it helped that the United States also functions as the main source of Western soft power and lingua franca. The American revolutionary enlightenment and liberal exceptionalist narrative has in time contaminated states that used to be particularist by their very nature, namely in Europe. The commonality stems from the replacement of utopian internationalist and universalist ideologies of the past such as communism or Christianism, with democratic liberalism. The idealists of the past have either left politics/political philosophy behind or converted to the doctrine of the temporal winners of WWII – and only consequently, spiritual winners.298822-alexfas01 - Cópia

Problems arise when the very structure of polities around the world is incompatible with a specific ideology which is why universal doctrines are usually a bad idea. In Europe, those facing such a reality eventually turned to the European Union and NATO as the natural bridge between their admiration for their new Church/International – carrying the mantle of ‘leadership of the free world’ – and the millenia of antecedents sustaining political power as a measure of local ethnic identity. In the case of such nations as Britain or the Netherlands, it is actually easier because much of their historical experience has been based around liberal values such as Grotius’s Mare Liberum or England’s parliamentary system. In more homogeneous and unitary nations such as Poland or France, more perverse forms of populism come to the fore as a consequence.

The most serious problem of American/Liberal exceptionalism is not however related to the domestic dysfunctions that it causes in nation-states – and not, as in the case of America , idea-states – but rather in the overall conduct it incites in Western states’ foreign policy. Every conflict that pits a Western democracy against a non Western or non liberal-democratic regime is automatically viewed as a Manichean moral contest whose outcome must be an absolute victory of the ‘good’ against ‘evil’. Apart from a complete absence of consideration for the national (not ideological) interest, there is also an inherent and fundamental strategic incompetence of not considering means when advocating for ends. In other words, the moral cause is the casus belli, not whichever specific political grievance motivates it. This implies that a limited political settlement involving territorial or economic concessions is not the desired end but rather an unconditional surrender of the morally inferior opponent.

WWII has been reified by its own ultra-normative admirers because they mythologize it. Had they been in power then, they would have never allied with the USSR and probably would have gone to war with it over its invasion of Finland by the time Berlin arose as a threat. Finally, there is enormous danger in looking at the least ‘normal war’ the world has ever seen and viewing it as an example to follow and emulate.

Permalink 3 Comments

Samantha Power, The Millennials’ Savonarola

October 29, 2011 at 8:52 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , )


Like the sensationalist political pamphlets of the early stages of the printing age, today’s humanitarian activists’ purpose is to, artificially, stir public sentiment through their writing. Samantha Power’s manifest A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide and the professor’s rhetoric seem to nowadays produce the same effect on those who read it.

Early in the last decade, when the name Paul Wolfowitz was controversial, Power had nothing but compliments for the Bush Administration’s “Iraqi Freedom” hawk. An uncomfortable truth considering that the Democratic Party withdrew its endorsement of the invasion of Iraq once weapons of mass destruction were found not to exist. Certainly if one takes into consideration that for some in the ranks of its pro-war intellectual base, the weapons were never the issue (a propos, a mirror image of French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner). But an even bigger embarrassment if we take into account that she currently sits on President’s Barack Obama’s National Security Council.

This should not come as a surprise since both the Republican neoconservatives and the Democratic liberal interventionists aspire to the best tradition of no other than John F. Kennedy. A wildly loved, charismatic and young president whose term was cut short right before it actually had to pick up the pieces of the many idealist policies he enacted.

This Peace Corps generation keeps leaving its mark on the minds of the youth MTV humanitarians and Bono-Brangelina peaceniks with wars of excellence such as Libya, where the no-fly zone was actually an intervention, where the “matter of days” timeframe turned into months, where the war is to be called only conflict and all to avoid a genocide that wasn’t.

In the run up to the Libyan campaign, Power’s voice was heard loudly, as The New York Times reported that she was one of the main instigators of action. Once again the Rwanda precedent was used to incite military action where few American interests were actually at stake. 

In a recent article in The Atlantic, Rebecca Hamilton writes of the inceptive influence that A Problem from Hell had on Lorne Craner, an assistant to Colin Powell who in 2004 organized the State Department investigation into whether Darfur should be classified as genocide or not. And who really would be surprised today if rumors surfaced of her militancy for action in Uganda?

Afghanistan was before Libya, the main focus of Libints and Constructivists in the Obama Admin. as Samantha Power's article "Keeping Canada in Afghanistan" in Time magazine demonstrates.

Power’s activist legacy stretches as far back as the Yugoslav wars and the Clinton Administration. For her Kosovo is the model to follow—which bodes poorly for Libyans. But Samantha Power isn’t alone. Other high officials of the Obama Administration like Anne-Marie Slaughter certainly harbor the same fantasies of the liberal interventionist creed and the biblical terminology is ever present in their language. One of Slaughter’s friends (Sarah Chayes—surprise, surprise, a former Peace Corps volunteer) who was advocating for an American nation building effort in Afghanistan wrote a book entitled Punishment of Virtue.

Like the high priestess of the Church of Human Rights, Power and the Libints embody today what the papal envoys represented in Europe up to the sixteenth century: diverters of national interests on behalf of a morality which they alone could arbiter. The Treaties of Westphalia would eventually redirect Europe and its dominions into the path of sovereignty and rational diplomacy but only after the bloodiest conflict since the Hundred Years’ War had ravaged the old continent. Who better than the Jesuit of humanitarianism to let us all know what awaits those of us sinful enough to ignore “a problem from hell”?

Many pointed fingers at George W. Bush’s lack of tact when in one of his many slips of the tongue he called the intervention in Iraq a “crusade”. Would they by as critical of Power? The term suits her agenda so well.

For the politically correct academia and civil society the hallmark of sophistication is now “Responsibility to Protect” (or R2P for the t-shirt makers). R2P is a humanitarian’s “limited sovereignty” doctrinal version. It draws on international humanitarian law—a field of law which is still in its early stages and being written based on principles instead of practicality or empiricism—to claim that states are obligated to protect their citizens and that whenever they fail in this mission, the international community gains the legal right to intervene. In its light form, the territory is to simply be “civilized” by the missionaries of liberal democracy. In its worse form, military force is to be applied promoting forceful regime change.

As strategy blogger Joseph Fouché put it, R2P is for Libints what Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) was for neoconservatives—a doctrine in which to ground the Pentagon’s approach to belligerence. RMA was supposed to allow small deployments of hyper sophisticated forces to promote regime change en masse and simultaneously in different theaters around the planet in an effort to overcome undemocratic regimes. It didn’t work because as it turns out some populations aren’t that eager to be freed and as in Iraq, they must be helped to “liberate themselves.”

R2P on the other hand bases itself on international law (unprecedented and inapplicable) to argue for small deployments of military forces in service of transnational human rights, mainly in a peacekeeping capacity but able to rapidly change into peace enforcement. If Iraq was the neocon moment, Libya is the Libint one but if Libya is indeed Obama’s Kosovo, then the post-Cold War reality of America is one of centrist consensus on idealist interventionism.

Neocons failed because they put belligerence at the service of ideals rather than interests and attacked a regime which actually served American interests—by keeping geostrategic balance in the Middle East. Libints and R2P will fail for the same reason. They abandon allies that don’t comply with their version of morality and without courage (or money) to go after big targets, they occupy themselves with campaigns in insignificant countries. Insignificant countries bring insignificant gains and what little is gained can quickly turn into a big loss when regional powers that don’t share American interests decide to exert influence against it in the political vacuum the idealists don’t want to fill with troops or support for less moral proxies.

Ultimately, because Libya isn’t essential to American strategy, there’ll be no incentive to keep American involvement which will award the country’s foreign policy with yet another example of erratic and counterproductive interventionism.

(Originally published in the Atlantic Sentinel)

Permalink 3 Comments

Thus Spoke Fukuyama

May 12, 2011 at 5:55 am (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , )

.

Having had the chance to listen Francis Fukuyama speak in the Netherlands, I came out of the lecture with mixed feelings. It was good to understand that Fukuyama no longer believes in the end of history and in fact he values geography as an explanation for the many development differences between civilisations. That said, he still takes a distinctive western approach to history and IR: he speaks of rule of law and democratic accountability as essential building blocks for the future of human society. This is by no means certain if – as he posited – normative civilisation characteristics are afterall circumstantial. Why then does he believe in this? Because he is still limited by the “linear progression” frame of mind. In other words, since he believes that western liberal democracy is the pinnacle of human social evolution, all civilisations must ultimately adopt some form of it in order to thrive.

Obviously this is a fundamental contradiction but it is important to go further and assess why it is that many westerners – inclusively in the political arena – eventually go down this road.

While profoundly sceptical of modern constructivist institutions one cannot also refrain from acknowledging that constructivist inroads into areas of former sovereign state control, keep getting made and at an accelerated pace at that.

  • The False Laicité between Bureaucratic and Political

Something apparent in the West nowadays is what could be called, the normative republican convention. The values of the bourgeois republics have been made the standard in the West and in the world. Any ideology, form of government, legal system or economic model seem to have to be compared a priori to the normative republican standard of the Atlantic liberal democracies.

Just as the Church was once the source of normative standards, today republican bureaucracies have replaced it as the general norm. As per the trend set by the British, the civil servants are to be a separate class, independent from politicians but under their hierarchical command – elections and office terms being a check on an overwhelming institutional superiority of the political class.

Theoretically the bureaucratic apparatus isn’t supposed to be a part of policy making but in fact, as ideologies fade and moderate centrism rules more and more supreme, bureaucrats tend to have a gradually superior say in politics. They deny they have it of course, because they know they’re not supposed to have it. But the reality shows us the opposite. Having had contact with Brussels administrative eurocrats and the Hague’s international juridical community, I now reckon that the independence of the bureaucrats is gained at the expense of that of the politicians’.

While war is as present as always in the international scene for example, numerous conventions attempt to forcefully take Kellogg-Briand to the next level. Thus last year in Kampala, aggression was elevated to the purview of the ICC.

Of course jurists are correct in pointing out that politicians ultimately have the last word in such decisions but as Judge Theodor Meron once cheekily added in the context of the approval of further blurring between internal and international armed conflict as far as international jurisdiction was concerned (speaking specifically of the Tadic Case and its precedent): “I was quite surprised they let us keep it in”. What is more important, since Hitler is often condemned for democratically revoking democracy, jurists should be condemned for legally revoking separation of powers.

Security for example, is perhaps the most important matter which the State is supposed to manage and yet the right to wage war (jus ad bellum) is normatively becoming more and more a competence of the courts. Lets be clear: war didn’t come about because of a complete absence of social mechanisms to resolve disputes between groups or individuals. War has been a constant in human history because social organisations compete and have divergent interests in a world of finite resources and dissimilar cultures.

Law on the other hand, depends on morality. The set of norms that guides us depends on our ideal of justice which in turn depends on a social ethical convention. If theft is a crime common to most cultures, promiscuity is not (some criminalise it, others don’t). Social sciences aren’t exact sciences and therefore there are no rational logical empirical evolutionary grounds as to why some cultures should identify with certain values.

The morality which currently guides the world is not ultimate or absolute – at least it hasn’t been since the Catholic Church stopped dictating it – and just as the clerics were rightfully expelled from the temporal domain, so too the jurists ought to be. Otherwise the claims of those who want democracies to refuse to do business with dictatorships, or of those who wish developing states starved developed nations of natural resources, might very well be heeded.

Even Fukuyama, who still cannot get rid of his western perspective, recognises the importance of geography in denying Africa wealth and stability. Even he can discern that the world’s social chasm derives from different historical experiences. The Professor however always optimistically concludes that liberal democracy and the institutions of the West will win the day. While he is right in pointing out that countries such as China lack the same level of rule of law that we see in the West, he fails to even ask himself if such a characteristic is essential to the future development of the world. One suspects that moral prejudice rather than rational deduction drove him into this conclusion.

Wondering for instance which civilisation would be most capable of amassing the necessary resources or mobilizing the manpower and technology for a programme to explore and settle space, one seriously doubts such project would be commenced in the West. Even India would be a doubtful option and Fukuyama himself attributed to the subcontinent’s timid experiences with historical centralism, much of the blame for their lagging behind China…

With all this said, it is imperative to stop and think why someone who knows history and reflects on it would still allow himself to be seduced by petty contemporary delusions of justice. This is an important question since the universalist obsession infects much of the academia e perhaps even more of the world’s intelligentsia.

  • The Transformational Critical Mass

When trying to rationalise the Arab Spring, the paramount importance of the divide between the globalised intellectual elites of the Arab countries and their traditionalist masses, becomes apparent. But there is more than that at work. The resilience of universalism is based on more than just the West’s prosperity and subsequent influence on the global narrative through West-encultured-brain-drain-origin elites preaching the West’s canon to the ‘Rest’.

Ultimately, we have to face the fact that while the world is by no means normatively universal, the western universalists still manage to push their agenda through the multilateral fora. The answer here is but one: critical mass. The West continues to be able to dictate the narrative because even if growing weaker, its paradigm will continue to be forwarded by the sheer comparative weight of the western civilisation.

Unlike the Asian and African civilisations which survived the wave of Western colonisation by being remote, inaccessible and compact enough to avoid being permeated by the Berlin Consensus, the world as a whole is not. When western philosophy and values rule unopposed in the Americas, Europe, Oceania and even parts of Asia and Africa, it is difficult to avoid consensus being generated around the one discourse which seems to be the only minimum common denominator: liberalism. This is why even minority western states with particular traditions cannot escape being further and further integrated into constructivist structures: the UK into the EU, the US into the UN, etc.

Samuel Huntington when dividing the planet into civilisations adopted biased American criteria. In fact, the West as a category should not be merely reserved for the north Atlantic. Latin America and Eurasia also base their values on the Eurocentric space, if for no other reason because they were colonised by it. The fundamentally different cultural areas of the world are Africa, the Middle East, the Subcontinent and the East. But these areas aren’t strong enough to resist the philosophical synthesis that the West impregnates the world with.

  • Worms Vs. Westphalia

The obvious next step is to reflect on what the world will evolve to be. If the current dilution of executive strategic power in favour of normative based prerogatives proceeds unhampered, then will James Burnham be vindicated? Will we observe a Hobbesian technocratic compact of Judaic style Kritarchy, ruling a centralised world? In any event it is very telling that Fukuyama elevates the Worms Concordat as a more seminal event to the western civilisation than the Treaties of Westphalia…

Permalink 1 Comment

Tales from the Shia Crescent

August 22, 2010 at 1:12 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Halford McKinder seems to be quite popular in both Tehran and Damascus these days. Several reports have recently emerged about a new strategy developing in the shia governments which consists of an alliance with Russia and Turkey – which implies autonomy from and circumvention of the West – in order to secure a new geopolitical order.

This alliance would permit the ‘heartland’ powers not to rely on sea lanes and control the pipelines which flow through Eurasia. By supplying Europe and China through land, more dangerous and hostile routes through the sea could thus be avoided and allow the four allies unfettered influence in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Allegedly, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been active in the promotion of what he designates as the ‘Four Seas Strategy’, a plan to unite the energetic future of the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean and their respective pipeline networks under the quadrilateral leadership of Moscow, Ankara, Tehran and of course Damascus.

In the Mediterranean, the natural gas to be found off the Levantine coast as well as the oil tankers coming out of the Suez would thus be diverted to the Syrian and Turkish coastal pipeline hubs and carried expediently to the Balkans and central Europe using preferably the South Stream network. In the Black Sea, Turkey and Russia would control the oil flowing through the Baku-Tbilisi pipeline and the trans-Caucasian infrastructure and secure the supply of Central Asian oil and gas to Europe. The Caspian Sea would be protected by the Russo-Iranian tandem which would ensure the eastwards flow of Iranian, Caspian and Central Asian fossil fuels to China and India. Finally the Persian Gulf would form the final source of oil reserves to be expediently supplied through Iran to Turkish and Russian pipelines as well as to the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline.

Turkey is the naval hegemon of the eastern Mediterranean and with Russia considerably reinforcing its Black Sea fleet with Mistral class vessels and the refurbishing of the Tartus naval installations in Syria for use of the Russian Fleet’s 5th squadron, any potential rivals of Moscow or Ankara would feel dissuaded from intervention.

If ever this vision came into being, such an alliance would top all geopolitical arrangements on the planet: bearing more military might than OPEC, more energetically autonomous than NATO. Extending throughout the Russian steppes, the Anatolian valleys and the Iranian mountains hardly could any external entity threaten the use of force.

The basic idea is to replicate the past forte of the Muslim world: intermediacy. By controlling the trade routes, this ‘heartland bloc’ would rival, and keep at bay, any and all external superpowers: America by containment, China and India by co-option.

But the very fact that such a pact would wield insurmountable strength should hint at the unlikelihood of its inception; like many such concepts, if it sounds too good be true, it usually is.

An alliance should always be based on objective interests but the most enduring alliances are the ones that include normative bonds. While NATO was formed against the Soviet threat, the Atlantic philosophical links helped its maintenance throughout and even after the Cold War. The same can be said of the Treaty of Windsor or the Saudi-Pakistani alliance.


This is the safe rule – to stand up to one’s equals,

to behave with deference towards one’s superiors,

and to treat one’s inferiors with moderation‘.

– History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides


This proposition however ignores any such links beyond a desire for autonomy from the Washington Consensus. Iran, Turkey and Russia are roughly equivalent in power and historical rivals competing for the same areas of influence. Only an extremely powerful threat would bring such rivals together; the USSR, a universalist superpower and successor state to the old Russian Empire was such a threat and caused Tehran and Ankara to join efforts in its containment. The US however are not. American influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia is not unilateral and in many cases relies on regional interlocutors such as Turkey and Russia – lest we forget their bases’ availability to the USAF. While the American navy keeps naval supremacy in all oceans and seas, Washington’s power is waning and Secretary Gates is conducting massive expenditure cuts which will on the medium term imply compromises in the global naval hegemony of the US Navy. Given this state of affairs Russia and Turkey have no need to affront the remaining superpower for they possess enough leverage as it is. Not to even mention that Russia would hardly consent to dependency on Islam.

The al-Assad plan seems ultimately to be wishful thinking. If for no other reason the notion has been advertised by Damascus and Tehran but has had little resonance in more ambiguous Ankara and Moscow.

The shias’ fundamental errors? Anti-Americanism – the nature of Iran’s regime is not a major hindrance for cooperation with the US, blind hostility towards America is – and ignorance of the dynamics of multipolarism.

Permalink 6 Comments

The Fall of the Johannesburg Wall

June 22, 2010 at 7:34 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , )

Japanese Imperial Navy defeats its Chinese counterpart at the Battle of Yalu. Japan was the first non western power to join the 'Berlin Consensus'. It is also one of the most homogeneous Asian societies.

In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down. The GDR citizens flooding the streets of West Berlin was an image that sent a powerful message throughout the world: it symbolized the end of the alternative socio-economic development model of the Communist Bloc. Those states and regimes which until then had been reliant on Soviet force projection and/or which had based their economies on state driven principles suffered a shock. The Moscow elites did away with the USSR and prevented a counter-coup soon after, in order to as quickly as possible, adopt the western liberal-democratic model. The same happened throughout the communist bloc, with socialist federations falling everywhere and giving place to democratic capitalist states.

For the next two decades the Washington Consensus reigned supreme. In fact, the US model of development inspired and imposed itself not just on the ‘east’ but also on the ‘west’. During the Cold War, in spite of American leadership, an offshoot of sorts developed in the west which disputed the reasoning of the ‘leaders of the free world’. The isolationist strain of the Capitalist Bloc resisted the narrative of the superpowers and oriented its efforts towards the possible preservation of the pre Cold War status quo. The entente which intermittently gathered France, South Africa, Israel, Portugal, Rhodesia or Taiwan, was actually the first incarnation of the authoritarian-capitalist model and sought at times to resist the Atlantic-Warsaw-Bandung narrative which ended up changing the world order by subverting the old European establishment.

A first Bandung had been attempted by Japan during the Second World War. Throughout the Cold War Beijing simply replaced Tokyo’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere with its self proclaimed leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement. In any regard, the purpose was the same: to gather the non-European world against the European colonial powers – USSR and USA included…

The Suez crisis was the last attempt to preserve some part of the European order but whereas London decided to join America in the lead of the capitalist bloc, Paris chose to trade isolationism from the new narrative for the preservation of its own territories and interests. This more staunch defence of the old order was able to on occasion, resist the antagonism of the new order. The Biafra war is perhaps the best example in which this entente was confronted, not with one of the two Blocs but by the two plus the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

However, the twilight of European global rule was the defeat of Germany in the two world wars. The utter defeat of the two Reich denied the west European naval power projectors, their traditional source of capital and technology, and the replacement of German financiers with American ones replaced also the old narrative for a post-modern extra-European one.

Thus, what can be called the ‘Berlin Consensus’ – which emerged out of the Berlin Conference of 1884 – of mercantilist imperialism ended up being replaced by the Washington Consensus seventy years later, itself spawning from the San Francisco Conference, which in creating the UN, ensured the tools for the international law which was to regulate decolonisation. This new International Law also ensured that the world was bound by the standard of the Atlantic revolutions given that the UN Charter was almost a facsimile of the American and French constitutions.

The Niponic 'Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere' was for all intents and purposes a proto-Bandung

Like the Bandung regimes and the US, the Soviet model aspired to replace the European one but proved in time to be inferior to the American. It was inferior economically but also politically and socially. The west however seems to have only apprehended the defects of the two first instances.

In fact, both the communist and capitalist models were socially multicultural by nature and here lies one of the great stress tests for the Washington Consensus because in a multipolar world, no one pole aims to compete for global supremacy and the need to appeal to universal values fades. This in turn, creates room for identity politics. The stress test comes from the danger that the west’s Achilles Heel may very well be its multicultural model of society, emulating the American ‘melting pot’.

Multiculturalism is a feature of the Anglosphere as a whole but America’s victory – by attrition – in the Cold War, did much to anchor the belief that it was an essential component of a prosperous and modern society. Following the collapse of the USSR, it was thought that the ethnic strife which immediately plagued the communist federations was a by-product of economic depression and undemocratic regimes but nowadays, after the Bush 43rd Administration’s demonstration of American hubris there has been a backlash in the world which is increasingly questioning the Washington Consensus.

Many now point to the possible emergence of a Beijing Consensus which based on authoritarian capitalism and hegemonic ethnicity, can rival with the American model of development. Recent events in Burma, Sri Lanka and the Sudan would seem to indicate that not only China is willing to accommodate regimes which are strategic for Chinese interests but that these regimes may even inspire themselves on the Chinese example: in Sri Lanka the government has just militarily defeated its long term Tamil minority rebellion (with Chinese aid), in the Sudan, the Arab government has been trying to establish its authority over African Darfur and in Burma the government tries to keep the state united by establishing a ruling ethnicity while fighting the centrifugal minority resistance movements.

In truth, the fight between the liberal and socialist narratives throughout the Cold War, contributed only to empower the third narrative, that of the 3rd world represented in the NAM. Incidentally, both the NAM states in general, and their long time spokesman China in particular, have been quite proficient at securing hegemonic ethnicities: there was such a trend in Africa where white European settlers were ‘incentived’ to leave – Ian Smith for example was quite right in claiming that for the africanists and communists, the problem with his government was not that it was a minority ruling a majority but that it was a white minority at that – in Indonesia where the Javanese elites transformed the United States of Indonesia into the Republic of Indonesia and in China where the Han ethnicity is the core of the empire.

Democracy, being a natural guarantor of rights regime is usually quite deadly for multi-ethnic states. Yugoslavia, Russia and the west European naval powers all lost a great deal of strategic assets with democratisation. It would seem that the Washington Consensus was just as toxic for the third world – such trends can be seen in Bolivia, Nigeria or the states already mentioned.

In such a context, there is a significant possibility that the fall of the west will not be brought about by financial troubles in Wall Street or the City but by severe national incoherencies in the social fabric of western society.

The American melting pot model was based on a fallacious premise: that because different nationalities and ethnicities produced a viable new nation-state, all states can extrapolate and achieve the same multi-cultural miracle in whatever circumstances. In fact, the Chinese coolies, the Amerindians or the Hispanics were only integrated as long as they remained minorities against the prevalent WASPs. It is one thing to integrate a society when it is made up of intra-civilisational ethnicities and when the Anglophone ethnicity remains the hegemonic core of the state, it is another when different civilisational ethnicities are incompatible – see Israel. What is being attempted today throughout the world under American and European auspices is blind universalism. If the dismal failure results in another Wilsonian ‘republic’ like Kosovo, the rest of the world will logically conclude that the benefits of liberal society are not worth the risk of state disintegration.

British troops take Johannesburg from the Boers thus laying the seeds for Anglophone multiculturalism

The imminent collapse of Belgium and the significant integration and assimilation difficulties of muslim minorities in the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Germany or the UK, further heighten fears for the western social model. In America, more and more the different racial groups separate geographically from each other. The Baptist African-American (Black Anglophone Baptists – BABs?) in the southeast, the WASP in the north and the Hispanics in the southwest.

It is in South Africa that the western model’s adaptation to the third world has more been praised. It is here that Lib-Dem universalists make their case for the possible coexistence of incoherent civilisational ethnicities. Curiously it is also here that mismanagement on the part of the affirmative actioned black elite is more visible. South Africa remains a poor country with a huge economic divide. More importantly it is in South Africa that we find one of the world’s biggest racial divide. In order for a nation to have a future, miscegenation is a must; alternatively, a federal political model and a long multi-ethnic traditional coexistence would be needed.

If the Washington Consensus’ social model goes critical, South Africa is the country to watch since if it goes wrong there, there’ll be little incentive left for states around the world – Europe included – to keep applying it.

Is it a matter of time before the Johannesburg Wall of tolerated racial divide comes down?

Permalink 2 Comments

Les Uns et Les Autres

December 24, 2009 at 10:01 am (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Expo 1937 - Soviet and Nazi buildings face to face

When Francis Fukuyama confidently announced that after the end of the Cold War – or Third World War according to the Neoconservative mythology – the world would become a paradise of demo-liberal harmony, that History would end and the now free Mankind would forever live in blissful democratic peace, most Realists shrugged and went on with their lives.

While the end of the bipolar order was not the revolutionary utopia Fukuyama expected, it is also true that the economic paradigm shifted in the entire world, in favour of capitalism and free market economics.

It is altogether natural that the excesses of capitalism are to be felt in those states who advocated it beforehand and concurrently exacerbated it after 89. It is a matter of course that those who adhered to it under some reservation and with great precaution during the period of Pax Americana, now find themselves thriving in what, for many, are desperate times. Even modern day pseudo-revolutionaries don’t dare to do entirely without free markets. The few who do are autarkic and totalitarian remnants of times that were.

A more pernicious consequence of the fall of the symmetric paradigm however, is the loss of ideological politics. Ideologies throughout the second half of the XX century were largely driven by economic philosophies and with a new uniform (Washington) consensus, the political struggle in many polities eroded into the politics of personality. The new monopolising paradigm standardised not just economic thought but also political thought.

Unlike some nostalgia filled generations – from the 40s up – one can clearly see that the absence of charismatic statesmen and clearly defined ideological fault lines are not necessarily “bad” things. The new generations aren’t worse off because they don’t have an ideological identity or because they are no longer forced to take up arms to fight for what they believe. One might even make the case that more civilised politics makes for more civilised citizens. It is ludicrous to expect great leaders in a time in which the threat of world war and the annihilation of Mankind are not at stake. The great statesmen were men of their time.

The new consensus on democracy and economic liberalism has led to a moderation of politics and that explains the generalised voter apathy, experienced in every society throughout the globe. This is not a bad thing for while civil war is a great political motivator, it is also an awful solution for specific and technical problems that need to be addressed by society as a whole and not through the imposition of ideological prejudices.

But the world is changing. The current moderates are increasingly compelled to polarise their electorates in hope of garnering the preference of the apathetic constituencies. The politics of personality are giving rise to populists in all continents and civilisations, who use demagogic tactics to keep themselves in power. The “new” parties, the “people” coalitions, the “civic” platforms, the “popular” unions are more and more the rule instead of the exception.

New fault lines are being drawn in politics. Under the new commercial-republican standard, the interests of specific sectors of society and/or business groups are being refocused on the personal merit of the political classes. The events unfolding in Thailand, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Honduras – and even the US and Europe – are now set in the populist-elitist dichotomy. The red shirts, the Bolivarians, the “natives”, the “indigenous” and the reds respectively, opposing the yellow shirts, the “oligarchs”, the “colonisers”, the “colonialistas” and the “golpistas”.

In societies being polarised top-down, there will increasingly be little room for neutrality or moderation. Interestingly, it is in less developed societies where ethnic allegiance still determines electorates, rather than governance efficiency or leader popularity that the nefarious consequences of demagogy will be less felt.

How will this tendency work in a multipolar world? Could it be that elitist or populist solidarity will lead to inter-polar client-states/protectorates in a dual geopolitical competition? To trans-polar common identities? The power of nationalism tells us otherwise but that doesn’t mean that ideological internationals cannot make an appearance.

The republics of all continents are entering a spiral of polarisation that may lead them down the path of the old Roman Republic: whereupon the patrician and plebeian parties drove Rome into a civil war and, ultimately, to autocracy.

Permalink 1 Comment

The Sun Sets Due West

June 16, 2009 at 6:55 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

western-civilization

Geopolitical powers rise and fall. Lets understand why Europe seems to have even failed to become one.

The west experienced its first decline with the 1st World War, but western values and culture lived on through the ideological empires and their Cold War. The USA and the USSR had an essential role in promoting nationalism, centralised state, liberalism and materialism.

After two decades of Pax Americana, the decline of US hegemony might not be so dramatic were the other west faring well. But its not the case. Europe is still trailing behind the US in economic recovery. Stopping short of trying to federalize Europe, some steps to integrate it economically and financially would have been wise. Throughout the past decades however, Washington and Moscow have managed to divide and rule the old world. Excellent initiatives such as common regulation or the European Central Bank took Europe forward. But in any given crisis, Brussels was always superseded: it happened in Iraq, it was repeated in Georgia.

The postponement and even possible scrapping of projects of European (at large) interest such as the Nabucco pipeline or the A-400 transport aircraft, have to be attributed to the lobbying and savvy diplomacy of Russia and America. This in turn should be an eye opener to those end-of-history idealists who still believe Europe will forever live in peace, democracy and liberalism.3271123083_78a3e277bc

Other than disunity, the single most revealing feature of a declining power is its debt. Europe became indebted to the US after WW1 – exception being stalinist Russia – and  the US came to take its place after WW2. Today, the US is heavily indebted with its stimulus and military projects and Europe follows suit trying to maintain an impossibly charitable welfare system. The one exception might be Brazil. It is not a mystery who will take the West’s place in the world, one has but to look at the source of the West’s borrowing

Back in Europe, the coherence of the EU is more threatened than ever. The Commission has lost clout, the Parliament – where all the ideological fanatics are sent by the different national parties – is more and more self-righteous and the European momentum seems to be lost. Many blame the euro-skeptics for this. But by forcing a federal Europe, it was the moderates who dug their own graves. Had the objective of European integration been more realistic and consensual, the backlash might not have occurred.

Sadly Europe will never live up to its potential because its neighbours aren’t comfortable with it and the drivers of the project were utopian idealists. An economically integrated Europe has more power of negotiation but it squanders it when it demands cultural or political reform from its partners.

A geopolitical Europe does not possess the necessary structure to project its power because the promise/threat of federalism has pushed the euro-skeptics to power and they “opted out”.China debt cartoon

Permalink 2 Comments