April 05, 2013

A Global Stalemate

March 26, 2013 Andrei Volodin, specially for RIR
The current state of the world is a result of a long social evolution or, to use academic terminology, a shift in the social development paradigm
As it is known, a stalemate is a situation on the chess board when the player whose turn it is to make a move is not in check, but has no legal space for motion. Thus, a stalemate may be normally treated as a draw.

It is nevertheless timely and relevant to put aside the intricacies of the ancient art of playing a game whose terminology is so admired by analysts of various kinds. What's important in this context is that the modern world has already reached this very stage of stalemate. And this didn't happen overnight or by some accident.

Understanding the reasons why a global stalemate did take place would undoubtedly facilitate humanity's movement to a new stage of development where a group of countries would stop driving the entire Ecumene, including themselves, into an impasse by trying to pursue their own interests at the expense of others.

In May 2009, The London Times published an article by Anatole Kaletsky, an influential expert on "unorthodox" methods of forecasting the international financial mega-trends. His forecast seemed to make sense at the time: the driving force of world development was named a group of "new" (and super large) nations – China, India, Brazil and Indonesia. These super-large entities were in theory considered as capable of liberating the world of chaos (tactfully called "a crisis") by actively enlarging the purchasing power of the populations of those giant countries thus expanding their respective middle classes.

Although the process of middle class formation was expected to take quite a bit of time and cover at least several decades, on the whole, this new construct has been addressed as politically attractive over the past decade.
But the concept – like human nature – turned out to be far from perfect, and the entire Ecumene has been deprived of this "last" hope.

This thesis doesn't require special proof: The West's best and brightest, including Nobel Prize winners, have thus far been unable to offer a "new economic model", a "Capitalism 4.0" in Kaletsky's terms.

According to the economist's logic and terminology, the first stage of the tremendous global industrial transition/transformation ran from the victory over Napoleon in 1815 to World War I. This period of relative stability of the international system ended with the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Great Depression in the United States.
These unprecedented political and economic "traumas" destroyed "classical" laissez-faire capitalism and created different "versions" –models of industrial development including Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, and various versions of Western European "welfare states" and "democratic socialisms."

Then, 40 years after the Great Depression, the crisis of the late 1960s and the 1970s inspired the "new political economy" associated with such political figures as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. "Capitalism 3.0" spawned the systemic crisis of 2007–2009, which is still with us today.

Anatole Kaletsky argues that this crisis is paving the way for a new, "fourth" version of the capitalist system free from the weaknesses of the two preceding models.

The "free-market" paradigm that destroyed the global economy, so the argument goes, spanned only three decades (1980–2009), that is only a small part of the long history of modern capitalism as a system of political economy. "As Karl Marx might have predicted, Capitalism 3.0 was destroyed by the contradictions of its own antigovernment ideology," Kaletsky wrote.
According to Kaletsky, the essence of the "Capitalism 4.0" paradigm is to acknowledge the imperfection of human nature (because both governments and markets make "erroneous decisions"), implying a "collaboration" between politics and economics, something that was allegedly absent at the time of Thatcher, Reagan and their ideological successors.
The alternative to "Capitalism 4.0" is that the global system will be inevitably shaped by China (and "other authoritarian neo-capitalist nations"), pushing aside "Western democracies".

So the progressing weakening of the West – or more precisely of the American neo-colonialist model, with most countries (in the not too distant past addressed as "satellites") unable or unwilling to support this leader – is one of the main routes for a new global project.

However, the overall picture of the future global system's  is basically more complicated, requiring a diversified approach as well as "non-trivial" solutions in an attempt to transform it.

Factors that affect this process include, above all, the continued geopolitical rise of a number of nations – the so-called "new influentials" – which started asserting themselves in the second half of the 1980s. Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and India were named by experts at the time. Indonesia also figured in the list, while China, Iran and Turkey were omitted for various reasons.

The rising potential of those countries, as well as their increasingly articulated contradictions with the dominant "global systems" led by the USSR and the United States respectively, raised hope that the "new actors" would emerge as independent "gravitational fields" within the international system. But, after the collapse of the USSR and the "global socialist system", and the introduction of the "Washington Consensus" as the basis for shaping global trends, this group of nations was quietly forgotten.

But history is on the move all the time. The "new influentials" have transformed themselves into "new regional leaders" – influential actors of global politics – over the past quarter of a century. The configuration of the global system itself is taking an increasingly complex and diverse shape.

Secondly, "Capitalism 4.0" needs a new international context, one that is qualitatively different from the current environment, whose resources have been depleted.

The "Versailles-Washington system" has put processes in the international system after World War I "in order" and eased the disintegration of the British-led "unipolar world", which was gradually replaced with more sophisticated models of submission and co-submission under US hegemony. The Yalta–Potsdam "peace", in turn, made mankind more manageable. This was largely thanks to the "vertical" rise of the United States, as well as the Soviet Union, which started catching up with America, particularly in the military and technical field.

The superpower rivalry was recreating Hegel's dialectics of the "unity and war of opposites", which was objectively strengthening control over the manageability of the global system and making the functioning of its complex mechanism more predictable. In a certain sense, the United Nations became a geopolitical "manifestation" of this global trend, as it partly regulated (with the "superpowers' " consent) international and regional conflicts of various types of intensity.
The self-liquidation of one of the geopolitical hubs – the collapse of the USSR and the "global socialist system" – stripped the international system of its internal dialectic and its external dynamic.

As a result, the paradigm shift in international life has increasingly manifested itself in: the inability of the monocentric/ "unipolar" system for self-development and self-correction (resulting in a permanent systemic crisis); economic de-industrialisation in the absence of a real rival-"stimulator"; and the de-democratisation of public life after the disappearance of an alternative political system and its global "gravitational field".

Thirdly, the current state of the world is a result of a long social evolution or, to use academic terminology, a shift in the social development paradigm.

A gradual "unfreezing" of the social structure is taking place all across the Ecumene – a long and irregular process pulling more and more regions and continents into its whirlwind.

It's possible to describe the key phases of this process: (a) the transformation of the "traditional human being" into a modern individual possessing all the key "industrial characteristics" (this process lasted at least five centuries in Europe: from the end of the 13th century to the early 19th century); (b) the "awakening" of the oppressed, i.e., the inhabitants of colonised and dependent territories – largely as a result of the "transformational" activity of the colonisers; and (c) the emergence of left-of-centre political sentiments during the "awakening of the oppressed". Over the course of the evolution of the social and political structure of Latin American societies – reflecting the objective processes of growth and social self-assertion of the continent's "indigenous" population – these tendencies had an undeniable "demonstration effect," triggering off an "unfreezing" of the social structure, institutions and mechanisms of the "old order" in the Muslim world, including its Arab part.

Unlike Western Europe, these processes had not been prepared by the historical development that had come before (the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the non-enclave industrial revolution, the "administrative revolution" of the 1830-1850s, etc.), and thus have a largely spontaneous, reversible, undulating and generally frightening nature for average human beings. Nevertheless, judging by the experience of the Arab world in 2011–2012, reversing these processes by military force or "innovative" political technologies (such as "colour revolutions") is doomed; it seems to be a kind of political wishful thinking.

Fourth, the West itself, led by the United States, has contributed a lot to the creation of an impasse/stalemate in international politics. For instance, the destruction of Libya's political system, followed by the chaos in that country (under the pretext of UN resolution No. 1973), resulted in the devastation of its social and institutional structure (which, according to the West's logic, had to be modernised rather than "exploded").
This carnage has kindled internal strife in Libya and also, according to the American think tank Stratfor, set practically the whole of North-West Africa on fire.

Further, the situation in Afghanistan (more precisely, in the AfPak region) also looks like a stalemate that is not going to be resolved spontaneously once the American pullout from the country is complete. Political manoeuvring and preliminary agreements with the Taliban will only have force on paper, so there's a need for meaningful, binding and long-term agreements that America will have to honour and comply with. Any attempts to "outwit" the negotiation partners, something the Americans have demonstrated on more than one occasion, will only make matters worse and turn the situation into an endless and unmanageable chaos for the US political establishment.

Fifth, the creeping chaos in the world order is directly linked to the loss by international political institutions – above all the United Nations – of their efficacy. The helplessness of the United Nations has become appalling lately in light of the developments in Libya and Syria, North-West Africa, and the Korean Peninsula. To be able to act effectively, the main international institution must possess two essential qualities: (a) to integrate the full diversity of international life – new countries, processes, and ideas – on a permanent basis; and (b) to transform all the time and to adjust spontaneously (without being "nudged" by leading powers) to new and more complicated realities of international as well as regional milieu.

History teaches us that humanity evolves (to preserve itself from self-destruction) amid more or less orderly systems of international relations. Those systems can simultaneously combine the principles of coordination and subordination, i.e., relations of horizontal and vertical origins.

It can be argued in this context that the Versailles-Washington system that was in place before World War II wasn't particularly effective, while the Yalta-Potsdam system, which had a higher degree of institutionalisation, survived the entire Cold War, deterring humanity from further partition of the world by, among other things, the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

After the disintegration of the Ecumene's bipolar set-up, humanity has languished in an "institutional" vacuum of sorts. A case in point is the out-of-control development of chaotic tendencies (in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Syria and many other low- and medium-intensity conflicts). Furthermore, a "dangerous turn" is taking place in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf's "oil monarchies" (the tentative dismantling of obsolete autocratic political systems) as well as in Pakistan (under increased pressure from a nebulous "post-American peace settlement" in Afghanistan).

The West is weary (or "exhausted", to quote Ronald Reagan's relevant description of the USSR back in the day), while there are no candidates to assume the role of the United States and its satellites
But wait. Anarchy cannot last forever. It's here that I see a ray of hope in the otherwise dark universe of chaos and total destruction. America is a major world debtor, which is not bad because this will keep excessively "heated" politicians from emotional and thoughtless actions.

Stalemate is neither a loss nor a win for chess players and politicians alike, provided both have a sense of time and keep a bigger perspective in their mind. That's exactly the point where the need arises for a non-trivial outlook on the modern world and its institutional organisation.

International legal regimes and systems were originated from the consensus among "major" powers on key geopolitical issues of humanity's development. We are also taught by History that throughout the modern time, the circle of consensus participants has been constantly widening.

I believe the time has come to form a new consensus, and to develop "fundamental" principles for a new concept of international institutional and political world order, at least by the end of 2014. Because, as we all can see, the old one is historically and politically defunct.

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