A Middle Eastern possible integration in the post-Syrian and Iraqi wars?

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The catastrophic human suffering in Syria and Iraq, with more than six million refugees only from Syria, will be remembered as one of the biggest failure of the international community to defend civilians, since the Balkans and Rwanda more than twenty years ago. Even if territorial ISIS has just been defeated and the Iraqi Kurdistan is bidding on its independence we don’t know when the Syrian and Iraqi internal conflicts will finally end. But when they will that area will not be the same. And the entire region of Middle East (or more precisely South West Asia, as cardinal directions on a globe are relative) could not be the same if this time the regional powers, and not the world ones, will decide to build a new process for a regional integration.

Since 9/11, the US and his allies’ intervention in Iraq, that facilitated the birth of ISIS, and in Afghanistan, that didn’t stop the Salafi terrorism, and later the non-direct-proxy intervention of many world and regional powers in Syria, that created the humanitarian catastrophe, the Middle East and specifically the Arab world has been in disarray (adding also the failure of the Arab Spring). There is no comparison between the situation of today and the one of the second half of 20th century, when stable countries and strong leaders (like Nasser in Egypt) could give some form of stability to the region. The US President Donald Trump declared since the beginning of its mandate that he will “fix the mess he inherited” but even if some analysts at the beginning thought that he “will design a new Middle East” it is clear now that he has a flawed Middle East policy with no real plan for Syria or Iraq after Isis is defeated. Actually, he needs to concentrate on East Asia mostly, putting in practice the pivot that Obama already declared. But this is not a bad thing, at the end of the day, as there is no design or fixing of the Middle East with external interventions, we saw that repeatedly since at least one century, since the end of the Ottoman Empire, and probably even before since the Napoleon campaign in Ottoman Egypt and Syria: only regional empires really created stability in the past and only regional powers will create it in the future.

The leaders of Middle East are today facing a fundamental decision: to choose between the old-style balance of power, with the consequent instability when the balance becomes unbalanced, or a gradual future regional integration. The second choice is the only one that could guarantee some stability for the region, as Europe showed in the last 70 years after centuries of conflict because of balance of powers’ failures. Would this be possible also for the Middle East or is this just a utopian and naïf idea? Political will for transformational changes is never an easy thing, in particular in a region like this one, but also for Europe during WWII it seemed impossible to arrive to what we arrived today. After the destructions of the Syrian and Iraqi wars a long political vision has to come from the region, not from outside, and it is never too early to start to plan, at least if we have constantly in mind the civilian victims that suffer in the region every single day. But how to think about such a visionary plan?

To bet on a future economic and political integration in a region like Middle East the local powers will need not only to negotiate political settlements after stopping the fight but to reach a compromise on regional institutions to foster cooperation. This is the grand bargain that the regional powers need to achieve. To do this the regional countries with vocation of global actors, first of all Turkey and Iran, but also Egypt and Saudi Arabia, will have to understand that together they will be able to play a stronger role in the future complex and globalized world. As it has been for Europe last century, also the Middle East, if it wants to definitely abandon the past of violence and underdevelopment, will have to search for a gradual integration: an economic, political and also security integration, like it has been for the CEE and NATO, as development and security go hand in hand.

But the question that rise for Middle Eastern future in comparison to the European past is: could the regional powers of the area have the vision and determination of their European counterparts? And specifically could Iran learn to be what Germany (until 1990 only the West part) has been for Europe, the engine, Turkey what France has been, the torch, and Saudi Arabia what Italy has been, the bridge? Comparison are always a risk, as every region is by itself, and there are never models to apply, but lesson learned and best practices can be useful, if adapted to new times and different spaces. And we need to look at longer terms, all this century more than the next few years of decade (as China does at economic level with the new Silk Road initiative). Because longer time spans allow us to really see the long trends for the future, and try to impact them, more than to identify countries with their current leaders or administrations. So, let’s see one by one these regional leaders.

Iran is back in the international community since the nuclear deal was signed and it has all the potential to become the economic cornerstone of a future “Middle Eastern Economic Community”. It should nevertheless understand that its role is not the one of regional hegemony, either economically or ideologically, but the one of a shared leadership. Iran should work for Shia minorities in the future Middle East to be included in new democratic and inclusive governments, and not attempt to weaken the domestic politics of these governments to destabilize them and enter as a regional leader. This is something that the Ayatollah regime may not be ready to do it now, but regimes, as everything in human societies, are not eternals. So, let’s see what will be the future for Iranian democracy, as it is one of the countries that experienced the earlier democratic development in the Middle East, one century ago with the Persian Constitutional Revolution, unfortunately put down by the Russians.

Turkey today is not in a good situation, struggling between its internal democratic regression, the forgotten European membership and the external and internal threats of terrorism. But Turkey, besides being the connector between the EU and the Middle East, has the potential also to be the “light on the hill” for the Middle East, with its history of multiculturalism in the Ottoman times and democratic values in the Republican ones, and even earlier at the same time of the Iranian democratic development with the Young Turk revolution in 1908. Turkey represents one of the most trusted countries in all the Muslim world (that we don’t have to forget live mostly in Asia) and if it will rediscover the good elements of both the Ottoman times, with its history of cohabitation, and the Republican history, with roots in secular democracy, could become one of the political leaders of the future regional integration.

Finally Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries. The Arabic Peninsula represents the bridge between the Maghreb and the Southwest Asia: like Turkey also Saudi Arabia controls two seas that separate her from these areas, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. The region to which the Arabic peninsula belong historically, geographically and ontologically is a bridging space between the Levant, the North Africa and the Indian Ocean. It is therefore with their Arab brothers that they must find a new Renaissance, starting with a more united and expanded GCC, after the conflict with Qatar will be solved, and following with a renovated Arab League. Will Al Saud family be able to do it when old king Salman will die, and the young Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman will become the new King? Will Al Saud family, with gradual reforms towards a more democratic monarchy, be able to represent a more enlightened Arab leadership that Gaddafi, Saddam, Hafez al-Assad and others could not do? Future will say but unfortunately it seems that Mohammed bin Salman wants to escalate the cold war with Iran and might risk a hot battle with unimaginable consequences.  The problem is that Al Saud family, even if will be able to reinforce its power with the recent purges of bin Salman, will not be able to lead the country eternally as its own property. And mostly the Al Saud family needs a new approach to the relationship between religion and politics, as this will help to facilitate in the long future a Shia-Sunni rapprochement, instead of keep trying to fight an impossible battle with the millenary Shia communities in the region. Iran and Saudi Arabia sectarian division at the end of the day is not so different from the Catholic-Protestant division we had in Europe for centuries, before France and Germany finally agreed to integrate in an economic union, even if after two world wars. If Europe could do it Middle East can do it. Hopefully avoiding a similar bloodbath.

So, to avoid a major armed conflict, or keep going with proxy local wars, regional powers in Middle East will have to be enough visionary to understand that they can have more benefit if they collaborate than if they compete, especially in the future globalized times. If Iran, S. Arabia and Turkey will understand that supporting each other for economic development and security will be more beneficial than competing for sphere of influences, as Germany, Italy and France did after two world wars, this will create the leadership that the Middle East desperately need since at least one century. And most importantly, the Muslim world will have the leadership needed to live in peace with Jews and Christian, creating for the first time on that land a religious harmony of faiths that recognize Abraham as their common prophet. Actually, the integration of the Middle East cannot happen without also the participation of Israel. Israel could represents the compass of the region, as it is the state that can share a history of stable democracy in the Middle East and is the country that can bring the concept of inclusion of diversity in the new regional order. There will not be integration of the Middle East without the inclusion of Israel, and this means also a stable peace process between Israel and Palestine, and with that process Israel will finally get the legitimacy to be recognized and respected as a partner by the leaders of the Middle Eastern Muslim world.

 

But what are the concrete steps with short-term goals that the regional powers should take to start a similar integration? First of all, like the Treaty of Rome followed the Ventotene Manifesto on Europe, also the Middle East will need some type of “Manifesto” to mark the road and explain the necessity of such future. The intellectual and political figures of the Middle East need to come out and take the lead to trace the road. The Islamic intelligentsia for example should start to debate about the future regional order, and international organizations like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation could play a role in this. Concepts like the Islamic banking and finance, based on specific political or economic values, could be an important starting point to make the regional powers see that they share more than what they differ. Secondly, conferences on economic and security cooperation should be held. These conferences could address the preliminary steps for a common market and common resources (first oil and gas) as it is through economy that the interest of cooperation comes out first. Then security conferences could be done, on the example of the Helsinki Conference in the 1970s, that created the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in order to accompany the birth of an “Organization for security and cooperation in Middle East”. International preparatory conferences will not be easy as these countries meet among many others at the UN or G20 but never met for such process of integration, so they will need a political leadership with enough vision and boldness to propose these actions. But the task will not be possible without some external supporters, to facilitate the diplomatic efforts for an economic and political integration (like the US has been for Europe). So the third element could be the support of external powers as mediators and guarantors and the first of these powers could be the European Union (EU). As the EU helped the US and Russia to come to an agreement with Iran, it could also help in future the Middle Eastern regional powers to take the lead for a regional integration. The EU could give to a Middle Eastern integration process what the US gave for the birth of the EU, which is economic and political support. This would represent an occasion also for the EU in the next decades to recover from its economic, political and cultural crisis that is living now. The EU seems the most legitimate and balanced international actor to take such role, as the US and Russia would keep fighting for sphere of influences and this would not help the future integration. For the same reason security should be kept in the hands of regional powers, as if external actors like NATO for example would enter in the protection of local partners this could create frictions between again the two world superpowers. This doesn’t meant that partnerships and dialogues like the NATO Mediterranean dialogue with Maghreb and NATO Istanbul Cooperation Initiative with Gulf countries should not continue though.

Diplomacy requires time and patience, and ability to find a balance among the parts. It is not an easy game and as the recent US rapprochement with Cuba and Iran demonstrates, and it has to be constantly nurtured, as the more recent Trump hostile actions show. So the international community and the regional powers need to extend the “shadow of the future”, think about longer terms in order to open prospective for convergence of interests and cooperation. It seems a far stretch right now to think about a Middle Eastern integration but the European Economic Community also seemed impossible in the past but it born with the Treaty of Rome 60 years ago, in order, as Schuman had said, “to make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible” in the future in Europe. The same could happen in the ME in the long run and the regional powers, supported by the EU, will have to take the lead during this century if they want an enduring stability with a regional order.

It is in time of chaos that we need clear ideas and long visions, it is in time of war that we need strong political will, and it is in time of major human sufferings that we need to search for long term solutions. We owe it first to the people of Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan and all the other areas of Middle East in constant suffering.

 

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Ethno-nationalism on the march. Next stop Europe?

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The referendums of Lombardia-Veneto in Italy and moreover Catalonia in Spain (with voices of new referendums in the UK), on the wave of the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, show that nation states are in a transition phase in Europe. The nation state, born four hundreds years ago and reinforced through the centuries, traditionally based on a very centralized state and an homogeneous nation, is changing skin, being eroded from above and from below. And the citizens of these nation states, at least in the so called “West” part of the world, seems to want to change their national identity skin, and in the process trying to rewrite the social contract with a new self-determination wave.

The European cases are different obviously from Kurdish one, as in Europe there are democracies, there has been no decolonization or genocide attempt against these minorities and autonomies are already strong, both in federated states like Germany, Austria, Switzerland, or Belgium, but even in non-federations such as Spain, United Kingdom, or Italy (with regional assemblies for special regions) that can be defined as “asymmetric federalism.” But new nationalism, based on ethnicity as in the Catalan case, are on the rise as reaction to globalization, migrations and new identities, and politicians are using that narrative together with populist attitudes to capitalize political power.

But changing borders is not a game and can end up with fatal consequences. The are several separatist movements in Europe and beyond. If all of them seek independence that would create a big mess in world politics in terms of humanitarian consequences and economic costs. An independent Catalonia for example could shake the foundations of the European Union. Should Sicily and Lombardia seek independence after that? If we witness an increasing of ethno-nationalist wave, we will have serious problems in the European integration, even if we will not go back to the Europe of fifteenth century.

The self-determination is the right of the people to determine their own political status without external interference but is becoming more and more a complex and delicate issue. Self-determination is mentioned only two times in the United Nations charter, in the context of developing “friendly relations among states” and “equal rights.” Even if during the 1960s it was interpreted as the right of colonies to become independent, distinct ethnic groups within colonies did not have a right to separate. Since the 1990s—under international law—this right is tangled with human rights and democratic norms. And today it is not free from political manipulation, with interests that go beyond the “autonomization” of nations, ethnic groups or cultures, as we saw with recent referenda.

Many compare the case of Kosovo with Catalonia. Kosovo is the newest European state to have gained independence, but the country did not just decide to secede for no reason. Independence was essential for the survival of its people who were being ethnically cleansed, persecuted, and tortured for decades. Kosovo and Kurdistan are much more comparable cases, even if Kosovo is a sui generis case: the only time when the West initiated a military humanitarian intervention to prevent another Srebrenica. This is not to say that Catalans or Venetians do not deserve more autonomy or even independence in the future. The argument though is that the world is evolving and so is the understanding of self-determination.

Nation states are not eternal. But monoethnic nation states are not the solution. Few countries in the world are ethnically homogenous and will be less and less in the future. Pluralistic nation states, with federations, autonomies, decentralization, and even cities included in the participation to the national “public affairs”, the Res-publica, are more successful, democratic, and stable. Independence and secession should be the extrema ratio for self-determination of the people. The normal process should be the negotiations, the eternal “market of points of view” that would allow to respond to the needs of all parts in a consensual decision making.

Real democracy, substantive, meaningful and liberal democracy means power “from by and to” the people, and so inclusiveness of all parts of society. Level of inclusion, through “autonomization” of regions that feel repressed and people that feel not recognized should be the criteria to measure democracies. This for both authoctonous and new minorities. Immigrants arriving to a new country should be granted if not citizenship at least the status of refugee, and their children given the jus solis principle of citizenship based on birth.

But we need to take care of political strumentalization in the process. Referendum can be a great instrument of democracy (like the ones asking on civil rights) but also a great instrument of manipulation. We have seen them used as power tool in many countries, from Venezuela to Ukraine, from Turkey to Europe today.  Constitutions are still the main social contract that state must abide to. If new sensibilities and social change require to change Constitutions that must be done with negotiations.

The world, and states in particular that don’t represent their diversity, because of their history of conquer, nationalist institutions and politics of repression, from Middle East to Africa to Europe, are in great distress. But we need to take care that this process doesn’t become a tragedy for the people, manipulated by political forces. The real solution is dialogue. Spanish and Catalan representatives, as well as Italians and Venetians or British and Scottish, should negotiate and reach a compromise, probably a federalized state structure, for the satisfactions of all the parts and the continuation of the important European integration that is under stress from above and from below.

Visar Xhambazi and Maurizio Geri

 

 

Canada: 150 years of pluralism or colonialism? Canada’s future depends on how it deals also with its history of genocide

An indigenous rights activist holds a sign reading "Canada 150 is a Celebration of Indigenous Genocide", in Toronto

“It took us seven generations to create this mess” said Manitoba Senator Murray Sinclair, one of the three Commissioner of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to explain the 150 years of Canadian history. “Probably it will take seven more generations to fix it”, said Kimberly Murray, the Executive Director of that same Commission, referring to the next 150 years of Canada.

Canada is known in the world for being one of the most diverse and pluralistic society, with one-fifth of Canadians born elsewhere, being also a gigantic country with a small population of 35 million people, always in search of immigrants. In 1971, Canada was the first country in the world to adopt “multiculturalism” as an official policy, considered every Canadian citizen equal regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, their language, or their religious affiliation. But one thing are the laws and structures and one thing the application of those policies on the ground. Actually, the recent celebrations for the 150 years since Kanata-Canada foundation have sparked a lot of criticism from civil society organizations, especially the ones representing the First Nations, saying that in reality this country history is based on colonization, segregation and even genocide, not only “cultural genocide” as the Truth and Reconciliation commission defined it[1].

I had the possibility to participate in June to an international congress on humanities and social sciences, organized by Ryerson University in Toronto, a very intercultural city (where also half million Italians reside, the biggest Italian community outside Italy). At the conference, several panels were organized to talk about the past and the future of Canada, with important names like John Ralston Saul or Mohamed Fahmy. One of the persons that spoke in one of the panels was Kimberly Murray, who I had the possibility to interview after the conference, and who told me a little about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The Commission, that worked between 2008 and 2015 was part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, an agreement between the government of Canada and almost 90 thousand Native Canadians recognized as victims, the largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history. The Commission showed how for many decades indigenous children belonging to First Nations or Inuit or Métis (Mixed) were removed from their families and placed in the Canadian Indian residential school system, in schools operated often by the Christian churches, mostly Roman Catholic, where they were abused physically, emotionally and sexually. Over 7 thousand kids died. Recently the Canadian prime minister Trudeau even asked Pope Francis to apologize for the history of the schools and “move forward on a real reconciliation.”[2]

But the story is not finishing with the schools. Special hospitals were also created for indigenous people, with a racial segregation organized to isolate indigenous people from the settlers. Like in the residential schools these hospitals were places of abuses until the end of the 20TH century. Actually, there are complains that the current health system continues to treat indigenous people differently from the others, with a discrimination that substituted the segregation. Also, through the foster care and adoption system, thousands of indigenous children were taken from their homes and then adopted by non-Indigenous families both in Canada and abroad, during the 1960s, the infamous “60s scoops” as it has been defined, an attempt of “cultural genocide” as the Commission defined it.

The agreement reached with the tens of thousands of indigenous people, costed to the Canadian government $2 billion compensation package for the victims. But it is not only money that can repay the suffering and the story of colonization and segregation. Unfortunately, only few people have been convicted for the deaths in the schools but the attempted genocide, cultural or physical, that British and French colonies before, and Canada and the US after, did to the indigenous people of North America is something that cannot be erased from history. That is why the 94 Calls to action of the Commission ask for changes in educational programs, increase funding for Aboriginal languages, address the lack of health services available to indigenous communities etc. Murray said that these recommendations have started to be implemented at community and local level but not at national one, and some of the recommendations will have hard time to be implemented. This is the case for example of the application of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people, that require prior consent by the indigenous people before the construction of infrastructures on the indigenous land, as Canada’s Supreme Court has not recognized this consent standard yet (very important with the recent protest for the constructions of pipelines in North America[3]).

Many other countries have stories of genocide and not all of them has recognized that. But the recognition of a genocide at the foundation of a nation is the only way to come to terms with our history and get the legitimacy in front of the international community. It is a showing of strength not of weakness.[4] And actually, the US should follow the example of Canada, as it never had any process of healing and reparation, either economic or spiritual, and less a Truth and Reconciliation Commission neither for the Indian American genocide or for the African American slavery and segregation. And today we can see the consequences with the still discrimination and racism towards Indian Americans and African Americans.

Awareness of the past, and acknowledge of the suffering, is the first step for a real “truth and reconciliation” with our own past and this is the path that Canada should take to build a better future. It will be good for Canada and it will be good for many other countries, that will look up at Canada as an example.

[1] https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/06/10/cultural-genocide-no-canada-committed-regular-genocide.html

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/30/trudeau-asks-pope-francis-to-apologise-to-indigenous-people-for-churchs-abuses

[3] See on this the recent news: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/standing-rock-and-what-comes-next/article33280583/

[4] See on this my article on “The Strength Found from Admitting to Genocide” http://chargedaffairs.org/strength-found-admitting-to-genocide/

 

Trump and the return of Pax Sinica with the end of Pax Americana

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Will the year of 2017 be remembered in history as the year in which the US, willing or not, passed the baton as the world leader to China, exactly one century after it took it entering the First World War? Actually, whether we like it or not, the baton as first world economy was already going to be passed soon. But the US officially withdrawal from the 21st century world order, abdicating from the role of cornerstone of that order, with Trump “America first” exceptionalism and retrenchment, could make space for a new leader in the 21st century: China. From the leadership of a thalassocracy (sea power) like the US it seems we are passing to the leadership (or at least co-leadership) of a tellurocracy (land power) like China (if in the future together with another tellurocracy, the EU). Two events could have marked this passage in the last days: the launch in Pekin on May 14 of One belt one road initiative, in which no Western high leadership accepted to participate (most of the countries sent low level representatives) apart the Italian Prime Minister (being Venice, from Marco Polo Silk Road remembrance, included in the project), and the American withdraw from Paris Agreement on Climate Change on June first, an agreement made after many years of discussions by the UN, and especially suited for the US. But already with the US retreat from TPP and the EU new defense projects the cards started to be reshuffled.

The first event is especially important because represent a development strategy proposed by China based on cooperation between 68 Eurasian countries for the creation of the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the oceans-based “Maritime Silk Road”. It is a major plan for the next decades and is not only referred to infrastructures in order to make countries growth before to trade with them. It is also an attempt to alleviate the poverty and insecurity of these countries all together, because global challenges require global response. As Xi Jinping said: “the world must unite like a flock of geese”.

The second event, is especially important because independently from the fact that in 4 years a new President could change again the decision (this is the blessing and curse of democracy) the US lost the most important element of a leadership: the credibility. Actually, the European allies said already that the agreement will not be renegotiated after the American withdraw. A similar thing will happen also when Trump, in all likelihood, will withdraw from the Iranian agreement, making it clear that international agreements for global challenges are what they are: multinational, and so one part, even if is the strongest one, cannot decide for all the rest. These two events also cast a light on the understanding of the current losing of appeal by democracies all over the world, being two very different expressions of the actions of a democracy and an autocracy: short term and long-term policies. But this is another story.

These two events, even if they will not have a tremendous impact at international level as it happens with total wars (like the world wars) or at domestic level with a revolution (like the Russian revolution in 1917) or the implosion of an empire (like the end of Soviet Union in 1991), represent two major symbolic political moments that future historians will probably remember as the start of 21st century, even more than 9/11. Because 9/11 represented rather the end of the unipolar moment, while the 2017, with the formalization of Brexit, the Trump policies of retreat from TPP and Climate agreements and China’s full step in globalization, marks the start of a multipolar century, with a new realignment: the moving of the pendulum back to Asia.

Nevertheless, there are two good news for all the nations of the planet, including America: the first is that the new world order, that will be organized more by China, will be based on economic means, not military ones. Security at international level will not see a policeman like it has been during the short unipolar moment, for the good and for the bad. The hope here is that with shared economic growth there will be less need of conflicts, at least interstate ones (unfortunately, the intrastate ones will probably continue for the time being). The second good news is that all the world, that is Eurasia, Africa and America, including the US, is welcome to participate in a new world order, in a convergent way. The world order coming from Asia, even if with some imperialist elements (at the end of the day the infrastructures will be paid by each countries with loans from China, so all countries will be in debt with China) will not be conflictual with the rest (as the Western world order has often be, from the colonial times to the neocolonial ones). All the major experts on China agree on a peaceful and benevolent rise of China. At one condition: that we trust China as possible ally and not on the contrary suspect her as a sure rival and enemy of the old liberal Western order. Otherwise the self-fulfilling prophecy of creating our own enemy will be realized. The Chinese domestic issues, including democratic practices, will take time to be dealt with, as culture matter. All this doesn’t mean that China will be always going up without problems, as in the humankind issues there are always trends and countertrends, and China will have its own internal social and political crisis and economic decline too…but not for some time yet.

The multipolar world already started and we are at a crossroads: we, the so called “West”, meaning the EU and the US (the UK for its own decision will not count much in the future world arena) must decide, if to accept the challenge of growing together, or trying to cling to an old order that is no more. Nothing is eternal, no empires are exempt from decline and no country or sets of countries can last more than a while as world leaders (we saw it through history). The West doesn’t need to give up the military superiority (even if always balanced by Russia) but it needs to accept that all major nations will want spheres of influence in their regions. We cannot cast our presence all over the world anymore, not only because of the imperial overstretching but because of the facts on the ground: there is a moment for everything and for everyone.

So what will be the future? There are two famous theories in International Relations theory regarding conflict or cooperation that can help us to try to foresee the future: the Thucydides trap and the Prisoner dilemma. If we will follow the path of the Thucydides Trap (with the typical Western mistrust) we could go to war with China[1]. If instead we will follow the path of the Iterated Prisoner Dilemma (with an atypical Western will to cooperate instead of dominating) we will go towards world prosperity with the return of Pax Sinica after two millennia[2] (and possibly with the inclusion of Islamic ethical values on brotherhood and the Indian and aboriginal ones on protection of mother nature). The first one is a path to disaster and despair, based on individual and national interests instead of global ones. The second one is a shared and consensual path, based on covenants and agreements, on diplomacy and trust between the American thalassocracy, that will still probably be in control of the seas, being in the middle of the oceans, and the Chinese tellurocracy, that will be the land based hegemon of the Eurasian mass, together with the other super power on the other end of the big continent, the EU. It is the convergence of civilizations (instead of the ill-fated clash) that we can build for this century and even may be millennia. Posterity (if there will be one before colonizing other planets) will judge.

SOME OTHER ARTICLES ON THE TOPIC

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/reimagining-liberal-international-order-by-javier-solana-2017-06?referrer=/f3zIEXEtsY

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/life-after-american-hegemony-by-ian-buruma-2017-06

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2011-05-01/future-liberal-world-order

NOTES

[1] See on this John Pilger documentary: The coming war on China. http://thecomingwarmovie.com/ See also here:

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-skeptics/how-america-could-end-unexpected-war-china-20831

[2] When China Rules the World: The Rise Of The Middle Kingdom And The End Of The Western World, Martin Jacques, Penguin, 2012.

 

The end of Pax Americana with the US new presidency: from cooperation to competition and from strong social capital to political disempowerment

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The new American presidency at international level

The international shift from cooperation to conflict that the Trump “business” administration of America has made already, in just the first week, is based on the continuation of the former administration path but with opposite means. America keeps retreating in its isolationism because of the global disorder, but now with a conflicting attitude instead of a cooperative one, being led by a businessman after an educator. This at first sight seems dangerous and possibly causing an escalation of conflict against the US and even among states. Nevertheless in the longer view could also open space for the world actors to build individual paths and new alliances independently by the US hegemony. It is hard to be optimistic in difficult times but is when we most need.

From Mexico to China, from the EU to the Middle Eastern countries non-aligned with America, the US is saying today: I will reduce the collaborative relationship with you following only my interest, now you have to make the move if you want to compete with me or you are by yourselves. Mistrust and “prisoner dilemma” is what is expecting us: defection will get more result than collaboration in the protectionist and nationalist world that Trump wants to recreate. This is what we will see from Mexico reactions to the wall, to China retaliations to the possible trade war, from EU reactions to the American attacks (Trump defines the EU as the “consortium”), to Middle Eastern retaliations after the rejection of immigrants from the seven states that US consider “sponsors of terrorism”. Actually in reality these states instead of supporting Salafi and Jihadist terrorism (that is supported mostly by the Gulf monarchies) have been challenging the American model both politically and economically…that is why they are in the list even if intermittently since decades. So besides discriminating on religion and fomenting Islamophobia, it is evident that the ban is not at all for defending American territory as ISIS has a big presence in many other states, like Nigeria for example, and is not present at all in some of the seven states, like for example Iran.

This new process of conflict competition and aggressivity could escalate conflict with the US and even among countries themselves, not having the hegemonic presence of America that provide “public goods” like possible protections or “public threats” like possible attacks. But it could also open space for new actors to rise and fill the power vacuum in a competitive way and in new geopolitical trajectories: “If US is not there anymore, also because of its decline, we can do it by ourselves” will say the countries with world aspirations. China and India as leaders in Asia, Mexico and Brazil as leaders in Latin America, Iran and Turkey as leaders in the Middle East, are natural developments when the hegemon is not there anymore and so regional leaders for regional cooperation and integration could represent the next steps after the failure of globalization. Canada for example already step in as possible substitute of the US as leader of the democratic world, accepting the refugees that the US is rejecting and fighting against Islamophobia, and for that has been suddenly attacked by a white nationalist killing in a mosque.

So let’s see the bigger picture. After WWII the liberal order was guaranteed by the US and NATO, also thanks to the stability of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. After the end of the Cold War the new instability and the multipolar (or zeropolar) world made the liberal global order impossible to retain, given the risk of imperial overstretching. Today we are witnessing the end of the Pax Americana as we are on a new path in this transition towards a new order: the US, together with the UK (being the two that created that order) are ending the liberal order, weakening international institutions and norms that they themselves created, pushing the international system back to its traditional “anarchy” and the nation states back to its traditional “power”, as major agents of international politics for its own interests. In political science, from the constructivist theories born in the second half of 20th century to understand modernity and postmodernity we are having today a revival of the traditional realist-rationalist approaches. But if we look closer this is not only the realist approach in international relations, it represents the extreme capitalist free market ideology applied to international politics: competition over cooperation. The ideas is that if you allow different actors to compete among themselves in an anarchic and conflicting system their talents, merits and capacities will come out and the system will grow consequentially. This is true but problem is that, in the international system as in the market, with a completely free competition without rules and norms protecting from the extremes, the strongest can crash the weakest, or to say it with Thucydides still valid after two millennia: “The strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must.”

So what we are witnessing with the new populism, nationalism and “conflictism” of Trump and also Teresa May, it is not only a political, economic and cultural shift, it is also an ideological and paradigmatic one: from cooperation we are passing to conflict as a legitimate tool of international relations, similar to the economic-materialist concept of Marx and Schumpeter of “creative destruction”. The creators are destroying what they created in order to reborn as new leaders in the future chaos. If this will have more positive or negative results in the long run it has to be seen. Much will depend if someone will take the lead in the meantime, in the creation of a new modern global order while the US and UK are busy destroying what remains of the old one. Hopefully if this will happen will be someone with cooperative and inclusive attitudes, because if history can teach something is that the belief in only the realist-rationalist-materialist approach, with conflict as “the great equalizer” and war as “continuation of politics with other means”, produced the most violent and inhumane century of humankind.

The new American presidency at domestic level

As we know the Roman Empire failed, as all the other great powers in human history, from implosion before than from invasion, from internal dysfunctions more than from external ones. So domestic situation is more important than the international one. Also Fukuyama (Political Order and Political Decay, 2014) famously argued that liberal democracy’s future is cloudy because of its own internal problems, not competition from any external opponent. Therefore today the US, coming out from a century of world supremacy, should recuperate its internal strength in order to keep this supremacy, not only at economic level but also at cultural and social level. And this is the discours of Trump, making America great again “for all Americans”. But in reality this discourse hide a manipulation of the disenfranchised people that will keep things as they are for them, or even worst at economic, political and social level. Much has been said about economic so let’s concentrate on social and political levels.

The social strength of a country is called “social capital”. In political science the social capital is one of the bases of democracy: it represent the level of networking, participation, reciprocity, cooperation and trust that make a society act together for the common good. Tocqueville noticed two centuries ago that in America the social capital was at a high level, because Americans were meeting at as many gatherings as possible to talk about politics, more than the people in the old continent. This increased the levels of transparency, participation and trust and so the social capital, which in turn allowed for democracy to work better. At the end of the day those were the times when the creation of the country was still fresh, two or three generations before, and so people were still eager to participate and fight for to the Res-publica, the “public thing”. But almost two century after the social capital is in a different situation in America. Already Putnam explained how isolation and lack of civic engagement reduced social capital in America, and a recent article on the last issue of the Journal of Democracy present that showing that not many people believe in real democracy in this country and act as a consequence anymore.

If we look deeper in this concept we see how the scholarship define three types of social capital, all needed for the good work of democracy: Bonding, that means inside a social group like family, friends, neighbors, race etc.; Bridging, among different groups, like cross-ethnic association, interreligious groups etc.; and Linking, among people and their government representatives, local authorities etc. While Obama was strong in creating Bridging and Linking social capital, Trump seems to wish to reinforce the Bonding social capital, inside a particular group of people. These people are not only the “descendent of the original pioneers”, the so called WASP, “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant”, that are more traditionalist (with God, family and nation values of the Jacksonian tradition) conservative, uneducated and isolated, and that once were the “elite” and now feel threatened as an endangered species in the US because of the new immigrants, the new educated-intellectuals and in general the wave of progressivism during the last decades. They are also represented by the people (mostly WASP but not only) that have been “downgraded” and “declassified” either from a high income middle class to a lower income middle class or from a high income labor class to a lower income (or even unemployed) labor class, becoming in these way the antiestablishment disenfranchised people, the nourishment for populist and demagogues of all times and places. These are the same type of people that are causing the populist surge in the Western world. The Trump administration, respect to the Obama’s one, is here exactly to channelize this anger of people that from quite rich became less rich and that are living in what Pankaj Mishra defined “the age of anger”, to show in a post-deliberative post-intellectual democracy, and against professional politicians, what really means to deliberate and act fast and simple, even is synonym of superficial and divisive. The problem is that trying to unite only one part of population with the bonding narrative and without the other types of social capital, the bridging and linking ones, democracy doesn’t work, as democracy needs inclusiveness and trust in representation, while the bonding social capital create a tribal-clanistic democracy, in reality an oligarchy closed to the world and to the future, that is what America increasingly seems to have.

And here we come to the second point of this administration at domestic level, besides destroying the diversity of social fabric favoring only the bonding social capital of a “relative small” group. While the listening to the people could represent the “healthy populism”, to bring people back to politics, overcoming the risk of popular rebellion against the democratic institution, the fact that in reality Trump doesn’t listen to “all” people and doesn’t seem to have effective programs to reduce inequality and so address that anger, and instead is putting the administration in the hands of family, corporations and crony capitalism, is quite worrying. The reality is that the Trump administration is manipulating that anger in order to divide the 99% of people that have less than the 1%, breaking its possible social movement, eroding the political power of their representative and making the economic sphere stronger and with less control, without “problems” like climate change, critic press or international norms to disturb its business. Trump attacks politicians and state institutions, which are people’s representative, saying “people will retake their power” but what he really means is that “economy will retake its power” over politics and even the state. This is confirmed by his nominations of many business people in its administration, who come from Exxon, Goldman Sacks and other corporations or financial powers, and by the antidemocratic alt-right ideology of his senior counselor Steve Bannon. All this could lead to the final destruction of political and state power versus the economic one, with a stronger neoliberal uncontrolled economy and so more inequality.

But this process could lead also, as a reaction, to a grassroot bridging social capital with an alliance between classes, the poor and disenfranchised labor class, the excluded and not listened minorities (including women, latinos and blacks) and the middle class of professionals, scientists and intellectuals, that is only possibility for any successful “revolution”. Also, the erosion of democratic insitutions, again as a reaction, could lead to a grassroot linking social capital between citizens and their representatives, that could join forces to recuperate the democratic norms and the institutional political power over the economic one. Already the recent Women’s march and the protest against the immigrations ban as well as the institutions refusing to follow Presidents decisions (like the federal judge in Seattle who temporarily blocked Trump’s immigration order), represent signs in that direction.

So we don’t know yet but in a relative short time, that means in this year 2017, we will see where US politics and society is headed. We will see soon if democratic institutions, besides social capital and political sphere, will be eroded to a critical point of autocracy and social division like it happened in Venezuela or Turkey. We will see soon if the final assault of unregulated market and neoliberal forces will increase the inequality or there will be as a reaction a more “European” America, with a welfare state balancing that inequality. And we will see soon if there will be an American decline on the international arena and the final end of Pax Americana or an American Renaissance, may be together with China or even Russia. Remembering two famous sentences of the worst times of our human history we will see soon if the Americans will still be able to say, as the 1935 political novel by Sinclair Lewis, “It can’t happen here”, or will instead say, as Martin Niemoller recited during Nazism, “First they came for the socialist, but I was not a socialist…”

An unfamiliar political geography of a 'democratic and modern' world from the perspective of a Florentine man living in Virginia