Category Archives: Americas

East-West competition: is it good for human species survival?

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The battle between East and West has always been a battle of ideas, meaning a battle between civilization’s values and cultures, of which socio-political-economic models are an expression. Sometimes this battle becomes a military one, like in the past, sometimes an economic-political one, like in the present. In the future could be a battle for just a competition. To end in a great bargain.

The 21st century, and may be next one if we have enough time, will probably be the crucial century for the survival of humankind: while the Sixth Extinction is ongoing (called also the Anthropocene one, as made by the Humans eating the Earth slowly like a cancer) the Homo Sapiens Sapiens could be part of this extinction too, either for self-implosion, with a nuclear holocaust, speciation, with cyborg-humans creation, or for an external agent, with a meteorite or another alien invasion.

But this century will probably also see the final global hegemony and predominance of either the
“West” or the “East” of the planet, given the exponential technological grow, fast expansion of human activities and reduction of space and time on the terrestrial lives. The winner will almost surely be the social system that will master two main abilities: adaptability to change and collaboration in great numbers. These are the two factors that made our species evolve as Harari showed us, before winning against Neanderthal, and later empowering our brain development, teaching us to to cultivate, speak, write, and finally develop science and technology.

The problem we have today is that the East is more able to do the “collaboration in great numbers” side – the collective action problem solution is more an “Asian specialty”, with sustainable progress without internal interruptions – while the “adaptation/resilience/innovation” side is more a “West specialty”, with creativity and progress towards new futures and spaces (including a possible space conquer for the backup of humankind, making ours a “multiplanetary species”, coming mostly from the West mentality of scientific progress).

But as we need both to survive and make it to the future multiplanetary human civilization, why not to transform the competition in collaboration learning from each other? A great bargain for a great convergence, the “convergence of civilizations” (very different from the famous Clash one). It is not impossible. What we need is to imagine it, not because John Lennon said that, but because, as Harari again explains, imagination is what made our species to evolve with the two skills.

Currently this conflict, the so called “great powers competition”, see a slightly winning from the Asian cultures (Russian/Chinese) versus the West ones (European/American) because of economic pendulum going to the East (Esternization as someone says) and also because of the famous Sharp Power (of intrusion to destabilize, the divide et impera concept) taking advantage of the Western transparency and openness but also US/Western crisis, in particular of Soft Power (democracy appealing is reduced when there is no economic sustained growth). Nevertheless, this crisis too, as everyone, is a temporary one, waiting for the curve to go up again for a new Reinassance, that will come probably in less than a generation (as the crisis also arrived in last 20 years). The West has only to re-study the lessons learned of the past as recently Diamond argued.

First, the West will fight the “decline of its empire of ideas”, as Zakaria says, if it goes back to Classics (as we did in Florence to launch the Renaissance after Middle Age). What are the founding elements of our Western civilizations? Critical thinking, evidence-based science and individual empowerment based on liberation from tribal blocks and free experimentation. Putin involvement in Western populist movements competition (from Trump to Le Pen and Salvini) and the Jinping involvement in Western technological and infrastructural competition (from Wawei/Alibaba to BRI) is something that will not be eliminated until the West will recuperate its own “Transparent/Truthful Power”, that is Soft Power + science/facts based knowledge. This is the comparative advantage of the Western adaptation/resilience/innovation strength.

Second, the West will get another comparative advantage when will give individuals again the possibility to experiment what they want and are capable of. Meritocracy, based on the fight against corrupted bureaucrats and elites, and the moving of capitals among individuals will be the crucial elements. Following the American system, Europe should start cleaning its dirty public institutions, in particular political and academic ones, giving the new generations the possibility to grow based on their individual talents and not group belonging. Also, Europe should start a new credit system, again following the American one, with banks giving loans based on personal credit history and not family assets. Finally, Europe should bring back people to institutions, with inclusive participation coming from new movements and new technologies. The party system was good in the last centuries but now is blocking any change and make institutions slow as dinosaurs, in an age when things change very fast, with new communication and transportation possibilities (see Trump jumping from Japan to North Korea with a tweet).

This is what the West should do. And once the Renaissance arrived the West should have a long vision, not shortsighted, and launch the Great Bargain for the Planetary solution of our species survival. At that time also the South, meaning mostly the African continent, that by the end of the century will have almost 5 billions people – practically half of humankind – will be more developed and able to speak up about the future world solutions. It will probably represent the balance between East and West, being communitarian like the East but also creative like the West. It will be the glue between the East and West, helping them to master both the adaptation/innovation and the collaboration in big groups, for permanent solutions to climate change, peace and technological advancement. We must use this competition with also the “art of the deal”, that sometimes can be useful, for a final bargain to make the human experiment survive. We owe it to our ancestors, that brought us here, and our descendants, that could not exist without that bargain.

 

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The opportunities with the end of the World Liberal Order and Pax Americana

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Richard Haas in a recent article argued that the US retreat and the consequent end of the, Western built, Liberal World Order will make a world “that is less free, less prosperous, and less peaceful, for Americans and others alike”. This short article wants to challenge this conclusion, to say that it could, but it could also represent the opposite: it is a question of perspectives. To argue so we need to challenge its definition of “World Liberal Order”.

First of all, it was a “world” order as it was dominated by the Bipolarism and then by the Unipolar moment of the US, but both of this orders ended (the first for the collapse of one of the two empires and the second for the retreat of the one left, given the unsustainability of “imperial overstretching” for both). But in reality, the order had been created by the winner of WWII, UK and US, and it was led by the West (in primis US that is why many refers to it as “Pax Americana”) while today could become really more “worldly” because of multipolarism. Many countries around the world want to have their say today and it is their right, now that the “Rest” is catching up with the “West”. The “Easternization of power”, to say it with a recent book of Gideon Rachman, shows that the balance of military, political and economic power has shifted far away from the West to Asia and this has to be taken into account by the West. Not only China and India but emerging powers with primacy in their regions desire to become the stakeholders of future regional structures, from Turkey and Iran in the Middle East, to Indonesia and the Philippines in South East Asia, to Brazil and Andean countries in South America. Regional orders are becoming more and more important with economic integration and the so called “collective security communities”, the first and oldest one being NATO, that after ending its expansion is concentrating now on defense of its borders. But there are other collective security communities in formation, first of all the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, with China and Russia leading it, the Association of South East Asian Nations, with Indonesia and Thailand at the center of the ring, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, with India and Pakistan, the Organization of America States, with Mexico and Brazil as top player. The other two regions, Africa and Middle East, must resolve their internal domestic problems, before to think about a grand bargain among the regional powers. This shift from world orders to regional ones will save the preponderant power, still the US, from the risk of “imperial overstretching” of the hegemon, even if there is always the risk of the lack of order with the lack of hegemony (see the Hegemonic Stability Theory).

Second it was “liberal” as it was based on liberal values of free market and democracy, but the beneficiary of this system were especially the political and economic elites, not so much the billions of people that still struggle to achieve their human security needs around the world. This liberal order based more and more, with the time, on extreme forms of neoliberalism, liberism, and crony-capitalism, was the reason that created the enormous inequality of today, that has not end in its raising. And to end such type of liberal order could mean to limit the top-down liberalism imposed on people for the interest of the banks and great corporations, to create a more “inclusive liberalism” at grassroots level, with more inclusion for people, especially of lower classes, ethnic minorities, or discriminated people because of gender, age or different abilities. Nevertheless first, this can be done only if we pass in the West from “representative democracy” systems, often corrupted and representing the interests of the few, to a more “participatory democracy”, similarly to the ancient direct democracy, now that we have the technological tools that can help us to do that. We can look at the new “Five Stars Movement” (5SM) in Italy, that always represented a country that anticipates the trends for the Western world, being the creator of that Western civilization, from the Republic in Rome two millennia and half ago, to the Renaissance in Florence five centuries ago, to Berlusconi that arrived to power almost 25 years before Trump. This movement, born online, is the first party in Italy, and is foreseen that will govern soon the country. Its first policies will try to reduce inequality, cutting high incomes of politicians and introducing a citizen’s basic income, and to reduce the corruption of representative democracy, cutting public funding, forbidding convicted representatives to be in Parliament and limiting the mandates of lawmakers to a maximum of ten years. This is how populism could be used in a good way in other democracies too, at least provided that people can vote with the head on their shoulders, and not with the guts and the fake news of today. The problem though is that the end of political ideologies gave people insecurity on how to choose the vote and so before to give the power of “direct/participatory democracy” to the people, if we want to avoid manipulation and possibility of going back to tyrannies we need to do a formation of the people, teaching in the schools political literacy and civic education for example, and before to vote the citizens should be informed on programs more than on Facebook likes (Trump docet). The US will learn from past errors and the lobby system as well as the informational wars are things that America will be able to deal with in the short future.

Finally it was an “order” as no major conflict among great powers erupted, but it was not an order for external smaller powers, from the hot long battled in South East Asia and East Asia to the violence inside many countries, full of intra-state conflicts, with minorities repressed and securitized and dictatorial regimes supported by the West destroying their people and arriving at genocide attempts while the great powers tried to not look (from Balkans and Rwanda, to Myanmar and Syria today). The end of this “international order” therefore, could facilitate more order inside the countries, if external powers stop to meddle in other’s sovereignty and start to support actions that address the root causes of internal conflicts, fist of all economic causes, followed by political and social ones. Great power rivalry also, doesn’t exclude the support in the long term to the smaller powers, on the contrary can make competition for soft power of attraction, more that for hard power of sphere of influence, positive for the countries assisted. This is how nationalism and retreat to our own borders, today, could be used in good way: not for invasion and meddling but for respecting the dignity of any state. Great powers could deter one another while cooperating to solve global security, environmental and economic problems, that are the most urgent problems we have as humankind, from international terrorism to illicit trafficking, from climate change to epidemics, from stagnation to still presence of strong poverty. And again here the leadership of the US could be crucial, at the end of the day administrations pass but country’s values and missions remain.

Therefore, as we can see if we want to understand the advantage of living in an era of transformation, we can help to build more “Inclusive Regional Orders” with the lesson learned from the past. We don’t need to throw the baby with the bathwater, many elements of the old World Liberal Order can and should be maintained but also improved, first of all the leadership of someone that take into account the needs of all the rest, like the US could and should do in the future as it did in the past. It will be a long gestation, but we owe it to our future generations, that will hopefully live in peace one day on this planet.

Making America changing skin again: 1968-2018

 

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The new American century, started with Bush, Obama and then Trump administration, is beginning to have its effects on American people. With the first year of Trump era America really showed to be great again, but not as the POTUS would think, rather in its opposite side: less racist, hating and sexist then last century. At the end of 2017, after the start of removal of Confederate monuments and memorials, to stop glorify white supremacy; the National Football League kneeling during national anthem, to protest racial inequality; the issues on ‘Free Speech’ at Berkeley, to avoid “hate speech” of far-right; and the ‘Me-Too’ movement, to denounce sexual harassment against women that got the first page of Time, we can say: The Times They are a Changing in the US again, similarly to 50 years ago.

Obviously, the changing of the skin creates a contrary reaction, as human beings adapt to the progress gradually, also trying to conserve the status quo. The strongest reaction is obviously the one of who has more power to conserve, and so the reaction of ‘white rich protestant supremacist men’, often together with the far-right haters and the misogynists, trying to pull back the change with their traditional phobias: the Black-phobia, the Socialist-phobia and the Gino-phobia. The Black-phobia – expanded later to Latino-phobia and all the others ethnicities, religions and in general “civilizations”, like for example with the Islamo-phobia – is based on the fear of losing an identity and so becoming racist or “religionist”; the Socialist-phobia, is based on the fear of losing wealth and in general of creating a powerful state against individual liberty; and finally the Gynophobia, the first step to Misogyny, that makes men afraid of losing their power over women and in general communities. All these phobias were represented in the former POTUS, not only being black but accused to be Socialist, Muslim and having a first lady very present and active in the American Presidency. But they came out at full speed under the recent “hot-autumn”[1] of the Trump presidency, characterized by a lowering of the Trump support – not only for his character but also because of some real issues like Russiagate – even if with some winning of Trump administration, like the “Muslim ban” and the tax reform.

We can say that these anxieties and aversions are the “normal” effect (to be deal with) of the current world change and human transition passing through three main shifts in geography, gender and culture. The first is represented by the appearance on the world scene of most of human population coming from the Global South (as the Western world represent only 1/7th of world population) moving fast towards rich countries and asking to share the wealth with the inclusion of new “minorities” that step by step are becoming majorities; the change in the relationship between genders, with women trying to erode the still strong patriarchate first of all coming out against violence, and with different sexual orientations or gender constructions now freer to come out and live a happy life; and finally the growing of new ethical forces on the world scene respect to the traditional leadership of Western Christian ethic of individual liberty, coming from other traditional civilizations, first of all China, India and Islam, with their propositions towards new human relationships, without creating clashes, as Huntington suggested, but yes challenges to the old status quo based only on one small part of the world. Take Islam for example with its new proposition of human relationship based more on brotherhood and charity than individuality and a new women position based first of all on a different approach to her body (Nike for example just launched the first sports hijab).

These phobias can be clearly seen with the negative and often angry reactions to the current social change by the White Supremacists, with far right and misogynist revivals, with the attempts of historical revisionism – for example making the case for a good colonialism like a recent article on Third World Quarterly – the attempts of division of the already strained social fabric – for example with the highest institutional representative, the President, twitting insults, attacks and divisive visions – and the attempts of destroying the human dignity of people that differ from them – for example with the violence of speech and the internet of hate. Nevertheless, these hatreds are representing the “ontological insecurity” of the most isolated people, the ones that don’t live in multicultural urban spaces but in homogenous rural areas or suburbs, who don’t speak other languages and don’t even understand foreign accents of English, and who are not interested in travelling or learning deeply from different cultures, religions, political or economic systems. These phobias therefore are what they are: fears, worries, preoccupations of the unknown. Because the known is not scaring. But on the contrary, when the unknown become known it can become interesting. So, we need in the current world to study and know more, socialize and empathize more and in general be more exposed to diversity. As one recent conference organized by Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality & Equality (WISE) in DC titled: Knowledge ends Extremism.

The times they are a changing and this can be said because also this time, like in the 1960s, not the political leadership but “WE THE PEOPLE” are guiding the change, demonstrating that American democracy hast still strong backbones. The previous 8 years has been the intellectual leadership of an ex educator, citizen of the world, that guided the masses through the labyrinths of the current world complex transition, which will bring us towards a new planet, a new species and a new life. But now they are the people, the cosmopolitans, the progressive, the looking forward new generations, that want a world where all should have a better life thanks to inclusiveness, all should be freer thanks to technology, and all should have the possibility to pursuit their happiness, for having the chance to make the life they desire.

We don’t know how long will be this process of change in America, as cultures take time to change. The problem is that today the things happen fast but to change our habit, customs, ideas, and identities quickly is almost impossible. So how should the US do? Just live up to its values and extraordinary ability of adaptation, and work to reopen that public sphere, that moderate space, that market of ideas that made this democracy great, this country special and these people fascinating, as always ready to learn and improve. In particular my dear fellow white Christian American men: use your common sense, your intuition and your trust in the future. I know it is hard to stop being the chief, the padrino, to pass the baton or at least to share it and to accept that you are not the only one anymore to have power in the world and to have the right to say what is good and what is bad. If you do that I am positive that this unique country will keep being the “shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.” Otherwise the decline is unavoidable.

 

[1] Hot Autumn (“Autunno caldo”) is an Italian term used for a series of large strikes and protests during 1969 in Italy

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…”