Category Archives: Southeast Asia

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.

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I care or I don’t mind. The distinction between democracies and dictatorships in the refugee crisis of Southeast Asia

Simon Kneebone

Europe has been recently criticized because of lack of generosity, vision and wisdom in treating the “problem” of refugees. Emergencies always make states to act on the wave of emotions (like for the thousands of migrants died recently in the Mediterranean Sea) but emotions are not good advisors for long term and efficient policies. Actually apart the fight against the traffickers the EU just decided some quotes for the refugees to host for each European country and this is not going to work at the root of the problem, which is the situation of poor countries in Africa and Middle East, with conflicts that provoke the migration of refugees. But at least it showed that the EU starts to care about other human beings, suffering from poverty and violence to which Europe greatly contributed.

Now is the time of South East Asia, to deal with the emergency of refugees. ASEAN has the same problems of coordination of EU, plus it has no instruments to impose the respect of human rights inside its member countries. ASEAN for example every year criticizes Burma’s treatment of the Muslim Rohingya minority and its poor response to the religious clashes, but ASEAN has among its principles the “non-interference” one, as all countries know that they have some problems and they prefer not to bother the other members in order not to be bothered in the future. But the reality is that ASEAN will have to deal sooner or later with common principles, like the respect of human and minority rights, if it want to become a real integrated community based on collective security and democratic principles. Burma for example, even if it will have its first elections at the end of this year, still struggle to be defined a democracy. A democracy care about its people, cannot imagine to kill its people in order to do a leap in its development for example (like in Chinese Great Leap Forward). A democracy needs to care about its ethnic groups, that in Burma are nothing less than 135, either if they have citizenship or not, as all the resident in a country have to be protected by their sovereign state. Even a noble peace price like Aung San Suu Kyi didn’t act at the height of her name, given the fact that because of religious power of Buddhism in Burma, she doesn’t express what should be a normal worry of a Nobel peace prize, for a minority mistreated and discriminated. The same problem of democracy can be said for Thailand, that didn’t want to welcome the poor refugees, until the EU and the international community protested and Thailand had to organize an international conference on this issue today, the 30th of May, in which nothing was decided. Thailand also is not anymore a democracy since one year, when a military junta took power, as usual in a country whose history has been dominated by military dictatorships.

The future will say if Burma and also Thailand will be able to mature on their path to democracy and if ASEAN will be able to increase its level of integration and efficiency, closer to that of EU. But for now we can say that only the generosity of poor fishermen in Aceh, Indonesia, was able to save the life of hundreds of people, while the nation states remained still, watching the situation. Together with few NGOs working on helping refugees, these fishermen were the only people that “cared” about other human beings in a suffering situation, instead of turning the head to the other side, being them also people that have suffered in their recent history (the 2004 Tsunami killed hundreds of thousand of people in a region tormented by thirty years of civil war). We can conclude that elites in democracies have to turn to their most poor citizens, if they want to learn how to improve their abilities of caring and protection, a fundamental criteria to define a democracy.
(For info and for helping a local NGO in Aceh: https://www.facebook.com/yayasangeutanyoe).

Cartoon image: Simon Kneebone