Maj Gen K S Pendse (Retd)
“We have a vision of a new partnership of nations that transcends the Cold War. A partnership based on consultation, cooperation and collective action, especially through international and regional organisations. A partnership united by principle & the rule of law and supported by an equitable sharing of both cost and commitment. A partnership whose goals are to increase prosperity, increase the peace and reduce arms.”
President George Bush at the UN General Assembly on 01 October 1990
These words of the US President at the World Parliament for Peace raised the hopes of all mankind thirsting for a “peace dividend” which the end of the Cold War had presaged. A decade and two wars later – the Gulf War of 1991 and the ongoing War on Global Terrorism – what the world is witnessing is nothing short of anarchy whose coming was predicted by Robert Kaplan as early as 1994 ¬. The US espousal of democracy and the rule of law appears less principled and more expedient through its resumption of military and economic aid to a military dictatorship in Pakistan that has been an epicentre of terrorism ! These are sad events and demand an analysis of where the sole super power is headed and its impact on the rest of the world.
US DEMOCRACY IN ACTION
The world’s oldest democracy has been ailing for some time. The New York Times report on the current President’s winning the Presidential Election in 1999-2000, thanks to faulty voting machines in Florida, governed by his brother Jeff Bush, has been smothered. Apparently, the events of 11th of September 2001 have persuaded the people in USA to let bygones be bygones as far as this election is concerned.
But there are symptoms of a deeper malaise that has been distorting American democratic precepts, whether practised at home or abroad. Three features stand out : first the US support to monarchies and military dictatorships in areas of its geopolitical interest; secondly , its callous throttling of the United Nations where the deprived majority of the world was getting a democratic hearing for the first time in human history; and, thirdly, its polity’s paralysis in the face of mega-corporations’ financial hold over the domestic election process and its aftermath. The media had reported a while back how even Communist China had indirectly funded President Clinton’s election campaign !
As the size and ethnic complexity of the American society spills beyond the traditional “White American” community, it will create a new world of American city states and suburbs, based on ethnic groupings. The ideological and psychological gap between the ruling elite in Washington and these far flung new city states will widen. And while these elite in charge of an info-age US war machine will try to manage affairs of a chaotic world, they will also turn more autocratic at home in an effort to control an American society that “has become more fragmented, more individualistic and less disciplined, with institutions such as church, family and school wielding less influence” . The US Founding Fathers would be amazed by the emergence of this hybrid democracy at home, which, no matter how illiberal, may still be treated as legitimate if it can provide homeland security to the American citizens and spark economic growth after the trauma of Nine Eleven. That is the danger that the USA may face without being aware of its impending metamorphosis.
A PREDATORY US ECONOMY
No less a person than Prof Noam Chomsky has chronicled in his book “Year 501 : The Conquest Continues” how the US has achieved its economic pre-eminence through subjugation and conquest of less advanced economies. Analysing Haiti , Latin America, Cuba and Indonesia, Chomsky draws parallels between the genocide in colonial times and the murder and exploitation associated with modern day US imperialism. Private armies of American corporations eliminated sane voices in target countries allegedly including President Allende of Chile, all in aid of US prosperity at any cost. “The US priorities are profits and power; democracy in more than form is a threat to be overcome; human rights are of instrumental value for propoganda purposes, nothing more”, writes Chomsky ®.
The problem stems from a mental condition affecting the US and other affluent societies of the world, rightly called “affluenza” by John De Graaf, who describes it as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste, resulting from dogged pursuit of ‘more’, because of a feverish mind-set that is burning up the natural systems that support life on earth” ¯. According to the UN Development Report, 1996, the 200 richest individuals of the world have a combined worth of US$ 1 trillion, and 60 of them reside in the US. About US$ 8 trillion in outlaw wealth is sloshing around the world’s tax-havens in an estimated 1.5 million off-shore corporations. The income gap between the fifth of the world’s people living in the richest nations and the fifth living in the poorest countries has increased from 30:1 in 1960 to 74:1 in 1998. As the UNDP report says, development that perpetuates such grotesque inequalities is neither sustainable nor worth sustaining.
No doubt, globalisation of economy cannot be reversed. But the way it is proceeding invites instability and even insurrection. The facts stated above suggest a lingering predatory trend in the human community and a miserable and miserly self-indulgence that cloaks itself in the morality of the market place. Those who benefit most from the spread of free market economy are unwilling to embrace the morality of “enough”. Such self-absorption is overwhelming the adaptive capacities of societies around the world that are prey to such predatory economic policies and practices over and above laying waste to the natural environment. A society that runs an experiment to see where its breaking point is located, is a stupid society. As Jeff Gates remarks °, today’s unconscionable economic disparities not only affect the Americans, but also reflect their psyche. It should spur them to ponder just what sort of democracy they mean to leave for their descendants, if they allow the political & business interests to conspire to concentrate power and influence and subvert the very ideological basis of a democratic USA.
It is worth pondering over that out of the world’s hundred largest economies, fifty one are not countries but corporations. The five hundred largest corporations account for 70 percent of world trade. David C. Corten ± argues that it is environmental degradation induced by corporate policies which forces millions associated with a declining economy, lack of strong democratic political institutions and disruption of traditional processes of mediation away from their land. Political conflict degenerates into anarchy, as in Africa, disrupting forces of corporate food production and distribution. More deaths result from starvation & disease than from the conflict itself. This is the world towards which the forces of corporate colonisation are moving the world’s rich and poor inexorably, without exception. Post Nine Eleven, President Clinton ² had urged the Americans to acknowledge that they have not always been blameless, and to realise that a lot of people are angry with them, for perpetuating an iniquitous global order in which these deprived people do not know how to be a part of tomorrow as they cannot find the door ! He went on to say, “You cannot have a global trading system or a global market governing your lives without a global economic policy, a global environmental policy & a global security policy. That means creating more opportunity for those unfortunate people left behind by progress, so that the pool of potential terrorists is reduced by increasing the number of potential partners. This is the struggle of the soul of the 21st Century”. Will the US take heed ?
USA’S SHORTSIGHTED DIPLOMACY
The directness of US diplomacy is inimitable but it is seldom directed towards the vision articulated by its successive presidents. Henry Kissinger, the realist, has always advocated that the US should play on the insecurity of other nations in order to further its own security. Paying lip-service to traditional American values, he insists these “cannot be translated into an agenda of immediate final outcomes” ³. His influence on US policy making has been palpable; he is considered a modern day Metternich. So the US helped Iraq’s Saddam Hussein fight a prolonged war against Iran, an adversary that had held US Embassy staff hostage for years. And when Soviet Russia occupied Afghanistan, the US trained Afghan mujahideen and Osama bin Laden and others to wage a guerrilla war against the Russians. When Pakistan prompted the Talibans to capture Afghanistan, the US turned a blind eye. It did the same when Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons & missiles capable of delivering them, despite a clearly articulated US policy to prevent nuclear proliferation. And after Nine Eleven, it ignored all proof of Pakistan’s complicity in supporting Taliban regime in Afghanistan & backing Jehadi terrorists including Al Quaida. It ignored a direct participation of Pakistan’s military personnel in fighting the Northern Alliance at Kunduz & other places. In fact the US allowed such Pak personnel to be air-lifted by air. It continues its reliance on Pakistan as a front-line ally even though a US news reporter and US embassy personnel were killed brutally in separate incidents in Musharraf’s Pakistan. One wonders whether such real politik as an instrument of serving US interest in Caspian oil and gas being piped through Afghanistan and Pakistan is worth sacrificing so many innocent lives. To date the US does not appear to have faced the fundamental problem of Islam’s reformation so very necessary if the Islamic nations are to fit into a liberal democratic mould. When will the US policy makers listen to General Wesley Clark’s assessment, that it is for Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to decide whether Islam is a religion of tolerance or of terrorism !
The whole issue of US perception of its national interest & ways of securing it needs to be discussed now, before it is too late. The US ought to learn from its failure to ensure peace between Israel and PLO, where a cycle of violence has made a mockery of Camp David accord. The US logistic build-up in the Persian Gulf and the joint US-British air attack on Iraq’s ground installation on 04 September 2002, show an impatience with the views of other nations in a situation of uncertainty. Not wanting to take any chances of another terrorist attack against the US homeland, President Bush (Junior) and his colleagues are eager to launch a pre-emptive attack against Iraq which is suspected, without proof , of developing weapons of mass destruction for use against America. But others suspect a US desire to dominate Iraq for its vast oil reserves, estimated to be as large as those of Saudi Arabia. Paul Kennedy’s warning about an “imperial overstretch” leading the mighty nations in recent history to their downfall ´ may have fallen on deaf US ears. But that warning is timeless!
The US unilateralism has been evident in the present administration’s decisions to build a national missile defence which will erode current nuclear balance, to walk out of Kyoto protocol and criticize environmentalists at Johannesburg, and now to topple Saddam Hussein in a hurry. This “hubris” bodes ill for the prospects of US as the sole super power really leading the comity of nations to a new world order envisioned by President Bush (Senior) twelve years ago.
THE EMERGING CHALLENGES
Events of Nine Eleven have changed the world forever. It has brought home to the ordinary US citizen his utter vulnerability despite being separated from the rest of the world by vast oceans. Having brought about the demise of the Soviet empire, there was exultation in the West that capitalism had won. But it is clear that how to make capitalism ‘democratic’ remains a challenge before the US and its affluent friends who find themselves increasingly in the grip of mega-corporations, many of whose front-men have become presidents & prime ministers in the so-called “free world”. It is necessary to ensure that the insights of one generation become the common sense of the next through legislation and common practice. Otherwise such hard-learned lessons are easily lost.
From Rio to Johannesburg the US has shown a reluctance to accept the challenge that environmental degradation is bound to pose with every passing year. Over the next 50 years the earth’s population will soar from 6 billion to more than 9 billion. And 95 per cent of this increase will be in the poorest regions where governments have shown little ability to function let alone to implement even marginal improvement. Ignoring nature will have incredible security implications when vast movements of homeless and deprived populations due to climatic change and rising sea-levels will make a borderless world a frightening reality.
And as such population flows increase, making the cities around the world into sprawling villages, more power will be exercised by the less educated, and less sophisticated groups. Economic modernisation will solve nothing as it will only increase individual and group selfishness while weakening loyalty to the nation-state. A rapid rush to the cities is remaking civilizations in terms of religion and tribal loyalties, transcending the borders of the existing states. A call to the loyalty of Islamic “ummah” sends an appeal to a billion plus Muslims from Algeria to Indonesia, and to their diaspora in the affluent West, with sometimes tragic results as on Nine Eleven. The US can no longer afford to ignore the linkages between environment and the future of mankind.
Energy security is a challenge whose gravity will be apparent by mid 21st Century when proven reserves of oil will have been severely depleted. The US has launched a drive to ensure its own energy security. But it does not realise how such a narrow nationalistic approach can further antagonize those Islamic countries that are the actual possessors of this natural resource. As a super-power, the US ought to pursue a policy of cooperation and bring about a global energy protocol based on a just and equitable sharing of the Earth’s bounty. Whose Earth is it anyway ? is a question the US should ponder over before it is too late.
Though the US is the mightiest power on the Earth today, there is every likelihood of the emergence of a multipolar world in a global order linked to the nation-state. At the same time, a growing anarchy described above because of a refusal of the affluent nations to learn from Nine Eleven, will break down existing distinctions between war and crime. For an increasing number of people around the world, especially youth, minorities and women, there is no longer a dream of a more prosperous and secure future, only the bleak prospect of despair, deprivation and brutalising violence. Such people provide ready recruits for terrorist organisations all over the world. How to make them partners in progress is an immediate challenge to the US and its affluent allies.
SHAPING THE FUTURE
No doubt, all nations are guilty of thinking in an archaic manner by putting their own security above all other issues. They do not question whether an affluent minority with all advantages of superior technology and military might can quarantine out human misery of the deprived majority. The Western economic model extolled as the only way to prosperity stands exposed with the recent fall of mega-corporations like Enron and WorldCom. Why has humanity at large legitimised and institutionalised greed and selfishness as no other previous civilization has ever done? And has not such legitimisation of greed challenged the moral fabric of contemporary society? It is this promotion and acceptance of a global economic inequality of horrendous proportions by the US and its affluent allies that has contributed, alongwith its nuclear hypocrisy, to the perpetuation of the Ugly American image. Though quite inhuman, the events of Nine Eleven did reflect the burning ire of the disadvantaged in this global village, created ironically by technological revolution in the affluent West. The time for pushing the dirt under the carpet is over.
Should the US learn to introspect, it will see that it is the growing divide between the rich and the poor, which poses the greatest threat to the future of mankind. If the fact that a few are exploiting the many is not accepted, mankind will destroy itself. The outer form may vary: it may be a war on terrorism, or a clash of civilizations, or a war of redistribution of people and resources or again a worldwide Islamic Jehad. It may be justified as the end of history which permits Fukuyama’s ‘Last Man’ to wipe out the rest of unenlightened humanity. Or it may be called ‘The White Man versus the Rest’.The stage has been set for this mother of all wars in which the ashes of the victors and the vanquished will be indistinguishable. Oswald Spengler had estimated that a declining Western civilisation could cease to matter by the 22nd Century. The only way to prove Spengler wrong is for the U S to take the lead in bringing about a global mind change which accepts a holistic outlook on life and leads mankind to live as one family in a just and peaceful world.
¬1. ‘The Coming Anarchy’ by Robert D. Kaplan, the Atlantic Monthly, February 1994
Thomas E. Ricks, “The Widening Gap”, The Atlantic Monthly, July 91
®2. “Year 501 : The Conquest Continues” by Noam Chomsky, South End Press, Boston USA, 1993, Page 89
3.¯ “Affluenza” by John De Graaf, Berrett-Koehler Publisher Inc. San Francisco, USA, 2001
4. “Democracy at Risk” by Jeff Gates, Perseus Publishers, Cambridge, Ma. USA 2000”
When Corporations Rule the World by David C. Corten, Berrett Koehler Publishers Inc. San Francisco, USA,1995
5.World without Walls by William Jefferson Clinton, The Times of India, dated January 11th, 2002
The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, Paul Kennedy, Random House, New York, 1987
6.Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1994