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In Time of Pandemic Praise for the UN

3 Apr

 

IN TIIME OF PANDEMIC PRAISE FOR THE UN:

The UN Secretary General Promotes Global and Human interests

(Diirector General of WHO Guides Us)

 

Points of Departure

In recent years, the UN has seemed weak, almost irrelevant to many of the most disturbing global developments. It failed to stop genocide in Rwanda (1994) and Myanmar (2017-19), it has failed over several decades to end Israeli apartheid that is victimizing the Palestinian people and find peace for Israelis and Palestinians, it authorized a limited humanitarian protective use of force in Libya that immediately turned into an unauthorized and unlawful regime-changing intervention by NATO in Libya that brought ongoing chaos to the country, it has unacceptably stayed on the sidelines throughout Syrian and Yemeni ordeals as strife, massive civilian displacement, intervention, along with repeated crimes against humanity, were making a mockery of international humanitarian law, and it watched while disastrous fires burned out of control in the Amazon rainforest and Australia.

 

The UN is not an autonomous organization, and cannot be faulted for its failures, but its members can. The UN is essentially a political club run for the almost exclusive benefit of its member sovereign states, themselves largely controlled by its most powerful members. This control is exercised by way of funding, voting procedures, and informal modes of exerting influence within the Organization. The UN Charter provides a constitutional framework, which if it could engender compliance, would produce major, desirable, and fundamental global reforms, but the Charter says one thing, while international relations continue to operate according to the logic of militarism and geopolitics.  As well, there are some internal tensions written into the Charter, which contains unworkable procedures for taking account of changes in international life, including amending the text. This has given the UN a partially frozen image responsive to the realities of 1945, but increasing out of sync with the world of today.

 

During the Cold War the inability of the UN to fulfill its promises with respect to peace and security were largely explained by reference to paralyzing encounters between ‘the free world’ and ‘the Soviet bloc.’ Yet, after the collapse of the Soviet Union when a new consensus emerged among Permanent Members of the Security (P-5) not much changed. Many governments showed that they wanted to uphold sovereignty rights rather than be held internationally accountable according to standards set by human rights treaties or by reference to international law. The United States, in particular, insisted on freedom of geopolitical maneuver for itself and its allies, while pushing hard for accountability when dealing with adversaries. It became clear that a weak UN was consistent with the political priorities of almost all of its members, some sovereignty-oriented, a few geopolitically-oriented. At the same multilateralism, based on mutual benefit and global bargains gave the UN a useful role in facilitating global cooperation for the first fifty or so years of it existence, yet surprisingly not in the last 25 years up to the present.

 

These structural explanations of UN weakness were reinforced by cyclical political changes in the governing style of many important states. The rise of ultra-nationalist reactions to the failures of neoliberal globalization as post-Cold War and post-industrial capitalism revealed its predatory characteristics if not somewhat tamed by countervailing forces accentuated the state-centric framework of international relations that was implicitly hostile to any sources of authority external to the national political order. The kind of political leaders that were elected in dominant countries (U.S., UK, Brazil, India, Japan) exemplified this inward autocratic turn that was particularly opposed to global governance that accorded prominence to the United Nations. It reinforced autocratic trends in middle power democracies (Philippines, Turkey), as well as the embrace of ultra-nationalism by important non-democratic autocracies (Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt).

 

 

The UN Speaks for the Peoples of the World

 

Against such a background, it might come as a surprise that the UN has played an important role since a crisis awareness unfolded as the COVID-19 challenge became global in scope and severe in depth. The first sign of UN significance was the extent to which governments, the media, and the public looked to and depended upon the World Health Organization (WHO) for information and guidance. Although the WHO was not one of the political organs whose work is generally regarded as indicative of the success or failure of the UN as a world organization, it was ‘a specialized agency’ within the UN System that long had gathered and disseminated information about health issues, and performing vital roles for countries that lacked sophisticated national health services of their own.

 

What the COVID-19 experience made clear was the importance of information to virtually every person and governmental body on the planet, and the degree to which the WHO and its Director General were quickly established as a valued source of reliable and trustworthy information. The geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and China, as well as a variety of conspiracy theories explaining the outbreak of the disease cloud our understanding of origins and nature of threat, and what to do about it. This sense of confusion is heightened by lots of huckstering claims being made on behalf of exotic products that purport to strengthen immune systems and resistance to the disease, as well as calls to adopt untested preventive tactics and unconventional treatments. Given such considerations, establishing public trust and informational reliability become paramount goals, and WHO and Tedros Adhanan Grebreyerus, its Director General, have risen to the occasion, gaining media credibility and worldwide respect.

 

The dramatic highpoint of WHO came on March 11th when this expert UN body officially declared that the Coronavirus disease causing a worldwide health crisis was a pandemic. Such a declaration was quickly adopted by governments, media, and publics around the world, escalating preventive efforts in the form of lockdowns, travel restrictions, self-isolation, and social distancing overnight. It was a tribute to the quasi-authoritative status on such matters that WHO achieved along with the recognition that no other comparable source of guidance or pronouncement existed in the world. What is more, the WHO determination came after a persuasive show of reluctance to alarm the world prematurely by invoking the incendiary word ‘pandemic.’ In retrospect, it is obvious that pandemic is to health what genocide is to human rights. Where the language of pandemic is appropriate, it is crucial to have such conditions authoritatively identified, and where conditions do not warrant arousing global alarm it is as important to refrain from inflammatory language. Also, relevant is that despite the diversity of perspectives in the world, no serious effort has been made to challenge the WHO’s pronouncement. This is an impressive defiance of the ultra-nationalist mood that has previously dominated policymaking in the last five or so years, and exhibited distrust and disrespect for the UN and its pronouncements.

 

A second reason that the UN has achieved an enhanced reputation during this period is that the voice of António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, has seemed to articulate proposals that transcend statist and geopolitical orientations, and take their cue from ideas about the wellbeing of humanity, as well as in support of global interests, rather than put manifest nationalistic approaches involving exclusions, walls, and militarized boundaries. So far national and geopolitical leaders have responded to the Guterres call for the suspension of economic sanctions or even more radically, for ‘a global ceasefire’ with silence. Geopolitical actors, especially the U.S. are unwlling to acknowledge the inappropriateness of maintaining sanctions and coercive diplomacy during the pandemic, but neither are such governments likely to criticize the Secretary General openly for speaking out, although arguably his reselection for a second term may have been placed in doubt. In this sense, Guterres has given renewed credibility to the idea that the head of the UN is the world’s leading moral authority figure, a position previously probably most widely accorded to Pope Francis, but with less global outreach as speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church.

 

What this pandemic has already made clear to many persons is the need for a normative global discourse when it comes to health, which as suggested here, means trust, reliability, and comprehensive and useful information, as well as moral leadership that is not being provided by either states or geopolitical actors. The UN stepped forward to fill this discursive gap in a manner that has already had an impact. Of course, whether a health crisis of pandemic proportions is a stepping stone to normative globalism on other issues can be hoped for, but is far from assured. In fact, there are reasons to be skeptical. Despite the magnitude of the pandemic crisis, the most geopolitical tinged organ of the UN, the Security Council, has not even spoken out to date, much less responsibly performed its cardinal role as guardian of the peace and security of the peoples of the world. If global governance reflected rationality and humane values, rather than hegemonic and nationalistic values, this Coronavirus authoritative discourse at the UN should be directly transferable to climate change, the overall ecological agenda, and fashioning a humane response to migrations flows. Such UN learning and adaptations outside the health domain seems doubtful at this point as doing so would amount to mounting successful challenges to the geopolitical discourse that has controlled the UN since its inception.

 

 If for Health, Why Not Climate Cnage, Biodiversity, Migration?

It had been previously evident that global cooperation was needed to address climate change and related ecological issues, and the UN did provide auspices for the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2015, which has lagged subsequently, being a casualty of ultra-nationalist dismissal of global policy priorities and Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from further participation in the agreement, the leading per capita source of carbon emissions. There is no doubt that the pandemic has demonstrated the pragmatic benefits of a cooperative approach, as opposed to reliance on competitive national interest approaches to addressing problems causing serious harm and threats of truly global scope. The same benefits of cooperation evident in relation to a pandemic exist with respect to climate change and biodiversity, and to some extent more dramatically, as the dangers of such scientifically established trends are more knowable and menacing, while becoming less reversible than are singular events such as an outbreak of the COVID-19 disease.

 

Despite this, health is more amenable to a global approach than climate change or biodiversity even though the latter concerns possess a global reach that is beyond reasonable doubt. Perhaps the most salient difference relates to time/space characteristics. The pandemic is here and now, with people dying the world over on a daily basis digitally portrayed in real time, while the impacts of climate change and biodiversity, although certainly having present impacts, are perceived as being largely situated in the future or in mostly geographically remote and limited locales, thus remaining abstract and without mobilizing capability to aarouse the general public, and for this reason tend to become controversial, scorned and rejected by those whose material interests or religious outlook might suffer from timely adjustment. Perhaps, even more explanatory than reference to the interests at stake, is the related issue of the psychological relevance of concreteness. A Coronavirus infection threatens with lethal immediacy the body of every individual inhabiting the planet, and by now most persons know someone who has suffered from the disease. COVID-19 is not a matter of a dispersed threat such as arises from global warming or the seemingly remote threat that arises from the destruction of rainforests or a lessening of biodiversity. Finally, the authority of the UN with respect to health does not encroach upon traditional spheres of territorial sovereignty as is the case with peace and security and with the regulation of private and public sector activity that does harm to the environment. Even the Paris Agreement did not attempt to regulate military causes of carbon dissemination or impose remedies for non-compliance with national pledges to reduce carbon emissions.

 

Concluding Observations

In conclusion, there is much to learn from the pandemic even at this early stage, and possibly, as time passes a more impressive learning curve will become evident in reaction to the spread and prolonged character of this health crisis. There is little doubt that many governments will learn the lessons of the last war, and be better prepared with respect to the availability of adequate medical facilities to address future large-scale epidemics, including pandemics. And maybe, if civil society activism is alert to the opportunity, some spillover effects will occur leading to a renewed readiness of governments to cooperate for the sake of promoting global interests and protecting global public goods, and in the process reinvigorating the UN as a necessary site of authority, information, cooperation, and institutional legitimacy. It is also quite possible that the UN will be quickly remarginalized as private sector and governmental energies are focused on economy recovery in forms that benefit big constellations of capital and finance.

 

One additional cautionary observation seems appropriate. What the WHO and the SG of the UN have so far done during the health crisis, while worthy of headlines, posed no direct challenge to sovereignty or geopolitics. It is discursive with no behavioral or direct policy claims, although investing the crisis with the stature of a pandemic did have distinct, and perhaps profound effects, on national responses and public awareness. The grounds for low expectations is strengthened by the failure of the Security Council to step forward with initiatives or even commentary. The Security Council’s discursive silence is rather startling under the circumstances, failing even to encourage recourse to global mechanisms fostering regional and global cooperative responses. The fact that this most statist dimension of the UN had nothing to offer in the face of a global emergency of unprecedented globality and severity offer a guide to what the UN can and cannot do. Such a failure is less that of the UN as an institutional matrix than it is of the nature of geopolitically managed global governance, which has used the Security Council as a subsidiary instrument of control. Furthermore, health has an apolitical essence that is associated with the widespread belief in the sacredness of life, and thus offers resistance to the kind of cost/benefit thinking that is much weaker when the concerns are about economic activity or the sovereignty and security priorities of militarized states.     

A 21st Century Worldview: Interviewing Ahmet Davutoğlu

28 Mar

A 21st Century Worldview: Interviewing Ahmet Davutoğlu

[Prefatory Note: Below is an interview that I conducted with the former Turkish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, published in Middle East Monitor on March 23-24, 2020. His responses to questions 18-20 concern the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on the world. The interview is long, yet a worthwhile overview how the most important intellectual political figure in Turkey views global and national reality given the shape of recent developments. It was framed to touch upon the main themes of his pathbreaking contribution to the scholarly literature, Systemic Earthquake and the Struggle for World Order, published in 2020 by Cambridge University Press, available via Amazon. (disclosure: I wrote the foreword)  

Davutoğlu has recently formed the Future Party to work in opposition to the AKP led government headed by President Erdoğan, with an intention to mount an electoral challenge in coming years. The main programmatic feature of the Future Party is its advocacy of pluralist & inclusive democracy as distinct from the contentions of majoritarian democracy.]

  1. You were a prominent figure in academic circles before you entered political life. What prompted you to become a politician?

Whatever field we work in, the unavoidable fact is that we live in a certain space and flow of history. Our existence is defined and limited by the dimensions of time and space. If you are an academic in the social sciences, especially international relations, the influence of these space and time dimensions are felt even more deeply. In a sense, they form an existential framework for your own test tube.[i] Theoretical academic studies beyond the test tube draw one into the reality that exists within it; the conclusions one reaches within this reality start influencing one’s academic work’s theoretical perspective.

This intellectual dialectic between academic theory and socio-political reality also applies to me. My journey between these two fields has been a dynamic process rather than a single, sudden decision. I presented my doctoral dissertation in comparative political theory, later published as Alternative Paradigms[ii] in June 1990, two months before Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in the year the Cold War ended. History’s rate of flow has accelerated here in the Middle East. In a sense, the time/space dimension of our ontological existence has been reshaped.

 

It was in this context that I wrote articles criticising the End of History hypothesis that claimed that far from gaining pace, the flow of history, when it came to ideas, had actually slowed to a virtual halt; a theory that gained popularity at that time and found adherents in Turkey as well. In these articles I stressed that we should not be fooled by overly optimistic visions as the Cold War came to an end; on the contrary, we were in a far more intense philosophical-political crisis in which decision-makers in Turkey, a country that lay at the centre of all these shifts, needed to be prepared for all kinds of surprises and alternative scenarios. People took a closer look at my views in the wake of developments in Bosnia, which gave Turkey and the world a psycho-political shock. I rejected offers to enter Turkish politics in the 1995, 1999 and 2002 general elections – offers that came during the establishment of new political parties as well. I said I would remain in academic life with a view to pursuing academic studies, seeking to make sense of all these processes and would only be able to offer theoretical advice.

 

However, it sometimes happens that a person’s own work has a transformative impact on that person’s own life as well. Within a short time of its publication in June 2001, my book Strategic Depth, which analysed regional and global post-Cold War developments and specified Turkey’s strategic position in this new historical context, made a widespread impact in universities and military academies. This led me to accept an invitation to act as chief advisor to the then-prime minister, Abdullah Gül, and later Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This invitation reflected the change of government in 2002. At the time, Turkey faced three huge issues that would determine its strategic future: the Iraq War, the EU accession process and the Cyprus negotiations.

 

For seven and a half years I served as chief advisor. This period involved me in a large number of policy processes responsive to these three overall challenges, a few noteworthy examples of which are mentioned in the book Systemic Earthquake. For Turkey and for me, it represented a transition from theory to practice, as well as from scholarship and teaching to politics. Because of my determination to get back to academic life, I respectfully turned down Prime Minister Erdoğan’s suggestion that I be included as a parliamentary candidate with a possible ministerial post after the 2007 elections. The reason I gave for declining was that I intended to return to academic life soon after the elections.

The main factor behind my decision to finally enter into politics was the closure case brought against the AK Party (the Justice and Development Party). The case was initiated about eight months after the party’s overwhelming victory with 46.6 per cent of the votes in the July 2007 general elections – a result that was impressive in the Turkish multiparty context. I regarded this case as a declaration of war against democracy in my country, which amounted to a virtual coup attempt. At that point, I went to see Prime Minister Erdoğan and told him that I would not hesitate to take part in politics at a time when our democracy was under threat, and that I was ready to assume any duty to protect democracy. In response, I was appointed as foreign minister in May 2009 and prime minister in August 2014.

In a nutshell, two principal motives prompted my longer-term involvement in political life: the moral untenability of staying aloof from the practical side of the history, of which I was trying to make theoretical sense, and a sense of democratic responsibility to my country and people as they found themselves at the centre of a turbulent historical process that was gaining ever-increasing momentum, and was challenging the leadership of the country to minimise risks and take advantage of opportunities.

  1. This makes me wonder: even with such strong motivational factors, was it difficult for you to make the transition from the academy to the government, having resisted the call for so long? Abandoning teaching and scholarship? Making political compromises in the course of shaping policies and reaching decisions?

Being an academic is not just a profession, but a way of life. You can adapt to changes in your life, but you cannot totally abandon an intellectual calling. Taking on political decision-making roles may limit academia’s field of operation, but cannot erase its nature as something integrated into one’s personality. This limitation is related to the fact that these two areas call for different psychologies and methods, with respect to ethical and professional qualities. The academic life requires pure freedom. The moment one starts self-censoring, one’s freedom of thought evaporates. Yet the diplomatic/political field consists mostly of process management, a process that requires tact, discretion and a certain amount of secrecy. If one discloses one’s views and assessments to the public with an academic’s degree of freedom, one will eventually lose the ability to manage these processes, as well as the confidence of colleagues in government.

This difference in method led me to stop publishing and media activities, including works that were ready for publication, when I assumed duties as chief advisor and ambassador, and started getting involved in diplomatic processes. After continuing my university lectures for about two years, I stopped my teaching activities as well. It seemed to me that my frequent absences abroad in connection with Turkey’s European Union (EU) accession negotiations were imposing unfair burdens on my students.

None of these adjustments meant that I entirely abandoned my identity as an academic, which was very much part and parcel of my personality. There were times when I turned diplomatic/political meetings and even mass campaign rallies into lectures, without being aware of doing so. There were also times when I took refuge from the pressures of diplomatic/political activities by writing and reading. In this context I also took great pleasure in intellectual discourse with counterparts who shared an intellectual/academic background that went beyond the normal diplomatic process. I would also make a point of visiting bookstores in the cities where I found myself, taking full advantage of gaps that allowed me some free time during even the most critical diplomatic talks. Knowing of my proclivities, ambassadorial colleagues involved in our overseas trips would locate the best bookstores in the cities we were visiting, and then make arrangements sensitive to the fact that I might pop out from meetings at any moment to satisfy this book-craving impulse of mine.

All this gave me a deeper understanding of the reason why Ottoman rulers became proficient in some area of handicrafts or fine arts: Süleyman the Magnificent, like his father, in the art of jewellery making, Abdul Hamid in carpentry, Selim III in music, and almost all of them in writing poetry. After intense all-day diplomatic/political activities, it is almost impossible to fall asleep as the issues being discussed agitated my mind to such a degree that sleep became impossible, or it even happened that my dreams would often continue the discussions of the previous day. In such circumstances, the best way to relax is to take refuge in a favourite habit or hobby that will divert you from an intense daily rhythm. So, I would often make a late-night visit to my library before going to bed, or spread books out over my desk after getting the required briefings on long-haul flights and after everyone had gone to sleep, resting my mind and soul by reading and writing. I wrote Civilizations and Cities, published a month after I left the prime ministry, in these intervals during my many long flights.

But no matter how much effort I devoted to making up for what was lacking, I still missed teaching and scholarship. In time, I saw more closely that there are no more loyal friends than books and no more valuable investment in the future than students. When I became foreign minister, diplomats who had worked with me in my capacity as an academic and chief advisor carried on calling me “Professor-Hodja” instead of “Minister” out of habit, which acted as pleasant reminders of the life I had partially left behind. When they apologised for their apparent faux pas, I told them that all posts and positions are transient, but teaching and academic work endures. And today, after I have left my government experiences behind, I would like to reiterate the fact that for those who love it and do it justice, academic work, which is a quest for truth, endures and is invaluable.

 

Politics is ultimately a process of rational negotiation that, by its nature, requires certain compromises. Nevertheless, it remains vital that these political imperatives should not contradict your fundamental beliefs and/or encroach upon your personal integrity. In a sense, politics is the art of being able to adapt ideals to reality, values to interests and principles to solutions. As a scholar who attaches importance to personal integrity, I have faced some severe tests in this regard during my public life. When I found that this process of adaptation was in general no longer possible, I chose to leave the prime ministry, rather than compromise my personal integrity. In light of this personal experience, I advocate more strongly than ever an understanding and a practice of politics that accords priority to personal integrity. I have never swayed from this approach to politics or the lure of political life, and never shall.

  1. I understand that returning to a scholarly life may not have been such a wrench. Nonetheless, do you miss the experience of exercising political influence? You have recently established a new party, Future Party. How do you now envision your future in Turkish politics?

The first thing to say is that my decision to leave the prime ministry did not follow an election defeat or the end of a term limit. On the contrary, it was taken about six months after winning the most overwhelming election victory (49.5 per cent) in the history of Turkish democracy. My decision reflected my principal focus – to prevent differences of view over principles within the party, and the administration of the state to rupture political stability in the country. I also wanted to avoid conflicts of authority between offices of the state over the proper shape of the constitutional order, from turning into a crisis of state. You can imagine how tormented I was in the process of making this decision.

There are two main reasons, to do with my perspective on political and academic life, why the onset of such a sudden and disheartening process did not have a traumatic impact on me. The first, is that I have never seen politics as a career field; on the contrary, I see it as a field of accumulated experience and mission unfolding on the basis of the authority granted by the people. In other words, I have always seen government service and leadership not as permanent property, but as something temporarily entrusted to politicians in the name of public order, to be terminated in the event that the public interest so requires.

The observations I have made during my political life have truly shown me that for those who aim to gain status, money and prestige after becoming a politician, politics begins to take on the characteristics of an ontological field that must on no account be abandoned. Autocratic tendencies develop on just such a psycho-cultural connection between ontology and politics. Seeing the beginning and end of politics as the ultimate career brings about the permanence and sovereignty not of values, but of a status. In a sense, this is to see the concept of glory, which was an inherent value in Roman political culture, as a human condition that has been cleansed of this value.

 

Secondly, I already had a field of mental and intellectual activity that I loved and that made politics meaningful to me. This is why I have had no adjustment problems, in spite of having made an unplanned and unforeseen return to academic life in the wake of a distressing process. The day I announced my resignation I went back to my natural habitat – my library. I focused on half-completed projects and published a book within a month. I published six more books within two and a half years of my resignation, and participated in several national and international conferences.

There was no contradiction in carrying on my publication and conference activities while my political activities continued, even after my resignation. I took care to do my best in both areas, which required two different psychologies. As I stated at a press conference, announcing my decision not to participate in the 24 June parliamentary elections had two distinct and complementary meanings for me – although I was now focusing on my academic work, I had not left politics.

I continued to follow developments in the political domain closely with regular daily briefings. Just as in academic life, certain habits gained in political life persist. You feel responsibility whenever you see negative developments in your country. I, as a former prime minister and former chairman of the party, expressed my concerns and opinions to relevant authorities on different occasions behind closed doors – whenever I had deep concerns regarding the rising populism and polarisation in our society, limitations imposed on democratic rights, stagflation in the economy, spread of corruption and extensive mistrust to judicial system. When these sincere observations and suggestions were not taken into consideration, I prepared and issued a manifesto after the local elections on 31 March 2019, on the need for extensive reforms in the party and state administration. The party administration decided to expel me and my five other colleagues from the party, rather than to understand our concerns and suggestions. There was no other choice for us, but to establish a new party. The main philosophy and objective of the Future Party is to implement inclusive democracy as set forth as my core political vision in the Systemic Earthquake and the Struggle for the World Order: Exclusive Populism versus Inclusive Democracy. The founders’ board of the party composed of 152 leading personalities, represents all ethnic, sectarian and religious segments of the society. For instance, for the first time ever in Turkish politics, representatives of religious minorities (Armenian, Greek and Assyrian citizens) became members of the founders’ board of a party.

 

My most important realisation in all these endeavours, is that I have felt no change in my sense of duty to my country and people. I feel this not only as an academician and politician, but as a citizen. I have consistently regarded this obligatory feeling not as a question of office or position, but as one of principle and morality. What is important for me is to try my hardest to fulfil the needs of each moment.

Moreover, one cannot split a person’s identity according to the activity in which they are currently most involved. The principles, feelings and objectives that have guided me as an academician or a politician are the same. In personal transitions of this kind, those who look at life on the basis of a “divided self” psychology may encounter adjustment problems. In contrast, there is no question of such psychological tension for those who see their areas of work as reflections of the same “self” situated in a different time-space dimension.

  1. In writing Systemic Earthquake, did you benefit from your own earlier scholarship, particularly Strategic Depth, as well as from your recent political experience?

 

Absolutely. Systemic Earthquake is posited on a unique synthesis of these two experiential legacies – one mainly theoretical, the other practical. With respect to historical background and global culture, the perspective of comparative civilisational analysis that I used in Alternative Paradigms, is reflected in this work as well. However, the initial theoretical work on which Systemic Earthquake is directly based, is a paper entitled Civilisational Transformation and Political Consequences that I presented at an International Studies Association congress in March 1991, in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War, and published in 1994 as a book. In this paper, I argued that contrary to the claims of the End of History hypothesis, the ongoing process going forward was not the end of history, but a comprehensive civilisational transformation in which fresh elements introduced by globalisation were shaking the basis of conventional modern philosophy, and the revival of traditional civilisational basins that would change the Eurocentric concept of world order. Working from these premises, I foresaw that first of all tensions would arise from the reawakening of historical factors as a natural consequence of this transformational process. From this perspective, I anticipated there would be a transition from a unipolar world, to a balance of powers system that itself preceded humankind, finally entering a new phase through the birth pangs of change in the axis of civilisation. Refreshed with new elements, the theoretical framework I depicted at that time also played a role in my subsequent works.

 

In Strategic Depth, published ten years after this paper in 2001, I attempted to examine the geopolitical elements of the comprehensive transformation, then under way in relation to the previous ten years of political developments, and thus define Turkey’s strategic position within these new global and regional configurations. Looked at from the perspective of the framework in Systemic EarthquakeStrategic Depth was written with a view to analysing the 1991 geopolitical earthquake. Systemic Earthquake maintains this theoretical line of interpretation through its analysis of the security (2001), economic (2008) and structural (2011) earthquakes. In this sense, the book was reflective of my academic identity and accumulation of knowledge and experience.

Strategic Depth came from the pen of an academician without any diplomatic experience, Systemic Earthquake reflects the intensive diplomatic and political experiences of someone who had served for seven and a half years as chief advisor to the prime minister, five years as foreign minister and two years as prime minister. In this context, Systemic Earthquake reflects a method and style that includes both these sources of accumulated experience. From this perspective, the inclusion of intensive historical and theoretical analyses in the same framing as political/diplomatic experiences, may challenge the reader with respect to the proper alignment of theory and practice.

  1. Which political leaders have influenced you the most? Are these the ones you most admire?

 

In fact, the life of every leader who has combined historical processes with their own personal quests offers a very serious transfer of experience for anyone keen to draw its lessons. Looking at the lives of great leaders from this perspective, I have found unique instructive qualities in each of them, in terms of human nature, philosophical/intellectual background, historical process and social networks. During my academic life, I designed two courses for particular student groups with this background in mind: first, the intellectual/historical relationship between great intellectual movements that had an impact on humankind and comprehensive political transformations establishing a new order, and secondly, the relationship between intellectual and political leaders who had played a role in the development of national strategies.

It is not right to reduce leaders to a single category in terms of the factors that gave them an enduring place in history, or to evaluate them as individual personalities separate from one another. Leaders in different categories attracted my attention for various reasons, and I tried to learn from their varied experiences and particular talents. The most fundamental lesson to be drawn from the lives of leaders who have pioneered a new order by forging a link between the general flow of human history and the social/historical context in which they live, is the transformative and order-forming power of visionary leadership that recognises and accepts no limits or obstacles. Such leaders include Alexander the Great, who unified almost all of the ancient civilisational basins around a single order; Caesar, who made Rome the centre of a world order by leading to assume a role and reality beyond being a Mediterranean state; Caliph ‘Umar, who, together with a pioneering society without any great experience of governance, led a new order by rapidly spreading a new faith to all the ancient civilisational basins from Iran to Egypt; Mehmed the Conqueror, who established a new order by uniting state traditions drawn from the depths of Asia with the Roman tradition of political governance; and Napoleon, who, through his victories and defeats, had such a profound impact on a Europe being reshaped in every aspect around the system of values, given historical force by the French Revolution.

On the other hand, the most important lesson taught to us by leaders who had an order-restoring impact in periods of major transformation, is the need to establish harmony between the vision being pursued and the actual historical reality in critical transformative processes. In this leadership group I would include Marcus Aurelius, who restored the Roman order in a cosmopolitan context around Stoic thought against Germanic attacks; King Alfred the Great, who led the unification of Anglo-Saxons fragmented by Viking attacks, thereby achieving an English identity; Saladin, who achieved a crucial act of consolidation by uniting many elements of the East, whose order had been deeply challenged by the Crusades; Cardinal Richelieu, who laid the grounds for the era of Louis XIV by uniting France, at that time undergoing a process of ethnic and sectarian disintegration, around a common language and idea of national identity, in spite of the fact that both he and the country were Roman Catholic and therefore owed a form of allegiance to an authority other than the French King (i.e. to the Pope); Bismarck, who pioneered the unification of Germany on the basis of the identity of a modern nation-state, managing in the process to transcend the fragmenting impact of the Thirty Years War that had endured for some two centuries; Lincoln, who ensured the emergence of a United States of America united around shared values from the wreckage of the American Civil War; and Atatürk, who founded the Republic of Turkey by leading anticolonial independence movements after the First World War that destroyed traditional empires.

European Union flags [File photo]

Leaders such as Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill, Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Paul Henri Spaak, Alcide De Gasperi and Johan Beyen – all of whom pioneered the post-war “new Europe” idea that would later evolve into the EU, a series of developments arising from the ashes of the bitter experiences of the Second World War, the bloodiest conflict in history – are fine examples of the collective rational leadership, the need for which is so keenly felt during and after major crises.

The lives of three twentieth-century leaders with different civilisational and religious identities (Gandhi, Mandela and Alija Izetbegović) provide us with serious lessons and experiences in terms of their forbearance through all the challenging tests they underwent, especially the tensions between ideals and reality, values and power. They never shirked such tests, although often paying the price of confinement or even death.

In summary, whether you support them or not, and whether partisan or foe, the life journey of every figure who has left a mark on history is replete with valuable lessons. It is crucial that we learn from these lessons in light of our shared humanity, and to transfer this learning as sources of guidance in life and reality.

  1. What writers and scholars exerted the greatest influence on your intellectual development, and which were most relevant and important to you in the preparation of this manuscript?

Intellectual development is not a process that emerges in a linear fashion and through specific influences; rather, it is a cumulative work in progress that develops through interaction and internalises itself by reproducing itself at every stage. Therefore, specific, selective and micro-influences may be incomplete.

That said, I would like to list particular names in various fields that I have read with admiration and from whom I have benefited from since the earliest stage of my academic life, to the present day. Among many others, these include paradigm-founders such as Plato, Aristotle, Abu Hamid Al-Ghazālī, Kant and Hegel, who had an influence on intellectual currents carrying their names such as Platonic, Aristotelian, post-Ghazālī, Kantian, Hegelian, etc. Thinkers who played a significant role in the civilisational interaction such as Al-Fārābī, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sīnā. Thinker-statesmen such as Cicero, Seneca, Nizām Al-Mulk, Thomas Moore, Ahmed Cevdet Pasha, Khayr Al-Dīn Tūnusī Pasha and Sa‘īd Halim Pasha, who endeavoured to establish a sound relationship between intellectual theory and political practice, experienced the tension inherent in this struggle, and in most cases paid a heavy price for it. Leaders like Marcus Aurelius, Winston Churchill and Alija Izetbegović, who produced substantial intellectual works in addition to leading their countries. Historians like Ibn Khaldūn, Arnold Toynbee, Fernand Braudel, Marshall Hodgson, Fuad Köprülü, Halil İnalcık and Kemal Karpat, who used inclusive methodologies while adopting a holistic approach to human history. Political philosophers such as Machiavelli, Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose writings so brilliantly reflected the characteristics of the political culture in which they lived and who had a profound impact on later periods. Modern philosophers/ theoreticians such as Edmund Husserl, Max Weber, Hannah Arendt and Eric Voegelin, who exhibited horizon-expanding approaches in modern thought in their development of conceptual frameworks; and intellectuals/academicians who adopted multidimensional approaches so as to contribute to civilisational interaction, by transcending settled exclusionary molds such as Muhammad Iqbal, Lewis Mumford, Malik bin Nebi, Edward Said, Ernest Gellner, Ali Mazrui, Immanuel Wallerstein, Şerif Mardin, Fred Dallmayr, Richard Falk and Johan Galtung.

Systemic Earthquake is the product of blending the theoretical knowledge I have accumulated through a process of filtering the intellectual works I have studied in the fields of comparative civilisation studies, political history, political sociology, international relations and international political economy.

  1. In general, do you learn more from scholars with whom you agree or from those with whom you disagree? Can you give any examples?

 

In fact, the objective and simultaneous recognition of opposites facilitates learning and correct reasoning. Understanding is a prerequisite for developing an interpretative framework. Even if you end up disagreeing with a person or an idea, you must first understand it correctly. In a sense, understanding something requires an accurate grasp of its opposite. In the words of an old Turkish proverb, “things exist through their opposites.” This is the dialectic of existence. One cannot meaningfully adopt or defend any idea or viewpoint without a proper understanding its opposite. Thinkers with whom I disagree have thus contributed to my accumulation of knowledge as much as those with whom I agree.

I can give an example from the time I was writing my doctoral dissertation in the field of comparative political thought. I was undertaking a comparative study between Niccolò Machiavelli and two thinkers, one who lived in the same historical/cultural basin as Machiavelli (1469–1527) but at a different time, the other who lived around the same time but in a different historical/cultural basin. The first was Rome’s Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius (121–180) to whom Machiavelli makes reference, the other was Kinalizāde ‘Alī (1510–1572), whose lifespan overlapped with Machiavelli’s and who wrote a book dedicated to an Ottoman Pasha (Semiz ‘Alī Pasha, during the rule of the Süleyman the Magnificent) on the relationship between politics and morality.

Reading Machiavelli’s The Prince, which places power at the center of things and links moral principles to power, Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, which deals with state governance in relation to the moral teachings of Stoic philosophy, and Kinalizāde ‘Alī’s Akhlāḳ-ı ‘Alāī, which puts the principles of affection, morality, and justice at the center of politics, together, made it possible for me to better understand all three of them.

 

When it came to the relationship between morals and politics, I always felt closer to Marcus Aurelius, whose use of power was seen by Machiavelli as an exception in the relationship between the use of power and morality,[iii] and Kinalizāde ‘Alī than to Machiavelli. However, this did not lead me to conclude that Machiavelli was entirely wrong. My opposition to Machiavelli was over the issue of what kind of a future a person might expect in a world where every leader’s approach made morality subservient to power. However, in terms of the aspect of power that is related to human nature, my better understanding of Machiavelli also provided me with a more realistic context for power-oriented political relationships. In addition, a deep reading of Machiavelli gave me a clearer vision of how psychological factors related to human nature could produce moral deviations, which helped me to develop a kind of warning reflex when engaged in the practice of politics.

 

I still feel an affinity with Marcus Aurelius and Kinalizāde ‘Alī, who were trying intellectually to create the moral basis for expansive imperial orders in political terms, and I have learned a great deal from them. However, I have learned as much from Machiavelli’s work, which consists of advice given to the eponymous Prince with a view to consolidating his power in a fragmented Italy, even though I cannot on principle espouse his views, because learning is not about agreeing but understanding. Everything that allows one to understand is of value as an object of learning.

  1. In a world of sovereign states, is it possible to have a moral foreign policy? What role should respect for international law and the authority of the UN play in developing national policy, especially with respect to security concerns?

 

We may talk of three different types and areas of relationship in assessing the reciprocal actions of nation-states: shared destiny, common interests, and conflicting interests. The area of shared destiny, especially with respect to ecological issues, transcends territorial boundaries. Countries that share the same ecological destiny in the same geography are expected to cooperate on ecological issues even if they are in dispute over most other issues. In this sense, national security becomes a subcomponent of ecological security because, as the book emphasizes, one cannot possibly achieve national security in the absence of existential security. Nation-states that come into conflict over short-term interests or matters of prestige in these kinds of long-term matters over our shared destiny lay the ground for a shared catastrophe that will negatively impact everyone.

The area of common interests between nation-states relates to the existence of a sustainable peace and order that will enable them to coexist. In this sense, there is a direct relationship between national, regional, and global order on the one hand, and peace and order on the other. Respect for borders envisioned under international law and the development of common policies against terrorism and nuclear proliferation may be appraised in this context.

However, conflicts of interest between nation-states are an intrinsic aspect of international relations in spite of areas of shared destiny and common interests. And when a serious conflict of interest arises, the fundamental issue is the existence or lack of rational crisis management, as well as sophisticated diplomatic knowhow.

If the concerned parties behave with reference to the entirety of common normative principles in these kinds of relationships and areas, it means the suitable basis for the implementation of a moral foreign policy exists. In this context, the principal duty of international law and the UN is to consolidate this normative basis and keep nation-states adhering to this common ground as much as possible. In the event that the UN does not perform this function and international law is con- ducted on the basis of interpreting distinct national interests rather than by reference to common normative principles, the basis of shared destiny is weakened, areas of common interests are narrowed, areas of conflicting interests become more apparent, and crisis management becomes harder. In such situations, the basis of foreign policy shifts from ethics to raw power.

The logic of raw power is more and more becoming the organizing principle of major international powers in the conduct of international affairs. This is rather new, because both during the imperial era and ideological competition between socialism and capitalism (liberal democracy), power was accompanied by moral claims. Irrespective of whether these claims were genuine or not, the imperial powers predicated their scramble for power and authority on moral justifications. Likewise, both socialism and capitalism laid claim to legitimacy based on their contention that their ideological programs better fit the humanity’s needs and progress than did that of their ideological rival.

In recent years, there is a decoupling between power and moral claim. Trump represents the crystallization of this trend – power for the sake of power. Unless it is reversed, this trend will leave many fundamental questions of humanity unanswered. A question that this trend will face is whether it is tenable to have universal organizations without universally agreed-upon principles and values underpinning it? Unfortunately, decoupling of power and values and power and principles bodes ill for the course of human progress.

In the event that the UN performs its mission for international order within the framework of international legal norms and the practitioners of international law inspire confidence on the question of treating nation- states equally in terms of their shared destiny and common interests, it becomes less likely that nation- states will come into severe conflict while pursuing their individual interests. The current tendency of tensions between nation-states rapidly to morph into crises and wars stems from the international order’s failure to inspire successful forms of peaceful settlement of disputes.

  1. Do you think that the world map will look very different in a hundred years?

History reflects the dialectic of change and the sustainable order reflects the harmony of the continuity. The future is shaped through the inter- action of elements of change and continuity. Those who defend the order by reference to the permanence of the status quo based on conjunctural maps cannot predict or anticipate the dialectic of historical change; those who get lost in the volatility of geopolitical maps shaken

by ongoing earthquakes fall into the trap of chaos while imagining they are directing, or at least, controlling change.

While the change in the geopolitical map created by a geopolitical earthquake that struck approximately thirty years ago has still not achieved legally grounded stability, claiming that the same map will still be relevant a hundred years from now detaches history from the dynamic of change. The question is not whether there will be change or not, but how it will be directed. An unprincipled and opportunist approach that provokes change in line with its own interests will pave the way for new destructive processes. These will also likely engulf the advocates of such an approach, while a principle-based, visionary approach in managing the birth pangs of change will lead to a new order with far better prospects of viability.

In addition, the head-spinning pace of human mobility and technological innovation is likely to lead to the replacement of a territorial and space-dependent perception of the current world map with the shaping of a space-transcendent perception of the world map, especially when we appreciate the fact that this momentum is set to accelerate even further in the coming century. In such a process of paradigmatic change, non-conventional maps such as demographic maps, ecological maps, and cyber-communication maps will be as influential as territorial political maps of the world; it is a virtual certainty that world order will be dynamically reshaped on this multidimensional basis, but in what patterns cannot be yet discerned.

  1. In addition to law and international public opinion, should ethical principles shape policies? How to balance military necessity against civilian innocence in combat situations?

It is essential that ethical principles shape policies. An understanding of politics that is free of ethical principles ultimately gives rise to an environment in which the rule of the jungle prevails in national and international relations, leaving humankind to face an undesirable future. The alignment of ethical principles and policies is critically important, especially in relation to international humanitarian law.

The exponential increase in the destructive capacity of weapons technology has enormously amplified the imbalance between military capacities, military objectives, and civilian losses unrelated to the object- ives of combat. When it comes to destructive capacity, human history has gone through three stages with respect to types of weapons as underlying technology-based conflict and now stands on the threshold of the fourth.

The first stage was pitched battles in which the destructiveness of war was limited to the soldiers located in the battlefield itself; enemy sides stood face to face and tried to liquidate one another. The second stage saw the introduction of air forces and long-range artillery and, with that, the exposure of troops and civilian targets far beyond the battle lines to the destructiveness of war. Destructiveness thus gained a supraspatial quality and ethical control became considerably more challenging to maintain. With the use of the atom bomb against Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the third stage saw destructiveness becoming supratemporal and impacting future generations. In this case the moral responsibility for the political decision to drop the atom bomb took on a transgenerational dimension.

The fourth stage, at the threshold of which we now stand, involves a destructive capacity that is both supraspatial and supratemporal in such a way as to risk the eradication of the future of all humankind. Albert Einstein’s well-known statement that “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones,” a prediction that is used to demonstrate the level that this destructive capacity has reached, indicates the total destruction inherent in a mechanism of war detached from ethical control. As I stressed in the book I wrote immediately after the Cold War,4 the ethico-material imbalance that most strikingly manifests itself in the destructiveness of war technology constitutes one of the most critical dimensions of the comprehensive civilizational crisis that we are going through. Since then, the concept of the ethico-material imbalance that I employed to show the gaps between political mechanisms and moral values has grown wider in almost every field.

In addition, the advent of remote-controlled drones in conflicts and robots developed without moral responsibility and accountability has produced serious issues of ethical control even in conventional wars and limited military operations. In this context, there is now a pressing need for a reconsideration of international conventions on these issues.

 

 

  1. You propose “inclusive democracy” as a desirable political goal. How does this differ from “electoral democracy”? Should the values and procedures of inclusive democracy also inform the structures and practices of global governance?

One of the most fundamental areas of tension in thinking about democracy today lies in this very critical difference between inclusive and electoral democracy. And the source of the threat to Europe, which is seen as the cradle of democracy, by extreme-right and racist currents that use electoral democracy as a base from which to impose an exclusionist political agenda after winning an election through all kinds of populist rhetoric, also reflects this dilemma. The fact that Marine Le Pen got through to the second round in the French elections and that racist parties are on the rise in Holland and Germany makes it clear that if these political currents win an election, even by a small margin, the entire concept of citizenship in constitutional societies will be eroded and fall victim to a polarization based on a binary division. Drawing a distinction between “real” French, German, British, Dutch, Italian, etc. people and “newcomers” or “strangers” means the destruction of inclusive democracy by electoral democracy. An electoral democracy that eradicates inclusive democracy will lead to the revival of the historical experiences of extremism undergone in Europe between the two World Wars.

The only way to overcome this tension is to view electoral democracy and inclusive democracy not as alternatives but as complementary to one another. The process of electoral democracy takes precedence over the principles of inclusive democracy. As a process, electoral democracy is a sine qua non for a real democracy, a real imperative. A lack of respect for the national will expressed in an election means the eradication of the principal gains of democratic history. But inclusive democracy is an absolute prerequisite in terms of enabling the grounding of a real, self-regenerating democracy. Otherwise, as happened in the period between the two World Wars, when a government formed on the basis of the unqualified nature of the one-time results of electoral democracy breaks away from inclusive democracy, electoral democracy is likely to be rendered meaningless, and totally undermined.

In this context, electoral democracy constitutes the infrastructure of a real democracy; inclusive democracy its load-bearing pillars. Without electoral democracy inclusive democracy cannot be realized; without inclusive democracy, electoral democracy degenerates, and cannot flourish through self-regeneration. Electoral democracy makes up the mechanics of democracy, inclusive democracy its organic structure. In other words, electoral democracy is hardware, inclusive democracy is software.

A constitution based on the human rights and human dignity serves to guarantee the complementary relationship between electoral democracy and inclusive democracy. In societies where constitutional consensus and conventions are in crisis, the risk is that inclusive democracy gets hollowed out by coups or populist ideologies, and that electoral democracy becomes a mechanical legitimating instrument of government. The coupism in Turkey and Egypt, which disregards the results of electoral democracy, and the rising extremist trends in Europe to use electoral democracy to destroy the most fundamental elements of inclusive democracy, threaten the future in equal measure.

These principles also apply to global democracy and governance. A UNSC system that fixes five permanent members in place without any electoral process while revolving non-permanent members are selected by means of elections involving the other 188 member states has minimal inclusivity while its electoral attributes reflect an ineffective oligarchic concept of governance. There is also a manifest need for new conventions to protect the rights of countries and indeed all humankind.

To sum up, and as emphasized in various sections of the book, the most pressing condition for a new world order today is the emergence of a new philosophical and implementable set of principles for inclusive national, regional, and global governance.

A protest calling for climate change on 1 June 2017 in Paris, France [kellybdc/Flickr]

  1. World order continues to be state-centric in its fundamental character – that is, with respect to the formation and implementation of policies on matters of global concern – yet the problems (climate change, nuclear weaponry) seem global in scope. How can the pursuit of national interests be reconciled with the realisation of global interests?

It is normal that the international system is state-centric. I think the problem here isn’t that the international order is state-centric. The real problem lies in the definition of sovereignty. Because the division of labour at multiple levels – local, domestic, regional, and global – requires a new understanding of sovereignty backed up by the political will of leaders. Given the hyper-interdependency of the international system and human destiny, the state can’t operate on the basis of the traditional Westphalian conception of the nineteenth- and even early twentieth-century understanding of the sovereignty. The concept and institution of sovereignty is in dire need of redefinition. In a revisionist understanding of sovereignty, the national level shouldn’t be set against the global level. They should be framed in ways that complement each other. In this respect, we should contemplate a new form of sovereignty, which is multi-layered, inclusive, and driven by commitments to the collective good.

From such a perspective, the nation-state is not a competitor of the international order but its building block. What is important is that these building blocks have a strong basis of legitimacy within themselves and that they have the flexibility and dynamism to accommodate the diverse concerns of the international system’s nation-states. When I spoke at international platforms about matters of universal concern like climate change and nuclear weapons, I always mentioned the need to develop first a global awareness and only then to posit this awareness in an international normative framework and convention. On the question of awareness, it is an absolute condition that issues related to the ontological existence of humankind supercede all kinds of concepts of individual state interests, because (and I emphasize this in the book) the political existence of nation-states is impossible without ontological existence. Ignoring the threat to humankind’s common security posed by the excessive pursuit of individual national security presupposes an Armageddon psychology and apocalyptic scenarios.

The most effective method to eliminate such scenarios is the application of legal norms developed in this context, without exception. For example, the inconsistency of certain countries who regard nuclear weapons as a threat but ignore the nuclear armament of other countries in the same region shakes trust and confidence in the international system as a whole and paves the way for every country to take its own measures to arm itself regardless of the threat to collective wellbeing, even survival. It is impossible to overcome individual conflicts of interest in an environment where the interests and concerns of certain nation-states are regarded as more important than those of others.

In this context, it is essential to establish a strong and consistent connection between consciousness of humanity and of citizenship. This can only be achieved through the spread of communications between global civil society and national civil societies and can be realized by the emergence of psychological spheres of influence that transcend the outlook of nation-states. It should not be forgotten that threats such as climate change and nuclear arms whose destructive impact cannot be restricted to the legal and spatial boundaries of nation-states cannot be resolved only by negotiations limited to nation-states.

  1. In this conversation you have talked about how your career has made the shift from academic to political, then back to academic life and now back again to the political domain after establishing a new party. Do you consider this to be your final professional destination? Or would you welcome a future rhythm that involved alternating periods of government service and scholarly life? In this sense, would you describe your present state of mind to be best described as “post-political” or “pre-political,” or some combination?

A person making his or her own decision about personal final destination is like the “end of history” claim for humankind, a claim that I have opposed in this book and on every possible occasion. As Demetrius strikingly said, “An easy existence untroubled by the attacks of Fortune is a Dead Sea.”

If one’s final destination were known, the excitement and energy of life would be lost. Perhaps the most important thing that makes a person happy, even when they cannot know it, is their own final destination. The only thing I know at this point is that neither my personal future nor that of humankind is going to be “an easy existence.” This doesn’t mean I have a pessimistic view about the future. Quite the reverse, the new challenges brought by those “attacks of Fortune” also require fresh paradigmatic initiatives. With the dynamism engendered by these challenges, it is certain that neither my personal future nor the general future of humankind is going to be that “Dead Sea;” the challenge is to find key wavelengths and frequencies able to surf successfully through the continuously rising flow of history, and thereby reach their target. The “future rhythm” you refer to in your question will also to some extent be the work and challenge of this surfing exercise.

I have always approached post- and pre-conceptualization with caution. Every post-situation harbours its own pre-situation. In other words, in the process of history every post-situation is shaped in the womb of a pre-situation. As Wordsworth said, “The child is father of the man.” Could the conditions of the post-Cold War period have been formed without the process of change that occurred in the final years of the Cold War?

This also applies to personal journeys and quests. The academic work Strategic Depth that I wrote in the pre-political period of my life defined my behaviour in the political phase of my life, while my post-political academic works have been shaped by the experiences derived from that same political phase.

When I left the prime ministry, I never said I had left politics behind. In any case, after such a high-profile past in politics, one can’t really remain outside of political debate even if one says “I’m out.” Although I have tried to avoid political polemics in this period, I have remained on the political agenda with both positive and negative comments. So, there is a clear difference between becoming post-governmental and post-political. Regardless of official titles I was and will always be political.

At the early stage of writing Systemic Earthquake in 2017, I was a parliamentarian of my previous party, when the book was published in January 2020 I became Chairman of a new party, Future Party. As I have underlined in my books, history continues to flow personally, nationally, and globally. I do not think there will be a pre- or post-era in my life. But, there will be a difference compared to my previous experiences. Unlike my decision not to write when having an official position which I followed faithfully during my public services as Chief Advisor, Foreign Minister and PM from 2002 until 2016, I am planning to continue my academic publications in the future despite resuming the work of being an active politician.

All these challenges are inherent to politics. But just as one’s personality cannot be divided, nor can one’s life. The key thing is to live an unfragmented life with an undivided integrative personality. One can do this by taking the right steps that bring together the needs of the moment with one’s own conscience. The difference I made in politics came to a large extent from my scholarly past. On the other hand, what is distinctive about my post-political academic works will undoubtedly be fed and influenced by my political experiences. Therefore, I can say that my present state of mind is a combination of both.

As an academician I never underestimated the significance of being a politician, and when I became a politician I tried never to forget my identity as an academician. The first stopped me from getting detached from the reality of the flow of history, while the second kept me from getting imprisoned in constructed conjunctural reality.

  1. In contemplating Turkey’s future in a time of systemic earthquake, what sorts of response would you hope to be forthcoming from political leadership and from civil society?

No scholar can ignore the time–space dimension they encounter within themselves and the experiences they have gained as they generate and develop ideas. In that spirit I naturally drew upon the case of Turkey throughout the book and especially in the chapter entitled “Inclusive National Governance.” I believe that the five main principles I considered with reference to the recommended approach to deal with the systemic earthquake are primarily applicable to my own country. In fact, Turkey constitutes perhaps one of the most striking examples with respect to these principles.

A Daesh sign at the entrance of the city of Al-Qaim, in Iraq’s western Anbar province near the Syrian border, seen on November 3, 2017 [AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images]

If we take a summary view of Turkey in terms of these principles, an inclusive sense of belonging and citizenship is a priority prerequisite for the country’s internal order, because Turkey, with its Ottoman legacy, includes within its borders almost every ethnic and sectarian element of the Balkans, Middle East, Caucasus, and Central Asia. The country’s political leaders and civil society must act in cognizance of this reality and exhibit a stance that does not exclude any ethnic or sectarian identity. People want to see those who govern and represent them by their side at critical periods. During our struggle with terror organisations such as Daesh, the PKK, and (DHKP-C), whose terror activities escalated in 2015 on account of developments in Iraq and Syria, I would spend every weekend with people in the most affected districts, addressing some mass meetings in Kurdish as best I could. I was the first Prime Minister in the history of the Republic to take part in an Alevi gathering at a djemevi (cemevi) and as a minister I paid visits to all the non-Muslim religious centers including the Greek and Armenian Patriarchates and the Chief Rabbinate. These experiences convinced me that the strongest link between political leaders and the people is a shared sense of belonging. Over time, political leaders and civil society groups who neglect this lose not only their administrative but also their representative effectiveness, and of course, diminish their legitimacy.

Secondly, Turkey is a remarkable case when it comes to a nation-state’s geopolitical basis, because apart from the one with Iran, none of the country’s borders rest on sound geopolitical ground. The border with Syria cuts through residential districts, the border with Iraq through mountains, and its Aegean border skirts islets and rocks. The risk of suddenly erupting tensions is always present. The main reason for my advocacy of the “zero problems with neighbouring countries” principle from 2002 onwards was the potential that existed to derive an order from these geopolitical abnormalities. Successfully pursued up until the structural earthquakes that occurred in surrounding countries in 2011, this policy saw the establishment of high-level cooperation mechanisms with Russia, Greece, Iraq, Syria, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, and Romania, and the development of relations between peoples through mechanisms such as visa waiver and free-trade agreements that were developed with neighbouring countries. Our 2004 negotiations with Greek Cyprus, and the protocols signed with Armenia in 2009[i] showed our determination to achieve normalization (we did not have diplomatic relations with either state before). Today, one of Turkey’s top priorities is the achievement of stability and peace all along its geopolitically sensitive borders.

Thirdly, the freedom–security balance that forms the basis of political legitimacy needs to be painstakingly maintained. It is crucial that a country like Turkey, which has passed the test of being a democratic country in a high-risk geopolitical environment, does not lurch between freedom and security preferences. The fact that in the face of the global security earthquake in the post-9/11 period that shook the world and tended to detach countries from human rights, Turkey made significant strides with respect to the implementation of human rights and freedoms, which are the fundamental elements of inclusivity, and backed this up with a multidimensional foreign policy, enabled the country to make a regional and global difference in those years.

Fourthly, its young and dynamic demography is both a major advantage and a serious challenge for Turkey. Educating and preparing this young and dynamic population for the future requires a policy of sustainable economic development and fair income distribution. It is crucially important that political leaders, the business world, and civil society generally agree on this issue on the basis of shared, rational objectives.

The fifth point is that Turkey is going through an absolutely critical process with regard to the institutional structure of national order. With institutions developed within a deeply rooted state tradition, Turkey faces the need to rebuild its state architecture as a result of the recent constitutional referendum. In this context, the balance between institutional continuity and institutional restructuring needs to be carefully developed to safeguard democratic expectations.

In summary, Turkey’s geography requires multidimensionality, its history inclusivity. If Turkey takes both these elements into account, the ongoing systemic earthquake will present not only risks but opportunities. Turkey needs to find its own distinctive path at a time when the systemic earthquake has encouraged a global trend towards exclusionary autocracy. The course of historical change is determined not by those who act in line with the general trend on the basis of herd mentality but by those who make a distinctive difference. Even if this difference is not sufficiently appreciated in the heated midst of the process, its influence will make itself felt over time. This is how to ensure national legitimacy and international prestige.

  1. Since completing Systemic Earthquake there has been a continuing trend toward demagogic political leadership, coupled with polarized patterns of governance, in many of the most important countries in the world. Does this trend disturb you? Do you expect it to continue?

The most frequently overlooked element in efforts to establish national, regional and global order is the psychological factor. In a psychological atmosphere in which feeling, emotion, and sentiment overwhelms rational thought, rhetorical radicalism subsumes any shared or common view, tactical steps subsume strategy, and impulses subsume principles. While building sustainable order is all about a set of principles generated by a common mindset and the strategic issues based on them, acquiring and keeping hold of conjunctural power is a tactical question based on impulsive and rhetorical radicalism. The growing trend to demagogic political leadership is the psycho-political reflection of rhetorical radicalism; a polarizing and exclusionary understanding of politics, a reflection of its impulsive radicalism. Like everyone with a worldview that envisions a future for humankind based on equality and human dignity, I am seriously concerned about this development. A number of large-scale wars in the past were triggered by reciprocally impulsive reactions that had emerged from such a psycho-political atmosphere.

However, it is impossible to overcome this disturbing development by getting caught up in a psychology of helplessness in the face of such a wave, or turning a blind eye to the conditions that have led to the wave in the first place. What is needed is an accurate analysis of the psychological grounds that have been thrown up by it and the promotion of a vision of order based on humankind’s shared legacy of experiences with the capacity to generate the global momentum required to create a counter-wave.

US President Donald Trump delivers remarks at ‘Keep America Great Rally’ on January 30, 2020 in Des Moines, IA, United States [Kyle Mazza / Anadolu Agency]

  1. The Trump presidency has epitomised this trend, which has also led to an ultra-nationalist foreign policy, which exhibits hostility to international law, the UN, human rights, and cooperative approaches to global problems. Does the world suffer from the loss of a more internationalist style of global leadership associated with pre-Trump American foreign policy?

To use the conceptualisation I have proposed in the book, we might say that Trump represents the most extreme slide into strategic discontinuity in US foreign policy that has been experienced with any post-Cold War change of presidency. In every period changes in the international system have necessitated a paradigmatic renewal in US strategy. As the eighteenth century gave way to the nineteenth, and however much the young United States of America appeared to have been excluded from the international Eurocentric colonialist power struggle, the Monroe Doctrine published in 1823 in line with the new state of affairs in the wake of the Congress of Vienna helped to lay the ground for an internal consolidation around republican principles as well as an American continent-oriented consolidation of power far from the influence of monarchical restoration in Europe. Through the nineteenth century, this founding paradigmatic principle, which was enunciated by the fifth US President James Monroe, recognized as the last of the United States’ founding fathers, constituted a strategic basis unaffected by whichever political party the president happened to be affiliated.

As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, the United States, whose economic prowess had turned the country into a leading actor in international economic-political balances, became an international naval power in the context of the Roosevelt Corollary’s more assertive interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, after which the beginning of the country’s assertion of influence within the international system through the principles laid out in President Wilson’s Fourteen Points indicated a continuum of change in the US strategic paradigm. The fact that Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican, and Wilson a Democrat, never caused any strategic discontinuity in terms of the United States’ status as a leading actor. The proactive strategy of Franklin Roosevelt (a Democrat, unlike his Republican cousin Theodore) in the Second World War put the United States center stage in the post war international system. Even in this paradigmatic transformation, the “American Century” was one of consensus and continuity in terms of twentieth-century economic-political, geopolitical, and geo-cultural balances in the strategy’s principal elements.

However, as the world moved into the twenty-first century, and in spite of having emerged as the victor of the Cold War, the United States’ strategic paradigm proved unable to forge a coherent and consistent whole. George H. W. Bush’s “new world order,” Bill Clinton’s “humanitarian interventionism,” George W. Bush’s “pre-emptive strike,” Barack Obama’s “multilateralism,” and Trump’s “America First”-oriented conceptualisations contained elements of incoherence and discontinuity as well as being in part reactions to their predecessors’ policies.

In a nutshell, while the nineteenth century was the European, and the twentieth century the American century, the twenty-first, a “Global Century” shaped by the dynamic elements associated with globalization, has a complexity that is hard to comprehend, disentangle, and resolve by reference to just one geographical location. While a multi-dimensional, multi-actor period such as this (in the book we call it the “multiple balance of powers system”) requires a far more sophisticated approach, the US slide towards a one-dimensional, self-centric approach characterized by Trump’s “America First” slogan, with its disregard for international law and norms, is not sustainable either in terms of the functioning and operation of the international system or of US interests.

  1. The rise of China represents the most dramatic geopolitical development in the twenty-first century. Do you think that the rise of China is on balance beneficial or detrimental to the future of world order? Do you believe China can fill the global leadership vacuum created by the Trump withdrawal of the leadership role that the United States played since 1945? Could you envision a more multi-polar global leadership emerging in the future? Or possibly a post-Trump US/China joint leadership? Or is a new Cold War more likely with the United States on one side and either China or Russia, or some combination, on the other?

In the post-Cold War era, especially after the 2008 global crisis, China’s attainment of a leading position in the world economy was a new state of affairs that represented a test for China itself as much as for the world and the other major powers. During its classical periods, China saw itself as the “civilized center of the world,” even “the world itself”; it possessed a strategic paradigm based on protecting itself from potential threats from the world outside, rather than taking any interest in the external world. The Great Wall of China constitutes the most striking manifestation of this strategic mindset paradigm, which was the product of China’s effort to protect its own world from the that which lay beyond. In this context, except for the Hui-origin Muslim Chinese Admiral Zheng He’s overseas expeditions at the beginning of the fifteenth century, China had no concept of a common order, or working to establish contacts with the non-Chinese world. The Opium Wars, which forced China’s strategic culture to change in the mid-nineteenth century, were essentially waged with a view to discontinuing this strategic resistance. Once again China’s confrontation with modernity took place through the inward-looking Maoist methods identified with the Cultural Revolution.

In the post-Cold War period, China’s ever more rapid integration into the international economy along reformist lines pushed China to change its aloof approach towards the outside world that it had adopted in the traditional and modern periods. Indeed, it would be impossible for a global power with an economic structure integrated into the world economy either to remain outside the world political system or to remain indifferent to developments within it. In this sense, Chinese President Xi’s The Belt and Road Initiative project is not just a sign of economic interdependence. It will also reflect China’s inevitable and growing interest in the field of international politics, including the security of the transport corridors that it naturally requires.

In this framework, the main question is what tools and methods are going to be applied by China to further its interests. From the perspective of China’s traditional stance as well as today’s economic-political balances, a scenario in which China gains the status of guarantor of the global order by itself, by filling the vacuum left by the United States in the wake of Trump’s policies, appears unlikely. The scenario in which China assumes a leadership role in conjunction with the United States risks creating a polarization that could bring actors such as the EU, Russia, Japan, and India together in such a way that this kind of quest for balance would frustrate any such joint-leadership project. The move towards the conditions for a new Cold War with the United States at one pole and China at the other is not a burden that an increasingly complex network of economic relations can carry. It should not be forgotten that the previous Cold War did not take place within the same economic model but only ever between blocs of countries with different economic models. It would be very hard to forge an enduring Cold War in a world where the same or similar economic models are interacting in a global economy. In this context, the most likely scenario is a “multiple balance of powers” system with growing Chinese economic-political influence but in which the thematic, sectoral, and geopolitical basis of international relations may be dynamically determined at any moment.

Yet it would be wrong to restrict China’s distinctive and distinguishing features to the realm of economic-political balances in this new period. Every change that occurs in China, home to one-quarter of the world’s population, will also be decisive in the cultural order that includes the scientific and technological elements of the international system. China’s growing influence in the restructuring of the global cultural order will be accompanied by the transformation of the modern, mainly Eurocentric, cultural order. Therefore, this “multiple balance of powers” system’s soft (cultural) aspects need to be taken very seriously and all multinational platforms, especially the UN system, need to have a genuinely peace-promoting and inclusive character. As is emphasized in the text of the book, Pax Universale does not need global Caesars followed by self-centric Neros, but rather Marcus Aureliuses from different cultural basins.

Young boys wear medical masks as a precaution to protect themselves from coronavirus in Kirkuk, Iraq on February 25, 2020 [Ali Makram Ghareeb/Anadolu Agency]

  1. Your book Systemic Earthquakewrites about ruptures that change the international atmosphere in dramatic and unexpected ways. Do you consider the global spread of COVID-19 virus is or could become such a rupture?

Since we are still living through this pandemic, it is hard to make a definitive judgment that it will lead to a global rupture. However, it is at least clear that COVID-19 is set to be a precursor and test bed for probable global-scale ruptures.

Precursor, because COVID-19 has strikingly shown once again that human destiny flows along a single common river that does not allow for the separation of one continent from another or one religious or ethnic community from another. It is both natural and inevitable that with the acceleration of growing global interaction we shall soon see stronger waves and ruptures that will impact our common future.

Test bed, because the stance taken on COVID-19 will determine the course of subsequent ruptures. Broadly speaking, when it comes to this stance there are two options. The first is that just like quarantining people during the pandemic, societies and countries will tend to quarantine themselves on a long-term basis through inward looking policies designed to avoid being affected by global ruptures. It is extremely hard for this introspective attitude, which I define in the book as a cynical reaction against globalization, to deliver a lasting solution with respect to the impact of global rupture. It should not be forgotten that quarantine is a temporary measure; making it permanent means the end of societal life. Likewise, the long-term nature of the restrictive measures taken by countries to mitigate the impact of the epidemic serves to minimize the positive interaction gains of globalization.

The second possible stance is to move forward once again with a shared global-scale ontological consciousness based on a common concern for the existential future of humanity in the face of this global rupture. This shared ontological consciousness will not have the capacity to develop enduring responses to global ruptures unless it transcends the political and economic interests developed individually by political actors and countries. As we underline in the book, where there is no ontological existence, political existence loses its presence and meaning.

  1. This health challenge arises in a historical circumstance in which the world is experiencing trends toward the embrace of ultra-nationalist ideologies and the rise of democratically elected autocrats. Against this background, does the COVID-19 challenge underscore the importance of global cooperation under the auspices of the United Nations?

Absolutely. In order to be able to transform this shared ontological consciousness into a set of global policies, the only tool available to us is the UN, whatever its troubles. Yet if the UN is to be able to carry out this duty, the privileged status it affords to certain countries in terms of their capacity to determine the destiny of humankind needs to be reformed. Having said that humankind needs to move forward with a single and shared ontological consciousness, the current UN structure, based on granting five countries ultimate decision-making status with respect to the political manifestations of this destiny, of its essence runs contrary to this consciousness.

In particular, in the event of ultra-nationalist and autocratic leaders who prioritize their own short-term personal and national interests coming to the fore in these five countries, the UN ceases to be a solution-producing body and turns into a source of problems. In the context of a state of affairs in which these five countries pursue their disparate interests and display mutually polarizing attitudes, it becomes difficult for the UN to mobilize a shared ontological consciousness. The tendency of the US and China to exchange accusations during the COVID-19 crisis has been a cautionary tale. Approaches such as this serve to block the existing UN system and undermine the idea that the UN is the shared mechanism of humanity. Right now, the urgent need is to achieve an inclusive, democratic and participatory United Nations, and to enhance its effectiveness.

  1. In a deeper sense, the COVID-19 eruption suggests the limits of our understanding of what the future will bring to humanity. Does this uncertainty about the future make it more essential than ever to govern societies in accord with ‘the precautionary principle’? Does the ecological fragility of world order, combined with its vulnerability to previously unknown viruses, suggest the need for more flexible democracies or does it portend a post-political future for all levels of social and political order?

Yes, ‘the precautionary principle’ can be an important reference point in overcoming the global vulnerabilities and uncertainties associated with rapid technological development and globalization. However, the success of this principle in practice depends on its unconditional and blanket acceptance and implementation by all parties. Otherwise, non-compliant parties may gain a scientific / technological / economic advantage over their compliant counterparts. In the framework of this principle, the manner in which the United States’ failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and Canada’s withdrawal from it prevented the World Charter for Nature adopted by the UN in 1982 and enshrined in the preamble of the 1987 Montreal Protocol from achieving its desired effect, is clear. When ‘the precautionary principle’ framework is correctly defined and implemented without exception, it can prevent or at least limit this kind of vulnerability. And for this to happen, an institutional body and mechanism that is not wrapped up in political concerns but motivated by universal principles needs to be established.

The most effective solution to the ecological vulnerability further exposed by the emergence of viruses previously unknown to the world order is the concept of an inclusive and participatory flexible democracy. This concept of democracy must bring with it a fresh political mindset. Perhaps these developments can be seen as a precursory phase towards a new political understanding, rather than a post-political phase. At the beginning of human history too, human beings basically transitioned to the phase of forming a political society by removing the security risks associated with natural life in the most primitive fashion. This time, humanity will have to develop a new global-scale concept of political societal order in order to bring the ecological risks created by humankind’s own hand under control. Although this concept of order appears post-political from the modern political perspective, from the perspective of a political order based on global governance, it could well take the form of a harbinger.

In any case, all these developments show that we are pushing against the limits of current understandings of political order. Humankind will either turn to a new humanity-oriented concept of global governance, or rupture from human values on the wheels of autocratic structures seeking to exploit all these vulnerabilities. Our primary duty today is to strive to forge the intellectual infrastructure of a new humanity-oriented order of global governance.

Indeed, this is the fundamental purpose of this book, Systemic Earthquake.

[i] For an assessment of these negotiations from a third perspective see Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hard Choices, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014, s. 218-220.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making the Earth Charter Happen: A Necessary Utopia

7 Feb

Making the Earth Charter Happen: A Necessary Utopia

[Prefatory Note: The Great Transition Network (GTN), under the intellectual and organizational leadership of Paul Raskin and Jonathan Cohn within the confines of the Tellus Foundation, have been pioneers exploring the preconditions for a peaceful transition a sustainable and humane future for planetary co-existence, both among humans and for human society in relation to its natural surroundings. Such explorations have entailed an enlivened realization that without eco-consciousness the desired transition will be blocked at the start. Paul has authored some highly suggestive commentary on the overall undertaking. One stream of GTN activity consists of periodically inviting an author whose prior work is identified with some theme relating to the GT undertaking, to contribute a background paper that is then distributed to the network for invited comments. In this instance the theme chosen concerned the ethical implications of the implementation of the Earth Charter, a visionary text that set forth some decades ago the ecological foundations of a humane and sustainable future. In this instance, Brendan Mackey, authored an overview paper, and several of us were invited to contribute a comment in response, after which Brendan has agreed to respond as he sees fit. I think the GTN doing its part in facing the challenge confronting those of us seeking through action and ideas a radically transformed future that is substantially freed from war, poverty, exploitation, geopolitics, and is respectful of human rights and international law, committed to global cooperative mechanisms protective of the eco-stability and responsive to the ethics of eco-responsibility and the just distribution of obligations, as well as the spiritual sources of an affirmative planetary politics. In effect, it is a revolutionary realism that can only be fulfilled in the form of a ‘necessary utopia.’ Without such an aspiration consciousness, ‘The Great Transition’ will remain a pipe dream. This may sound paradoxical, but it is my way of expressing hope without underestimating the gravity and urgency of the challenge. Brendan Mackey’s introductory essay is printed after my comment, but deserves reading first.] 

 

 

 

 

Comment of Richard Falk on Brendan Mackey’s essay devoted to The Earth Charter

 

Unquestionably, this latest theme of GTN relating ethics to ecological sustainability is a crucial dimension of planetary viability for the peoples of the earth as it is even more so for those non-human beings that live and suffer together with humans throughout the world. The raging wild fires of the Australia summer have taken more than one billion animal lives should be viewed as an apocalyptic event although the lethal effects on human beings have been relatively minor, at least so far. Yet the Australian inferno is nevertheless a metaphor depicting a flaming future for humanity, and its shared destiny with the whole of nature. Beyond this, the small number of direct human casualties totally discredits and ethically undermines the kind of anthropocentric worldview that has guided modernity at least from the time of the Industrial Revolution. What we can and must learn is that human activity cannot and should not be unconditionally safeguarded at the expense of its natural surroundings. Although this might be obvious to the ecologically minded minority among us, it is not reflected in the behavioral patterns of either the public or private sectors of society, which remain in virtual denial as to the structural impacts of human activity on global ecosystems, the central explanation for regarding our time as that of the Anthropocene, distinguished by the rise of human agency with respect to planetary wellbeing.

 

Brendan Mackey and several of the prior commentators on this latest GTN theme make perceptive observations about the appropriate framework of shared values and the eco-ethical consciousness needed to meet the unmet challenges of the Anthropocene. My concern is less with configuring the ethical framework than in providing political traction to overcome the mounting dangers of catastrophic scope associated with failures to address such fundamental issues of ecological accommodation as global warming and diminishing biodiversity. What has become alarmingly evident is less the ethical deficiencies of Earth Charter subscribers than the refusals of political leaders and private sector elites to act responsibly on the basis of scientific knowledge and longer-term interests.

 

I believe that it is already widely known what should be done to achieve a transition to conditions of ecological equilibrium, but that such knowledge is not acted upon because of several imposing obstacles:

                        —short-termism: the mismatch between the accountability cycles of political, financial, and corporate leaders and officials, rarely more than a few years, and the time horizons of ecological challenges that impinge catastrophically and quite possibly, irreversibly, but are perceived, if at all, as posing insufficient immediate threats to justify expensive and controversial policy adjustments in the near term;

                        —special interests: reinforcing these short time horizons of policy-makers are a variety of influential collective entities and lobbying groups that are opposed to making adjustments because of the probable cut in profit margins or the heightening economic and political risks; for instance, the importance of coal exports in Australia exerts influence on national politicians of the party in power not to restrict coal exports as acceptable sources of energy or even to impose carbon emission controls at home, although the majority of citizens would accept such adjustments;

                        —ideological and religious dogma: capitalist thinking tends toward trusting  markets, and distrusting states and public institutions; this makes it difficult to regulate the private sector in accord with the public interest if the impingement seems major, or even to clarify the public interest as understood by science and rationality; also, fundamentalist religious doctrines generally oppose taking steps that seem to question the omnipotence of God or divine governance as expressions of hubris;

                       —emergency diversions: wartime conditions, or situations of political tension and civil strife, as well as acute economic stress resulting from food insecurities or disease epidemics divert attention from the more abstract threats of climate change or loss of biodiversity;

                        —technophilia: the widespread sense in the private sector that technology will provide solutions when ecological problems reach a crisis stage.

 

Against this background, the Earth Charter is a helpful counter-ideological text that enlightens us as to the ethical foundations of what should be and needs to be done to uphold planetary viability, but it fails to take the indispensable next step, which is to depict the politics that might make these values operational on a sufficient scale as to meet the challenges and safeguard the human and non-human future of living together on one earth in a benevolent fashion. In this sense, the Earth Charter and kindred expressions of ecological worldviews has established an overall ethical consensus. This consensus has affected public opinion, as reinforced by the increased frequency of such adverse experiences as extreme weather events, droughts, floods, fires, mass migration. Despite such developments, there still is an insufficient political will or atmosphere of urgency to address with resolve and fidelity to the precautionary principle. As a result, the root causes of these Anthropocene challenges are not being addressed in the spirit of the GTN ethos.

 

Depicting the ethical framework is useful, but what makes change happen on such a momentous scale has to be more transformative in spirit and substance, which depends on nothing less than what has sometimes been called ‘a second Axial Revolution.’ Perhaps, a better formulation is to speak of the need for ‘a civilizational rupture,’ the break with the expansionary vision of modernity, and its replacement by an ecologically crafted civilizational experience that is highly sensitive to the ecological limits and positive potentialities of the Anthropocene. Such an eco-political transformation of values postulates a radical civilizational future that is neither predictable, nor achievable by normal procedures of advocacy and political agitation. We know what needs doing, but not yet how to get it done. To exhibit urgency may catalyze a movement with transformative energy, and so all efforts to align with an earth-centered worldview can be considered as preparation for the hard work ahead to ensure species survival and a new ecological equilibrium. The Earth Charter as a political action document enjoys the status of being ‘a necessary utopia.’

 

 

 

Toward a Great Ethics Transition: The Earth Charter at Twenty

Brendan Mackey

 

Why a Common Ethical Framework

Seventy-two years ago, in 1948, the newly created United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With a catastrophic war fresh in people’s memory, the recognition of the “inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” augured a sound ethical foundation for a hopeful future. Although the subsequent decades saw the tension and tumult of the Cold War (and some hot ones), a new internationalism was also on the upswing.

 

Since then, a profusion of declarations and charters have sought to establish normative ethics based on universal values and principles presumed to be shared by all people, nations, and cultures. This includes, among others, the Stockholm Declaration (1972), the World Charter for Nature (1982), the Rio Declaration (1992), the Earth Charter (2000), the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), the Draft Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth (2010), and the Principles of Climate Justice (2011).

 

The proposition that there are universal ethical values and principles shared among all the Peoples of the world remains contested and, in some respects, rightly so. Post-modernist critics warn us that a single idea universally applied can ignore local contexts and swallow up the diverse values that reside in the richly textured tapestry that is the hallmark of human society and our biocultural relationships. However, between the bookends of absolutism (where there is only one truth) and radical relativism (where everything is subjective) lies a pluralism that leaves open the question of which of our many choices are valid and justified.[i] From this perspective, normative ethics seeks principles to guide moral conduct when considering the right and wrong thing to do in specific contexts, and accepts that there are serious consequences from our actions (and inactions) that can be objectively assessed.

 

A universal ethical framework may seem like a distant hope given the growth of populist authoritarianism and a narrowing interpretation of national self-interest. However, the multiple global threats and pressures we collectively face demand global solutions and unprecedented levels of international cooperation among national governments, across all sectors and between all Peoples. Any such systemic transformation will require a roadmap guided by shared values about what we want the future to look like and an agreed set of normative ethical principles to provide the necessary moral guidance.

 

The Earth Charter Story

 

The Earth Charter, now nearing its twentieth anniversary, remains one of the most sweeping efforts to define such a global ethic. Its origins date back to the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (or “Brundtland Commission”), entitled Our Common Future, which recommended the creation of a new international charter with principles to guide the transition to sustainable development. Maurice Strong, one of the report’s draftersand a former executive director of the UN Environment Program, followed through on this recommendation by putting the drafting of an Earth Charter on the agenda of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, for which he was Secretary-General. The international community however, passed on this opportunity, instead supporting the package of “Rio Commitments.” Following the Earth Summit, Strong, together with Mikhail Gorbachev working through Green Cross International, and with support from the Dutch government, launched in 1995 a project to draft an Earth Charter as a civil society initiative.Extensive consultations on Earth Charter principles were conducted through 1995 and 1996, followed by the establishment of an Earth Charter Commission, comprised of respected sustainability leaders. In 1997, a drafting committee was formed, and the drafting process began. Importantly, the Earth Charter Commission retained control of the text of the Earth Charter and has never considered changing or adding to the text, nor has it established a procedure for doing this. Over the next four years, a growing network of national committees, civil society organizations, experts in various fields, and concerned and interested individuals weighed in via a series of global, regional, and national consultations.

 

The drafting process aimed to develop a text based on an analysis of existing international law and declarations, including those by civil society, and met with stakeholders across the globe to reach agreement on a document that reflected a global consensus on shared values and principles for a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world. In March 2000, the Commission met at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris to finalize the document, and the Earth Charter was formally launched in ceremonies at The Peace Palace in The Hague.[ii]  Earth Charter International (ECI) was subsequently established, comprising the ECI Secretariat, its Education Center, and the ECI Council, to carry the work forward. The ECI Secretariat, based at the United Nations-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica, aims to promote the mission, vision, strategies, and policies adopted by the ECI Council. The Charter has been translated into over forty languages and endorsed by over 7,000 organizations, including UNESCO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

 

The Earth Charter is a rich text, consisting of sixteen main principles and sixty-one supporting principles organized into the four themes: Respect and Care for the Community of Life; Ecological Integrity; Social and Economic Justice; and Democracy, Nonviolence, and Peace. These principles are bookended by a preamble and a concluding statement called “The Way Forward.”  The Earth Charter drafting processes aimed to articulate a world ethic that complements and builds on those ethical norms situated within specific cultural and geographical contexts. Although the final product was sweeping in scope, the drafting process did still draw boundaries, for example, by limiting the text to ethical values and principles for which there was evidence of a broad and diverse base of support either in civil society or in formal intergovernmental instruments. As a result, the Earth Charter remains a document of its time. While originally conceived as an ethical framework for national governments, as a Peoples’ Charter, the Earth Charter does not specify what particular responsibilities fall upon which actors and sectors of society. And, while outlining the major global challenges at the time, it does not identify the root causes of our crises.

 

The Earth Charter’s ethic reflects an ambitious effort to bring together ecological and social concerns within one framework, mindful of humanity’s special relationship with our planetary home and the greater community of life. The Earth Charter recognizes that achieving social and economic justice will require both ensuring ecological integrity as well as the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, association, and dissent—among other things. As a global ethic, the Earth Charter has the characteristics of what Nigel Dower calls a rooted and ecologically sensitive cosmopolitanism. It is a covenant that defines an overarching way of life and answers the question of how to construct our lives together such that all life flourishes. From this perspective, the Earth Charter can be seen as a voluntary, unconditional commitment to our relationships with other persons, nature, and those things recognized as embodying the goodness, rightness, and truth of our being, and the moral obligations required to maintain and fulfill these relationships in the midst of the inevitable uncertainties and contingencies we face.

 

The Next Twenty Years

The Earth Charter opens with the statement that “We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future.”’ The urgency of this moment cannot be exaggerated: global warming, just one of many crises we face, is already causing systemic disruptions and heading past the 1.5 °C threshold necessary for a livable planet by 2040 and well beyond 3 °C by the end of this century. The integrity of our systems of governance is cracking, and current institutional arrangements are struggling to provide the necessary regulatory oversight.

 

Achieving sustainability will also require lifelong commitment by people of courage, acting individually and collectively in their communities and polity, to make judgments about what is right and wrong in human affairs and take the actions needed to advance that which is judged good and just. We cannot rely on the notion that good will inevitably prevail because it is divinely pre-ordained or inevitable given a rising tide of cosmic consciousness, notwithstanding the importance of each person’s spiritual development.

 

The Earth Charter, and its sister declarations of universal ethical values and principles, can be put to work in meeting our collective challenges. All political and economic decisions and policies, however apparently pragmatic such as matters of trade and defense, entail ethical considerations. We need to normalize the idea of calling out the ethical dimensions of public and vested interest responses to the urgent problems of our time, including the climate and biodiversity crises, and subjecting them to critical moral evaluation.

 

Global economics and its governance could be fruitfully aligned with Earth Charter principles. We need to build systems that are supportive of the greater community of life and the interdependence of people and nature. The scope of the problem suggests the need for a new World Environment Organization mandated with a trusteeship function over global public goals and common goods, with the Earth Charter articulating the ethical basis of these trusteeship duties. Although the idea of new international institutions swims against the prevailing current, we will not have the “green economy” we need without a new economic vision and the institutional means to regulate private abuse of the global commons and goods held in common. [iii]

 

In addition to new institutions, we also need ongoing dialogue about ethics. The Earth Charter recognized this, asserting, “We must deepen and expand the global dialogue that generated the Earth Charter, for we have much to learn from the ongoing collaborative search for truth and wisdom.” Much has happened in the two decades since the launch of the Earth Charter that has enriched and added to the global dialogue on ethics and sustainability, in both formal policy forums and in civil society deliberations. Furthermore, many problems, such as climate change, have grown in scale and urgency, and others, such as the disruptions caused by technological innovations, have arisen, straining political and economic systems. The lexicon of sustainability has expanded in response to these developments. One example is the influence of First Nations worldviews, values, and principles in national and international policy and law. The term “Mother Earth” has now received formal recognition through the UN General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution to designate April 22 as International Mother Earth Day, and Mother Earth is referred to in the Paris Agreement on climate change.  The Earth Charter’s section on ecological integrity is also in need of updating to incorporate more recent concepts that are now central to our understanding of global sustainability, such as “planetary boundaries” and the “Anthropocene.”

 

If the promise of the Earth Charter is to be realized, a platform is needed to facilitate ongoing dialogue around the ethical dimensions of the urgent global problems we face, the application to them of accepted ethical norms, as well as the search for new universal norms and principles to guide our responses. This undertaking raises a number of practical questions, such as who would lead the effort, and what organization has the credibility and is in a position to organize and conduct the kind of inclusive international dialogue that would be required? This would have to be much more than just an archiving exercise but a process of deliberative and engaged dialogue from which is forged ethical principles of a covenantal nature.

 

My call for enabling the Earth Charter to speak directly to critical contemporary events and policy issues and for continuing the global ethics dialogue that led to the Earth Charter is not alone: many persons who have played significant roles in the Earth Charter movement since its inception in the 1990s have likewise argued for its importance.[iv] There are thousands of citizens as well as experts in every country of the world who are eager to participate in a renewed global ethics dialogue, and with the potential to empower the Earth Charter and its vision for the great transition we so desperately need.[v] All that is lacking is a formal procedure by which this can take place, underwritten by a strong international institutional base, and the leadership that can assure its credibility and inspire worldwide participation.   

 

Twenty years ago. Kamla Chowdhry, one of the founding members of the Earth Charter Commission, asked, How can we ensure that ethical and spiritual values get a fair hearing with the economist, technologist, and the industrialist? How do we weld economics with ethics, and have a technology with a human face?[vi] Answering those questions remains central to our efforts today for a more just, sustainable and peaceful world.

           

 

[i] Phillip Selznik, The Moral Commonwealth: Social Theory and the Promise of Community (Oakland: University of California Press, 1992).

[ii] Steven Rockefeller led the drafting process. Earth Charter Commission members included Kamla Chowdry, Mohamed Sahnoun, Henriette Rasmussen, Mercedes Sosa, Erna Witoelar, Wangari Maathai, Pierre Calame, Leanardo Boff, Rudd Lubbers, and HRH Princess Basma Bint Talal.

[iii] Klaus Bosselmann, Peter G. Brown, and Brendan Mackey, “Enabling a Flourishing Earth: Challenges for the Green Economy, Opportunities for Global Governance,” Review of European Community & International Environmental Law 21 (2012): 23-39. Also see discussion in Klaus Bosselmann and J. Ronald Engel, eds., The Earth Charter: A Framework for Global Governance (Amsterdam: KIT Publishers, 2010).

[iv] Peter Burdon, Klaus Bosselmann, and Kirsten Engel, eds., The Crisis in Global Ethics and the Future of Global Governance: Fulfilling the Promise of the Earth Charter (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2019).

[v] J. Ronald Engel and Brendan Mackey, “The Earth Charter, Covenants and Earth Jurisprudence,” in Exploring Wild Law: The Philosophy of Earth Jurisprudence, ed. Peter Burdon. (Cambridge, MA: Wakefield Press, 2011), 313-323.

[vi] Kamla Chowdhry, Challenges of the 21st Century: Gandhi’s Moral Imperative (National Foundation for India, New Delhi, 1998).

Facing the Global Crisis

16 Jan

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a somewhat amplified version of an interview with C. J. Polychroniou, journalist and professor of political economy at West Chester University, which was published on January 7, 2020 in the online journal, Global Policy. As the interview was conducted in December 2019, it fails to address the various disruptive consequences of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, including the violation of Iraqi sovereignty, Baghdad being the site of the drone attack, as well as the risks of war arising from an escalating tit-for-tat cycle of actions and reactions. Given growing tensions between the interconnectedness of the world and the state-centric character of international law, including contradictions between totalizing and disregarding territorial sovereignty, state-centric world order is being increasingly marginalized by geopolitical behavior that both generates and suppresses transnational political violence. A normative crisis with structural implications exists, and is not even being widely appreciated much less adequately addressed. The continuing disregard of this crisis adds to grave risks of aa catastrophic future for humanity, with severe spillover to the natural surroundings shared with non-human species.]

 

Facing the Global Crisis

 Q1. I want to start this interview on the state of global affairs near the end of the second decade of the 21st century by moving from the abstract to the concrete. To begin with, it’s regarded as axiomatic that the postwar international liberal order is fracturing and that we are at the same time in the midst of a geopolitical transition where the most prominent characteristic seems to be the decline of the United States as a global superpower. With that in mind, can you offer us a panoramic perspective on the contemporary state of global affairs? What do you consider to be the primary changes under way, and the emerging challenges and threats to global peace and stability?

 Response: There are many crosscutting tendencies now evident at the global level. At the very time when globalizing challenges are intensifying, the mechanisms available for regional and global cooperation are becoming dangerously less effective. The failure to address climate change, so clearly in the global public interest, is emblematic of a dysfunctional world order system. This failure can be further delineated by reference to two distinct, yet interrelated developments. The first characterized by a vacuum in global leadership, which reflects both the overall decline of the United States as well as its explicit renunciation of such a role by the Trump presidency. Trump proudly proclaims that his political agenda is exclusively dedicated to the promotion of American national interests, declaring defiantly he was elected president of the United States, and not of the world. The second broader development is the rise of autocrats in almost every important sovereign state, whether by popular will or through imposed rule, resulting in the affirmation of ultra-nationalist approaches to foreign policy, given ideological intensity by chauvinistic and ethnic hostility toward migrants and internal minorities. This kind of exclusionary statism contributes to the emergence of what might be called ‘global Trumpism’ further obstructing global problem-solving, shared solutions to common problems, and global expressions of empathy for human suffering. A discernable effect of these two dimensions of world order is to diminish the relevance and authority of the United Nations and of international law, as well as exhibiting a decline in respect for standards of international human rights and a disturbing indifference to global warming and other global scale challenges, including toward maintaining biodiversity and upholding the stability of major global rainforests.

 

Overall, what has been emerging globally is a reinvigoration of the seventeenth century Westphalian regional system of sovereign states that arose in Europe after more than a century of devastating religious wars, but under vastly different conditions of connectivity that now pose dire threats to maintaining minimum world order and to the wellbeing of peoples throughout the world. Among these differences are the dependence upon responsible internal behavior by governing processes at all levels of social interaction in an era of growing ecological interdependence. The tolerance of fires in the Amazon rainforest by the Brazilian government, supposedly for the sake of economic growth, by indulging the interests of agrobusiness and logging, endangers a vital global source of biodiversity as well as depletes essential carbon capturing capabilities of this vast forest area, yet there is no way under existing international norms to challenge Brazil’s sovereign prerogative to set its own policy agenda, however irresponsible with respect to its own ecological future, as well as that of its region and the world.  

 

At the same time, there has emerged doctrine and technology that defies territorial constraints, and gives rise to contradictory pressures that subvert the traditional capabilities of states to uphold national security on the basis of territorial defense. On the one side, transnational extremism and criminality exposes the symbolic and material vulnerability of the most militarily powerful states as the United States discovered on 9/11 when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were allegedly attacked by a small group of unarmed individuals. Added to this are threats to all people from hacking and surveillance technologies that are not subject to territorial regulation. Responses by way of retaliatory strikes or covert operations directed at the supposed extraterritorial source of these attacks and threats, according to a global mandate associated with counterterrorist warfare and transnational law enforcement generate new patterns of lawlessness in the conduct of international relations. Technological and doctrinal innovations associated with the use of precision guided missiles, cyberspace, and pilotless drones, as well as satellite surveillance are producing new conceptions and experiences of boundaryless war zones. The world is becoming a battlefield for both geopolitical actors and a variety of non-state actors in a series of unresolved transnational struggles and undertakings. Additionally, there are opening new uncertain frontiers for 21st century warfare involving cyber assaults of various kinds, evidently already tested and used by the U.S. and Israel in their efforts to destabilize Iran, as well as new initiatives by a few states to militarize space in ways that seem capable of threatening any society on the face of the planet with instant and total devastation. One salient feature of these developments is the unacknowledged significance of neither adversary being a Westphalian sovereign state as generally understood by international relations theory and practice, while ‘political realism,’ which remains largely unchallenged, is more and more out of touch with these political realities subverting statst world order.

 

Under analogous pressures, the world economy is also fragmenting and seeking a reterritorialization of trade and investment, not only behaviorally but doctrinally. Trump’s transactional mode of operations challenges the rule-governed global system established after World War II, which relied on the Bretton Woods institutions and the World Trade Organization. The economic dimensions of resurgent nationalism also give rise to trade tensions, with real prospects of major trade wars, reminding expert observers of the ‘beggar-thy-neighbor’ atmosphere in the early 1930s that gave rise to the Great Depression. Underneath this reterritorialized approach to political economy seems to be what amounts to a mostly silent revolt against neoliberal globalization, and its encouragement of transnational trade and investments based on market-based opportunities, as guided by the transnational efficiency of capital and openness of national markets rather than the wellbeing of people, including environmental protection. A major source of dissatisfaction with traditional politics in democratic societies seems associated with increasing economic inequality, causing stagnation, or worse, of middle and lower class living standards, while producing incredible accumulations of wealth at the very apex of society. These trends have unleashed an enraged populist assault on establishment institutions, including traditional political parties, being blamed for enriching upper elites while suppressing the wellbeing of almost entire societies, with an astonishing 99% being left behind. In the American setting, the left/right expression of this new classism is reflected in the Trump proto-fascist base and the Sanders mobilization among youth and disaffected constituencies.

 

In this downward global spiral, additional negative factors are associated with poor management of ending the Cold War, and the accompanying collapse of the Soviet Union. I would point to three principal negative impacts: (1) the failure of the United States as triumphant global leader to seize the opportunity during the 1990s to move the world toward greater peace, justice, and prosperity by strengthening the UN, by reallocating resources from defense to civilian infrastructure, and by initiating denuclearization and demilitarizing policies regionally and worldwide; (2) the degree to which the Soviet collapse led to a world economic order without ideological choices for political actors (‘there is no alternative’ mentality). This pushed the logic of capitalism toward the kind of inhumane extremes that had existed in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. As long as socialism was associated with Soviet leadership it offered an ideological alternative to alienated segments of society, which created strong political incentives in the West to exhibit ethical concerns for human wellbeing, and social protection frameworks moderating the cruelty of minimally regulated market forces; in effect, for its own sake capitalism needed the rivalry with socialism to maintain an ethically acceptable ideological composure; (3) the sudden withdrawal of Soviet balancing influence in several regions of the world, especially the Middle East, led to order-maintaining cycles of oppressive patterns of governance, U.S. regime changing interventions, and political turmoil and prolonged strife causing massive suffering, famine, and devastation.

 

This combination of domestic authoritarianism, transnational conflict configuratons, and state-centric foreign policy is inclining the world toward ecological catastrophe and geopolitical uncertainty, even chaos. This pattern is accentuated by world economic orientations that are oblivious to human and global interests, while slanting national interests toward the ultra-rich. In effect, the political future for formerly leading democratic states is now more accurately described as a mixture of autocracy and plutocracy with fascist overtones of the strong leader and the stereotyping of ‘the other’ as an enemy to be excluded or destroyed.

 

One symptom of these implosive developments is to call attention to the altered role of the United States in this overall conjuncture of historical forces. On the one side, is the reality of U.S. decline, accentuated by the behavior of Trump since 2016 and the rise of China, which reflects the impact of this impulsive and anti-globalist leader and national mood, but also exhibits some longer deeper trends that transcend his demagogic impact. The most important of these is the failure to learn from the reduced effectiveness of military force with respect to the pursuit of foreign policy goals, given changes in the nature of political power and international status, especially in relations between the West and non-West. Costly interventions in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq have all ended in political failure, despite U.S. military and battlefield dominance and a strong political commitment to the mission. The U.S. reaction has been to reframe tactics rather than to appreciate the enhanced capabilities in the post-colonial world of militarily vulnerable countries to mobilize prolonged and eventually effective resistance to interventions from the West. Such reframing has led to the repetition of failed interventions in new contexts. In this narrow regard, Trump’s seeming repudiation of regime-changing wars was and is more realistic than the Pentagon’s tendency to return to the drawing counterinsurgency and counterterrorist drawing boards to figure out how to do the job better next time.

 

Yet Trump’s militarism is evident in other forms, including seeking to extend military frontiers to outer space, by boasts about investing in producing the most powerful military machine in human history, and by the reckless war-mongering diplomacy toward Iran. In this respect, the U.S. not only is increasing risks of global catastrophe, but also inadvertently helping its international rivals to gain relative economic and diplomatic advantages. A crucial explanation of America’s likely continuing decline results from two refusals: first, a recognition of the neutralization of military power among major states by the mutually destructive character of warfare and secondly, an appreciation of the nature of asymmetric conflicts resulting from the rising capabilities of national resistance frustrating, and generally defeating, what had once been relatively routine and cost-effective colonial and imperial operations.

 

Another source of decline is that the kind of confrontations that existed during the Cold War no longer seems to exert nearly as much influence on security dimensions of world order as previously. Most European states feel less need for the American nuclear umbrella and the safety afforded by close alliance relations, which translates into reduced U.S. influence. This shift can be observed by the degree to which most states currently entrust their defensive security needs to national capabilities, somewhat marginalizing alliances that had been formally identified with U.S. leadership. In this regard, the bipolar and unipolar conceptions of world order have been superseded by both multipolarity and statism in the dynamic restructuring of world order since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of China.

 

The profile of American decline, with respect to the international policy agenda could be rather abruptly altered, if not reversed, by an internationalist post-Trump foreign policy. This would be particularly evident, in all likelihood, with respect to reaffirming cooperative efforts regarding climate change, reviving the 2015 Paris Agreement, and calling for a more obligatory approach to international regulatory arrangements. Of course, a revived American bid for global leadership would be further exhibited by certain foreign policy moves such as seeking balance in addressing Israel/Palestine relations, lifting economic sanctions from such countries as Cuba, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe, renewing adherence to the JCPOA (Nuclear Agreement) with Iran, and urgent calls for strengthening the role and relevance of the United Nations and respect for a global rule of law reconfigured to take account of the transnational features of the digital age with its connectivities and networks joining non-state actors.

 

In a sense, the assessment and contours of American decline, reflective of so many factors, will become clearer after the 2020 elections. If Trump prevails, the decline thesis will be confirmed. If a centrist Democrat, say Biden, prevails, it will likely create a sense of relief internationally, along with a temporary suspension of doubt about the reality of U.S. decline, but will not end the credibility of the longer run decline hypothesis as a Democratic Party president, such as Biden, will not challenge the Pentagon budget or the militarism that underpins American policy for the past 75 years. If, as now seems highly unlikely, the Democrats nominate a progressive candidate, say Sanders or Warren, and (s)he is able to gain enough support in Congress, the trends pointing to further decline might not only be suspended, but possibly reversed. Addressing inequality arising from the plutocratic allocation of benefits resulting from neoliberal globalization and undoing the excessive reliance on military approaches to foreign policy are the only two paths leading to a sustainable renewal of American global leadership and prospects for a benevolent national future.     

 

 

 

Q2. Do you detect any similarities between the current global geopolitical condition and that of the era of imperial rivalries prior to the outbreak of World War I?

 Response: The imperial rivalries, at the root of the stumble into major warfare, were much more overt in the period preceding World War I than is the case today. Now imperial strategies are more disguised by soft power expansionism as is the case with China or geopolitical security arrangements and normative claims as is the American approach, but the possibility of an unwanted escalation in areas of strategic interaction are present, especially in areas surrounding China. Confrontations and crises can be anticipated in coming years, and without skillful diplomacy a war could result that could be more destructive and transformative of world order than was World War I.

 

There is also the possibility of hegemonic rivalry producing a major war in the Middle East, as between Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States on one side and Iran and Russia on the other side. The Syrian War prefigured on a national scale such hegemonic rivalry that could now recur on a regional scale. A more optimistic interpretation of developments in the Middle East is to suggest that the stability of the Cold War era might soon reemerge in light of Russian reengagement, which could restore the balance imposed earlier, and seems preferable to the turmoil and confrontations of the last 25 years. It would be prudent to take note of the World War I context to remind political leaders that they risk unwanted sequences of events if promoting aggressive challenges to the established order in regional or global settings. Yet the killing of General Qasem Soleimani in early January 2020 came close to setting off a chain reaction of escalating violent incidents that could have ended in a major war between Iran and the United States of intensity and indefinite scope.

 

Of course, triggering conditions prior to World War I were concentrated in Europe, whereas now it could be argued that the most dangerous situations are either geographically concentrated in the Middle East or in a variety of regional circumstances where coercive diplomacy could trigger an unintended war either  on the Korean Peninsula or in relation to China where interests and ambitions collide in the Western Pacific and South China Sea.

 

Graham Allison has written a widely discussed book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape the Thucydides Trap?(2017), which argues that throughout history when the dominance of a state is challenged by a rising power a major war has frequently resulted to establish geopolitical ranking. Of course, circumstances have changed drastically since the time of Thucydides, due to the possession of nuclear weapons on both sides, a fact that is likely to encourage geopolitical caution as risks of mutual catastrophe are quite evident. At the same time complacency is not warranted as governments have not changed their reliance on threats and bluffs to achieve their goals, and the possibility of miscalculation is present as antagonisms climb escalation ladders.

 

More broadly, the existence of nuclear weapons, their deployment, and doctrines leading to their use in certain situations create conditions that are very different than what existed in Europe more than a century ago. Yet there is one rather frightening similarity. Threat diplomacy tends to produce conflict spirals that can produce wars based on misperception and miscalculation, as well as accident, rogue behavior, and pathological leadership. In other words, the world as now  constituted, as occurred in 1914, stumble into an unwanted war, and this time with casualties, devastation, and unanticipated side effects occurring on a far greater scale.

 

Finally, there were no serious ecological issues confronting the world in 1914 as there are at present. Any war fought with nuclear weapons can alter the weather for up to ten years in disastrous ways. There is the fear validated by careful scholarly study that ‘a nuclear famine’ could be produced by stagnant clouds of smoke that would deprive the earth of the sunlight needed for agriculture for a period of years. In other words, the consequences of a major war are so much more serious that its avoidance should be a top priority of any responsible leader. Yet, with so many irresponsible leaders, typified by Donald Trump, the rationality of caution and that would seem to prevent large scale war may not be sufficient to avoid its occurrence. Also, the mobilization of resources and the focus of attention on an ongoing war, or even its threat, would be so occupying as almost certainly to preclude efforts, however urgent, to address global warming and other ecological challenges.

 

Q3. Given that the historical conditions and factors that gave rise to Cold War policies and institutions have vanished, what purpose does NATO serve today?

 

Response: Although the conditions that explained the formation and persistence of NATO were overcome by the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and of the Soviet Union a few years later, NATO remained useful to some of its members for several reasons. For the United States, it kept the U.S. engaged in Europe, and sustained its role as alliance leader. For the major European powers, it represented a security guaranty in the event of a revived Russian threat, and lessened internal pressures to develop expensive European military capabilities that did not depend on American participation. The Kosovo War in 1999 displayed a European consensus to transform NATO into an intra-European peace force, while the Libyan War of 2011 displayed a misleading willingness to manipulate the UN into authorizing NATO to engage in a regime-changing out of area military intervention that not only weakened the legitimacy of the post-Cold War UN and harmed Libya, but also understandably eroded trust in UN procedures on the part of Russia and China that had been persuaded not to oppose a decision at the Security Council for a strictly limited humanitarian intervention but not for NATO sponsored regime change.

 

The NATO alliance should be disbanded in the interest of world peace and stability. Its only real function since 1989 has been to further the geopolitical goals of the United States, and to a lesser extent, France and the UK. The persistence of NATO after its Cold War rationalization was undercut exemplifies the refusal of the West to make the structural adjustments that could have expressed an intention to make a transition from a pre-war environment of strategic confrontation that characterized the Cold War to a post-war atmosphere of dealignment and demilitarization. Had such a transition occurred, or even been attempted, we would now most likely be living in more positive historical circumstances with attention to the real economic, political, and ecological challenges to human wellbeing now and in the future being addressed. We would not need the awakening alarms being set off by a 16 year old Swedish girl!   

 

Q4. Trump’s foreign policy towards the Middle East is unabashedly pro-Israel, while also supportive of Erdogan’s grand vision for Turkey and the Arab world. Can you explain for us this apparent anomaly?

 

Response: It may be intellectually satisfying to give a coherent spin to Trump’s seemingly antagonistic policies in the Middle East, but I feel it conveys a false sense of plan and strategy beyond the play of personality and ad hoc circumstance. The most that can be claimed it that there is a kind of hierarchy in arranging American foreign policies priorities, yet overall, lacking any sense of regional grand strategy. At the top of the Trump policy pyramid seem to be upholding the two ‘special relationships’ with Israel, first, and Saudi Arabia, second. Turkey is somewhat supported because of the seeming personal rapport between Erdogan and Trump, and partly also for reasons of continuity of alignment and economic trade relations. Iran is a perfect regional enemy for the United States, which helps us understand why it have been demonized and subjected to crippling sanctions and war threats for the past 40 years. Iran is antagonistic to Saudi ambitions to assert its regional hegemony and to Israel because of its pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist stance, and not a trading partner or strategic ally with the United States ever since the revolutionary overthrow of the Shah in 1979. Besides, Iran as the leading Shi’a state in the region is a sectarian foil for the Gulf/Egyptian Sunni affinities. Besides, Trump’s insistence on repudiating Obama’s initiatives in the region led to the American withdrawal from the Nuclear Program Agreement negotiated in 2015 (JCPOA, that is, Joint Comprehensive Program of Action), has led to the collapse of an agreement that seemed a breakthrough for peace at the time. This anti-Iran agenda is being carried forward at considerable risk and expense, as well as producing mass hardship for the Iranian people over a period of many decades.

 

Although Trump campaigned on a pledge of disengagement from senseless regime-changing interventions of the past in the Middle East, especially the attack on and occupation of Iraq since 2003, it has been a difficult policy to implement, especially in relation to Iran, and to some extent Syria. This seems to reflect\ American deep state resistance to all demilitarizing moves in the Middle East for strategic reasons, as well as Trump’s quixotic and ambivalent style of diplomacy.

 

As far as Turkey is concerned, there seems to be some continuity in Erdogan’s foreign policy, which is to support the Palestinian national struggle and to favor democratizing movements from below, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, but to avoid entanglements of the sort that led to a major foreign policy failure in Syria after 2011, and recently, an announced willingness to support the Libyan government against insurgency. Also Turkey has under Erdogan’s leadership supported major institutional reform at the UN by questioning the hold of the permanent members of the Security Council on UN decision-making, typified by the slogan ‘the world is greater than five.’).

 

  Q5. Do you see China as emerging any time in the near future as a global superpower?

 Response: I think China is already a global superpower in some fundamental respects, although not a global leader in the manner of the United States in the period between 1945-2016. Whether it has the political will to play a geopolitical role beyond its East and South Asian nearby regions is difficult to predict. The top Chinese officials seem to sense a dangerous vacuum and inviting opportunity resulting from the withdrawal of the United States from its leadership position. At the same time, the Chinese themselves seem aware of their lack of experience beyond the Asian context outside of the economic sector, are preoccupied with domestic challenges, and are aware that Chinese is not a global language nor the renminbi a global currency. For these reasons, I expect China to stay largely passive, or at most defensive, when it comes to the global geopolitical agenda, and use its considerable leverage to promote multipolarity and restraint in most international venues.

 

At the same time, China’s superpower status can be affirmed in two different fundamental respects: as the only credible adversary of the United States in a major war and as a soft power giant when it comes to spreading its influence beyond its territorial limits by a variety of non-military means, most spectacularly by its Road and Belt Initiative, the largest investment in an integrative undertaking in the world. If soft power status is the best measure of influence in a post-political world order, then China may have already achieved global leadership if history is at the dawn of a new period in which the role of military power and conquest as the principal agent of change is morphing toward obsolescence. Arguably the most telling symptom of American decline is its gross over-investment in military capabilities despite enduring a series of political setbacks in situations where it dominated the battlefield, which when coupled with the failure to address the decaying domestic infrastructure and refusing to fill the gaps of social protection. Perhaps, the Vietnam War is the clearest instance of total military superiority resulting in the loss of a war, but there are other notable instances (Afghanistan, Iraq).

 

 

Q6. If you were asked to provide a radical vision of the world order in the 21st cedntury, what would it look like?

 

Response:This is a difficult assignment. I would offer two sets of response, but with a realization of the radical uncertainty associated with any conjectures about the future of world order. My responses depend on some separation between considerations of policy and of structure. I respond on the basis of my tentative diagnosis of the present reality as posing the first bio-ethical-ecological crisis in world history.

 

With respect to policy, I would emphasize the systemic nature of distinctive present challenges, global in scale and scope. The most severe of these challenges relate to the advent of nuclear weapons, and the related geopolitical policy consensus that has opted for a nonproliferation regime rather than a denuclearizing disarmament alternative. Such a regime contradicts the fundamental principle of world order based on the equality of states, large or small, when it comes to rights and duties under international law. It does, however, reflect adherence to the fundamental norm of geopolitics that is itself embedded in the UN Charter, which acknowledges inequality with respect to rights and duties, evident in other spheres of international life, including accountability for international crimes, as acknowledged by the demeaning phrase, ‘victors’ justice.’

 

To address the challenges to world order that threaten the peoples of the world does not require overcoming political inequality altogether, but it does require attaining two goals that involve radical changes in political behavior: 1) respect for and adherence to international law and the UN Charter by all states, especially the most powerful, which would at least entail national self-discipline and the elimination of the right of veto at the UN, but not necessarily permanent membership in the Security Council; 2) the strengthening of the autonomy of the United Nations in relation to the peace and security agenda by creating an independent funding arrangement based on imposing taxes on transnational travel, military expenditures, and luxury items. The objectives would be to move toward a global organization that was dedicated to the global and human interest as well as to the promotion of national  interests as is now the case, which would depend on vesting implementing authority in the UN Secretary General as well as the acceptance of a degree of demilitarization by current geopolitical actors, with the proclamation of shared goals of making national security unambiguously defensive, and globally regulated in accord with international law.

 

In effect, the policy priorities to be served by such a radical reordering of global relations, shifting authority and power from its present geopolitical nexus to a multiplicity of hubs of influence that sought global justice and ecological sustainability, and were more institutionally situated in global networks and arrangements. In the scheme depicted above it would mean a rather dramatic shift from geopolitical autonomy to a more law-governed world order with the establishment of effective mechanisms to serve the whole of humanity rather than being focused on the wellbeing of its distinct territorial parts. In the process, accompanying social democratic arrangements for trade, investment, and development would need to be adjusted to serve the attainment of basic economic and social rights as implemented by monitoring and regulatory transnational procedures that were also sensitive to ecological sustainability.

 

It hard to imagine such policy and structural modifications taking place without a renewed confidence in democratic, ethically grounded, and generally progressive styles of governance at the national level, protective of vulnerable people, accountable to future generations, as well as acting without total deference to short-term electoral cycles. In other words, the behavioral tendencies and values that are now dominating most political arenas by dangerously myopic approaches to policy and structures of accountability would have to be transformed on the basis of ecological consciousness, respect for human rights and international law, and an international institutional structure oriented around the protection of human and global interests in addition to national rights.

 

There is no plausible political path visible to such a future at present, although there is a growing sense of panic, especially among youth, as recently epitomized by the charismatic impact and impressive insight of Greta Thunberg. What is altogether missing from the present setting are credible sources of revolutionary energy guided by such a vision of a necessary and desirable future, which would entail the rejection of autocratic governance of sovereign states and of apartheid geopolitical regimes (as with nuclear weapons, accountability to international criminal law, and double standards). In effect, a drastic shift from a zero-sum world of destructive rivalry, exploitation, intervention, and political egoism to a win/win world based on the emergence of a sense of global community and ecological unity accompanied by the mechanisms and structures to convert policy directives into behavioral conformity.

 

Burning Amazonia, Denying Climate Change, Devastating Syria, Starving Yemen, Ignoring Kashmir

5 Sep

Burning Amazonia, Denying Climate Change, Devastating Syria, Starving Yemen, Ignoring Kashmir

 

The World Order Backdrop

 

Arguably, even before the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, there was a widespread sense that a state-centric form of world order was morally and functionally deficient in certain fundamental respects. Political actors were indifferent to the outbreaks of war, disease, and famine outside of their sovereign territory absent serious extraterritorial reverberations. At the same time lesser states were vulnerable to the manipulations and territorial/imperial ambitions of leading states that generated colonialism, interventions, and sustained an exploitative Europeanization of world order. World War I with massive casualties, closely followed by the Russian Revolution, which posed a normative challenge to the capitalist/market driven organization of national societies, led to some groping toward a new global order taking the institutional form of the League of Nations. It became soon obvious that the League, a project of idealists, was not endowed with the capabilities, independence, and authority needed for success, and its failure to bring peace to the world did not surprise the political leaders of major countries and even less, their realist advisors.

 

Then came World War II with estimated casualties of 60 million and the future gravely menaced by the advent of the nuclear age, and the recognition became more widespread, including among political classes, that global reform was indispensable if catastrophe was to be avoided. The United Nations emerged in this atmosphere of urgency, conceived to correct the shortcomings of the League while recognizing and incorporating the geopolitical realities of inequalities among states when it comes to political and economic power and diplomatic influence. The predominant Western understanding in 1945 was that to make the UN operationally relevant it would be necessary to connect geopolitics to statism in a mutually acceptable manner. This rather incoherent dualistic goal was operationalized by giving the right of veto to the five permanent members of the Security Council and in the Charter and General Assembly affirming the juridical equality of all Members, whether small or large sovereign states. There were also parallel worries n 1945 as serious as the impulse to achieve war prevention. It was widely believed in the West that effective global mechanisms were needed to avoid a new worldwide economic depression, which was translated into political reality through the establishment of the World Bank, IMF, and later, the World Trade Organization that also had a dual mission of regulating and promoting global market forces.

 

The UN lacked sufficient financial independence and political autonomy to fulfill the promise of the idealistic vision of the Preamble to the UN Charter. This vision of war prevention was blocked geopolitically by the political behavior of states enjoying a right of veto and juridically by the primacy accorded nationalinterests of all Members. The result, as evidenced by the failure to remove threats of nuclear weapons, climate change, and global migration, demonstrated the UN’s inability to protect either globalor human(that is, species) interests. In such an atmosphere, the drift toward catastrophe continues, hastened by hyper-nationalism, escapism, denialism, and short-termism. This drift is currently accelerated by the hyper-nationalism of leading states, including the United States, that earlier offered some incidental support for global and human interests, expressive of its hybrid approach to global leadership, which featured both selfish and benevolent motivations. This meant combining the pursuit of self-aggrandizing goals with the pursuit of a somewhat enlightened and pragmatic view of its global leadership role, sometimes called ‘liberal internationalism.’ Such an approach favored mutually beneficial forms of international cooperation, human rights, environmentalism, and disaster relief, while simultaneously accommodating geopolitical goals as achieved by intervention and a selective instrumentalization of international law and the UN, which meant using law and the UN when supportive of foreign policy, while ignoring or opposing when obstructive.

 

In effect, the sovereign territoriality of all states prevailed in the organization of international life so long as the strategic, ideological, corporate, and financial interests of geopolitical actors were not serious threatened adversely affected by internal developments. The UN Charter recognized this in Article 2(7) by prohibiting the Organization from intervening in matters ‘essentially within the domestic jurisdiction’ of Member states unless international peace and security were affected. In this spirit, environmental issues have never been seen as providing sufficient grounds for intervention by the UN or geopolitical actors. As a matter of international law intervention by states is prohibited by contemporary international law, although opportunistic exceptions exist, and violations and geopolitical interpretatons of the norm occur.

 

There exists a doctrine of ‘humanitarian intervention’ and a norm mandating ‘a right to protect’ (R2P), but no claim or practice associated with ‘environmental’ or ‘ecological’ transnatonal intervention, and no norm formulated in light of a ‘right to protect humanity.’ And so the fires in Brazil (and Africa) continue to burn, a rhetoric of widespread disapproval reaches the stars, but no coercive action is even proposed beyond some expressions of reluctance to cooperate economically or halfhearted recommendatios to boycott of certain agricultural exports. The Brazilian response has produced exclamations of ‘national sovereignty’ and some cosmetic reassurances that matters are under control, despite the continuing billowing of clouds of smoke so dark as to obscure the sun as far 1,700 miles away in the huge city of Sao Paulo. Finally, nominally bowing to international pressures, Bolsonaro finally dispatched 700 troops to help with firefighting in the Amazon, but such a move seemed nominal and too belated to undo the damage being daily done by the raging fires in the forest areas.

 

 

Amazonia, Syria, Yemen, and Kashmir

 

What these issues have in common is the inability of the global system of authority to save these national populations from experiencing prolonged tragedy as a result of the criminal behavior of the territorial government and, in some instances, its insurgent adversaries. It is a central deficiency of world order as a system of political control as assessed from a humanistic perspective, and is reinforced by the geopolitical maneuvers of leading states. The political will to act effectively is shaped by nationalist motivations and by more material concerns involving territory, markets, resources, and population identities, with the concern for the avoidance of mass suffering pretty much confined to angry or pleading rhetoric. In effect, principles of international law and the authority UN are ineffectual unless backed by political will or activated by a robust political movement. For Syria, Yemen, these tragic happenings impact upon the society of people, while for Kashmir, the Indian repudiation of Kashmiri autonomy threatens a war between two nuclear weapons states, as well as gives rise to severe state/society tensions.

 

The 2127 fires ablaze in the Amazon are different. Burning Amazonia affects the world by endangering the world’s largest rain forest. It is the latest manifestation of ecological insensitivity by leaders of important countries, in this case, Brazil. Such an extreme degree of insensitivity is not only responsible for massive human suffering by way of displacement and disruption, it also weakens the carbon cycle and lessens biodiversity. The increased concerns about these fires are linked to the 278% in deforestation over the prior year, and to a Brazilian political leadership that makes no secret of its hostility to environmentalism, blaming its critics for drawing attention to these occurrences to discredit the Bolsonaro government, a way of discrediting Brazil’s supposedly justifiable emphasis on economic development and investment opportunity.

 

The Environmental Minister of Brazil, Ricardo Selles sought to deflect criticism, attributing the surge in fires to weather, wind, and heat, that is, as arising from natural causes rather than government policies. He pointed out, correctly, that many of the fires were annual efforts by cattle ranchers, farmers, and loggers to clear their land, a routine agricultural practice. Bolsonaro went so far as to suggest that environmental NGOs might have deliberately set the fires to bring disrepute to the government, and he angrily resisted attempts by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to internationalize the Amazon fires. There may be an element of truth in these defensive assertions, but they fail to address the real ecological done by those fires in the forest areas of the Amazon that have been deliberately set to make way for soy crops, cattle, and more profitable logging.

 

Despite ‘the fog of ecocide,’ this much is clear. The rainforests of the Amazonia, sub-Sahraran Africa, and Borneo/Indonesia are indispensable ecological resources of the planet whose managerial control should not be left entirely to national discretion as exercised by governments, often on the basis of economistic and short-term policy goals, which is currently almost invariably the case. This statist sovereignty approach not only puts at risk the planet’s largest carbon sink and most valued source of biodiversity, as well as disrupting and imperiling the lives of 20 million or more people, mostly indigenous communities, living in Amazonia. Forest experts warn that once a rainforest is degraded beyond a certain point, a tipping point is reached, and the degrading will continue of its own accord until what was once a flourishing rainforest becomes a huge area savannah grasslands. Even before tipping points are reached it takes decades to restore forest ecosystems, including precious biodiversity resources. This dynamic of disastrous mismanagement is accentuated with respect to Amazonia by the Brazilian leadership that ignores pleas from indigenous and riverine communities, as well as environmental groups in Brazil, and the UN and the EU at a time when the planet’s eco-stability depends on planting billions of trees annually, and is further jeopardized by large scale deforestation that cuts deeply into the population of carbon-absorbing trees. Of course, ecological irresponsibility has become for the autocrats who now rule the world their perverse norm of political correctness, led by the climate deniers in Washington that are setting retrograde standards for American environmental policy during the Trump presidency. If the richest country in the world is so irresponsible as to embrace climate change denialism, withdraw from negotiated international arrangements, and make national policy on this basis, what can we reasonably expect from poorer more economically challenged developmentally preoccupied countries? The world order crisis is real, severe, intensifying, and unprecedented in scale and scope.

 

 

Legalistic Exercises in Futility

 

One of the most progressive and persuasive contemporary advocates of a law-based approach to world order and U.S. foreign policy has been that of Marjorie Cohn, a friend and more than that, a comrade. She has responded to the fires in the Amazon in a well-sourced opinion piece whose thesis is conveyed by its title “The UN Could Save the Amazon With One Simple Move,” [Truthdig,  Sept. 1, 2019] She points out that the UN Security Council can declare that the Amazon fires are a threat to international peace and security, and that Brazil should be the target of economic punitive measures to coerce responsible environmental policies, pointing out that the UN did this with good effect as part of the global anti-apartheid movement [See Security Council Resolution 585, 586, 587, 1985] Cohn also calls attention to Articles 25 and 49 of the UN Charter which commits Member states to implement Security Council decisions. Such an analysis is completely valid as far as it goes. A coherent legal framework exists within the UN System that could be used to exert unlimited pressure on Brazil to act in an ecologically responsible manner with respect to Amazonia, but there is one vital element missing—the political will of the main geopolitical actors.

 

It is often overlooked that the UN never was never intended to offer the world an unconditional endorsement of a global rule of law. By its constitutional character, it was established as an institution that was expected to juggle the requirements of global law and order with geopolitical priorities. Such was the clear function of the right of veto given to the five permanent members of the Security Council. It was hoped by those of idealistic disposition that the wartime anti-fascist alliance would persist in a peaceful world, especially as the special status within the Organization was given only to the five states regarded as the victors in World War II. But it was the realists who shaped the will of the geopolitical actors, then and now, and they never for a moment endorsed a global security system resting on law and Charter principles. Indeed, they derided it. The realist consensus, associated with such policy-oriented intellectuals as Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Henry Kissinger, and Zbigniew Brzezinski knew better, believing that national and global security rested, as supposedly always had and always will on balance of power mechanisms, military capabilities, pragmatic leadership, and calculations of national interests. With the partial exception of Kennan none of those figures inhabiting the realist pantheon had the slightest interest in or respect for those who encouraged a framing of global policy by reference to human wellbeing, global justice, or ecological sustainability. In the present global mix, it is only France, a geopolitical lightweight that has dared to raise its voice above the level of a whisper to urge that the extraterritorial repercussions of the Amazon fires justify a global response, but even Macron is quite timid, relying on diplomatic discourse, offers of economic assistance, and the policy venues of the European Community and the G-7. He is too tied to the realist camp to encourage reliance on international law or the UN, and gives not even a hint that the French government would favor punitive action. Even this small French gesture of concern is too much for Donald Trump who complains that Bolsonaro was not being properly consulted while Brazilian internal policy is under consideration.

 

It is perhaps true that the UN could save Amazonia if the political will to do so existed, but it doesn’t, which sadly means that the UN is irrelevant, which is even more true than in the past, given the ultra-national mood now prevailing among geopolitical actors. We might ask what would Obama or Carter have done differently. Probably, not much without a robust global civil society movement that was itself advocating change and drastic measures. It should be remembered that the UN joined, rather than initiated, the anti-apartheid campaign in the 1980s, and that the geopolitical actors in the West went reluctantly along, not because of their antipathy to racism, but because of grassroots agitation in their own societies. In this connection it should be remembered that the U.S. and Britain vetoed UN calls for mandatoryeconomic measures to be lifted only when South Africa agreed to abandon apartheid, and abstained on other resolutions. [See NY Times, July 27, 1945]

  

 

 

What is the Question?

 

In my view, the crisis of Amazonia Burning, makes us more aware of the structural deficiencies of world order that existed ever since sovereign states claimed authority over the entire land mass of the planet as allocated to governmental authorities through the device of internationally recognized boundaries, yet the environmental and ecological issues raised were largely containable within national, regional, and even global frameworks (including world wars). This approach to the territorial allocation of authority and responsibility is supplemented by a highly permissive approach to the world’s oceans by way of freedom of all states to make almost unrestricted use, including naval operations, with minimal procedures for accountability in the absence of specific agreements (as exist, for instance, in the form of prohibitions on most whaling, and many other matters of common concern). Perhaps, the most untenable use of the oceans occurred in the decades after World War II when massive nuclear explosives designed to become warheads on weapons were extensively tested on the high seas, causing radiation to cause disease and death, especially to nearby islanders. And yet, aside from civil society protests, nothing was done by the UN or elsewhere, undoubtedly in part because the main culprit was the leading geopolitical actor. Only after a worldwide civil society protest did governments respond by negotiating the Limited Test Ban, which itself was never fully implemented.

 

With the use of atomic bombs in 1945, and their later development and spread, the core stability of statist world order—also, known as Westphalian world order—began to fray. With the buildup of greenhouse gasses and the decline of biodiversity that process has taken on a momentum of its own, which if not resisted and reversed, spells doom for the human species and much of its natural habitat.

 

We know that this bio-ethical ecological crisis cannot be overcome by appeals to international law and an ethos of international responsibility. We know also that the UN and regional organizations lack the capability or authority to override the sovereign resolve of states dedicated to maximizing national interests, being especially inhibited by the geopolitical actors who have the authority to block decisions in the Security Council. We also have become aware that these essentially structural features of world order exert additional negative influences as a result of failures of global leadership to mitigate world order deficiencies by acting to some extent in the global interest or to react empathetically to the peoples victimized by internal oppression. In an earlier period, this supplemental structural element associated with global leadership helped generate such beneficial arrangements as the public order of the oceans and of Antarctica and more recently the 2015 Paris Agreement on Global Warming and the Iran Nuclear Agreement. It would be a mistake to exaggerate the contribution of global leadership, or overlook its negative impacts, which always accorded geopolitical concerns the highest priority, failing to rid the world of nuclear weaponry and colonialism and failing to set a positive example by shows of respect for international law and the UN.

 

Efforts to overcome these deficiencies have been a characteristic of reformist initiatives and transformative proposals ever since the end of World War II. A dramatic initiative took place with the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement as an outgrowth of the Bandung Conference in 19  . Reflecting developmental priorities and a post-colonial naïve sense of global ethical consciousness, the Third World configuration of non-Western state actors put forward a broad platform under the rubric of The New International Economic Order. And more recently, the UN International Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons highlighted both the concerns of non-nuclear weapons states and the dismaying irresponsible offsetting pushback by geopolitical Western actors determined to retain nuclearism. In effect, overcoming the deficiencies of world order have failed when undertaken by governments or under the auspices of the UN. Reformist initiatives supported by geopolitical actors have done somewhat better due to their policymaking leverage, but do not seek changes that are inconsistent with their short-termgeopolitical interests. Hence, the failure to realize the vision of a world without nuclear weaponry, to achieve environmental regulations as a level responsive to the consensus among climate scientists, and to address a long list of extraterritorial problems that would be treated differently if approached from perspectives of global rather than national interests.

 

What is suggested, is the dependence of human wellbeing on the emergence of a transnational activist movement that demands major structural reforms of world order that

seek a favorable resolution of the bio-ethical crisis. If this seems utopian, you are

quite right to react as if there is no plausible path leading from here to there. Yet I believe it is more illuminating to insist that activating the utopian imagination is the only source of a transformed realism that is sensitive to the distinctive challenges and opportunities of the 21stcentury. Adhering the premises of 20thcentury realism is increasingly a recipe for disaster as the tragedy of Amazonia Burning illustrates, a metaphor for the losing struggle to save life, health, and sanity on planet earth. And while Yemen, Syria, and Kashmir do not threaten the planet’s material viability, the failure to address these massive assaults on human dignity and human rights exhibit the spiritual impoverishment of world order.

A Response to Heikki Patomaki: Is the Time Right for a World Political Party? 

16 Feb

[Prefatory Note: The following post is my commentary on an essay by Heikki Patomiki, a leading Finnish scholar who has devoted his career to working on the normative frontiers of international relations: especially the struggle for global democracy. Here he explores and cautiously advocates a civil society global effort to establish a world political party in a form appropriate to global conditions and with the overriding goal of the enhancement of the individual and collective wellbeing of humanity. Professsor Patomaki’s essay and the range of comments, including mine, can be read by clicking this link  https://www.greattransition.org/publication/roundtable-world-party

This interaction was sponsored by the Great Transition Initiative of the Tellus Institute, which is notable for its emphasis on the crucial nexus between praxis and theory. My comment is below, but the others develop a variety of responses, pro and con, the proposed undertaking of establishing a world political party.]

 

 

A Response to Heikki Paomaki: Is the Time Right for a World Political Party? 

 

I have long admired the “visionary realism” that has been at the core of Heikki Patomäki’s scholarly contributions to the struggle for a peaceful, democratic, sustainable, and just world order. It is “visionary” because Patomäki depicts a future for humanity that exceeds the limits of the feasible, and seems guided by what is necessary(in responses to challenges) and what is desirable(with respect to values and opportunities). In addition, he writes with lucidity, considers impediments, and takes seriously skeptical objections to what he proposes. It is a form of “realism” because Patomäki takes account of what is real by way of threats to human wellbeing, and makes use of experience with other radical global reformist projects as a basis for assessing the plausibility of his own conjectures and proposals. All of these positive qualities are present in this essay putting forward the case for taking steps now to establish the first ever world political party.

As I read Patomäki, his point of departure is to affirm as a world order imperative the urgent need for “a fundamental shift from the dominant national mythos to a global worldview.” Without quibbling about choice of words, I think what he has in mind is less a “shift” than the emergence of a global worldview with the political traction needed to address the global-scale problems that he enunciates. The existential point of departure is the interconnectedness of every individual on the planet, no matter how diversely situated in relation to class, race, occupation, and political milieu in the face of such mounting global risks as are associated with “ecological crises and weapons of mass destruction.” Patomäki attributes the dysfunctional response patterns to these shared risks to the prevailing national mythos and its political manifestations in a world order system dominated by territorial sovereign states. A world political party, generated by activist initiatives of civil society, could in Patomäki’s view become the vehicle to facilitate a global transformation that would offer the peoples of the world a path toward risk reduction resulting from a more appropriate administration of planetary activity in all policy domains. Such a transformative process would become manifest in a more functionally and normatively appropriate institutionalization of political life than the present reliance on the zombie national mythos, that is, a system that persists long after its functionality has deteriorated. Patomäki believes that a world political party would become a vital force in giving credibility to a global mythos responsive to the challenges and opportunities of planetary interconnectedness.

Even taking account of the limits of coverage in a short essay, I have some problems with the way in which the world political party is situated in the historical present. I would have liked to see some greater diagnostic emphasis on geopolitics and neoliberal capitalism as obstacles to global transformation and as oppositional to the formation of a politically relevant world political party. Geopolitics is important because hierarchies of power and wealth embedded in the established order suppress any realist risk assessment process, as well as make inequalities of benefits and burdens override the commonalities of human interconnectedness. Similarly, neoliberal capitalism operates according to a transnational logic that accentuates many dimensions of inequality, and is oriented in ways at odds with both the national and global mythic landscapes that understandably preoccupy Patomäki.

A further question I have is a matter of resonance and receptivity. I have the sense that Patomäki’s version of visionary realism is at once too late and too early. It is too late in the sense that there existed greater fluidity with respect to world order arrangements either in 1945 at the end of World War II or in the early 1990s at the end of the Cold War. In 1945, there was a heightened sense of world risk due to the recent atomic attacks on Japanese cities and what that prefigured for future warfare. Civil society would have been receptive to bold initiatives by national governments, but it was dormant with respect to envisioning shaping the future by forming a world political party that embraced an agenda based on the survivability of the species and the benefits of a cooperative world order reflecting a global ethos. After the Cold War, there was a sigh of relief, but the absence of any relevant kind of transformative energy directed at dramatic risk reduction and globally oriented problem-solving. Political leaders missed this golden opportunity, and the multitudes were pacified by consumerism and materialist aspirations.

We are now experiencing a set of global realities that seems devoid of the missed opportunities of these two occasions in recent international history when the stars of destiny seemed more favorably aligned for the promotion of visionary realist undertakings, including the formation and rapid support for a grassroots type of world political party. What the present conjuncture of forces most offers to those who share, as I do, Patomäki’s insistence that we need a fundamental shift toward globality of consciousness and action is as yet difficult to grasp, let alone endow with transformative agency. I would emphasize two unheralded features of our global circumstance, perhaps in accord with “Big History” that Patomäki calls to our attention: First, the ease of communication and networking associated with the digital age where globally constituted projects of this sort can be interactively shaped without requiring physical face-to-face meetings; secondly, the very adversity of circumstances and the severity of global risks is giving rise to a radical populist consciousness, which while still at the margins, contains the ingredients of a political platform that does justice to the needs and values that should inform a world political party from its inception. This radical consciousness can be thought of as an acknowledgement of the first bioethical crisis in human history, which raises questions about whether the species has a collectivewill to survive.

I find these kinds of general considerations of our human circumstances more illuminating than the sort of encouragement that is derived from the successful movement for the establishment of the International Criminal Court or the ongoing efforts of the Democracy in Europe Movement. It is true that these projects show that transnational political undertakings can work to some extent even in the face of resurgent nationalism, but I do not find such undertaking as having relevant transformative agency or potential.

I would like to end with an aside associated with the failures of the Arab Spring in 2011. Having been in Cairo just after the extraordinary mass nonviolent uprising that led to the downfall of a cruel, autocratic regime in Egypt, I witnessed the excitement and hope of the people at the time. I also witnessed the consequences of not having a clear agreed-upon vision of what needs to be done, a political platform that sets forth a program. My fear associated with promoting a world political party at this time is that it is ideologically premature. This is not a call for a blueprint, as I agree with Patomäki that such specificity would be shaped as the party took form, and in response to inputs from participants around the world. Yet there is a need for more concreteness regarding capitalism, geopolitics, international law, human rights, climate change, nuclear disarmament, and the UN than is contained either in Patomäki’s fine essay or, more significantly, in the climate of progressive world opinion. Until that degree of clarification and consensus is present, I fear that disillusionment would be the likely outcome of any present effort to move forward with the formation of a world political party. Our time can be better spent otherwise to satisfy the urgent challenges of a transformative global agenda, although putting the ideaof a world political party in the progressive imaginary is a constructive contribution. What I find questionable at this point is any serious effort, given present realities around the world, to actualize the idea.

 

 

Toward Geopolitical Disengagement: Uncertain yet Desirable

13 Jan

[Prefatory Note: The post below was published in Middle East Eye on 30 December 2018, and is here reproduced with some modification. Humility in assessment is necessary as what we see tends to be partial and incomplete. Radical uncertainty is the appropriate interpretative outlook, which means that the future could break either bad or good. For a region that has endured so much suffering and abuse, I offer fervent wishes that we will be surprised by hopeful developments during coming months. Altready the shakeup of regional politics and perceptions due to the Trump withdrawal move is ambiguous in its implications, but seemingly leading in the positive direction of U.S. political disengagement, and an end to the delusions of being ‘a force for good.’

 

 

Toward Geopolitical Disengagement: Uncertain yet Desirable

 

Ever since the World War I travesties of Sykes/Picot and the Balfour Declaration, the Middle East has been the scene of geopolitical rivalries and unfolding nationalist narratives that veered uneasily between extremes of tyranny and chaos. A second post-Ottoman milestone was crossed in 1956 when the United States displaced its main European allies, the UK and France as the principal manager of Western interests in the region, which at the time centered on the Cold War containment of the Soviet Union, safeguarding Western access to Gulf oil and trade routes, and sustaining Israeli security. A further phase emerged after the ending of Cold War geopolitical bipolarity. This was soon followed by the 9/11 attacks on the United States, which supplied the pretext for a series of disastrous interventions in the name of counterterrorism.

 

Post-colonial Turmoil

 

Then came the uprisings of 2011 consisting of a series of popular movements displacing several authoritarian regimes, followed by an array of foreign interventions, proxy wars, prolonged strife, and massive civilian suffering throughout the region. One result of these anti-authoritarian uprisings has been a surge of counterrevolutionary violence and intensified repressive tendencies. Beyond this, U.S./Saudi/Israeli extreme hostility toward Iran has threatened for years to explode into a regional war of great ferocity.

 

Into this maelstrom of violence and disorder, the ascent of Trump to U.S. leadership two years ago seemed a huge dump of oil on these already raging fires in the Arab world. Such apprehensions were quickly realized: giving the green light to the Saudi/UAE ultimatum directed at Qatar, going all out to help Israel impose an apartheid state on the Palestinian people, and building a war mongering alliance with Riyadh and Tel Aviv to produce some sort of final showdown with Iran. And worst of all, remaining complicit in the Saudi intervention in Yemen, a humanitarian catastrophe that has pushed over 17 millions Yemenis to the brink of starvation.

 

 

Syrian Withdrawal

 

As the world has learned, often painfully, Trump is the least predictable  and most irresponsible political figure ever to govern in the United States. On the home front, his policies have been ideologically coherent, leaning far to the right on such varied matters as immigration, trade, taxes, law enforcement policies, and respect for constitutional guidelines. On foreign policy, there has been Trumpist bluster and erratic behavior, but nothing very disruptive other than perhaps the Jerusalem embassy move, that is, until the sudden announcement of the withdrawal of 2,000 American troops from Syria a few days ago, to be followed by reducing by 50% the combat presence of American forces in Afghanistan.

 

This Syrian move has shaken the national security establishment in Washington, and supposedly further undermined confidence in America’s global role among NATO allies and, above all, upset Israel and Saudi Arabia. In this case, Trump overrode the unanimous advice of his hawkish advisors and ministers, failed to consult with allies, and justified the withdrawal by misleadingly claiming the defeat of ISIS.  The magnitude of the government crisis was signaled by the announced resignation of General Jim Mattis, Secretary of Defense, and underscored by his letter condemning the president’s approach in all but name. This letter of resignation was immediately treated as scripture by Democrats, as well by such stalwarts of liberalism as CNN and the NY Times. It even led several Republicans to at last step forward to denounce Trump’s new Syria policy, contending that it betrays the Kurds, rewards the Russians and the Assad regime, and is red meat for the undefeated ISIS legions.

 

Assuming that Trump does not pull the rug out from under his own initiative, it certainly merits deserve a more balanced consideration, and quite likely a favorable assessment. The American military presence in Syria was always problematic, too modest to be a game changer, but significant enough to prolong the Syrian agony. With respect to ISIS, it may not be defeated, but the main players in Syria at this point—the Syrian government, Russia, and Iran all have strong immediate incentives to carry the fight against ISIS to a successful conclusion. We cannot know what Turkey will do with respect to the Kurds operating close to its border in northern Syria and supposedly linked to the armed struggle movement of the PKK centered in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq. We can hope that Erdogan gave Trump some assurances when they talked of foregoing an escalation of anti-Kurdish military efforts and the Syrian Kurds and their allies among the Turkish Kurds will on their side explore deescalating options.

What we can be encouraged by, especially if account is also taken of the withdrawal of half of the American combat contingents in Afghanistan, announced just one day later, is that Trump seems to be giving substance to his long deferred campaign promise to end foreign interventions and give emphasis to restoring the quality of life in the United States. If this is indeed the case then it is bad news for the Saudi and Israeli hawks. They expected Trump to lead this most unholy of alliances to the gates of Tehran, maybe not by military means, but at least by intensified forms of coercive diplomacy and a variety of destabilizing tactics. Trump has deservedly earned a reputation for habitual inconsistency, or for staying the course once a policy comes under fire. At least for the moment, it would seem that the Syrian withdrawal, even if slowed down by deep state pushback, is best understood as part of a larger political disengagement from failed military adventures in distant countries at great cost and almost no political results. If this happens, it will be a major defeat for the ‘bipartisan consensus’ that promoted U.S. global militarism ever since the end of World War II as the twin sibling of neoliberal globalization.

 

All and all, what emerges is certainly not a pretty picture yet there are grounds to be more positive than the strongly negative reactions of the political elites in America and Western Europe. The disavowing of foreign military intervention by the United States is long overdue, given the record of political failure and the trail of suffering left behind. Yet more important, and undoubtedly not part of any coherent revision of grand strategy by Trump, is the possibility that a reduced political engagement by the United States in the Middle East will encourage regional moves toward moderation, self-determination, and co-existence. Such disengagement would allow the realities of a post-colonial Middle East to break freer of the shackles of geopolitics. Even the Israeli leadership might feel encouraged over time to reconsider their approach to the Palestinian national movement, and shift their focus from seeking an apartheid victory to envisioning a political compromise that presupposes the true equality of both peoples with a single secular democratic state.

 

The context of the Syrian withdrawal is also consistent with the drift of several recent regional developments. First of all, the grotesque murder of Kamal Khoshoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul has made it less feasible than before to join hands with the leadership in Riyadh, and solidify the anti-Iran alliance with Israel and the United States. As well, the dreadful Saudi  intervention in Yemen, undertaken with American support, has already caused massive suffering, and threatens to produce what is already being called the worst famine in the last hundred years. Moves at a Stockholm Conference of the parties agreed on the establishment of a UN presence to open the main Yemeni port at Hudaydah, handling 80% of food imports. If this initiative holds it would be a hopeful step back from the brink of a worsening humanitarian catastrophe. If this de-escalation gains momentum it would  likely reinforce the sense of geopolitical disengagement that is now associated with removing American troops from Syria, but might also encourage ending US complicity in the Yemen War.

 

These conjectures about a possibly better future for the Middle East in 2019 are beset by profound uncertainties. Aside from Trump further giving way to militarist counter-pressures, there is the possibility that he has at last crossed the red line of reluctant acceptance by the Republican Party facing its own lose/lose future. Such a dilemma could translate into a determined effort to force Trump from presidential power one way or another. He would then be replaced by the current vice president, Mike Pence, seemingly an ideological colleague on the home front, but unlikely to buck the national security establishment on its core global posture, namely, an unshakable belief in the benevolence and efficacy of American military power. Pence would be freed to produce a foreign policy that was both independent of Trump’s 2016 campaign for the presidency and not twisted to such an extent to satisfy Israel’s ambitions.

 

There are also disturbing alternative futures for the Middle East in the aftermath of the Syrian withdrawal. These include a surge of ISIS terrorist attacks in Europe and North America, a bloodbath in Syria as Damascus consolidates its victory in the civil war, and a major Turkish offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria. None of these developments can be ruled out, and if occurring, would alter for the worse what we can reasonably hope for in the region as 2019 unfolds.

 

Yet for the first time in the 21stCentury it is possible to envision positive developments in the region as reducing the level of violence and turbulence. Even if these moderating developments occur, the situation throughout the region still has a long way to go to achieve peace, stability,

humane governance, and justice.

 

As well, prospects are bleaker than ever for a sustainable peace for Israel and Palestine. Hardliners are in firm control in Israel, with a seeming resolve to carry the Zionist project in its most expansive form to a victorious finish. Although such an outcome is implausible, what is likely is a hardening of the apartheid structures oppressing the Palestinian people as a whole and an even more embittered resistance and increasingly militant global solidarity movement.