Tag Archives: New World Order

Acknowledging Disorientation After COVID-19: Beyond Horizons of Fear and Doubt

3 May

Acknowledging Disorientation After COVID-19: Beyond Horizons of Fear and Doubt

More than earlier crises of my lifetime, including the Great Depression, World War II, 9/11, the COVID-19 pandemic illuminates as never before, how precarious and uncertain is the future wellbeing, and possibly survival, of the human species. The concreteness, immediacy, and haunting uncertainties of the pandemic is quite terrifying on its own, but its heuristic pedagogy seems applicable to a range of potentially catastrophic threats of global scope, most obviously climate change, biodiversity, nuclear weaponry. What we should now be able to realize even while asleep is that when the under-preparedness of governance and political leadership is based on ignoring a scientific consensus is combined with radical uncertainty and myopic nationalism the stage is set for planetary and species disaster, and not only personal grief and national emergency. These signature traits of the 21st century heighten our fears and feelings of utter helplessness that gives way to a dizzying disorientation of beliefs and expectations, a fertile breeding ground for political extremism, scapegoating, and the darkest flights of fancy.

As much as the horrifying spectacle of hospitals without beds for critically ill patients and too many dead bodies to find room in city morgues or funeral homes is this sense that the lethality of COVID-19 could have been significantly mitigated if political leaders of important countries had heeded two types of advance warnings from reliable sources. There was a foreboding prediction during the past five years by epidemiologists and other health experts that conditions existed around the world that made a viral pandemic a near certainty in coming years. It was just a matter of time. For governments of affluent countries to ignore such warnings from respected experts, and in a few cases even reduce the funding of their national health systems in recent years, as the U.S. and UK are reported to have done, should be regarded as a Crime Against Humanity, malign behavior worse than gross negligence or administrative incompetence.

In addition, there were a series of authoritative disclosures of the actual COVID-19 outbreak weeks before many governments undertook suitable preparations with regard to testing kits, masks, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Instead of rational and prudent preparations, the views of qualified experts either never reached the ears of leaders and their advisors or were thrown by leaders into the nearest waste basket as alarmist rubbish, at best distractions from the only real job of peacetime government—promoting markets and pro-rich growth. Politicians like Trump, Bolsonaro, Modi, Johnson, and others did even worse, actively denying, denigrating, and dismissing concerns until the spread of the disease became undeniable with several national health systems in leading countries reacting in emergency modes on the brink of been overwhelmed. If prudent and rational, this grave peril would never have happened, especially in countries with adequate health infrastructures.


The most elementary lesson from the pandemic so far is that adoption of the Precautionary Principle should become mandatory for organs of government and political officials at every level of social organization from the municipality to the UN, and especially at the level of governments of sovereign states. The wellbeing, security, and defense of national populations is widely assumed to be the prime duty of political leaders in a still state-centric system of world order. Such vigilance by leaders should be treated as more important than living up to the oath of office, and the failure to do so regarded as a flagrant violation of public trust, warranting a punitive removal from office. Basically, the Precautionary Principle decrees that expert warnings about impending public dangers should shape governance policies, even when available evidence does not produce conclusive results as to the extent and imminence of the risk. The precautionary approach insists on paying the costs of anticipatory prudence as over against reliance on reactive crisis management, especially under circumstances that pose substantial risks of severe future harm. The Precautionary Principle, informally long practiced and advocated with respect to health, was first internationally articulated and proposed with respect to expert warning about potentially catastrophic future environmental damage if corrective steps are not taken.  The recent focus of precautionary thought and advocacy has been seeking that proper account be taken  of the dire warnings derived from global warning projections. An influential formulation of the Precautionary Principle is set forth in Principle 15 of the Final Declaration of the Rio Earth Summit of 1992: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

The concreteness of COVID-19 disease, as immediate, life-threatening, personal, planetary, and undeniable contrasts with other threats that are presently less visible, often more distant, and not as vividly or convincingly intruding on the security of everyday life. Yet the pattern is the same: prudent anticipation is cheaper, safer, more effective, and humane than are reactive measures, especially in view of the disproportionate vulnerability of marginalized ethnic minorities, prisons and retirement homes, and impoverished communities and crowded urban settings. In this sense, a difficult part of the post-pandemic challenge is not only to renovate the health system so as to be adequately prepared, but to transfer this elementary knowledge about dealing with global health threats to other policy domains while acknowledging the diversity of risks and distinctive types of likely harm. An existing scientific consensus projects with reasonable assurance the high probability of increasingly more dangerous levels of future global warming and of diminishing biodiversity if the dissemination of greenhouse gasses is not drastically reduced. Society lacks comparable capabilities to make such high confidence predictions with respect to the advent of nuclear war or the danger of a large meteor striking the earth. In other words, fidelity to the Precautionary Principle depends on intelligent calibration to particularities of risk that pertain to each issue of concern, but with a similar resolve to apply prudently the anticipatory knowledge available.

In this fundamental sense, what is true for COVID-19 is also true for climate change and biodiversity, and likely even more so. Current levels of information suggest that even a dysfunctional delayed response will in due course contain the pandemic although with a needlessly large number of fatalities, as well as high degrees of economic and social dislocation. Yet despite the massive scale of disruption, a pandemic is expected to subside, although accompanied by some new risks of recurrence, permitting at least a prudently regulated return to normalcy. In contrast, once global warming crosses unknowable thresholds or biodiversity declines beyond a certain point, there may be no turning back, the ecological balance could become beyond the reach of alteration by human action or could only be achieved by very austere or expensive downward adjustments in standards of living and life style. This would incur much human suffering and political unrest along the way, especially if the adjustment process favors the rich and powerful, and victimizes the poor and vulnerable, which seems inevitable at this point given the way policy is formed and life circumstances structured.

The second obvious ‘teaching moment’ that has emerged during the health crisis is the globality of the challenge as contrasted with the statist fragmentation of the divisive response structures. Imposing geopolitically motivated sanctions on a state that weakens its societal capability to contain the spread and treatment of the virus virtually ensures that contagion will cross borders in greater numbers, and give rise to prolonging the pandemic and increasing the number of infections elsewhere, including quite possibly in the sanctioning countries. The sanctions currently weakening the coping capabilities of such countries such as Iran and Venezuela create a lose/lose series of antagonistic relationships between the targeted states and the rest of the world, and should be also considered as ‘geopolitical crimes’ or Crimes Against Humanity rather than as discretionary aspects of normal diplomacy. As well, maintaining such sanctions during the pandemic works against operationalizing the insight of global solidarity—‘we are all in this together’—rather than thinking of a riven world in neo-fascist terms of ‘friends and enemies.’

The Trump presidency, oblivious to the pragmatic argument of mutuality against maintaining sanctions during the COVID-19 pandemic is even more tone deaf when it comes to humanitarian normative arguments based on law and morality resting on the unacceptability and unlawfulness of international uses of force that have a primary impact on civilian populations. It is helpful to recall the notorious remark of Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Secretary of State, when asked by Leslie Stahl in the course of a ’60 Minutes’ interview whether an estimated 500,000 deaths of children attributed to the punitive sanctions imposed on Iraq after the First Gulf War five years earlier in 1991 were worth such a high human cost of innocent young live. Stahl’s question to Albright, “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” And Albright’s memorable response: “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.” Although Albright later expressed remorse about her own phraseology, suggesting that she should have put the blame on Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein for withholding food from civilians rather than admitting that the deaths resulted from the sanctions. Actually, her spontaneous response was more truthful than her later attempt to shift blame for their inhumane impacts. Why would sanctions be maintained if not felt to be worthwhile from a geopolitical perspective? Beyond this, evidence shows that the Iraqi government behaved responsibly, establishing a food rationing arrangement that made every effort to protect Iraqi civilians from starvation. Trump, and his lead foreign policy spokesperson, Mike Pompeo seem to go further than Albright’s insensitive remark, by intensifying sanctions during the pandemic, grotesquely seeking to exploit the added vulnerability of these targeted societies while meeting the demands of the health crisis.

Trump defies globality in a further scandalous manner by blaming China for the COVID-19 outbreak, again opting for antagonistic tensions rather than affirming human solidarity and mutually beneficial cooperation. Trump also chose the time of this pandemic to defame and defund the WHO because of its supposed complicity with China’s failure to disclose sooner the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan. There is no reasonable evidence supporting such inflammatory charges against China or the WHO, and even if the allegations were to some extent accurate, it would not justify antagonizing China or weakening the WHO capabilities at a time when it is playing a crucial role in providing information and guidance to the many countries in the global South that do not have sufficient national health capabilities to depend on national or even regional capabilities. It should be beyond argument that a pandemic threat of this magnitude and lethality needs to be addressed by counseling maximum cooperation among states and through bolstering the resources and capabilities of global coordinating mechanisms. Instead of defaming and defunding the WHO at this time, the responsible approach would be to express gratitude for its existence by pledges of greater funding support. To repeat, such a litany that is true for COVID-19 is as true or truer for other serious present and impending problems of global scope and potentially severe magnitude. The so-called retreat from globalization that partly results from some negative structural consequences of neoliberalism, which has given rise to resurgent nationalisms, seems understandable with respect to the relation of states to the world economy. Nevertheless, it is a disaster if this enhanced statism is extended, as seems to be the case, to ecological and ethical contexts that give substance to nationalist standpoints. Interconnectedness and widely diverse material circumstances are manageable under contemporary conditions only if the behavior of sovereign states accord far greater weight than now to policy coordination and collaboration by way of internationalism, as well as exhibit concrete appreciation of the practical and principled benefits of honoring the imperatives of empathy, hospitality, and human solidarity.

Decades ago, the American poet, Robert Frost, put his prophetic gift to work on what has now become a planetary truism for those who ponder the future of the human experience. In a poem, ‘One Step Backward Taken’ these words of Frost shine:

“I felt my standpoint shaken

In the universal crisis.”

Although I was conscious of the degree to which modern history featured a series of surprises that eluded experts, I was nevertheless surprised by the ferocity and rapid planetization of the Coronavirus assault on human health, and lifechanging, and likely permanent, ramifications for economic and social normalcy. It was not only a revelation of the precariousness of our individual and collective existence, but a stark reminder of the relevance of a sphere of life not previously given the societal and global attention and resources that were warranted. One question that will not be answered for some years is whether the aftermath of the pandemic will generate ‘a new world order,’ and if so, will it be an improvement on what existed before COVID-19. From past experiences, there is little reason to be hopeful unless a revolutionary movement below unexpectedly, effectively, and creatively challenges the established order.

The rhetoric of new world order was initially fashionable as a call for global reform at the dawn of the post-colonial age with its calls in the 1970s for ‘a new international economic order’ and ‘a new international information order,’ emanating from expectations that fairness was attainable if sufficient pressure from what was then known as ‘the Third World’ was mounted. These hopes were crushed by the political and economic forces aligned with capitalist geopolitics in the North dominating the existing world order at the time.

Almost twenty years later came George H. W. Bush’s mobilization of a response to Iraq’s conquest, occupation, and annexation of Kuwait in 1990 by suggesting that ‘a new world order’ was in the making by which he meant that the UN could function to prevent ‘aggression’ in the post-Cold War atmosphere as was originally intended when the UN was established in 1945. After Kuwaiti sovereignty was restored in the First Gulf War, the U.S. Government rushed to shrink expectations about a UN-centric world security system, fearing the responsibilities of being designated as the global peacekeeper. In the words of a leading Washington official at the time this idea of a new world order reliant on the UN ‘was put back on the shelf,’ that is, it was an idea that had served its purpose with respect to Kuwait but should not be counted upon to provide guidance for the future, especially tying American foreign policy and geopolitical discretion to a prior UN authorizations. In an unpublicized talk at Princeton James Baker, the influential U.S. Secretary of State at the time, gave a different spin. In essence Baker said, “Bush was wrong to associate the new world order with the centrality of the UN with regard to peace and security. He should have identified the new world order with the triumph of the American way of life in the Cold War, accompanied by glowing references to market economies and constitutionalism, which provided the contours of what became known during the 1990s as ‘the Washington consensus’ or ‘neoliberal globalization.’

We now can ask whether today’s politicians will think differently about the prospects for a new world order after the pandemic comes under control, and the crisis mood dissipates even if doesn’t fully disappear? It seems more likely that two clashing tendencies will dominate the pandemic aftermath. The first tendency will seek to restore the pre-pandemic dynamic of economic and political order, with modifications limited to augmenting the health sector, and taking advantage of the earlier dislocations to replace workers with machines. The second worrisome tendency is for political leaders to take advantage of the emergency prerogatives of government during the pandemic to institutionalize technologies of surveillance and control, while hardening their borders against immigrants and asylum seekers.

If actualized, neither of these two tendencies will give greater weight to global cooperation, human solidarity, UN authority, empathy, hospitality, and adherence to the Precautionary Principles in dealing with menacing threats clearly visible on the horizon of near future expectations. This further intensification of an already overly politically fragmented world order may be dramatic enough to lead critics to call attention to its defects by again applying the label of ‘new world order.’

If a benign new order built on the principles of stability and justice mentioned above, it will depend on pressures from a transnational movement rooted in civil society, and probably first arising in the Asian context, where several regional government displayed their superior problem-solving skills in the course of containing the COVID-19 challenge. Such a scenario could be endorsed, and even led, by China, the country more than any other with the stature and political imagination to take over global leadership from the United States, which has by its own will and dysfunctional behavior forfeited its prior role, at least temporarily. Of course, it is possible that a post-Trump America will heed Kissinger’s plea for a resumption of U.S. global leadership in ways that take inspiration from its successful restoration of a generally peaceful phase of world order after World War II. Or alternatively, possibly join with China in establishing a collaborative geopolitical framework to address more holistically and cooperatively the currently unsatisfactory responses to ecological, social, and economic global challenges. If this scenario emerges in either form, the label of new world order may yet come to be regarded as a sign of progress and hope, yet its realization will not happen without transnational activism of unprecedented depth and perseverance.

Only then can we recover a standpoint that upholds expectations for a humane and functional response to the universal crisis, which then would allow us to speak hopefully and responsibly about a new world order.



Toward a New Geopolitics?

15 Aug


             During the Cold War the main geopolitical optic relied upon by policymakers and diplomats was associated with a bipolar structure of hard power. There were supposedly two superpowers with overwhelming military capabilities compared to all other sovereign states, and each controlled an alliance of subordinate states that staked their survival on global crisis management and territorial containment skills of either the United States or the Soviet Union. This framework was an extreme version of the balance of power system that had sustained global order in the West with mixed results during prior centuries. The Cold War nuclear version of the balance of power was frighteningly vulnerable to accident or miscalculation creating a lingering illusion that the current possession of nuclear weaponry on the part of nine sovereign states is a tolerable and stable situation in global affairs.. This statist framework, evolving from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, was partly based on the juridical idea of the equality of sovereign states while being fully responsive to the geopolitical facts of life that placed stress on the gross inequality of states. This dimension of inequality produced an historical succession of hierarchies in the relations among sovereign states,  quite often taking the form of regional and globe-girdling empires.


            The UN from its outset was a constitutional reflection of the Old Geopolitics, with the General Assembly organized according to the logic of sovereign equality while the Security Council incorporated inequality via the veto power conferred upon its five permanent members, who incidentally achieved this status because they were regarded as the main winners in World War II. These state soon justified their status by passing the new litmus test of hard power—that is, becoming the first five countries to acquire and stockpile nuclear weapons. The Old Geopolitics was built around the institutions pratices of warfare: victory on the battlefield, superior weaponry and military capabilities relative to others, levels of industrialization as a prime indicator of war fighting potential.


            After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union a few years later, the bipolar construction of world order no longer provided a summary description of world order in hard power currency. Still, the idea and behavioral patterns of the Old Geopolitics persisted, but the new structure of power was redescribed by security specialists as ‘unipolar’ with the organizing authority in the world now concentrated in the government of ‘the sole surviving superpower,’ which Michael Mandelbaum, a respected international relations scholar, glorified as a virtual and benevolent ‘world government.’  It was a romanticized way of acknowledging that America’s hard power dominance of global scope and its projection of hard power to the far corners of the planet, on and under the oceans, and into space, was truly the first world state of global proportions, but it was not a Westphalian state as its boundaries were geopolitically delimited rather than fixed territorially.


            When Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait in 1990, a collective response successfully was organized by the United States at the UN, and its character reflected the operating procedures of this post-Cold War situation of unipolarity. At the time this undertaking was rendered feasible by what the American president at the time inappropriately called the ‘New World Order.’ What George H.W. Bush clearly meant by the phrase was the capacity of the UN to act collectively in peace and security situations in accordance with Washington’s wishes, and was no longer gridlocked by the Cold War standoff. But this was not a genuine shift in the direction of collective security, the global rule of law, and an empowered United Nations. It became very clear as the response to the Iraqi aggression unfolded that it was nothing more dramatic than an enactment of a new phase of the Old Geopolitics, that is, interpreting world order priorities and security policy almost exclusively as an expression of the current distribution of hard power capabilities among states. In the 1990s the Old Geopolitics was dominated by the United States, and operationally administered from Washington, continued despite the collapse of colonialism to be West-centric when it comes to the shaping of global security policy. In effect, the Old Geopolitics did not immediately register the momentous historical consequences for world order of the collapse of the colonial order that irreversibly weakened the relative position of the West.







            A number of developments on the global stage are suggesting that a New Geopolitics is indeed struggling to be born, although unable at this stage to challenge seriously the reign of the Old Geopolitics. The New Geopolitics is premised on the primacy of soft power criteria of influence and status, and is more universalistic and less statist in the composition of actors providing global leadership and influencing policy. The prominence accorded to the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India, and China is one expression of a shift in the understanding of a more multi-polar structure of world order. The claims of these states to such an acknowledgement of first tier influence is not based on their military capabilites or the potency of their alliance affiliations, but is primarily associated with their economic rise that consists of their astonishing recent record of growing achievements in GNP, trade, investment, and financial settings. Such a trend is also being institutionally recognized in relation to economic globalization and a network of the industrialized leading states, with notable shifts from a Cold War Group of Seven, to an enlarged Group of Eight to accommodate Russia, and finally to the present Group of Twenty to incorporate into the dynamics of global economic policy formation a more globally representative group of states.  


            Parallel to this evolution in relations among states has been efforts by private sector actors and civil society representatives to establish their own institutional arenas so as to put forward alternative policy agendas, promote interests and values, and indirectly erode the Westphalian notion that states, and only states, can be fully participating members of world order. The Davos World Economic Forum is one influential expression of a private sector initiative to shape global economic policy in a manner responsive to corporate and banking wish lists. In contrast the World Social Forum, held annually in a city somewhere in the global South, asserts people-oriented visions of a post-Westphalian world order and mounts sharp critiques of capital-oriented globalization.  


            A striking example of New Geopolitics was the ad hoc realignment that took center stage in the closing days of the 2009 Copenhagen UN Conference on Climate Change. It was there that the United States sought to circumvent unwieldy and uncongenial procedures involving 193 states by selecting the participants in a hegemonic coalition that consisted of itself, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. It mission was to put before the conference a proposed consensual agreement to deal with the challenge of global warming. There was widespread resistance to this approach at Copenhagen, especially from the states that felt excluded by this maneuver and resented the clumsy effort to circumvent the agreed procedures that had been relied upon to prepare the negotiating documents for the Copenhagen conference. This statist backlash was centered in that part of the Old Geopolitics associated with the idea of the equality of states as the basis of legitimate multilateral lawmaking in the 21st century.


            In effect, this wider community of states, essentially the membership of the UN General Assembly, were unwilling to give their assent to such a geopolitical coalition formed without their authorization and behind their back, despite the fact that for once it was not West-centric. Partly of the objection was to a perception of shifty backroom politics that demeaned the hard work of a UN inclusive statist effort to find global common ground on climate change, and partly it was an unwillingness to go along with the proposed shift in climate change policy from the mandatory emission reductions associated with the Kyoto Protocol to the proposed voluntary system of governmental pledges that was contained in the Copenhagen Accord presented to the Copenhagen Conference by the American president. At the same time, the hierarchical side of the Old Geopolitics was strong enough to avoid a direct repudiation of the Copenhagen Accord, which was presented to the assembled delegates at the last minute as a matter of ‘this or nothing.’ Clearly, these governmental representatives preferred to go home with the Accord, however annoyed they were by its process and content, than to return to their capitals empty handed.


            There is much graffiti on the walls of the Old Geopolitics, and it signals a gradual and partial loss of historical control. The successful challenge of the colonial order by various movements of liberation throughout Asia and Africa strongly established a trend in conflict resolution in which the West, although the militarily superior side, was being compelled in the end to accept political defeat. This amounted to a radical reversal of the experience of conflict during the colonial era in which hard power realities shaped, usually with minimal effort, the outcomes of political conflict to the advantage of Europe. This enhancement of soft power stature was reinforced up to the present moment by a series of failed wars undertaken by the United States in particular. From the outcome of the Vietnam War in the mid-1970s to the recent winless withdrawals of the United States from Iraq and Afghanistan it is evident that hard power superiority, even total military dominance, is no longer able to reach desired political outcomes in violent conflicts at acceptable costs. In other words, relying on the staple currency of the Old Geopolitics, military power, seems recently to bring frustration and defeat, not victory as of old. These outcomes discredit and infuriate the geopolitical leaders, but rather than adapt to changed circumstances, these governments struggle to find new battlefield tactics and weaponry to satisfy their traditions strategic ambitions and somehow demonstrate anew that military superiority (rather than law or justice) serves the world as the arbiter of international conflicts. The aged architects of the Old Geopolitics for a variety of reasons are unable to learn from failure, and so the cycle of war and frustration goes on and on with disastrous human results.


            Reinforcing these developments, and their interpretation, was the earlier impact of nuclear war on the conduct of international relations. Nuclear weaponry, the Omega point in the Old Geopolitics, actually had the paradoxical effect of excluding hard power solutions from political struggles between principal geopolitical rivals, radically modifying the emphasis of grand strategy in the direction of war prevention and deterrence so as to avoid the mutual disaster of nuclear warfare. Even in military conflicts waged in non-Western settings on the geographic periphery of the Old Geopolitics, which constituted the proxy wars between East and West during the Cold War, there was a restraining fear. There were worries that such conflicts as the Korean War and Vietnam War might unintentionally escalate if it was allowed to approach the nuclear threshold. Such concerns interfered with entrenched belligerent habits of the Old Geopolitics that had long been preoccupied with winning wars rather than settling for stalemates and ceasefires. 


            As a telling sign of the emergence of the New Geopolitcs as now defining contemporary strategic goals, Brazil is far more interested in acquiring a permanent seat in the Security Council than becoming a member of the nuclear weapons club. Such a shift in great power aspirations has long characterized the global ambitions of the main losers in World War II. Germany and Japan were enabled by their defeat and destruction to learn the lessons of a transformed world setting far better than did the winners. Perhaps it was enforced learning as their post-war policy options were restricted by coercive occupations that installed governments that would not revive their past militarist behavior. At present such rising political actors as Turkey and Indonesia, seem more concerned with gaining recognition by winning diplomatic battles to land prestigious posts in the United Nations System than they do in acquiring the latest weapons systems or embarking on expansionist military adventures. Turkey, in particular, has gained greatly enhanced stature by pioneering what might be called ‘compassionate geopolitics,’ by engaging with Somalia at a time when it was discarded as ‘a failed state’ by the United States. Turkey has stepped in to a chaotic internal situation, and embarking on a major joint state-building venture that seems to have made unexpected and significant gains to date. Turkey has also come in difficult circumstances to the economic and diplomatic rescue of the abused Muslim Arakan minority in distant Myanmar.




            Two crucial tendencies are evident: soft power achieves the most important gains for a society seeking to accelerate its development and raise its status on the global stage of diplomacy; hard power is increasingly frustrated when tested by determined nationalist forces, even those with seemingly modest military capabilities. These factors are given greater historical weight by several other considerations. The greater complexity associated with globalization has created new political spaces that are being filled in various ways by both civil society representatives and private sector actors.  Such patterns of participation exert strong pressure to move the New Geopolitics toward more peaceful and less war oriented standard operating procedures. The civil society vision of the New Geopolitics inclines strongly in the transformative direction of Global Democracy, making all institutions of governance subject to the imperatives of transparency, accountability, stakeholder participation, rule of law, and attention to the human interest/global justice/climate change diplomacy. A first institutional step toward Global Democracy could involve the establishment of a Global Parliament that would directly represent people, not governments.


            In effect, we have two models of the New Geopolitics:


                        –Minimal Model envisions the persistence of a state-centric world order that is deWesternized and more inclusive, determining status by  a greater reliance on soft power criteria of status and influence, trending toward nonviolent geopolitics, but at the same time continuing to be dominated by a few state actors and remains responsive to the prescriptions and values of neoliberal globalization;

                        –Maximal Model is dedicated to institutions and practices that rely upon nonviolent geopolitics, establishing by stages Global Democracy, while reorienting Economic Globalization in relation to sustainable development by putting people and earth first, and giving an equitable priority to those most vulnerable and deprived when it comes to the allocation of public resources.


            At this point, global politics is in a transitional phase. The Old Geopolitics has certainly not disappeared as is evident from the war dangers that remain in the world’s main conflict zones, but it is also rarely capable of translating its preferences into desired outcomes. At some point, hopefully short of global catastrophe, strategic failure in warfare will produce a turn, even in Washington, toward the New Geopolitics. In the interim the prospects are not encouraging, including perhaps the menacing last hurrah of global militarism, its practices and technological innovations that are rapidly turning the world into a borderless and terrorized war zone. The Old Geopolitics fashioned a dysfunctional set of responses to the 9/11 attacks on the United States. These devastating attacks posed a problem that could not be effectively addressed in the customary manner of the Old Geopolitics, that is, by a reliance on hard power–waging wars against distant countries as if the adversary was a series of territorial sovereign states rather than a non-territorial network of political extremists.  In this regard, the threats posed by such anti-system forces of resistance can only be successfully neutralized if a primary reliance is placed upon soft power methods of response. These methods must include the identification of legitimate grievances that induced recourse to such desperate violent political behavior in the first place. To harden territorial boundaries to protect the homeland against hostile encroachment while engaging in a series of failing and bankrupting wars around the world is an almost certain recipe for authoritarian rule at home and intensifying intensifying insecurity elsewhere.





            In this regard, we live at a perilous historical moment. The Old Geopolitics is relying on hard power regardless of cost or risk, and unable and unwilling to heed experience, while the New Geopolitics is struggling with the torments of infancy and growing pains. The minimal model of the New Geopolitics is itself not yet sufficiently clear about how to reconcile national interests with human interests, and so does little to arrest the drift toward ecological catastrophe, systemic shock by systemic shock. The maximal model of the New Geopolitics has not established deep enough political roots to set forth, much less enact, its agenda of Global Democracy, and thus cannot challenge the Old Geopolitics or shape the New Geopolitics. At this point, we need to encourage the utopian imagination, and begin the hard work of initiating the hard political project of transition to the New Geopolitics.


            The aftermath of the Arab Spring illustrates this clash between the old and the new. The rise of the people in country after country in the region reflected an attachment to the ideals and practices of substantive democracy. The unexpected regionalization of this challenge gave a glimpse of a new transformative politics, including distrust of military and police methods of sustaining public order and opposition to Western manipulations to control from without and within. The bloodthirsty backlash of regimes, as in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and to some extent, Egypt, manifested the resilience and cruel harshness of hard power tactics of governance, and their purpose of ensuring the counter-revolutionary restoration of the Old Geopolitics.


            Whether the Libyan intervention should be seen primarily as a Western reversion to Old Geopolitics or some kind of amalgam of Old and New, with the Gulf countries and the UN enlisted as partners in liberating a people from cruel tyranny, will remain a matter of controversy and uncertainty for years to come. Similarly, with Syria, whether to consider the external moves for and against the Assad regime in Damascus as expressions of the New Geopolitics or some toxic blend of new and old is difficult to discern given the complexities and unknowns of this ongoing bloody struggle that is a blend of a cynical proxy war and bitter internal struggle for state power. Popular support for the idea of protecting a vulnerable people against the crimes against humanity of a vicious governmental regime can be understood from the perspective of human solidarity, an aspect of the maximal model of the New Geopolitics. In contrast, military intervention by external actors with a variety of suspect strategic motives and the use of interventionary weaponry that is likely to magnify the violence, is clearly in the spirit of the Old Geopolitics.


            There are no signs at present that the New Geopolitics in either of its main variants will soon replace the Old Geopolitics, but there is plenty of evidence of a sharpening tension between these two main modes of sustaining security and development in the early 21st century. We can expect a gradual discrediting from within of the main centers of Old Geopolitics, but as such a process gains leverage, it is almost certain to produce the opposite effect—a tightening of control at home, and an intensification of military operations abroad, exactly the pattern being enacted in the United States by successive presidents from both main political parties in response to the 9/11 attacks. And within the domain of the New Geopolitics it is likely that there will be a parallel intensification of tension as the minimalists seek realignment without attending to social and economic inequities, while the maximalists insist on the long march to Global Democracy but lack sufficient transnational mobilizing traction to move their endeavor very far.


            The Chinese proverb is correct in its chilling reminder that ‘it is a curse to live in interesting times,’ but given the changing historical experiences with warfare, the growing sense of great ecological hazard, and the strengthening attachment to global justice agendas, maybe just this once, the fascinations of our age will turn out to be ‘a blessing.’