Saturday, March 1, 2008

Editor's Introduction- March 2008

“Waving Goodbye to Hegemony?” by Parag Khanna. New York Times Magazine. January 27, 2008.

With a mixture of creative forecasting and a role call of “who’s who” in geopolitics, Parag Khanna presents a sweeping look at our collective future through the lens of globalization. What are the implications of an American fall from grace that some compare to the decline of the Holy Roman Empire? If this is already a process in motion, what have been its causes and what will be its effects on international peace and stability? Khanna argues that primarily economic and ideological forces are responsible for this shift, which has opened spaces of opportunity for gas-guzzling, capital-rich China and the recently-consolidated and ever-expanding European Union to assert themselves in a new global landscape defined by “tri-polarity.”

“The rise of China in the East and of the European Union within the West has fundamentally altered a globe that recently appeared to have only an American gravity—pro or anti....Even as America stumbles back toward multilateralism, others are walking away from the American game and playing by their own rules.”


One cannot ignore the simultaneous rise of the American hegemon and the modern human rights regime. Arguably, without the former, we do not have the latter. However, with the conspicuous shortcomings of humanitarian intervention (and non-intervention) over the past sixteen years and the post-9/11 adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, which were in part justified on human rights grounds, the credibility of human rights doctrine has severely suffered. We have already begun to see the consequences of China’s involvement in countries like Iran, Sudan and Nigeria as it operates without strings attached to investment—what one commentator has termed “Rogue Aid.” If America is ultimately relegated and forced to compromise on stances it once held as non-negotiable, then the stage may be set for a rollback on policies and priorities that emphasized values like protection for individual dignity and welfare.

“Globalization resists centralization of almost any kind. Instead what we see gradually happening...is a far greater sense of a division of labor among the Big Three [China, E.U., and U.S.], a concrete burden-sharing among them by which they are judged not by their rhetoric but the responsibilities they fulfill.”

Khanna boldly identifies a new phase in this era of globalization as unipolarity gives way to joint stewardship of the international system. Sticking with his largely economic line of argument, the struggle for supremacy in this new phase will amount to the necessity for these competitive powers to orchestrate a “division of labor” around “burden-sharing.” America’s role in this future begins by accepting its diminished status, acting with uncharacteristic humility and serving as perpetual advocate for liberal, democratic and human rights principles. While this conclusion presents a whole new host of problems and questions, its strength lies in the notion that America, in some form, is an indispensable component of an international community concerned with progress and stability and were it to drop into obscurity, there would be a great deal lost in the process.

All this and more are discussed in this month's Roundtable...

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The "White but Not Quite Man's Burden": Disrupting the Apogee of Imperial Hegemony?

by Anna M. Agathangelou

“'Globalization' as an assumed fact and reality has disarmed peoples from engaging in struggles against these capitalist assaults on their positions.”

The victory of late capitalism and its supreme reign through intensified war have been triumphantly trumpeted in popular media, especially since 1989 after the fall of the former Soviet Union. These aspects do indeed need to be understood and explained and Khanna attempts, in the tradition of realism/pragmatism, to do so. He begins by articulating “globalization” as the competition for resources and terrains of influence by the U.S., the E.U. and China. “Globalization” is a major modality through which “frenemies,” as he calls them, attempt to integrate the world economy. Moreover, and in order to support his argument that the U.S. has to compete and play an exceptional role in world politics, he states “that globalization is not synonymous with Americanization” and that globalization “has eroded the American primacy.” Khanna’s interest is in articulating ways that the U.S. would remain a competitive power in this “geopolitical marketplace” and even reassume its exceptional and imperial role. To achieve his goal and political commitment, Khanna employs a few conceptual strategies. He articulates globalization as an “irreversible fact” of our times and that “the second world,” or what he coins as the “swing states,” is the ground for the struggle to secure a geopolitical order. This “call to arms” (or what Khanna calls a “Less Can be More” policy to-do list) to secure America’s role as a competitive, exceptional and imperial actor focuses mostly on those whose primary interest is capitalist accumulation and profits, and the engendered political “models for success” to secure that relation. This strategy is what I call here “globalism.” It is a “living material force” in the sense that it contributes toward the support of particular political commitments and interests.

Khanna quite accurately points to one of the major contradictions in world politics today: the rise in the rivalry between different imperialist powers that are engendering a dynamic of “cut-throat” competition and even outright hostility in their pursuit of power to support. This leads him to his central point that the apogee of the hegemony of the U.S. has arrived and, hence, the title of his piece “Waving Goodbye to Hegemony.” Yet, assuming globalization is an irreversible process and a fact articulates a fantasy and mystifies a major tension that exists in world politics today, that is, the unfettered attempt to integrate the whole world into a global economy, and the attempt to generate a global political order to guide these relations. So, how do we proceed to understand this major tension and for what purpose? What is crucial is to first begin with “globalization.” What is it?

“Globalization” as the term has been used cannot explain shifts taking place within continuity of capital. Khanna’s articulation of “globalization” as a gesture to the changes in world politics hovers ambiguously between a description of the “geopolitical marketplace” and a performative articulation; thus establishing this geopolitical marketplace and the position of the U.S. within it as a given truth and obscuring that the world capitalist system has been changing dramatically.

I suggest, as others have done, to use “globalism” as a conceptual tool to help us understand these changes and their many contradictions that have emerged nationally and internationally. “Globalism” here refers to a series of structural strategies, including the production of ideas, and refers to the dismantling of the barriers against the “free” cross-border flows of money, commodities, and productive capital, the extensive privatization of state-enterprises, the flexibilization of labor markets, and the development of lean production techniques. More so, globalism as a strategy has also been about the contestation of mega-capital and some imperial state powers in the world to restore capitalism in bureaucratic workers’ states such as Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and China. These changes are demanding and leading to the creation of a new set-up with dramatic consequences for the “equilibrium” of forces between classes, genders and racialized peoples at the international, national, and communal levels.

Globalism is a strategy where mega-corporations plan and organize the buying of labor power, raw materials, the production and sale of commodities within a single all-encompassing strategic plan, albeit with much struggle and contestation by different peoples. The mega-capital interests such as re-stimulation of a higher rate of surplus value and profits, however, cannot be pursued in a fragmented economy. For capital to achieve this “international” move, it has to articulate and imagine these processes as “smooth” by concealing the class/gendered/racialized assault of international bourgeoisies against those peoples who have been struggling to make ends meet and protect their environments from such theft, including state buffer mechanisms. “Globalization” as an assumed fact and reality has disarmed peoples from engaging in struggles against these capitalist assaults on their positions.

Mega-capital’s consolidation and its further extension and expansion geographically require a political order that does not set barriers against it and also secures its interests. Yet, the “state” still acts as a central site of class/gendered/racialized domination and inter-capitalist rivalry which challenges mega-capital’s desire to dispense of it and/or create a political order for this “new” capitalist formation. Its different international organizations/regionalisms (i.e., UNHCR, the IMF, the WTO, NATO, the E.U.) carry out specific tasks of a “world government.” The gaps generated with the fall of the former Soviet Union, etc., and the competition among different imperialist powers (and thus, the unfettered spread of their armies in the world) has intensified what I coined in another piece the “New World War Order,” the articulated political order, that is the new system globalism is trying to establish.

In sum, beginning with the recognition that liberal capitalism and “Confucian capitalism” with their contingent political organizations (i.e., America’s “coalition of the willing,” Europe’s consensus, and China’s consultative style) are only two modalities through which capital relations can be integrated internationally. These relations have to be brought about instead of being accepted as given. To grant this possibility is a world apart from saying that this is the best and most viable way to think and do social relations. It is time for those of us who are interested in an alternative world to begin thinking, planning, and embodying it now. Such an alternative world is indeed necessary.

Anna M. Agathangelou is Associate Professor of political science at York University, Toronto and the director of Global Change Institute, Nicosia, Cyprus. Author of The Global Political Economy of Sex: Desire, Violence, and Insecurity in Mediterranean Nation-States (Palgrave 2004), Agathangelou is currently working on a book-project Terror-Necrotic Ontologies of Capital and Empire: Greek Theory and Possibilities for Substantive Democracy.

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Waving Hello to Democratic Renewal

by Christine Bell

"There seems ever more limited room to consider what it means to be American, to be a liberal democrat, to be cosmopolitan—to truly belong to either local society or a global world."

Khanna’s argument is simple. American hegemony and the unipolar world have collapsed—without America noticing. The new world is tri-polar. America must compete with Europe’s soft power influence, and China’s economic power influence. The new global game for the “second world” (Turkey, South America, the former USSR “Stans”) is to play all three superpowers against each other, while pretending to be the friends of all.

Let’s leave aside whether Khanna is right. The arguments are well made and ring true at least as a broad brush account of the world’s main powerblocks and how they operate. The question is—so what? Khanna ends by suggesting a fivefold task of re-thinking U.S. foreign policy. First, change the rhetoric: global interests in place of U.S. interests; “No more ‘us’ versus ‘them’ only ‘we’.” Second, more joined-up thinking and a regional approach to coordination of U.S. diplomacy. Third, deployment of “the marchmen” by increasing diplomatic missions and cultural initiatives to operate as “the foot soldiers of empire spreading values and winning loyalty.” Fourth, making the global economy work for the U.S., by moving from a narrow evaluation of self-interest as served by isolationism. Fifth, to convene a meeting of the Big Three but suggest, rather than set, the agenda.

I am persuaded by the analysis. But I am not convinced by the prescription. Khanna’s re-envisioning reads a little too much like the need for a “newspeak” and a less abrasive style of communication— U.S. foreign policy in a European accent. (Or perhaps the softer tones of Obama, Clinton, or McCain, in place of Bush’s brass braying). Yet, as Khanna acknowledges, increased global influence will not be solved by a different accent or mere repackaging.

To convert style to substance another matter must be added to Khanna’s list as item number one: namely, internal democratic renewal within the US.

Let me overstate my case and do so as an Irish European. Rightly or wrongly, we share Khanna’s view of U.S. foreign policy as top-down and aggressive. We gasped in astonishment after September 11 th, as “ordinary Americans” agonised over how they had come to be so hated but with personal, rather than national, self-reflection. Was patriotism and military action the only appropriate response? Was there no space to engage in the existential nation-building deliberation that you seek of others who face conflict and violent threat?

Rightly or wrongly, we also view you as na├»ve about your own domestic situation. In Ireland, for example, we always loved America—its foreign policies were helpful here and we still owe a peace process debt. But that said, we often found visiting Americans hard to take. As they marvelled at and mediated our “ethnic conflict,” those of us who had been to the U.S. for any length of time quietly wondered where they lived. How many of the white men that visited us went for walks in Harlem, sent their kids to public school in inner cities, or had white servants in their houses? How many had genuinely close friendships across ethnic groups, most notably the black/white divide?

As we watch your election campaign the two matters seem to be linked. We find ourselves wondering whether it matters who gets elected. There seems to be so little room to manoeuvre against interest blocks. To enter the race one appears to have to recalibrate personal politics against fixed political poles. We worry that the future trend of domestic and foreign policy choices is beyond political reach, set for decades ahead in all but the details. To point to greater deficits of the systems of others does not allay our concerns.

There is no European triumphalism here. Clearly, we are not perfect. Our foreign policy is as much a product of our own internal politics as yours. However, there is indeed perhaps a lesson in our particular relationship. Europe’s soft-power approach in its foreign policy comes more from the difficulties for Europe in deciding what Europe is, than from clever strategic design. We do not have a constitutional consensus as to a concept of “ Europe” that we can all subscribe to concomitant with a commitment to national states. Rather we have ongoing debate about what Europe is and should be, and a tension between periphery (states) and centre (Europe) to be ever-managed in a situation in which there is no default position capable of claiming a trumping authority. We have, in essence, an on-going crisis and overt public negotiation as to what it means to be “European.” We forge foreign policy in the middle of this existential crisis as to how to reconcile our clashing political visions for our own shared future. The tension produces compromises and almost inevitably one of the few points of agreement is to on-going dialogue and pragmatic cooperation with neighbours. Soft power is one of the only forms of power we can agree to use, its soft edge crafted out of the difficulties of agreeing on when to use hard power.

And so I suggest that the inability to sell American values lies not just in the current difficulty of ascertaining those values, but in the limited political space in which to renegotiate them. There seems ever more limited room to consider what it means to be American, to be a liberal democrat, to be cosmopolitan—to truly belong to either local society or a global world. Unlike in Europe, articulating political uncertainty is subversive of the patriotic project rather than its accepted starting point. Until patriotism is understood to be served by democratic renewal that touches the heart of the U.S.’s deep political constitution, and this renewal becomes an imperative rather than wilderness cry of a few, foreign policy reform will be cosmetic. As an outsider I have no prescriptions: democratic renewal best comes from within and below.

But if Khanna really prompts us to search for our “inner Kennedy,” then I am tempted to say: Ask not what your country will do (to the “other”) for you, ask what you will do for your country so that the other ceases to be other.

Christine Bell was born and brought up in Belfast. She is currently Director of the Transitional Justice Institute, and Professor of Public International Law at University of Ulster (based at Magee Campus). She read law at Selwyn College, Cambridge, (1988) and gained an LL.M in Law from Harvard Law School (1990), supported by a Harkness Fellowship. She has authored the book Peace Agreements and Human Rights (Oxford University Press 2000), and a report published by the International Council on Human Rights Policy entitled "Negotiating Justice? Human Rights and Peace Agreements" (2006). She has also taken part in various peace negotiations discussions, giving constitutional law and human rights law advice, and also in training for diplomats, mediators and lawyers.

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Goodbye to Hegemony-Hello to Thinking Globally

by Alison Brysk

“What purports to be a broad-minded analysis of the quest for “global equilibrium” under changing conditions, ends up being a playbook for the scramble for global goodies—with a disturbing dash of Huntingtonian Yellow Peril China-bashing."

While I was pleased to see a knowledgeable commentator offer the promise of a fresh approach to the decline of American empire, alas Parag Khanna’s provocative essay does not escape the delusions of your father’s realpolitique. What purports to be a broad-minded analysis of the quest for “global equilibrium” under changing conditions, ends up being a playbook for the scramble for global goodies—with a disturbing dash of Huntingtonian Yellow Peril China-bashing. The real lessons here are deeper: the danger of asking the wrong question, and the need to bring global knowledge into a global framework to understand 21 st-century realities.

Superpower rivalry is the wrong question, because power is always grounded in purpose, and because old-fashioned national interest is no longer the primary determinant of our fate. The Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci identified an important dual meaning of “hegemony”—both material dominance and moral suasion. Purpose and principle translate into the ability to set agendas and guide institutions, and it is the loss of this kind of hegemony in the latter sense that should concern us far more than the checkerboard of oil supplies in the Stans. Even in the extremity of military conflict, the U.S. has been relatively more successful in Afghanistan than Iraq, in a more legitimate struggle supported by multilateral institutions and allies. As Khanna intermittently notes but does not fully digest, such multi-dimensional power is Europe’s secret weapon—along with reducing oil dependence and diversifying energy supplies, this multi-faceted power is a more sustainable basis for economic growth and political influence.

Globalization is the right question, because global connections are not just a reshuffle of resources, but a fundamental change in the determinants of the rights and welfare of the residents of all states. Global climate change and associated natural disasters, pandemics, and border-crossing conflict (including, but not limited to, terrorism) will affect far more people, even heretofore sheltered citizens of superpowers, than the alignments of nation-states. The most important shift is in the basis of identity, the glue and motor of societies, from nation-state loyalties to new zones and balances of religious ideologies, market motives, ethnic tribalisms, cosmopolitan mentalities, and anomic “failed societies.” Again, the seeds of this knowledge are visible within Khanna’s own analysis, when he describes the Latin American leftist backlash in America’s assumed zone of influence, and admits that “Chavez’s challenge…is ideological.” In a globalized world, the power of the American Dream is that migrants still vote for it with their feet.

The ultimate sign of the breakdown of Khanna’s hegemonic analysis is that the prescriptions it generates are inconsistent. His initial recommendations of the JFK vision of globalism plus “Pentagonization” is just the formula that brought us Vietnam, ground zero for imperial overstretch. Similarly, the author’s solution to the repeated refrain that “China is winning” is to sell them our infrastructure, rather than challenge the dysfunctional American neo-liberal distrust of government as a manager of public goods. One of the common features of our disparate European and Chinese economic rivals is the strong role of the state in guiding economic development, and (historically) in protecting the commonweal—American purpose and identity decline every time we allow one of our citizens to die of a preventable disease.

The real solution is thinking globally, in the triple sense of thinking comprehensively about power and purpose, thinking like citizens of the world as well as of America, and thinking of the greater good—a sustainable blend of peace, prosperity, and solidarity, even if it means less American dominance in a better world for all.

Alison Brysk is Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of California, Irvine. Winner of the 2007-2008 Distinguished Mid-Career Research Award, she has authored or edited six books on international human rights. Professor Brysk has researched and lectured in a dozen countries, and in 2007 held the Fulbright Distinguished Visiting Chair in Global Governance at Canada's University of Waterloo/Centre for International Governance Innovation. Brysk is active in promoting human rights through campus, professional, international, and advocacy organizations and networks. Please visit her website: http://www.alisonbrysk.org.

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Goodbye Hegemony, Hello.?

by Eric A. Heinze

“...while the type of power is different in this new version of power politics, the pursuit of an overarching imperative at the expense of “secondary” concerns for human rights and other moral norms will remain an enduring feature of international relations..."

Parag Khanna’s analysis of American hegemonic decline paints a bleak picture for the future of America’s role in the emerging global order. He is correct to emphasize how the misguided policies of the Bush administration have done untold damage to America’s credibility, prestige, and overall influence in international affairs. It is thus difficult to find fault with such a sobering analysis of the immense challenges that lie ahead for the next U.S. president in the realm of foreign affairs.

As an expert on geopolitics, it is not surprising that Khanna’s essay frequently makes reference to many of the fundamental principles that have guided the field of International Relations for decades. Utilizing the realist principle of balance of power, for instance, the author suggests we are living in a tri-polar order, with the U.S., the European Union, and China as the great powers. The “Big Three,” as Khanna calls them, are competing with one another in the “geopolitical marketplace” to win allies and influence others in a style eerily reminiscent of old-fashioned realist balancing and bandwagoning. The U.S.’s failure to co-opt these “swing states” from the “second world” is even reminiscent of the pessimist outlook of the realist tradition (though perhaps coincidentally), as the author continues to lament the demise of a has-been superpower in this new brand of power politics.

Khanna is certainly right that the balance of power has shifted at the expense of the U.S. He is also right that unlike previous eras of balance of power that were among only European states, this game of power politics is the first truly global and “multicivilizational” power struggle. The most obvious difference that Khanna does not explicitly recognize, however, is that he is talking primarily about an economic, not necessarily military, balance of power. He suggests as much when he downplays the statistics that point to American military supremacy as compared to the more meaningful trends that indicate the U.S. is losing in the geopolitical marketplace. This de-emphasis of military power could be no more obvious than the fact that one of the world’s great powers in this new order—the E.U.—scarcely has its own military apart from the separate forces of its members. (And this is to say nothing about the fact that the E.U. is not a sovereign state—a curious omission in a balance-of-power analysis). Despite this, according to Khanna, Europe’s economic strength alone is facilitating a “long-term buyout” of its unstable and potentially threatening neighbor Russia.

Yet as numerous scholars have pointed out, economic and military power are two sides of the same coin. However, the logic of the balance of power is premised on the assumption of an anarchical system of sovereign states who are engaged in a struggle for their very survival. States in such a world primarily balance one another militarily, not economically. But it seems that if the new distribution of power the author describes is measured primarily in economic and not military terms, then states no longer perceive their survival to be at stake. Cast in this light, America’s hegemonic decline is accompanied by the dawn of a new era of international relations where active fear of survival is no longer what motivates states.

Therefore, an important conclusion flowing from Khanna’s analysis is that current U.S. military commitments abroad are not only unnecessary for American security, but are contributing mightily to our precipitous decline. While Paul Kennedy and others have taught us the dangers of military over-stretch, this is only part of America’s current predicament. Not only are current U.S. military commitments unsustainable relative to our economic resource base, the continued preoccupation with military dominance is not conducive to the new, evidently less Hobbesian, realities of the global order.

The author’s recommendations for the U.S. to remedy this unenviable state of affairs draw from both the balance of power logic that underlies his analysis, as well as the recognition of a global reality based on international cooperation among networks of sub-state (and even non-state) actors. States will continue to compete and balance one another in pursuit of economic growth and influence (if not survival). But international relations are increasingly becoming the purview of domestic technocrats who coordinate with their foreign counterparts in a variety of issue areas to regulate various aspects of international relations. This is why, according to Khanna, “American foreign policy must be substantially more than what the U.S. government directs.” One even wonders whether the threat to states’ survival has diminished precisely because they decreasingly hold a monopoly over international relations.

Interestingly, the lingering reality of global power competition (albeit not in the military sense) resembles a decidedly realist amoral ethos. This raises some interesting implications for the place that moral concerns like human rights will occupy in states’ foreign policy agendas. Khanna’s article suggests that to renew our competitiveness in the geopolitical marketplace, the U.S. is going to have to compete with the likes of China to win allies (trading partners?) in the second world, many of whom have little interest in political liberalization. So while the type of power is different in this new version of power politics, the pursuit of an overarching imperative at the expense of “secondary” concerns for human rights and other moral norms will remain an enduring feature of international relations, at least for the foreseeable future. In short, while states may no longer be caught in a perilous struggle for their survival, the same does not necessarily hold true for those individuals living within them. It seems that the state-of-nature analogy to the international system has thus been turned on its head.

Khanna’s analysis therefore implies that the danger states pose to one another’s existence has diminished. (Non-state actors such as terrorists are a separate issue). At the same time, the threat posed by states to their citizens is likely to remain. Furthermore, human rights implications are sure to surface as global governance becomes increasingly orchestrated by an unaccountable “diplomatic-industrial complex,” as opposed to (sometimes) elected governments.
One can therefore only conclude that the place the U.S. will occupy in the new global order remains to be seen, but its arrival will almost certainly not mark America’s demise. Perhaps the more urgent concern for readers of this publication is what protections human beings will have from the excesses of power-holders—whoever they may be in the global order that is emerging after American hegemony.

Eric A. Heinze is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of Waging Humanitarian War: The Ethics, Law and Politics of Humanitarian Intervention (forthcoming, SUNY Press) and numerous scholarly articles on various aspects of international human rights and the ethics and law of armed conflict. Dr. Heinze teaches courses on international law and organization, international human rights, and international relations theory.

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