Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2007 - a year of transition

What strikes me in looking back on 2007 are the fundamental geo-political trends that emerged more clearly in view. These forces are to me natural; they embody potentials and demands deep within natural and human reality; they are to be ignored at our peril for they will not go away.

Some are new and some are re-emerging, shaking off past constraints and containments.

We saw an acceleration of the break-up of the 19th century international order of nation states.

The European Union is becoming a new force in history, larger and more powerful than any previous integration of European peoples under the Romans, Charlemagne, Napoleon or Hitler. The effective presence of the EU is embodied in its single currency the Euro, which by the end of the year was worth more than the US dollar.

Tribalism returned in Kosovo, Iraq with rival Sunni, Shi’a and Kurdish zones of control, the fragmentation of Somalia, regionalism in Georgia, the division of the Palestinians into two rival zones of control, breakdown in Lebanon, presidential rivalries in Kenya, the success of Scottish nationalists – even perhaps the political division of the United States into Red and Blue states, mimicking the old division between Union and Confederacy during the Civil War. Thinking in terms of tribal rivalries provides a compelling explanation of the unremitting tension between Israel and the Palestinians allied with Hezbollah.

Religious fundamentalism within Islam is also a kind of tribalism where loyalty is to the brotherhood, the band, the sect and not to wider, more inclusive, pluralistic communities.

Convergence around cultures, ethnic identities, religions rather than citizenship in 19th century states and empires is the predominant driver of politics.

In its own way, economic globalization and the continual expansion of a single, integrated financial system is taking power away from political elites administering national state structures. The world’s financial centers are nodes in one network, doing business 24 hours a day.

To make the point, Islamic banking, once seen as sectarian and inappropriate for the rational pursuit of profit, is being absorbed into the world’s financial system.

The decline of the dollar is another marker of a changing global order. The United States spends too much on the wrong things, adding to its indebtedness; it is losing ground relative to other fecund centers of economic wealth and growth.

This past year saw the end of the Bush/Blair/Howard imperial attempt to impose a political order in Iraq. Blair left office, Howard was rejected by Australian voters, and Bush is sliding to the end of his term as president without the trappings of accomplishment as a world leader. The Iraqis are making their own destiny through ethnic and sectarian cleansing and the end game as they want it looks like some form of partition – an arrangement that perhaps should have been made right after World War I in the breakup of the Ottoman Empire at the hands of the British and the French.

Oddly, last year saw the definitive rise of Russia and China as great national power, very much in the 19th century pattern of hegemonic advance. Russia under Putin is orderly and growing in economic power after its long experiment with Communist internationalism.

Similarly, China has recovered from 150 years of weakness under the Manchu’s and war lord leaders and from its experiment with Mao’s form of Communism. It is once again a great regional power militarily and a rising world power intellectually and economically.

The parallel rise of Russia and China has an inevitable feel about it.

In Latin America, 2007 did not bring to the fore any significant trend, only further oscillation between conservative and populist (colonialist and nativist) approaches to political and social justice. Populism advanced under Chavez of Venezuela with his oil money, Morales in Bolivia, and Lopez-Obrador in Mexico. But the tide of populism hit a beach wall of opposition. Lopez-Obrador narrowly lost the presidential election; Chavez lost a referendum designed to make him a Napoleonic caudillo for life and Morales’s effort to revise Bolivia’s constitution was stalled.

Latin America still needs to find a balance way towards growth and middle-class social sensibility.

Overriding all the ups and downs of elite politics was global warming. Great natural forces heating up the climate. Under the specter of climate change, worries about political order and who’s on first base seem trivial.

No comments: