The Cons of War & Trade, Colltalers
A debate worth having these days is whether geopolitical hegemony is still determined by a country’s arsenal, or its ability to dominate global trade. As battle lines are no longer defined by traditional 20th century ideologies, a new, more accurate yardstick may be needed.
In this context, the U.S. is becoming ever more identified with the power of its weaponry industry, high firepower and outrageous profits, from a state of permanent worldwide war. And China is retaking a spot that it may have held in antiquity: the world’s de facto largest economy.
Our contemporary history gets a fresh appreciation under this new dichotomy. The threat of conflicts for global dominance may not be triggered by traditional Left-Right ideological sides, but by local, trade and territorial disputes, with equal risk for out-of-control escalation.
The impact of such a tectonic shift in world relations has yet to be determined, of course. But we always seem to be on the verge of a military strike by the U.S., even if solely to prove a political point. And China, when it finally re-calibrates its commercial balance, may realistically bring the world to its knees, just because it may find important to flex its industrial might. Both possibilities, albeit scary, are perfectly plausible.
That old values, dating back from the republican French Revolution, no longer fit the dizzying complexity of geopolitical and economic relations that marks the world today, packs no great surprise. But the consequences of going back to a new Colonialism, where countries are invaded so to grant their invaders’ territorial advantage, or to a widespread Discovery Era-style trade wars, are downright unpredictable.
It’s instructive to take just such possibilities for a quick spin, in the light of some news that may have gotten lost in last week’s shuffle.
First it’s the absolutely sobering news that the Iraqi city of Mosul was retaken from Daesh’s control by Iraqi and U.S. forces, which gave no one reason for jubilation. The human cost, the civilian death toll, cruelty of combatants, and the carnage left behind are beyond staggering.
Similarly to what happened a few months ago in Aleppo, when the guns were finally silenced, everybody and everything was lost, including reason and morals. As it signals the way wars may be fought, what happened in Mosul confirms two major certainties about today’s geopolitics: there will be more just like it; and weaponmaker stocks are bound to break records, making their investors very rich indeed.
These are powerful arguments for defense contractors and warmongers to be bullish about what everybody else with a conscience is sick about it: the business of endless war is now an acceptable national economic model. Thus, there’s no end in sight for the Afghan war.
To contrast all that, China reporting last week that its GDP grew 6.9% in the second quarter of this year, gives many some solace, as it’s certainly better news than anything else coming from Asia these days. No small feat to feed and employ the world’s
As it goes, China no longer manipulates its currency; domestic consumption is up, and despite the gargantuan scale of any of its ecodata, its trade has trended positively with pretty much every region of the world, including the U.S., Europe, Latin America, Africa, and even Asia.
That’s a plus compared to the militaristic mentality that has prevailed over U.S. foreign policy. Trading does promote a better understanding among nations, and it’s positive when a nation without a particularly distinguished armed forces, still rises to world dominance, through the sheer power of overcoming challenges and millennial expertise exchanging goods with others. Shall we bring out cake, for we have a winner?
Rather, is China the example to be emulated, by which we ought to measure progress, by prioritizing economic development and prosperity of society? Is this the model to be copied, for what’s good for 1, 4 billion people, must be good to everyone else too? Uh, not so fast.
Another piece of the news throws a bucket of iced water over such uncritical approach: Liu Xiaobo, hero of the Tiananmen Square movement, died under guard on July 13. Last detained in 2008, he’d been in and out of jail since the 1989 massacre of students and democracy activists.
Awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, he died of liver cancer. But China did take away 30 years of his life, as it did to many other dissidents that it fears so much, betraying its aversion to civil rights. His wife Liu Xia remains under surveillance and could not even make a statement.
There are those who believe that it’s a fair trade-off, security in exchange for citizen safety. They have been particularly strident in the U.S., Latin America, and Turkey, for instance. They are also usually those who stand to lose the most privileges in an open, democratic society.
The overstated brouhaha about Russia’s improper sway over the U.S. president, notwithstanding, along with the dangerous possibility that it did in fact influence the presidential elections, may be part of a narrative that no longer has as much consequence to geopolitics as it once did.
As Russia remains stuck in a bubble of Cold War relevance, thanks to the U.S. turmoil, and its anachronistic economic dependence on oil exports to Europe a source of great vulnerability, the rest of the world seems to have moved on, even if not necessarily in a forward motion.
As Europe, specially Germany and France, seem determined to dial out the future, where armed forces have a proper enforcement role only, and economic priorities won’t cost the dignity of labor or individual freedom, in the U.S., Brazil, Venezuela, and others, there’s a drive to bring back corporate values better suited to the Industrial Revolution. They are definitely out of step with what the new century may be about.
It’s fair to expect more debate over how the U.S. and China will interact in a new world order, but we for ones, want to keep the pressure on so they don’t lose sight of what the majority of the two billion-plus under their keep long for: progress, yes, but with democracy and no wars.
Nowhere it says that we need to accept either style of authoritarian government represented in the moment by these two giants. And we ought to remain vigilant, as the U.S. faces the prospect of global oblivion for the first time in over two centuries, and China may see an opportunity.
Ideally, there’s not even need for a nation leader, if it’s going to act as a prosecutor of its people, and those around the world. More than a particular form of authority, global citizens need peace to thrive, and if anything, to conquer it is the biggest challenge we all face.
How can we be on for reversing climate change, promoting freedom, and above all, giving peace a real chance, if we’re so busy massacring civilians, burning down cities, putting the interests of few ahead of those of the majority? We can’t, and replacing an old template with another, equally as archaic, won’t do it either. It’s time we take back what the powerful fear so much to lose: our support. Iced tea, anyone? WC