Sunday, June 22, 2008

From Hegemony to Empire and then back to the bad old imperialism

(Presented at the 7Th METU Conference on International Relations: Hegemony or Empire? Prospects for contemporary world order. 18-20 Haziran 2008 METU.)

I think this a very well timed and a quite an important conference with a very interesting program. I am very glad to be here.

I would like to start with an observation: The predominant mood in the American foreign policy elite, turned from an optimist triumphalism, to pessimist declinism in less than two decades.

When the Cold War ended the talk was all about a new bright future: The New World Order. This new world order would bring international peace and cooperation, democracy, and a prosperous future.

As we all remember, It was the End of History. It seemed that human civilisation had arrived. And the name on the terminus was liberal democracy.

Furthermore, all of this was going to take place under the watchful eyes of a benevolent hegemon US, in a unipolar world. Because, US, “the last man standing”, so to speak, was now the sole superpower as well as a beacon of democracy and prosperity.

These days, however, increasing number of writers is lamenting the decline of America. Recently Richard Haas, the director of Council on Foreign Relations wrote about the end of the unipolar world[[1]]. According to Parag Khanna from the New American Foundation, the US global power is too stretched, could snap into a decline very quickly[[2]]. The title of the Newsweek’s editor, Fareed Zaakharia’s book is The post American world [[3]].

The tone of Kissinger’s recent article in the The International Herald Trubine was most unusual: He was arguing for protecting strategically important industries and rescuing companies that matters for the national security [[4]].

However, at the end of the cold war, despite of all that optimism, there were also number signs suggesting that “all that glittered were not gold”.

What was happening was in fact not a beginning of NEW WORLD ORDER but, the last stage of the restoration, started with the Thatcher Reagan era about a decade ago. This was the restoration of unfettered individualism, primacy of the capitalist rule. But more than anything else it was about the restoration of US hegemony which had entered a period of decline in the 1970s.

And, the name of the last stage in this restoration was Globalization, that is, the emergence of a unified world economy, a “flat world”, if you like, of the international free market.

There was however some who were deeply suspicious of this idea of “New World Order”.

On the left for instance, there was a shrinking minority who still wanted to talk about imperialism, class rule, economic crises etc… and there are others, already a rapidly growing majority, who wanted to believe that a totally new stage in the world history was starting and all the previous rules and norms of politics were now defunct. Globalization was the new reality. Hart and Negri’s neo-medievalist, apocalyptic book [[5]] titled Empire would later capture this mood perfectly: Decline of the states, hence end of classical imperialism as such, and the rise of all encompassing global power of the capital…

On the right, among the US foreign policy circles, for instance, there were some very influential names, such as Paul Wolfowitz, who had lost their confidence in the future of US’s economic and cultural primacy in the world. These people suspected that US was loosing its ability to lead by example and by consent: US was loosing its hegemony.

They wanted the US to seize the moment, especially after the I. Gulf war, and rely primarily on its unrivalled military technological superiority to establish a truly unipolar order.

For them: A new kind of foreign policy was needed to prevent the rise of a new superpower capable of contesting US primacy.

This was in fact a project, envisaging a shift away from the hegemony, that is to rule by consent, leadership, backed by a strong coercive apparatus to something else. Many called it Pax Americana. Irwing Kristol, in its 1997 Wall Street Journal article which appeared just before the Asian Crisis, called it The American Empire.

Later, just before the Iraq war started, Kissinger would use the concept of American emporium.
However with the collapse of the bipolar system the real fault lines of the global geopolitics were becoming even more pronounced and a new geopolitical climate was being shaped.

For instance
1) World economy was suffering from a crisis of over-accumulation [[6]]. There was the problem of excess capacity. The consumer demand was not sufficient to sustain profitability in any of the major industries in the centres of the world economy especially in the US. The attempt to deal with this over-accumulation through financialization, by creating first a technology bubble, then a housing and credit bubble made the bad situation worse and made the US economy as well as the world economy even more prone to systemic risks.
2) There were energy and food crises in the making [[7]]. And the growing consumer demand, coming from the emerging working classes and the middle classes in the new powers such as Chine India was making a number of “resource wars scenarios” increasingly more plausible
3) Global warming was about to be accelerated due to the new consumption boom fuelled by globalisation and later by financialisation.

US wanted to establish itself as single centre of power, to build a perpetual Pax Americana, gradually bringing all the territories under its control by incorporating them into the global liberal order, by closing “gaps” in the globalization process, by wars if necessary, as Pentagon specialist Thomas Barnett would later put it in his famous book: The Pentagon’s New Map.[[8]]

In this global order, as it was formulated in the Quadrennial Defence Review published in October 2001, all the geographies and the space too, would be totally open to US’s economic, political and military penetration.

The Review was also introducing, for the first time the concepts such as “pre-emptive wars”, temporary alliances, unilateral action in the US foreign policy.

When, This imperial project, was first leaked to the The New York Times in 1992, just before Clinton came to power, it was disowned by the US foreign policy establishment and caused a minor scandal in the so called “international community”. But It was going to surface later, towards the end of the second Clinton administration [[9]], after the Asian Crisis when US’s economic model, neo-liberal globalization, begun to come under scrutiny and the “Restoration” process for the US hegemony had been exhausted.

But by then, the US department of defence had already adopted, a noticeably imperial discourse, during the II. Clinton administration, with the introduction of the new concepts such as “the indispensable country”, “Tallest country” etc…

Later, Rumsfeld, in the introduction, he wrote for the Quadrennial Defence Review, would argue that USA was now the only country with global interests.

The foreign policy shift that was started during the Clinton administration, accelerated under the Bush Administration especially after the 9/11.

When Bush came to power, The USA military had already embarked upon a process of force restructuring and expansion of military bases all around the world with a specific emphasis on the energy security. But it was also aiming to encircle Russia and to prevent China to become a global political player.

Bush administration’s a new defence doctrine had only formalised and enhanced this shift. Also, the importance and the weight of the Pentagon in the US administration begun to increase almost geometrically. Its total budget had almost tripled in 6 years. Its new intelligence organisation grew quickly to become a much larger a beast than the CIA. Pentagon, begun to assume diplomatic responsibilities; its diplomatic personnel and its influence rapidly exceeded that of the state department’s ‘diplomatic corps’ [[10]]. Also, US begun to pull itself out of the major international treaties, hence begun to dismantle the hither to existing structures of international relations.

However, this imperial project which looked so logical at the first sight, was doomed to failure. Simply because not only USA lacked the economic and financial means to build a global military empire, but also, there are already a number of emerging powers in the world geopolitics who are against a unipolar world.
The fact, that USA was becoming progressively more dependent on the kindness of these newly emerging powers to finance its military projects and domestic welfare, was suggesting the impossibility of building an empire “to freeze the time and space”[[11]] if borrow from Hart and Negri’s definition of Empire, under the US dominance.

Here how the world looks to us at this point in time, at the ruins of the US imperial project
1) US is still a superpower. But it is not alone any more. The central gravity of power and wealth in the world has begun to shift eastwards.
2) Correspondingly, new hegemonic discourses such as Beijing Consensus, EU model, alternative to Anglo Saxon model of liberalism begun to emerge
3) The international image of USA military has been tarnished in Iraq when a rag tag army of resistance comprised of no more than 15,000 militants, equipped only with light, in some cases improvised weapons, robbed USA from a quick “mission accomplished”.
4) New centres of global information dissemination, such as Al Jezira and other international TV stations have emerged during the Iraqi war. Hence US lost its global monopoly over the representation and interpretation of the world events[[12]]. In other world the US dominance over the “global society of spectacle” has now broken.
5) The resource scarcity is on the rise so is the new economic and political forces such as China, India and Russia which hunger for them. US’s traditional client states such as Saudi’s beginning to forge new relations with the other powers [[13]].
6) Crisis of capital accumulation is again in full force affecting the lives of billions. The number of world leaders blaming USA for the current financial instability, is growing. Recently, Russian President Medvedev openly put the blame for the recent credit crunch on the US financial system[[14]]. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, recently told Financial Times that Anglo Saxon model of regulation has failed, and Continental Europe should take the lead in devising new rules for financial markets [[15]]

The so called Anglo Saxon model, of globalisation and free trade is now also attracting heavy fire from the sections of the US business circles which until recently whole heartedly embraced its fruits. Because now, the other powers, such as China and India are benefiting from the free trade, at the expense of US industry and labour.

Now after the catastrophic wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq, the Guantanama Bay prison and Abu Gharib scandals, the dark world of “Ghost ships”, Renditions, more than a million corpse in four years and finally the credit crunch, decline of dollar, meteoric rise of oil prices, we are in fact witnessing a de facto collapse of the US imperial project.


Nowadays World looks much more like as it did at the beginning of the 20th century:
· A hegemonic power is in decline.
· It faces a number of rising powers.
· They are all competing among each others to get access to natural resources and markets around the world.
· The competitors are increasingly making inroads in the US’s sphere of influence in Latin America, Middle East and Africa,
· In response the USA is now building a new military command centre Africacom in Africa, planning to stay forever, with 50+ military bases in Iraq[[16]] and Activating IV Fleet towards the Latin America
· Protectionism is rising in the US and in the EU- There are talks of Economis Nationalism
· Meanwhile France is increasing its Oceans under the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) rights, almost one million square miles, twice the size of Germany [[17]].

There are four more developments reminiscent of the early 20th century landscape. These are: increasing military spending [[18]], massive immigration on a global scale and revival of ethnic nationalism [[19]], again encouraged and supported by the major powers[[20]], especially by the US[[21]]. Finally the increasing income disparities between the classes, nations have once more begun to complicate policy options available for ruling elites and fuel protectionist tendencies [[22]].

However this time, there are two accelerators.
1) Global warming and falling water tables, falling harvest [[23]] are creating a Malthusian moment. The world is feeling again, the pressures of so called “over population” or excess population and food scarcity
2) Energy resources are reaching their peak. Hence the competition among the major powers to secure access to the shrinking resources is on the increase[[24]].
All these mean that major powers, especially the US will increasing find difficult to secure free access to energy, food resources they required if they remain strictly within the confines of the free market. In fact Anatol Kaletsky from the London Times, recently conceded that “oil is to important to leave to market forces” [[25]].

Do you think that water or food or the import of cheap commodities filling the Wal-Mart shelves, hence slowing down the erosion in living standards of the US workers are less important?

It appears that US but also European countries are finding increasingly difficult, on the one hand to externalise their economic problems such as excess capacity by increasing their access to other markets and on the other hand to protect the jobs and the strategically important national companies from the foreign competition... Spatial and temporal fixes are getting more and more difficult and less and less available.

Doha Round has been stalled. Number of bilateral and regional trade agreements are rapidly rising. The emerging tendencies of protectionism are bound to increase further, in the future. World Bank and the IMF have lost their ability to restructure the world economy as they did in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The successive failures of the interstate negotiations aiming to resolve the vital problems such as global warming, food crises, are the manifestations of the declining possibilities of cooperation between the big powers.

The world powers are slowly approaching a point where resolving their differences in economic and political matters peacefully, within the confines of free trade, or in the UN will be getting increasingly difficult if not impossible and … perhaps impossible.

We are at the end of another era of globalization.

Once more political and then military confrontations between the major forces, perhaps first via their intelligence agencies and then via proxies, seems to be in the offing.

In summary: Declining US hegemony first triggered an imperial reflex for a brief period of time. The imperial project has all but collapsed, the unipolar moment has come to pass. Now, these days we are increasingly witnessing, in the international relations, a return to classical imperialism, that is inter-state rivalries between the big powers over the control of territories, natural resources, labour reserves and trade routes, with all of its bloody trimmings…
[1] Richard N Haass, “What will follow U.S. Dominance”, Foreign Affaires, May/June 2008
[2] Parag Khanna, The Second World: Empires and Influences in the New Global Order, Random House, 2008
[3] Fareed Zakaria, The Post American World, Norton, 2008
[4] Henry Kissinger, “Globalization and its discontents”, International Herald Tribune, 29 May, 2008
[5] Bruce Holsinger, “Empire Apocalypse and 9/11 Premodern”, Critical Inquiry, Vol 34, Number 3, Spring 2008
[6] Robert Brenner (1998) “The Economics of Global Turbulance”. New Left Review, No, 229.
[7] Klare T. Michael, Resource wars, Owel Books, 2002
[8] Thomas P.M Barnett, “The Pentagon’s New Map”, Esquire March 2003
[9] Within the conservative Think tank The project for the new American Century, established in 1998 and later published the infamous study Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century (2000). Almost all the proposals put forward in this study later appeared in the QDR 2001.
[10] Frida Berrigan, The Pentagon's Expansion Will Be Bush's Lasting Legacy, 27 May 2008, Tom Dispatch,
[11] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, 2000, Harvard University Press, p. XIV
[12] Shri Dilip Hiro, “The Sole Superpower in Decline: The Rise of a Multipolar World”, Military Review, July- August 2008.
[13] Paul Richter, “New Forces frying U.S. Saudi oil ties”, Los Angeles Times, 8 June 2008
[14] The Daily Telegraph, “Russian president Dmitry Medvedev blames US selfishness for global financial crisis” 09 June 2008
[15] Financial Times, “Regulation model has failed, says Merkel”, 11 June 2008
[16] Patrick Cockburn, “Revealed: Secret Plan to keep Iraq under US control”, Independent, 5 June 2008
[17] Der Spiegel, “WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE France Eyes Massive Expansion of its Oceans” 05/07/2008
[18] Malin Rising, “Robust global economy drives rise in the arms spending”, The Associated Press, 9 June 2008
[19] Jerry Z Muller, Us and Them The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism”, Foreign Affaires, March/April 2008
[20] James Petras, Separatism and Empire Building in the 21st Century, Global Research, 8 June 2008
[21] Juan Gabrial Tokatlian, “America the Breakup artist- US support for partition movements is opening a can of worms” The Christian Science Monitor, 3 June 2008
[22] Jeffrey G. Williamson, Winners and loosers over 200 years of globalization, Working Paper 9161, NBER Publications, September 2002, Philip Stephens, “Uncomfortable truths for a new world of them and us”, Financial Times, 29 May 2008, David Rothkopf, Global Citizens. They're Hugely Rich. And They Pull the Strings.
Washington Post, May 4 2008;
[23] Lester Brown, “Falling Water tables, Falling Harvest”, Earth Policy Institute, 4 June 2008
[24] Michael T. Klare, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet, The new geopolitics of energy Metropolitan Books, 2008
[25] Anatole Kaletsky, “Oil is too important to leave to market forces” The Times June 12, 2008

No comments: