Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A New Bandung

How much is necessary to defend the United States? That is, how much do we need to spend in order to protect the country and provide a modest degree of security? John McNaughton, one of the lesser known architects of Vietnam War policy, pondered this question in 1964 and thought that only $1 billion of the nearly $50 billion allocated to the Pentagon was sufficient. The rest, of course, was required to defend interests overseas. This is the essence of empire.

Giovanni Arrighi has recently released the best book I've read on geopolitics since 2004 when Thomas P.M. Barnett gave us The Pentagon's New Map. Whereas Barnett is an advocate of the forcible inclusion of what he calls the Non-Integrating Gap, Adam Smith in Beijing describes the emergence of a New World Order based on the China model.

"The revolt against the West created the political conditions for the social and economic empowerment of the peoples of the non-Western world. The economic renaissance of East Asia is the first and clearest sign that such an empowerment has begun." This quote from Arrighi stands in stark contrast to Barnett:

"Whether we realize it or not, America serves as the ideological wellspring for globalization. These united states will stand as its first concrete expression. We are the only country in the world purposely built around the ideals that animate globalization's advance: freedom of choice, freedom of movement, freedom of expression. We are connectivity personified. Globalization is this country's gift to history - the most perfectly flawed projection of the American Dream onto the global landscape. To deny our parentage of globalization is to deny our country's profound role as world leader over the second half of the twentieth century. More important, to abandon globalization's future to those violent forces hell-bent on keeping this world divided between the connected and disconnected is to admit that we no longer hold these truths to be self-evident: that all are created equal, and that all desire life, liberty, and a chance to pursue happiness. In short, we the people needs to become we the planet."
(emphasis in the original)

The Americanization of the globe is the desired objective. And because of this dementia the US imperial project is destined to fail.

There was a time when I was seduced by this arguement. It's simple logic is the embodiment of everything that I was taught in school. It is the typical example of American exceptionalism, egocentricism, and ahistoricism. Aren't we the reluctant superpower? Didn't we save the world twice - first from fascism and then from communism? Haven't we been called on once again to save it from radical Islamic fundamentalism?

But to be a full participant in empire you have to operate with a certain hemianopsia. If you peer too deeply into the governments in which you invest then you'll be disillusioned to find duplicity and decay.

Therefore, empires require self-intiated, self-satisfying goals and ideals. It was not by accident that the Napoleonic Code and the French banner of "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" gave birth to Spanish guerrillas.

By having a monopoly on the global expression of military strength, Arrighi asserts that the United States risks running a protection racket. There is much to this and without strong checks like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, both of which have been undermined by Republican and Democratic administrations, then nations are left with nothing but our self-restraint and goodwill to prevent abuse. So the international community can hardly be faulted for not sharing Barnett's sanguine outlook.

Using the Chinese resurgence and a careful reading of Adam Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Arrighi describes an alternate model of market based economic development. Free markets, as theorized by Smith and enacted by Chinese policymakers, are a means for the state to rule efficiently and promote domestic tranquility. This is a divergence from the Western model where the interests of the capitalist class are synonymous with, if not greater than, the state.

Another point of departure is that the East Asian model of industrialization is labor intensive. Moreover, European reliance on financialization and overseas trade as a source of wealth and the rising cost of military implements necessary to protect trade routes and privileged access to foreign markets created an escalating arms race. Needless to say, elevated living standards came at the expense of marginalized non-European peoples.

With a couple of chapters emphasizing economics and obscure Ming and Qing periods of Chinese history, Adam Smith in Beijing is less readily digested by the general reader. Despite this, it's very much worth the effort. The rise of China becomes understood more as a result of the convergence of hundreds of years of historic trends rather than a consequence of entry into the World Trade Organization and the rapid influx of foreign direct investments.

Two things especially stand out to me because of their potential relevance to African development. One is the role of the Chinese diaspora in raising the fortunes of their homeland. The other is the call for a concert of developing nations to form their own plans for economic advancement based on their unique strengths and cultural traditions. " For," in Arrighi's words, " a new Bandung can do what the old could not: it can mobilize and use the global market as an instrument of equalization of South-North power relations."

Depending on how the Iraq War plays out, developing nations are less likely to follow a blueprint issued from Washington than one from Beijing.

No comments: