Friday, August 29, 2014

21st Century Trends: Who Knew?

At the turn of the century pundits offered a plethora of predictions of what the new era would bring. Few have foreseen the Arab Spring and its reverberation throughout the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. Russia was considered too impotent to pose a threat to anyone.

At the close of the 20th century, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War sparked hopes that we were entering a new era of peace and prosperity. Instead, we saw the September 11, London and Madrid bombings, violent sectarian and ethnic clashes and a growing rich-poor gap.

Lack of freedom, terror, civil strife, poverty, environmental disasters and deadly disease outbreaks are among the common problems in the world today. Almost all of Africa is affected and also large parts of Asia, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Central America and now Ukraine.

Ten years ago, military geostrategist Thomas Barnett and author of The Pentagon's New Map said these problems beset mostly countries where globalization has not taken hold.

“If you are looking at violence in the global system, it is overwhelmingly concentrated in those parts of the world, regions and countries that are not integrating their national economies with the global economy, either because they live in an authoritarian state, or because they are isolationist, or because they suffer endemic poverty, or they are dependent on export of a single raw material, and that leads to poverty or mal-distribution of wealth - commonly.”

Barnett said that leaving these "non-integrating" parts of the world “alone,” as some people suggest, would only make their problems worse and the world less secure because of the terrorism they breed.

“We need to stop terrorist activities, illegal movement of arms, or money, or people, the smuggling of people, copyright infringement -–those kinds of things. And the reason why you need to keep a lid on those sort of bad flows is that there are positive flows that do have to occur.”

Some of these positive flows according to Barnett were legal migrations of people from overpopulated areas to under-populated ones, the flow of oil out of the Middle East and direct foreign investment from Europe and the United States in developing Asia. He said many of these flows were hindered by terrorism. Therefore, he predicted, this century could see more U-S military interventions like the one in Iraq.

Ten years later, Washington-based analysts Peter Eltsov says Barnett's observations were mostly right, but that he failed to acknowledge that socioeconomic and cultural configurations of these troubled societies make it very difficult for their people to embrace free markets, democracy, multiculturalism and other developments that can help make a country rich and prosperous. Military interventions like the one in Iraq cannot change that.

Peter Eltsov
At the start of the Iraq War, many analysts pondered the effects of the U.S. display of military power on the rest of the world. California-based business consultant and author Larraine Segil, saw the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq as a major milestone, which would shape the coming decade in the Middle East.

“I think that what has happened in Iraq is an enormous and substantial change in the balance of power in the Middle East because it has suddenly become clear that there is somebody in the White House who is prepared to take action to follow words. ”

Eltsov says Segil was right in that the war in Iraq upset the balance of powers in the region. But, he notes, neither she nor anyone else foresaw the advent of the Arab Spring, the emergence of ISIS as the most powerful terrorist organization, and the unprecedented growth of extremist violence so soon after that war.

Segil acknowledged that military force is not an answer to every problem. She said that in addition to U.S. military force, another powerful new trend was shaping the world in this century: a rise of various formal and informal alliances across national borders.

Such alliances, according to her, have a great potential to improve life in the third world. For example, she said, African leaders could reduce famine and disease in their countries if they allowed private groups in their countries to connect with similar organizations in other parts of the world. China's economy has boomed, according to Segil, in large part thanks to business alliances with Taiwan, the United States, Germany, Africa and Latin America.

Ann Florini, professor of public policy in the School of Social Sciences at the Singapore Management University and a Brookings Institution fellow, agreed. She added that a wide range of transnational issues, from terrorism to environmental disasters to the global economy can be managed more effectively by non-governmental institutions, citizens movements and private corporations than by large international organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

“The inter-governmental institutions that have the most influence right now in the world are the IMF, the World Bank, the World trade Organization, the UN Security Council, " said Florini.  "In all of those except the World Trade Organization, the rules are explicitly set up so that a handful of rich-country governments dominate.”

“The biggest problem is that most of the world’s population has been completely left out of global economic integration.  The overwhelming share of global trade and financial flows were among North America, Western Europe, Japan and some other parts of Asia. "

Florini said interests of poor southern countries have long been neglected. "There has been almost no foreign direct investment in Africa, while Latin America and parts of Asia have received much less than their fair share in proportion to their populations."

But she said, “NGO-s, particularly in northern countries, have had in some cases a very significant influence on global rules. They have had campaigns on poor-country debt. They have had campaigns on land mines. In those kinds of campaigns they’ve shown that they can have a significant influence in getting governments to consider a broader public interest."

Florini said that U.S. military prowess in Iraq alarmed many people around the world, and it also showed that most economic, environmental, social, health and other global problems cannot be solved by force.

Eltsov says her assessment of the global trends seems to have been the most accurate. "The interests of poor southern countries are still being neglected, and globalization has not been helpful to many impoverished economies throughout the world." Furthermore, he says, "the invasion of Iraq created a dangerous precedent:  Russian President Vladimir Putin used it as a justification of his own actions in Georgia and Ukraine. One cannot help but agree that force does not solve most global problems."

Eltsov says it was naïve for anyone to assume that the fall of the Berlin Wall would have signified the spread of free markets, democracy, peace and prosperity in the whole world. And as for the end of the Cold War, " it was significant mostly for the USSR, USA, and Europe - not as much for the rest of the world."

"As we witness today, nationalism and fundamentalism are on the rise in Europe, Eurasia, South Asia, the Middle East and East Asia, raising questions about the viability of democratic values in significant parts of the world. Likewise, the economic crisis of 2008 raised questions about the viability and universality of market economy," says Eltsov.

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