A world in which the last superpower has ceased to be super-cop is
full of regional and local conflicts –a new anarchic condition that can easily spiral into a major war.Our world is fully undergoing a transition, and not precisely towards a better world. In Opinion Sur’s pages we have outlined the causes for the current geopolitical instability. After the bipolar and thermonuclear equilibrium of the Cold War we went through a brief period of hegemony of the only remaining superpower, which let the opportunity slip away and made strategic mistakes with tragic sequels. Today, with that superpower suffering great setbacks, no replacement has risen in the global domain. The outcome is a multipolar, asymmetrical, aggressive world with violent uprisings of countries and regions that used to be left behind or repressed. We are therefore on the verge of a rampant outbreak, last exemplified in human history by the moments prior to the First World War – right during that disaster’s centenary. Let’s hope 2014 won’t repeat 1914’s catastrophe.
As an antidote for that centenary despondency, in this article I propose a hopeful and utopian exercise, which is imagining a rational and desirable geopolitical scenario for the XXI century. Hence, I propose this question: how to get to Denmark?
It’s not that I’ve lost my senses and I’m incapable of buying a plane ticket. In fact, two months ago I revisited Denmark, this time to take a sail boat’s steering wheel and travel its shores, visiting ports and farms, energy self-sufficient communities, old mansions, very modern windmills, houses and museums. I was able to reunite with Danish friends and practice the cheerful camaraderie of that exceptional country.
My question is not trivial. It’s not original either. It was previously stated by the political scientist Francis Fukayama in his book The Origins of Political Order. For many social scientists, Denmark is a mythical place that counts with good political and economic institutions. It is stable, democratic, peaceful, prosper, inclusive, with very low levels of corruption and inequality. How wonderful it would be –Fukayama exclaimed- to find a formula that would make it possible to transform Somalia, Haiti, Nigeria, Iraq or Afghanistan into something similar to Denmark!
In every continent there are countries that somehow resemble this mythical Denmark. I will name a few. In the Far East we could mention Singapore. In Latin America Costa Rica and Uruguay, in Europe there is Switzerland (not to mention the Northern countries), in Africa Botswana, in the South Pacific New Zealand. The list is not exhaustive (notice that we haven’t mentioned the Middle East). Each one of the aforementioned countries has vices and flaws, and some also a problematic past. But let’s analyze the common traits that make them similar in the categorization.
– They are all small countries.
– They are not involved in the main conflicts.
– None is perfect but they all claim to be perfectible.
– They have mixed economies. They mix State and market in various combinations.
– They don’t fear socialism or capitalism and adopt policies from both systems.
– They are solidary but allow individual initiative. .
– They are egalitarian but reward the success of some without ignoring those who are most in need.
– They are usually tolerant in terms of values, ideologies and religion, but have little tolerance for those who do not tolerate.
– They are socially homogeneous and accept diversity in a context of integration.
– They combine labor flexibility with social security.
– They are against the use of armed force and prefer to negotiate.
– They are not afraid to resign part of their sovereignty in favor of regional and global public institutions.
– When it comes to foreign policy they are peaceful and pragmatic.
– They are capable of public and collective self-criticism and reluctant to point fingers and cast blame.
– It is difficult to find hate or resentment in them or chauvinistic mobilizations as a substitute for healthy national pride.
– They haven’t got much corruption.
As the scale grows larger, first towards countries of intermediate size and then towards the large territorial powers, one after another the characteristics I have listed start to disappear. I propose the reader a difficult geopolitical exercise: how can we adapt each mentioned characteristic to an increase in size, power and complexity? Deep down these are the typical issues in political science and sociology. Furthermore, in this exercise we go from a linear and ‘normal’ logic to a paradoxical logic (some call it dialectics).
War and Peace: From Pax Romana to Pax Americana
Imperial Rome was surely not democratic, but back then it did guarantee a certain type of peace. Paradoxically, the famous Roman pax was based on the military conquest, pacifying by the use of force an enormous territory that was formerly struck by multiple violent conflicts. The Romans summarized this paradox in the expression si vis pacem para bellum.
The Empire’s eventual collapse, which inaugurated the Middle Ages, was characterized by a regression of western civilization to a multiplicity of warmongering localisms. Only the consolidation of the States in the first modern times put an end to that violence that was spread everywhere, that risky and cruel way of life for large sectors of the population.
The States established peace within their respective borders, and expelled the violence outwards, meaning, against other States. That logic took place in the East as well as in the West, both in the North and the South. That’s how the modern war was born: internal peace and external violence. The paradoxical logic that was magnificently demonstrated by Thomas Hobbes, came to an end in the XX century with two world wars and finally with the balance of power of the Cold War. The fear of national suicide and mass destruction of civilization paradoxically guaranteed a period of stability.
The current globalization that followed the Cold War has brought, also paradoxically, a greater interpenetration of nations and cultures, but at the same time a growing inequality, a political disintegration of blocks into regionalisms, tribalism, terrorisms and a growing armed anarchy, which has made large sectors of the world’s population fall into new wars of “all against all “ prevails.
Already in the midst of the First World War, philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell claimed that the only solution to the war among States or the para-state anarchic violence was a global government with the monopoly of violence and an armed force that were significantly larger than the States’ weaponry. Russell merely transferred the logic of the States’ formation –Hobbes’ Leviathan logic – to a planetary scale; this is to a super State that should impose a pax universalis. We are still very far from that solution, although there are powerful technological, economic and communication currents that bring it closer, despite the chaos in the transition.
For the time being, the Pax Americana has come to an end. The new geopolitical situation looks as if it is going to be tripartite. The three powers whose balance world peace now depends on are United States, China and Russia (Europe has ceased to be a major actor). If the three powers collaborate with each other with common sense and responsibility we will have certain stability. If they are tempted by adventurism or the severe national affirmation we will be facing a new global conflict in which, far from collaborating to contain the anarchic regions, each power will use and pressure them to achieve more mean-spirited objectives.
Ideology and Religion
The great ideologies of the XX century have expired. State socialism failed and capitalist liberalism became morally and financially bankrupt. For a brief moment we could’ve expected a spirit of commitment and wise pragmatism to follow that dusk. So far there isn’t one. Large inequality promoted by the current globalization has created a vacuum not only regarding power but also regarding ideas, which is being invaded by different forms of extremism and fundamentalism, both secular and religious. Those fundamentalisms share a common denominator: the cruel fantasy of obtaining moral purity, ethnic or religious, which has lead to cruelty and persecution in the history of mankind, as demonstrated by the great sociologist Barrington Moore Jr. in his posthumous book Moral Purity and Persecution in History. The only antidote against this ideological poison is the dialogue among the main religions, the reconciliation of outdated ideologies, the approach of faith and reason as two great experiences of the human race, and the overall commitment to equality, social integration and fighting poverty. There won’t be peace without inclusive dignity and tolerance between different lifestyles.
The first steps towards a better world
In the midst of the clamor and confusion disseminated by the massive but usually shameful media, other attitudes are emerging, to which we adhere in this publication, believing that we are not alone, but in good company instead. Let’s reflect upon these steps since many are already taking them:
– Imagining a new economy.
– Tackling the causes of inequality.
– Strengthening independent international institutions.
– Creating independent judiciaries within and among nations.
– Encouraging the transparence of social, economic and strategic information.
– Limiting, through public international policies, the cheap distribution of commercialism and entertainment, current versions of the old Roman ‘Bread and circus’.
– Promoting interstate control of financial frenzy.
– Reorienting the animosity among groups and nations towards the real enemies we have in common: disease, extreme inequality, destitution, corruption, human trafficking and environmental destruction.
The social and ideological movements that carry these banners (and other similar ones) are and will be the true prophets first and craftsmen later of a different world that won’t be glorious or proud, but simply and humbly better.