Our geopolitical present is characterized by a pluri-lateral disorder, a new series of cracks between and within many countries, and armed conflicts everywhere.  In the face of great collective challenges, such disorder is suicidal.

Quoted a thousand times, the phrase with which Leo Tolstoy’s great novel Anna Karenina begins reads: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  In geopolitics, we could say the same about diverse countries in terms of different indices of human development, productivity, popular satisfaction, and sustainability.

In this group, the “happy” form a small group of countries ( with some common characteristics.  I will cite a few without pretending the list to be exhaustive: Costa Rica, Denmark, Slovakia, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland, Uruguay. The inclusion in the group shows sins of omission and always has a subjective bias, but there are certain characteristics that they all share (

The first one is their size.  They are all small countries.  Their population ranges from 3,500,000 (Uruguay) to 5,838,000 (Denmark).  Most contain an average population of 5 and a half million. For comparison, Greater Buenos Aires has a population of approximately 15 million people.

The second shared characteristic is social cohesion, with ethnic and historical antecedents that resulted until recently in a basic consensus on national identity, in a lower inequality coefficient than that of other countries, in a social safety net, and in following the rules in the alternation of power with democratic participation.

This basic consensus, or if the reader prefers, a regulated dissent, produces the third characteristic in common: sustainability in economic and social development. 

The fourth feature in common is the mixture of state and market in doses that improves the respective performance of these supposedly opposing models. 

The fifth common characteristic seems somewhat less positive, but I think it is fundamental, namely strategic marginality.  Faced with the great powers, or even the medium-sized ones, these countries do not count in the great disputes of world power.  Moreover, in some cases this marginality is convenient to the great powers that sometimes use them as oases of tranquility and conversation.  The paradigmatic case is Switzerland, which for many decades maintained an interested neutrality (partly as a financial haven) in the center of Europe.  The other is Finland, which during long decades of the Cold War functioned as a “neutral buffer” between the capitalist world and the communist world.  This privileged position (in the good sense of the word) allows them to mediate or lead by example on issues of common interest to humanity. A country like Norway has repeatedly hosted peace negotiations in conflict zones around the world.

In short, despite the difficulties that like any country they may face, these small countries have immense soft power: they inspire more respect and trust than the main powers, and function as a “utopian” horizon for many of them.  Can we use them as a model to imitate or adapt for the countries “that count”?  I am skeptical about that.

The exceptionality and privilege of this small group have always been threatened by power disputes between the greatest. Only those who have built a strong civil society and an inherited institutional strength (path dependency) resisted.

During the Cold War, many small countries fell into the orbit of the larger ones and could not or did not know how to resist their domination. In the Western world, the most tragic case was that of the Central American countries, with the perhaps fortuitous exception of Costa Rica, whose human development was not impeded by the anti-communist obsession of the United States. The US “refrained” from intervening and suppressing the middle-class revolution of 1947 with its highly positive results of land reform and the elimination of the armed forces as a factor of power.  This was not the case with the other countries in the region where U.S. domination had disastrous results.  For example, it is enough to cite the tragedy of Guatemala.  In the absence of abstention on the part of the neighboring superpower, there could be no democratic resilience and thus these small countries entered the maelstrom of revolution and repression.  Only in Cuba did a revolution triumph, but at the price of sheltering under the other superpower. The opposite and symmetrical case occurred in Eastern Europe, on the periphery of the Soviet Union, with the notable exception of Finland and the partial and temporary exception that was the former Yugoslavia. In other latitudes the smaller or weaker countries were the subject of proxy wars between the great powers.

The Cold War ended with the collapse and disintegration of one of the two great powers: the Soviet Union.  For a little more than a decade, the United States was the only surviving superpower, at the center of what was called globalization.  This was characterized by the dominance of neo-liberalism at all costs, which nevertheless had paradoxical effects.  The most important were, in geopolitical matters, the launching of asymmetric wars of choice by the United States, military interventions that were without exception a failure and that instead of consolidating its military dominance, weakened it.  Second, the same extension of neo-liberal capitalism promoted the accelerated development of China and the deindustrialization of the US.  That historic moment, called chimerica, ended up creating a new great rival.  Indeed, China has become the second great power (and candidate to be the first) by combining savage capitalism with the single-party, communist state.  In my view, such a combination is not sustainable in the long term, but in the medium term it has produced a great rival for a United States that is divided and relatively paralyzed. 

The countries that were in the stable orbit of the great powers were “freed” but being adrift, with also paradoxical results: on the one hand, a series of failed states (e.g., Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela), and on the other, the emergence of new intermediate powers: Iran, Turkey, and India among the most notorious. 

Thus, our geopolitical present was born, characterized by a pluri-lateral disorder, a new series of cracks between and within many countries, and armed conflicts everywhere. In opposition to multilateralism (promoted by some intermediate powers such as Australia, Canada, Switzerland and the Nordic countries) pluri-lateralism is an “every man for himself”. If we look back, we cannot avoid a nostalgic reflection: the futures of our past are nothing like the present that we have been given. Among the armed conflicts, stands out a new cold war between Russia and the US (both decadent) that is a grotesque caricature of the old Cold War, with Ukraine as cannon fodder and the probability of a partial and/or total nuclear war[1].

Our present period is profoundly and extensively reactionary, if by this term we indicate the efforts, both within many countries and among them, to go backwards (internally neo-fascism, and externally war) in a retrospective delirium that condemns them to failure, and without the emergence for the moment of an alternative of a more rational and alternative world order.  The worst consequence of this disorder is the impotence of each and every one of us together in the face of environmental and demographic challenges that put the human species in existential danger.

[1] The American war machine has been strengthened by this new symmetrical conflict, with juicy benefits for the military-industrial complex.

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