Is it globalization, or a global hegemony? – Naseer Aruri

Globalisation Cartoon

Dr. Naseer AruriGlobalization and the Search for a New Foreign Policy Consensus

American foreign policy elites are being challenged to embrace a new vision of a world order and determine the US role in that order now and beyond, into the new millennium. A search has been underway since 1989 for an intellectual rationale for a new American global role in post-cold war conditions. A national security doctrine based on anti-communism would have to be replaced, now that the pretext for the unprecedented level of a militarized U.S foreign policy has disappeared. This has been going on despite a decided shift in public opinion towards things domestic.

If there is a consensus emerging from the raging arguments, it is that the phenomenon of globalization is setting the pace, not only for America’s global role, but for the entire world as well. The globalization thesis is being promoted as a new, inclusive and integrative force. It is becoming a powerful ideological tool to contain and suppress nationalist and oppositional movements around the world, in much the same way as these forces were kept under pressure during the Cold War. Today, however, the anti-Soviet, anti-nationalist weapon is being replaced by the seemingly benign tool of “free trade.” Today’s penetration targets not only the natural resources of what was called the third world, but also the markets, human resources and the ever-growing newly-created consumers. The term ascribed to this new phase of capitalist accumulation and colonization is the non-threatening and rather benign “globalization.” In reality, globalization has never ceased to be integral to the process of capitalist development. As a process, it represents mobility of investment capital in pursuit of cheap, docile labor in stable environments. The state, in fact, has to some degree been reduced to the role of finding and assuring favorable business opportunities for its corporations.

The proponents of globalization posit that the most important post-cold war dichotomy is that of integration versus fragmentation. Thus again, the world is seen through the prism of the good versus the evil, with globalization representing the satisfaction of economic needs, removal of trade barriers in pursuit of upward movement and freedom form want.

The forces of integration are presumed to be those global institutions of management of the economy, environment and politics. Although these institutions have been in existence throughout most of the Cold War period, their functions have been revised and their missions broadened. They are the defacto tools of global governance in this unipolar world. They include GATT, the World Trade Organization(WTO), the Security Council, the World Bank and the IMF, among others. NAFTA, APEC, the EU, and the G-7 are among the regional instruments which perform their duties in synchronization with the global institutions. Together, they are touted as the instruments of “integration” and homogenization which can be counted upon to counter the global forces of “fragmentation.” The latter are invariably defined as populist nationalists, Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism and ethnic rivalries.

Management of the economy and keeping the peace to assure stability are said to be entrusted to these global and regional institutions, depending on what is at stake. And herein lay our central question: How does the United States, as the lone surviving super power, define its new role in this process of globalization? How does it allocate its economic, diplomatic and military resources on behalf of this overarching goal of “integration?” By the same token, how does it allocate the same resources to combat the forces of “fragmentation?” When does it step into the quagmire and when does it overlook the infractions?

Business Leads the Way, Again

Just as in post-1945, when the US was in a position of military and economic ascendancy, today after the collapse of the USSR, the US is in a similar position, while Japan and Europe are struggling to come out of recession. The new hegemony is anchored in the world’s largest economy which keeps growing, in an unprecedented military superiority and leadership in global information technology. US present hegemony is therefore based on military and economic power. Economic power derives from the acceleration of globalization, in which the US provides key leadership in:

a) promoting free trade,

b) setting standards for delivery of information.

The dominant role in that process has been carried out by business, which has been undergoing restructuring since the 1980’s-consolidation through mergers and acquisitions, and downsizing in the name of efficiency, as efficiency is being recognized as a motor of growth. A US business model which had guided foreign policy in the post -1945 period was later sharpened and fine-tuned during the Reagan period, whose landmarks were deregulation, privatization, free trade. US free enterprise was setting the pace for US foreign policy, which itself began to assume the mission of internationalizing privatization. i,e. redistributing wealth in favor of the rich and mighty. The export of Reaganism was thus a significant step towards globalization.

The supermarket approach to business has widened the gap between rich and poor in the US by promoting centralization of resources and concentration of wealth through consolidation. Meanwhile the thrust of hyper-industrialization(the upsurge of the service sector), and proliferation of “thinking products,” i.e., software, movies, books, music, have created de-industrialization. The process of de-industrialization has gone furthest in the U.S. Where by the early 1990s, industry accounted for only 29.2 per cent of GNP compared to 38.7 per cent and 41.8 per cent in Germany and Japan, respectively. Knowledge-based industries, requiring skills and training rather than formal education, have accelerated the process of de-industrialization.

It is the US business model of the 80’s which is being advanced by U.S. foreign policy elites as the way to the future. It might be said that through globalization, this institutionalization of business values in public policy was extended abroad, going back to the early period of the cold war, when US foreign policy was promoting these values in the name of countering the Soviet “Threat.” That “threat” amounted to nothing more than an ideological counter to spread these business values to the third world, which was somehow seen as up for grabs. The values, guided by US foreign policy, were used to under gird what was generally known as national security–realistically defined in economic (corporate) interests, but publicly proclaimed in military/strategic terms, i.e., the Soviet “Threat.” In that regard, the phrase “free trade” was a euphemism for US economic penetration of the global south (the third world) which constituted the strategic goal of thwarting the movement of decolonization. Likewise, non-alignment, as a form of national self-assertion was opposed as a phenomenon favoring the USSR. The United Nations General Assembly was also portrayed by the U.S. pejoratively as a debating forum for anti-Western leaders, and was demonized as a hotbed of third world radicalism. Likewise, the 1970’s drive for a new economic world order was ridiculed as a misguided attempt to impose an international welfare program for the poor, at variance with the sacred principles of free enterprise and market regulation. The impetus for the concept of a new information world order during the 1970s was also condemned as a form of censorship, at variance with the presumed Western tradition of free press and free expression.

Much of that US opposition to decolonization and its variants during the Cold War was actually prompted by the desire to promote these business values in international relations. Moving the world toward hard-edged capitalism was the goal of US foreign policy after 1945, but the term globalization, which sums up that process, had not been coined yet. Today, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and as the US embarks on a second era of world hegemony, the goal remains the same, except that globalization has emerged as a benign label for the same goal. “Free trade” and the “free flow of oil” from the Middle East were expressions which provided a rationale for post-1945 penetration. They are still providing a similar rationale for post-cold war, and post-gulf war penetration. It is a change in vocabulary but not in the substance. The difference is that the post-cold war hegemony is more fierce and potentially more ruinous, yet seemingly gentle because it is couched in benevolent terms. It is also more damaging due to the absence of a counter-balance. The Soviet Union had been dissolved and the third world is immersed in debt and lies conquered for the time-being.

The Equation of Power and Purpose: A Benevolent Global Hegemony

The two elements which provided a rationale for post-1945 and post-Cold War U.S. penetration (free trade and free flow of oil from the Middle East) have been consistently portrayed by U.S. foreign policy elites as the equivalent of national security. The question however, is: Are they sufficient to maintain a new foreign policy consensus without being linked to some kind of a threat and a national purpose, that would rally the American public? The existence of a “threat” had galvanized a rather diverse American society. Today, the “national purpose” is not as clear, and the “threat” is hardly discernible; yet there is a preponderance of power and an overwhelming feeling of victory. Herein lay the paradox and the challenge to rearrange the equation of power and purpose. A number of scholars and strategic specialists have produced literature which yields some important conclusions about the new role and the relationship between power, threats, and purpose.

There is hardly anything new in the attempt to find the foreign devil; in the 1950’s it was communism, and the Soviet Union, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the new demons are Islam and Confucianism, which translate to the Arab/Muslim world and China. As is well-known, that was the result of Samuel Huntington’s initial search to pinpoint the enemy. Four years later (November 1997), however, Huntington revised his thesis. He now concludes that “Islamic Fundamentalism is too diffuse and too remote geographically,” to constitute the principal threat to Western civilization. He turns inward and discovers that the culture of diversity in the United States has become the newest threat to American society.After all The Census Bureau of the U.S. Commerce Department has estimated that by the year 2050, the ‘white’ population in the U.S. will decrease from 75 to 53 percent of the total population.

At a conference co-sponsored by the Carnegie endowment and the World Policy Institute, comprising 25 scholars and foreign policy luminaries (April 11-12 1997), Huntington lamented that we are “in a position where, unlike in the cold war, when our major problem was to develop the power to support our purposes in the world, now our major problem is to develop the purpose to guide our power.”

Other writers are not as uncertain as Huntington about what to do with American power. Somehow, the world needs America’s “benevolent global hegemony,” we are told by conservative commentators William Kristol and Robert Kagan (Foreign Affairs Summer 1997). The maintenance of American military strength has been a favorite theme of influential writers, scholars, and commentators, who would argue that, even if such a force is not used, the credible threat to use it would be sufficient in itself to compel good behavior on the part of would-be detractors. Joshua Muravchik writes in a new book that a more forceful America could generate “more accommodating behavior from other states who know that they have little to fear or distrust from a righteous state.” Similarly, the Israeli-American strategist, Edward Luttwak, told the Carnegie conference (April 11-12 1997); “the challenge lies in making others believe that the united States will actually use force when its interests are involved.” He claimed that “the perception of American military superiority would prevent military buildups by other states and thus promote the cause of democracy.”

What is really interesting about the current discourse is a curious connection between democracy, free markets, and the use of force. It almost seems that noblesse oblige is being revived at the close of the 20th Century, with the notion that opening markets for American investments constitutes a civilizing mission that also brings democratic ideas and a healthy respect for human rights. And just as the concept was sustained by military force during the 18th and 19th centuries, American force is now kept in reserve as guardian of globalized capital–to intimidate the defiant, to punish dissidents and to underwrite the profits made in the name of free trade. Just as the foreign policy theorists conceptualized the post-World War II policy of containment in terms of a mission, supposedly “not chosen” by the United States, but was somehow “incumbent” upon it; today’s intellectuals emphasize a similar obligation. In their quest for military ascendancy and globalized hegemony, some have even found a rationale in the Federalist Papers, which served as the basis for the American constitutional union against those who preferred a looser confederation. Professor Daniel Deudney, of the University of Pennsylvania said that the first ten of the Federalist Papers provide a “clear intellectual and moral warrant for an American effort to bring all of the democracies into union with the United States.” Charles William Maynes of the Carnegie Endowment, summed up what appears to be a consensus among the advocates of a “benevolent global hegemony,” when he discerned an economic imperative for such hegemony, consisting of promoting democracy, free markets, and human rights. He counseled US policy-makers to “use the abundant American strength in ways that will benefit the international community.” The fact that much of the world, including loyal allies, views this benevolent hegemony as a globalized arrogance seems to elude these theorists and opinion leaders.

This perspective of American power, which may be described as a form of “neo-reassertionism,” is also propounded by Orientalist scholars such as Bernard Lewis, pro-Zionist scholars such as Daniel Pipes, Fouad Ajami, Connor Cruise O’Brien, and right-wing pro Zionist journalists such as William Safire and Judith Miller of the New York Times, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer of the New Republic, among others. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that an exceedingly high proportion of the neo-reassertionists are also Zionists and advocate the ready use of American power against any type of Arab resistance to Israeli colonization and US hegemony, euphemistically described as fundamentalism and terrorism, hence “fragmentary.”

Another group of scholars who seem to have almost no impact on present U.S. policy include Yale historian Paul Kennedy, who often makes comparisons between the US in the 1990’s and Spain in the 1630’s and 40’s–two declining empires justifying intervention on grounds of “reputation.” Emphasizing the non-military dimensions, Kennedy drew up a list of ills facing the Spanish empire and now facing the American Empire: less competitive industries, a torn social fabric, archaic tax structure, rural poverty, low productivity, national indebtedness, mediocre education systems, crumbling infrastructure, decayed inner cities, and yet despite all these things, massive global commitments. Kennedy commented that the decline of American power is illustrated in the kind of military interventions whose real purpose is merely the recovery of America’s lost self esteem.

Other “declinists” include Christopher Layne of The Cato Institute, who perceived the display of military strength during the 1991 war against Iraq as a facade masking economic weakness and social decay. He wrote: The Cold War’s end ought to have been a paradigm-shifting event that triggered a fundamental reappraisal of US foreign policy. The outbreak of the Gulf War aborted the new debate about US foreign policy. The danger now is that…the costs and consequences of America’s world policeman role will be insulated from scrutiny.

Thus while declinists urge a long over-due debate as well as cost-cutting, the dominant group of neo-reassertionists argue for expanded global governance, not by multilateral arrangements and genuine international institutions, of course, but through multilateralized US intervention, and U.S.-dominated institutions such as the World Bank, the I.M.F., the G-7, and the World Trade Organization(WTO). But as America’s ability to secure multilateralized cover for its military interventions declines, as demonstrated presently in Iraq , the hawkish intellectuals (known as neo-reassertionists) and Clinton’s strategists will increasingly push unilateral intervention. A trigger happy U.S populace and mainstream press revealed their inclinations in 1997 when seven out of ten Americans favored US military action against Iraq. Editorialist and Op-Ed writers exercised no restraint when calling for the use of American force. Meanwhile, the ongoing debate seems to be limited to policy-oriented intellectuals, strategists, and governmental as well as corporate elites, leaving the wider public at the periphery in a society which professes to be pluralistic and democratic , which prides itself on free discussion. That debate clearly favors the militaristic approach and the arrogance of power.

› Professor Naseer Aruri  (1934–2015) was  Chancellor Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. He had been a member of the Board of Directors of Amnesty International-USA, Human Rights Watch-Middle East, and the International Institute for Criminal Investigations affiliated with the International Criminal Court at The Hague. 

One Response

  1. […] Is it globalization, or a global hegemony? The United States versus The World – Naseer Aruri […]


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