Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Geopolitical Anchor Around the World's Neck.

For all our wealth and sophistication, our nations still interact in ways remarkably akin to those that drove great power politics in centuries past. In OurWorld2.0, Manu Mathai warns that, unless we change and soon, the political models to which we are so tightly lashed may take us down.

...great (and aspiring) power politics is also a driver of environmental degradation. The possession of power in international relations, whether “hard”, “soft” or “smart”, is sustained in great measure by the size of a country’s GDP. And despite claims of dematerialization, GDP remains correlated to an economy’s “ecological footprint”. The tendency of countries to unceasingly pursue the accumulation of power and prestige in geopolitics is also a driver of environmental degradation.

The ongoing economic, military and diplomatic rise of China is an intended outcome of the country’s development process that is manufactured and sustained at tremendous ecological cost, to help, among other things, reclaim that country’s perceived place on the world’s stage and to assuage insults recorded in a deep national narrative of victimization during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While pointing fingers at China as an ecological predator hogging the world’s resources and polluting its air and water, it is important to remember that the country is only following in the footsteps of established powers.

Further, it is not apparent that the older powers (the United Kingdom, France and US in the West and Japan and Russia in the East) have yet matured enough to construct norms of international relations in more cooperative and less competitive terms. And neither has a newly powerful China demonstrated such willingness in its relationships, in particular and somewhat ironically, with non-perpetrators of said historical insults.

On the contrary, deeply insecure of holding onto power and privilege in a dog-eat-dog formulation of international relations, the rich world insists on growing its already gigantic economies and ecological footprints. Thus, for instance, at climate change negotiations, many developed countries balk at environmentally progressive commitments to protect their economic “competitiveness”, while big developing countries excessively assert their “development space” as an excuse to avoid potentially growth-limiting environmental commitments. A realist perspective readily rationalizes this state of affairs. But is such realism realistic on a shared and finite planet?

Despite proclamations of the virtues of efficiency and slogans of “green economy” or “green growth”, these strategies are temporary respites that can buy us time, or worse, failing brakes on a runaway train. While advocates of such strategies assert that they will “ensure that those [ecological] limits are not crossed”, the fact is that ecological limits have already been breached. A number of ecosystem attributes — the climate system and biological diversity being two easy to identify cases — already function at levels of degradation beyond anything observed in the history of the human species, and longer.

Certainly, in the case of the wealthy world, economic growth is a convenient excuse for not pursuing fairer domestic allocations of the wealth and opportunity that already exist. On the contrary, the relationship between a country’s GDP and its power in international relations is far less nuanced. The crude reality is that more wealth equals more power, and vice-versa.

In all its magnanimity and pettiness, humanity’s behaviour now registers as ecological fact. And those facts, as we know now, don’t look so good. We have “guided missiles and misguided men”, Martin Luther King lamented decades ago. Indeed, it is one thing for kings who command cavalries to behave as ecologically blind, petty realists, but it is an entirely different matter when a global civilization commanding Promethean powers behaves the same. Our politics and geopolitics have to grow up to engage this new reality.


Anyong said...

The Chinese are open to discussion to any one who is interested in their country. Why don't you take a six month vacation or more, for it really takes a year to form thoughts about China. As a Canadian, they would welcome you and there is no doubt, you would develop a different conception as to how much the Chinese do not have a mentality of wanting to "get even" for long past insults. They have choosen to be in the process of developing a more desirable attitude of trying to "rise" above what is described in your blog. For the moment though, they must be able to protect themselves from "the older powers (the United Kingdom, France and US in the West and Japan and Russia in the East) who have not yet matured enough to construct norms of international relations in more cooperative and less competitive terms." The reason North Korean has not attacked S. Korea is for the fact, both SK and China have reached a point of positive negociation. Listen to the manner in which Ban, Ki-moon, (bahn, kee-mun)speaks. I met Mr. Ban and he is exactly who he is as your hear him. The West is in a thought process heavily influenced by anxiety and fear of Asia. That is a given. Indeed, we are the people who need to learn what real negociation is about.

The Mound of Sound said...

I expect, Anyong, that, in a social context, you're quite right. That, however, is not especially useful in assessing the ongoing rivalry between China's political and military leadership or the nationalistic and hostile attitudes among the highest ranks of the military.

China's territorial aggression speaks for itself, Anyong, and its xenophobia is only being fueled by American and Indian efforts at naval containment.

Now if you have heard reassuring sentiments to the contrary from China's military planners I'd be delighted to learn of it.

Anyong said...

I am not a military person but I can say from having lived in China, the people do not appear as being vengeful. They do know what is going on in other parts of the world. When Mr. Haper was in S. Korea in 2006, he made some daming comments about China. I got asked "why Canada did not like China"? You have said it all..."its xenophobia is only being fueled by American and Indian efforts at naval containment." I am not disagreeing only iterating the Chinese are just as open to discussion as we are when approached as the example used.

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, Harper had a very hostile attitude to China but that was before China stepped up to become a major opportunity for bitumen sales. Since then Harper's loosely structured principles have flexed enormously.

Unfortunately when we discuss "the Chinese" we mistake the 1.3-billion people for the small cadre who actually run the show.

The topic of this post is the need to find a new geopolitical structure, not the congeniality of the Chinese people. I don't see signs that the Politburo remains flexible enough to consider risky changes to China's geopolitical stance. From what I have read, I think China's political leadership is as insecure as any nation's.