July 25, 2001
It is tempting to have a sneaking admiration for the "anti-globalization" protesters who assembled in Genoa, Italy to protest the leaders of the world's industrialized nations meeting at their G-8 summit over the weekend. They showed up and they took the spotlight from the pompous blowhards who lead the countries that industrialized long before this pack of mediocrities crawled up the slippery political poles in their respective countries.
One may deplore some of the tactics and note the possibility that some of the more violent were there more for the violence than for anything resembling a coherent political agenda though that handy media spin might not be quite accurate. And in combination with previous protests in Seattle and elsewhere, they seem to have forced the floating crap game diplomats are pleased to call the "international community" to change its ways. According to the London Daily Telegraph, the decision to hold a scaled-down meeting next year in a fairly isolated resort in Alberta rather than in Canada's capital of Ottawa was made in part to discourage demonstrators.
So give them that much and congratulate them on bringing out British Prime Minister Tony Blair's pomposity and vacuity in nicely revealing ways. He was practically sputtering at this affront to the vaunted dignity of the assembled top capos of the world's megastates According to the Telegraph, Blair was "visibly angered" that anarchist protesters (the Telegraph's description, not Blair's) had "hijacked" the summit.
"So these guys can come and riot, and we the democratic leaders should conclude from that that we should never meet again," the PM lamented. To let these ragtag protesters force the great and powerful denizens of Oz to abandon their cozy little summits would be "to stand the whole principle of democracy on its head," said the estimable Mr. Blair.
Well, isn't that special? But maybe it's not quite what the voters of the respective countries had in mind when they considered the even less palatable alternatives and put these folks in office.
To be sure, each of the leaders was elected in his own country. But that election was not necessarily a blanket endorsement of participation in informal international forums. The voters in most countries probably accept as inevitable that their elected leaders will globe-trot and make vapid pronouncements that feed their own personal sense of self-importance. But national elections hardly ever turn on performance at summits.
It would be interesting if somebody in some country ran for office making an ironclad pledge that he wouldn't take part in the international floating crap game and would stick to domestic issues. But no candidate is likely to do that. Let's face it, going to international meetings is kinda fun, and sometimes even useful in bolstering one's stature when things aren't going too swimmingly at home.
However, to move from the reality that most voters resignedly accept that their leaders will do mildly embarrassing things at international meetings to believing that the voters have given the leaders a firm and unshakable mandate to hold ever more pretentious international confabs is quite an intellectual stretch even for Tony Blair. The fact that the demonstrators pushed Mr. Blair to make his sense of self-importance and dignity so obvious must count as a feather in their cap.
The general notion that it isn't a bad idea to create problems and inconveniences when the world's political leaders want to get together, make plans to oppress their people more efficiently and feed their own senses of self-importance is also commendable. International summit meetings can easily devolve into meeting for the sake of meeting rather than for anything substantive.
And there's simply no question that a sneaking suspicion that when political leaders get together the agenda is more likely to be about enhancing their own power than disinterested concern for the poor is more likely to be justified than not. And there's little doubt that globalization, in some sense or another, is one of the key issues of the post-Cold War world.
That said, much of the visible opposition to "globalization" as expressed on the streets when leaders get together is misplaced, confused or both. Increasing globalization, in the sense of increased international trade, commerce and contact made possible by improvements in technology, transportation and communication, is as close to inevitable as anything can be.
The question is whether globalization will be controlled by international bureaucrats with little accountability or built from the bottom up through trade and other voluntary activities.
In the July 9 issue of the conservative magazine National Review, former editor John O'Sullivan (who is often a reasonably good observer and analyst even when one disagrees with his conclusions) suggested that the new alignment of the political stars is becoming apparent. His comments are worth pondering.
"Today's battle is not a battle between Left and Right, or between nationalists and internationalists," O'Sullivan thinks, "or even between libertarians and egalitarians, although debates are sometimes expressed in those terms." Instead, he sees three main contenders for power:
"1. A new international governing class of lawyers and bureaucrats who seek to impose a more or less uniform social and economic regulation on all countries." (Think EU bureaucrats in Brussels, employees of most UN agencies, French President Jospin and most other Eurocrats.)
"2. Those who resist the spread of such all-encompassing regulation because they believe in market competition, national sovereignty, independent social agency, moral self-regulation or all four."
O'Sullivan includes President Bush in this group, along with Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi and most of the central and eastern European leaders whose countries endured Soviet domination. I have my doubts about Bush, who is looking more and more like a captive of the permanent interventionist bureaucracy in the State Department, and would add the Irish voters who recently rejected EU centralism.
Finally, O'Sullivan speaks of the third group: "A vanguard revolutionary party that would like to impose total regulation immediately and drag down the mighty from their penthouses" people like Ralph Nader, Maxine Waters and most of the protesters at Seattle, Gothenburg and Genoa. But he maintains that the third groups actually feeds the power of the first group rather than achieving anything tangible for workers or poor people. Their hostility to what they view as international capitalism which some would describe as international political institutions seeking to contain and rein in capitalism can lead them to be suspicious of trade, as such.
Protesters whose hostility to what they view as international capitalism includes opposition to what they mistakenly believe is free trade but is actually politically managed trade have picked the wrong target. Trade liberates. Control by unaccountable, unelected international bureaucrats does the opposite.
On a somewhat different (though related) topic, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised most observers Monday by holding an apparently friendly meeting and announcing at least a tentative agreement that development of a missile-defense system by the United States will be tied to consultations on reducing the two countries' arsenals of offensive missiles. What's going on here?
It could be that President Bush has pulled off something of a diplomatic coup, showing unexpected finesse at defusing international opposition to the idea of a US missile defense system. It could be that Russian objections to such a system have been overblown. Or it could be that both leaders found a way for their countries to enter a face-saving agreement to do what they planned to do anyway.
Many commentators, especially in the self-satisfied US media, had expected more intransigence from the Russians, noting that signing a friendship pact with China last week positioned Russia to dig in its heels to resist what it is said to view as US efforts to maintain "hegemony" in the post-Cold War world. The international intelligence Web site Stratfor.com noted in its Monday update that the only thing that might persuade Putin to acquiesce in missile defense would be a de facto recognition that the former Soviet empire is still part of Russia's legitimate sphere of influence.
John Malott, president of the Orange County World Affairs Council, told me he thought such a concession was unlikely. Most countries are more interested in influencing their neighbors than in countries halfway around the world, he said, but the US is unlikely to recognize spheres of influence, which most policy-makers view as an artifact of 19th century balance-of-power diplomacy.
Mr. Malott said both leaders may be partially in the grip of a "conviction that personal relationships really matter" in international affairs. But while friendship can be significant, fundamental issues and concerns eventually trump personal warmth in international relations, he said.
So what fundamental concerns might have led to such an agreement?
Ted Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy at the libertarian Cato Institute, suggested that "the underlying reality is that Russia doesn't have the resources or the will to counter an American missile defense system with a serious offensive missile buildup" if President Bush, as seems likely, is truly determined to build one.
So Mr. Putin got what seems to be a concession on US offensive missile reduction and found a reason to destroy Russian missiles whose reliability is questionable and whose maintenance has become more a nuisance than a source of real power. Meantime, the United States (which had been talking about even deeper mutual missile reductions during the Clinton administration) will be giving up missiles it doesn't really need or want either.
Carpenter thinks NATO expansion will pose a greater challenge to Russian notions about its sphere of influence than missile defense. "If President Bush goes lukewarm on bringing Ukraine and the Baltic countries into NATO that might suggest an informal quid pro quo," he said. But he doubts there is one, and thinks missile defense is simply a higher priority for the president than is NATO expansion.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is expected to visit Moscow soon to work out plans for further US-Russian talks on missile deployment. Perhaps then we will get a clearer picture of the real goals of the two leaders.
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