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Conflict Down South


<--I know that posting has been light, I'm sure your managing without me, bit busy with life in general and finding blogging quite difficult. Fear not, I'm sure I'll be nice and regular again soon, where did i leave that Andrews??...-->

Continuity or change is perhaps the most perplexing question one could ask of today's global system. Are the events of our time simply more of the same, or do they represent a break and/or progress on what was before? That deep and profound question is one that has been continually nagging at my brain as I persist in blogging about the growing activity of states outside the traditional west in shaping our system.
Ample evidence exists to support both positions above, there are all the signs that little has changed in the era of the state, many realists would argue that it is as it always has been. Perhaps with a great deal of weight to back up their argument. Yet many are lead to conclude that power is moving, power relations are taking on a new dimension and aura, that the map of the international system since 1945 is getting reworked incrementally.
I hear you groan in front of your screens and wonder what in the name of cheezus am I talking about. Well, many of you are aware of my intermittent posts on the high profile activity of the Chinese and the growing awkward squad that is assembling around them.
Not unusually, the internet is willing to furnish two more article which suggest that there is something moving about in the world, and it isn't Jihadis.
Many on the left are never slow to call a revolution and ask questions later, especially regarding Latin America or Africa. Just look at Naomi Klein in today's guardian, as soon as one sniffs the potential for revolt it inevitably becomes hostage to ideology.
There are two separate yet connected points of interest which prompted this post, the first is the inevitable coverage of what may or may not take place in Argentina over the coming days and the more important long term implications for international affairs and order in the system. The second is the perhaps less well covered discussions on the WTO summit in December.
In true Irish fashion, I'll work backwards. The WTO story is a fascinating example of a newly emerging consciousness in the global system. The G33 group of poor countries have made the whole round of negotiations thus far a very difficult experience, what used to be fait accompli backroom deals secured by major powers and rubber stamped by summits are now more fractious affairs where the whole system of global trade is tugged in 100-odd different directions before states agree anything. When the EU and the US made some concessions at the start of this month regarding farm subsidies, many hoped it would help remove the logjam that has descended on negotiations since the dawn of the Doha round.
Yet any hopes have been dispelled by a belligerent response from the G33 group of developing nations, formed to safe-guard the their interests in certain special agricultural products vital for their local economy.
The disruption arises over the attempt to remove special provisions in WTO agreements regarding the place of such special products, in view of the unequal position of the poor states versus the rich. While much room could be devoted to the ins and outs of agricultural trade negotiations, I am neither qualified to keep you enthralled in such nor is it the purpose of this post. What interests me is a section toward the end of the article cited above, representing the positions of the poor countries;

"For its part, the ACP bloc declared last week that it "is not willing to accept a fait accompli in the negotiations."

The group expects to be closely involved in all consultations, especially those related to the formula for tariff reductions and other aspects of the market access pillar, it stressed."

The entire process for reaching WTO agreements thus, revolving around the opinion of primarily G8 countries and affiliated bodies, and often seen as observing the interests of the few, are being challenged from the very foundation. The status-quo is being challenged no matter which side of the argument one stands on. The role of the US and her allies in forming international policy and presenting it to institutions for a rubber stamping, is a process that looks to be on its way out. Perhaps, as I said earlier many on the left are always willing to cry 'revolution'. This however is no revolution, it is something toward which many in the global sphere strive, a pluralistic and nearly democratic attempt to facilitate all interests and consult all actors before reaching agreement.

The principle upon which we have built domestic society in the west, may finally be imposing itself on a small corner of the international system. From the article it seems that this mass representation, supporting a variety of states and a spectrum of interests, can be linked back to US policy itself.
Many are aware that those in the international sphere who kick up fuss, can expect a call from US diplomats and the carrot/stick approach to relieving logjam was mostly effective. However it is that policy, which has forced the states to form blocs to represent their interests superseding their own national interest and globalising certain priorities.

"The African and Caribbean delegates have been very angry, which is why they have put out their own proposal," said Aileen Kwa, an activist from the Bangkok-based non-governmental organisation Focus on the Global South.

Negotiators from these nations prefer to speak as a bloc, keeping a low individual profile, noted Kwa. "If they make a lot of noise, then they get calls from Washington. That is the political reality."

So what, well the machinery of the international system has undoubtedly been the preserve of industrial nations since its inception at the end of World War 2. From the UN security council down, much of the international order bore the hallmarks of post-war deals. Change in the manner of doing business has been resisted for a multitude of reasons, whatever your hue you've an argument on reform of the global system.
The positions of some groups seem internally conflicted. Direction is lacking, however on a broader view, it seems clear that many states are sensing an opportunity to actively shape the latest round of talks. The whiff of effectiveness is organising states along differing positions, debate and negotiation are taking far longer than the traditional mode of securing WTO agreement. For progressives and democrats everywhere, the belief in pluralistic decision making, based on agreement, compromise and the rights of every member to a say, is to be welcomed.
The other trend coming from the WTO talks is that the industrial states are having their authority questioned by large groups of states from across the world. This trend seemingly is being reflected in Argentina. Presence of football superstars aside, the traditional protests which travel alongside Air Force One are not the only people questioning the U.S. Latin America seems more disengaged from the regional and global superpower than at any moment in recent history. As Briscoe points out in the article above, much of this is done with the ascent of a U.S. administration focused elsewhere. Its a far cry from the ruthless enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine as a primary plank in U.S. foreign policy.
It is again trade-liberalisation which looks set to be the casualty of attempts on U.S. dominance.
Latin America is populate with a number of thorny leaders, some elected on explicitly anti-U.S. platforms and by default opposed to the FTAA agreements and its ilk. However again, both left and right will come down on their own sides of the argument irrespective of what I might say, the point of this post is to highlight the manner in which the sheen has come off U.S. and Western 'soft power'. The ability of the west to gain compliance with its interests may turn out to be the biggest casualty of the current malaise in U.S. policy at home and abroad.
This paragraph from the OpenDemocracy article above sheds light on the thinking of the Bush team;

"In his re-election campaign four years later, mentions of the continent, free-trade areas or the cherished bonds with Mexico were absent. The only remaining sites of genuine United States strategic interest had become those perceived to mirror the diagnosis of a middle-eastern security threat: Colombia, where military and anti-narcotic funding is on the rise; Venezuela, rich in oil and governed by a “radical populist” president; and Cuba, largely because Florida remains a swing state."

To suggest that the U.S has taken its eye of the ball is to do a major disrespect to the very intelligent men in areas of the administration, however a preoccupation with the War on Terror and the manner in which troops are tied up in a very demanding Iraq has left much of the rest of the world to get on with things, forging alliances and acting free from interference in most things. The emergence of China, its support for some actors in Latin America and the more vocal opposition to the U.S. looks to be the manifestation of something most of the world seems to be feeling currently.
The urge to free association, following ones own national interest, especially if it contravenes neo-liberal logic and shouting about the 'evil' U.S. It is not just the U.S. who should be worried, anywhere above one read U.S. it could/should have just as easily read 'the West'. There is no communist threat behind this emergence of counter-opinion. There many be the spectre of China in certain areas, Russia in others but it seems that the geopolitical setup that existed at the turn of the century, before 9/11, with its balance of power and institutional mechanisms, may be changing.
Is it continuity within the system? A brief divergence from the norm before the West takes the initiative and reenforces its will at the final moments? Or is it a lasting move away from central pressure on national leaders? Toward change or back to the same?
Its a dilly of a pickle, Ned, and the answer affects all things from Iraq to Poverty. The ability of the world to make decisions in the interest of everyone may be a long way off, but what is happening in Geneva and in Argentina seem to be exceptional.
Is the West losing its power to force acquiesence? Or is it simple freeing up the leash a little? Doubtless none of this is some conscious plan, merely the unfolding of events dear boy. Where does the road lead? For once it is unclear.

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