December 3, 2006
History's End, History's Beginning
In the National Journal, Paul Starobin examines what might come after US hegemony has run its course. He develops four scenarios. The first, perhaps related to this previous post, is chaos, which he describes in three flavors: a new Dark Ages; a regional Dark Ages, where the West stagnates while the rest of the world advances; and a decentralized hegemony of sorts, for which he channels Thomas Friedman:
"I think we are just at the beginning of many polarities," Friedman said. This is a happy version of chaos -- in which everyone, as Friedman notes, can be his or her own uploader of video on the Web site YouTube. This world would be not a Hobbesian nightmare but a garden of libertarian delight, a power vacuum that nature would not abhor but embrace, in which the political equivalent of the butterfly effect would become the rule. (In the butterfly effect, the beating of an insect's wings in, say, Lima, helps determine the weather in Beijing.)Another alternative is a "Multipolar Realignment," basically a new term for the balance of power politics that characterized Europe from Napoleon's defeat until 1914. This time though, it would involve the whole world.
Thinking about chaos in this fashion can stand geopolitical orthodoxy on its head. Thus, the standard idea that a state or group of states needs to guard the oil lanes is dismissed by some analysts as an anachronistic fixation of control freaks. Oil shipments do not require the protection of military power any more than trade in computer parts does, Ivan Eland, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, a libertarian think tank, likes to argue.
The third scenario is "The Chinese Century," which needs little elaboration. "Control of the world would pass from an aggressively idealistic values empire to a supremely pragmatic mercantile one." But there's a silver lining: "The good news for America, if the Chinese Century comes to pass, is that a values-neutral Beijing presumably would let America govern itself as it wants." Well, there's always that to look forward to.
The final scenario is inaptly named. Starobin calls it "World Government" but he paints two starkly different pictures of such a development:
The prospect for World Government (yes, the capital letters are important, because we capitalize the names of nation-states) is an organic one. The idea is not that tweedy-pants diplomats will convene amid canapes in Geneva and lift a glass of Pouilly-Fuisse to a global sovereign to which the great powers have bequeathed their nuclear weapons in the interest of Perpetual Peace. The idea is that the seeds of World Government are already in the soil of world politics and will of their own accord blossom as America loses its grip on its hegemon role. And it will thus be World Government -- not a coming Chinese Century or a new Multipolar Balance -- that keeps order.But then, after having painted a picture of an organic, networked government -- not that different really from the decentralized hegemony that Friedman elicits -- Starobin returns to the EU as a model, which is a long way from organic, networked, or decentralized.
"Global governance is here," Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, argues in her 2004 book "A New World Order." How so? The key concept is "global networks." According to Slaughter, "Terrorists, arms dealers, money launderers, drug dealers, traffickers in women and children, and the modern pirates of intellectual property all operate through global networks." But "so, increasingly, do governments," she asserts:"Networks of government officials -- police investigators, financial regulators, even judges and legislators -- increasingly exchange information and coordinate activity to combat global crime and address common problems on a global scale. These government networks are a key feature of world order in the 21st century."Global government networks, Slaughter notes, do not yet constitute a World Government. But if the process is organic, like the growth of a redwood forest, then it could be that the networks are just the early manifestation of something destined to be quite large. Indeed, some nation-states are already ceding sovereignty to permanent supranational institutions. The International Criminal Court, established in 2002 at The Hague, is a permanent tribunal with the power to issue its own arrest warrants. America is not a signatory to the treaty that created the court -- in fact, Bush administration officials and many in Congress and elsewhere argued passionately against it -- but more than 100 other nations are. If American global clout ebbs, then such ventures could become more numerous and could acquire sharper teeth.
It may be that the E.U. model -- more than the talkathon United Nations one -- could serve as the blueprint of a future World Government. Today the euro, tomorrow the universo -- with an image of Kant on the bill? (If you think the restaurant fare is good in Brussels now, wait until it becomes the capital of the planet.) But if the E.U. precedent holds, it could take not only the end of American hegemony but also some kind of global catastrophe -- akin to World War II but on an even larger scale -- to establish a World Government with the power to enforce its own "world security" policy.
If the United States was ever an empire, it was certainly the shortest reigning one ever. Not fully "hegemonic" -- to use the phrase that world systems theorists love -- until the fall of the USSR, the belle epoque for the USA was the 1990s. What was that like? Well, someone gave me a version of 1990s Trivial Pursuit once. "A trivia game for the most trivial of decades," went the apropos marketing line. And yes, it was exceptionally boring. Only when such hegemony was challenged, in 2001 (September if memory serves) did our world leadership start its decline.
Why? Francis Fukuyama's work proclaimed an end to history just as our moment arrived. The problem though is that philosophically sound as classical liberalism and democracy might be, philosophy does not substitute for strategy. Democracy might be the greatest thing ever, but that doesn't mean men don't have to die to defend or promote it. "We hold these truths to be self-evident" wrote Jefferson. But what is obvious to us seems much less so in large parts of the globe. It might be that man does have a universal wish for freedom, but it might also be that he doesn't have any idea that this is the case. President Bush's Second Inaugural Address made this case:
America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time.No one, apparently, hears that call, or if they do, there aren't enough of them. So perhaps the American era will end, or is even in the process of ending.
What will follow? I'll put my marker at a kind of decentralized, networked world, with no hegemons for a while anyway, and in which states are just the strongest of thousands of independent actors, the rest of which will make up the long tail of transnational relations. Some time ago, the post Globalization and War posited the two points that "Globalization subverts hierarchies" and "Globalization leads to a decentralization of all aspects of human existence." Here's an elaboration of that first point:
Indeed, it is not state power that is waning, it is state power expressed in the form of bureaucracy. Globalization speeds the pace of life, of events, of the spread of ideas, of the necessity for decisionmaking. Sclerotic state bureaucracies -- and any other bureaucracies for that matter, corporate or otherwise -- can only keep up for so long. Here is where the purported loss of state power may be visible; for while organizations that are flexible and adaptable have no problem adjusting to the speed of current decision cycles, those that require reams of forms filled out in triplicate, several layers of command between action and decision, and administration by committee are the ones most likely to be found mired in scandal, backlogs, and ultimately, irrelevancy.If NGOs, private militaries, popular religious groups, multinational corporations, and the mass international media are the decentralized, networked actors characterizing the global environment that states inhabit in the 21st century, then those states that address these actors on their own terms -- as networks -- are more likely to succeed. Those that manage to decentralize and network their own agencies and bureaucracies -- to the extent that one is almost not sure where the state ends and civil society begins -- might dominate. Those that adopt the old totalitarian model may succeed in some respects, like in controlling their populations, for short periods of time. But when faced with crises, their bureaucracies and leaderships will make poor decisions, their economies will not be as robust as those in which people can do as they please, and their militaries will be slow to decide and act.
All of this might be useful as a concept for navigating the 21st century, but it should go without saying that lacking willpower to resolutely address a crisis, any state, the US included, will fall by the wayside.
Posted by Chester at December 3, 2006 8:32 PM
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Hmmm... interesting. The hallmark of the state has always been the use and monopoly of force. Perhaps the rise of "security companies" like Blackwater and Executive outcomes will be another hallmark of this new age. Perhaps communities will choose their security providers like an HMO. This is essentially what occured in Sierra Leone with the government hiring western contractors to provide security. Just take this example and blow it up to a regional level. Then you would have a number of competing security corporations that provide security, while national army's subside into something like the DHS is for US health care. To a degree this is even already happening I suppose. Much of the US Military's training and even security itself is done by private corporations. It would not be too huge of a jump to see them taking on further and further responsibilities as the liabilities of having a military in a litigious and press driven society become increasingly costly. Much to think about there...
Posted by: TZ at December 4, 2006 2:06 AM
This post is also cross-posted at Windsofchange.net if any are interested to see the discussion there.
Posted by: Chester at December 4, 2006 9:02 AM
I suppose my trouble is that I don't like any of your possibilities much. I wish we could put the empire back together.
Posted by: El Jefe Maximo at December 4, 2006 10:42 AM
Will the power of the state or the power of decentralized networks predominate in the period ahead? That question will be answered billions of tiny times, eventually summing up to the larger answer. Every day, individuals will decide whether the state, or networks, are helpful or not to their lives.
In the U.S., the power of the state was at its peak between 1935 and 1975. Since then, both the authority and the respectability of the state has decayed. If the government was to prove incompetent or incapable of delivering on basic functions and promises, for example, by allowing Social Security and Medicare to go insolvent, or egregiously failing to defend the country, or failing to prevent domestic disorder, individuals would "network" to make their own arrangements. They already do - private security firms, gated communities, home arsenals, and disaster preparations are examples. At the limit is a place like Somalia, where there is no government, only the "network."
History has always ebbed and flowed between centralized and decentralized power. The U.S. between 1935 and 1975 was a time of particularly high centralization, and thus constitutes an unusual and deceptive reference point. The rise of decentralization since then is a return to a more "normal" balance between the two poles.
And this trend has much farther to go.
Posted by: Westhawk at December 4, 2006 6:27 PM
I can see that the global jihadi movement is a decentralized network. What would a decentralized anti-jihadist network look like?
Posted by: rickl at December 4, 2006 9:07 PM
In response to what the last commenter said, putative funders and organizers of de-centralized anti-jihadist networks mostly live and function in bureaucratized and centralized traditional states.
I don't think the states will, in the short run, allow de-centralized anti-jihadist networks to operate, and they probably, for now, have the power to prevent them from organizing nad operating without a level of scrutiny and bureaucratic/judicial control that would defeat the purpose. Such networks are "not made here" and not, by their nature, subject to sufficient control by politicians, lawyers and to suasion by "public debate."
The states are in effect sacrificing efficiency and the ability to more efficiently articulate and mobilize anti-jihadist/anti-terrorist/anti-guerrilla forces in favor of a slower, more bureaucratic, more lawyer-laden, more big-gun response. The aforementined baddies can get inside of our Boyd/OODA loop every time.
Posted by: El Jefe Maximo at December 4, 2006 10:07 PM
What will be the lowest energy system state?
Applying a bit of thermodynamics to the question and looking ahead to future energy supplies, I'd expect a retreat from high globalization back to more regional and local power structures. That is predicated on a decline in global oil production and an decrease in overall EROEI (energy return on energy invested.)
There will be less energy to drive complex and inefficient overhead organizations. These structures don't pay their way and depend on subsidies.
The less free energy (money) floating around, the fewer busybodies flying around in jet airlines.
China is wisely investing heavily in energy infrastructure to prepare itself for tighter energy markets ahead.
The nation-state will probably regain primacy although weakened internally. Hopeful news for libertarians.
Posted by: Whitehall at December 5, 2006 4:08 PM