Days of Future Past – Part I

Editor’s Note. A few days ago I received an email from one of my younger brothers. While cleaning out some old files, he came across a paper which I had sent along for comment back in the spring of 1993. It was entitled At the Crossroads and had been prepared for delivery at a session of the Canadian Learned Societies on 07 June of that year.

I offer a selection of unabridged excerpts below, in hopes that readers may find them of some interest as a very early critique of the “New World Disorder”, neo-liberalism,  and what has come to be known as globalization.  For ease of handling, I have divided the post into two parts, the first of which follows:

At the Crossroads

Bubble, bubble, toil and…

These are ironic times. The end of the Cold War has lifted the pall of nuclear Armageddon, and the doomsday clock has been wound back. Yet few have felt any tangible benefits, and the work of multilateral institutions, policy analysts and decision-makers has been made immensely more complex and difficult. While the familiar patterns of behaviour imposed by the rigours of a superpower stand-off have faded from view, the outlines of the next global paradigm are only beginning to coma into perspective. The icy hand of death has slipped from the tiller, but the passage into unknown waters promises to be anything but smooth.

… trouble

The implosion of the former Soviet Union, USA retrenchment, the dominance of internal preoccupations in Europe, and the rapid emergence of Japan and its satellites presage the commencement of an erratic, tumultuous era. Angola. Afghanistan. Yugoslavia. Georgia. Somalia. Former, future, and would-be countries, some of indescribable obscurity, are convulsing in recurrent spasms of localized violence which have come to represent the primary characteristic of this unruly transition.

So much for the peace dividend. In the swirling maelstrom of the late twentieth century, we face a host of new and potent threats to international peace and security. An international leadership vacuum and epidemic public cynicism and disdain for the political process have added to the sense of uncertainty and drift.

The cauldron is boiling…

The collapse of the Berlin Wall was a powerful symbol, but the impact of that event was in important respects misleading: from the rubble has emerged a highly Euro-centric focus which has eclipsed many of the broader consequences of global re-alignment. The wider reverberations of the disintegration of the old order are beginning to be felt, and in that regard German reunification may seem, in retrospect, like the easy part. Though the recrudescence of the far right is a deeply disturbing by-product, consider the possibility that regional powers – Russia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, China – may be unable to resist to be drawn into the vortex of a disintegrating Central Asia.

What if Tajikistan and Nargorno Karabach are only the beginning? Notwithstanding that chronic instability in this area may represent a real threat to world peace, few have begun to assess the implications. For much of the Third World, the end of the Cold War means the loss of a crucial source of leverage, and that may translate into desperation as economic circumstances worsen.

… and a new table is being set

Many ethnic, religious, and communal eruptions appear to have emanated from colonial or imperial residues. In other cases the origins of contemporary violence may be impenetrably shrouded in the mists of time, vaguely millenarian, or simply no longer relevant. But the frequency and intensity of these occurrences, and the inability of the international community to do anything to stop them, have underscored the frailty and foibles of the current international dispensation. Though the need for nuanced understanding and subtle analysis has never been more acute, crucial decisions appear increasingly to be based on narrow or short-term considerations rather than careful assessment.

Governments everywhere are finding a near complete lack of domestic constituencies willing or able to act with effect in support of a reconstructed international agenda. Despite Bush’s best efforts to raise the profile of foreign policy issues during the US presidential campaign, the Clinton victory was achieved with virtually no public discussion of international affairs. This is significant. The political leadership of the world’s remaining superpower is utterly preoccupied with infrastructural renewal, health care, the social pathology of the permanent underclass, and related internal concerns, while other international actors have intensified the pursuit of their global ambitions. In North America, many are looking inward just when they should be looking out.