His­tory at a Junc­ture

Policy - - In This Issue - Jeremy Kins­man

As the world sur­veys the geopo­lit­i­cal dam­age gen­er­ated by Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency and the COVID-19 pan­demic, the com­ing months take on dis­pro­por­tion­ate im­por­tance as a hinge of his­tory. Vet­eran diplo­mat Jeremy Kins­man ex­plores the haz­ards and op­por­tu­ni­ties Canada will face.

How of­ten in these dark months have we read or said that we can’t re­vert to the pre-COVID “nor­mal”; how it pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for a bet­ter world? In The Econ­o­mist, Mar­garet MacMil­lan, called it a “junc­ture, where the river of his­tory changes di­rec­tion.” But to­ward bet­ter or worse?

Martin Wolf of the Fi­nan­cial Times warns that it’s “Rea­son­able to bet that the world which emerges on the other side of the pan­demic will be less open than the one that en­tered it.” Can na­tions trade dangerous com­pe­ti­tion for na­tional ad­van­tage for co­op­er­a­tive so­lu­tions to hu­man­ity’s chal­lenges? Can they sus­tain glob­al­iza­tion’s ben­e­fits, which lifted bil­lions from poverty, while tam­ing its harm­ful fix­a­tion on fi­nan­cial­ized profit?

Amer­ica’s re­treat un­der Don­ald Trump into tru­cu­lent neo-iso­la­tion­ism is a huge neg­a­tive. His mantra of “Amer­ica First” fans global flames of pop­ulist na­tion­al­ism, evok­ing old de­mons that caused the Sec­ond World War. His de­feat in Novem­ber won’t alone re­store the world’s co­op­er­a­tive spirit with­out ev­i­dence that in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions work ef­fec­tively in the in­ter­ests of all. More­over, it may not end the in­creas­ingly toxic ri­valry with China for global pri­macy that di­vides the world, de­fines our time, and chokes the prospects of global co­op­er­a­tion. This cru­cial fourth “junc­ture” in the last sev­enty-five years fol­lows: 1), In 1945, the cre­ation of our rules-based sys­tem; 2), In 1989, the Cold War’s end; and 3), In 2008, the fi­nan­cial sys­tem’s break­down.

Cana­di­ans re­vere the post war cre­ation of the co­op­er­a­tive rules-based sys­tem built on the ashes of the 20th cen­tury’s mur­der­ous wars un­der in­spired Amer­i­can lead­er­ship that mixed ide­al­ism and re­al­ism. While the UN Char­ter opens with “We, the peo­ples,” the United Na­tions al­ways be­longed to their sov­er­eign mem­ber-states. Most “peo­ple” had no states of their own, be­ing still colonies.

Ex-U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Dean Ach­e­son’s mem­oir Present at the Cre­ation re­minds us that UN mem­bers

“are still na­tions, and no more can be ex­pected of this fo­rum for po­lit­i­cal ad­just­ment than the sum to­tal of (their) con­tri­bu­tions.” Fast-for­ward to the politi­cized crit­i­cism of the UN’s World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion for not ex­tract­ing ad­e­quate trans­parency and com­pli­ance from China, as if the WHO failed to live up to a supra­na­tional man­date that the UN’s founders, es­pe­cially the sovereignt­y-ob­sessed U.S., never in­tended.

That wasn’t a lim­i­ta­tion when mem­ber-states were on the same page, drafted by the U.S. as the world’s un­con­tested leader, con­fi­dent in its abil­ity and re­spon­si­bil­ity to shape events, ac­count­ing for half of global GDP, hav­ing emerged from the war rel­a­tively un­scathed. Ach­e­son viewed the United States as “the lo­co­mo­tive and the rest of the world the train... that the eco­nomic as­pects (were) no less im­por­tant than the po­lit­i­cal as­pects of peace. And only the United States had the power and the pur­pose to yoke them to­gether.”

The in­ter­na­tional trade and pay­ments ecosys­tem aimed to end the “beg­gar-thy-neigh­bour” na­tion­al­ist pro­tec­tion­ism that deep­ened the Great De­pres­sion and has­tened WW II. It val­orized open mar­kets and pri­vate en­ter­prise, too much for Stalin’s USSR to rat­ify, omi­nously sig­nal­ing a di­vided world to come, but worked mir­a­cles for the in­dus­tri­al­ized West. Their economies boomed for three decades that the French de­scribe as les trente glo­rieuses.

Shun­ning dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, needs and griev­ances of the emerg­ing “global South,” whose na­tional lib­er­a­tions oc­curred over those same decades, its work­ing hy­poth­e­sis was that emerg­ing eco­nomic pow­ers— China, In­dia—would just merge into the glob­al­ized sys­tem of fi­nan­cial

Cana­di­ans re­vere the post­war cre­ation of the co­op­er­a­tive rules­based sys­tem built on the ashes of the 20th cen­tury’s mur­der­ous wars.

ized cap­i­tal­ism. But as Martin Wolf puts it, “Late­com­ers will not ac­cept dis­ad­van­tage.” Mean­while, the UN’s peace and security as­pects, the Gen­eral As­sem­bly and Security Coun­cil, were par­a­lyzed by the ide­o­log­i­cal Cold War.

Its seem­ingly mirac­u­lous, euphoric end in 1989 pro­vided the next defin­ing “junc­ture” and op­por­tu­nity to set things right. In end­ing both the Cold War and the USSR’s com­mu­nist regime for es­sen­tially moral and ide­al­is­tic rea­sons, Mikhail Gor­bachev fa­cil­i­tated the lib­er­a­tion of Eastern Europe, the fall of the Ber­lin Wall and the uni­fi­ca­tion of Ger­many. With­drawal of more than a mil­lion Soviet mil­i­tary ended its em­pire, not in de­feat, but to pur­sue a “Euro­pean com­mon home.”

Gor­bachev’s pro­ject to trans­form the con­trolled Soviet so­ci­ety and econ­omy that was un­prece­dented in scale and scope re­ceived in­ad­e­quate Western sup­port and he lost con­trol of the process and pub­lic buy-in. Pop­ulist ri­val Boris Yeltsin, who couldn’t dis­place him as Pres­i­dent of the USSR, broke the Soviet Union into 15 new au­tonomous, largely mono-cul­tural re­publics in 1991. In April 1992, Ge­orge H.W. Bush com­mit­ted the U.S. to con­trib­ute $24 bil­lion to sup­port the Rus­sian re-form pro­ject. But grants over the 10-year pe­riod from 1990 to 2000 were $5 bil­lion, or less than one year’s aid to Egypt or Is­rael at that time. Bill Clinton, whose pres­i­dency roughly co­in­cided with that of Yeltsin, un­der­stood Rus­sia de­served more help but couldn’t budge the U.S. Congress.

More­over, Western eco­nomic ad­vis­ers and in­sti­tu­tions counter-pro­duc­tively pressed for an abrupt shift to an open mar­ket econ­omy via “shock ther­apy” and “struc­tural ad­just­ment”, deep­en­ing what The New Yorker’s David Rem­nick de­scribed as “the de­struc­tion of every­day life,” as the ex-Soviet econ­omy plunged by 42 per­cent. Sadly, in Rus­sia, democ­racy and lib­er­al­ism be­came and re­main toxic words.

Bask­ing in the no­tion it had “won” the Cold War, in­gest­ing what Fran­cis Fukuyama de­clared to be “the uni­ver­sal­iza­tion of western lib­eral democ­racy as the fi­nal form of gov­ern­ment,” Western self-con­grat­u­la­tion (for Gor­bachev’s ini­tia­tive) ex­tended to the as­sump­tion that the U.S. eco­nomic model was uni­ver­sally val­i­dated. By then, the U.S. econ­omy was at one-fourth of the world’s GDP. But as Richard Cohen of the New York Times wrote, the U.S. “got used to the cen­tury be­ing theirs.”

Newly sov­er­eign states of eastern Europe and the ex-USSR ini­tially looked to “im­i­tate” Western eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sys­tems to fill the void left by the evac­u­a­tion of com­mu­nism. But need­ing be­lief-sys­tems more au­then­ti­cally “theirs,” na­tion­al­ist pop­ulist lead­ers plumbed pre-com­mu­nist pasts for old re­li­gious, tra­di­tional, and eth­no­cen­tric nar­ra­tives, re­ject­ing sec­u­lar, multi-cul­tural western lib­er­al­ism, and kick-start­ing a fix­a­tion on na­tional “iden­tity” that an­tic­i­pated its global surge to­day.

Mean­while, the pros­per­ous 90s roared ahead, fu­eled by the glob­al­iza­tion of world mar­kets and in­for­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies in­dif­fer­ent to cul­tural push­back. WTO mem­ber­ship in 2001 re­warded the ex­tra­or­di­nary rise of China, whose com­mu­nist lead­er­ship had opened up the econ­omy with­out em­brac­ing democ­racy. An emerg­ing spirit of “glob­al­ism” con­ceded a need to pool some sovereignt­y to meet trans-na­tional chal­lenges of cli­mate change and hu­man security. But it was sub­merged by the 9/11 at­tacks against U.S. pri­macy, which rad­i­cally changed the world’s agenda, thick­ened bor­ders, prompt­ing wars and waves of refugees, but with no in­ter­rup­tion of the glob­al­iza­tion of mar­kets—un­til the still un­der-es­ti­mated fi­nan­cial cri­sis of 2008 es­sen­tially killed 1989’s “one-world” be­lief in con­ver­gence, set­ting the scene for an­other “junc­ture” in world affairs.

It be­came a missed op­por­tu­nity. The world’s bank­ing sys­tem was res­cued, largely by the U.S., but not its vic­tims, sap­ping be­lief in the fair­ness of Western-driven cap­i­tal mar­kets. Even in de­vel­oped economies, re­sent­ment of glob­al­iza­tion’s down-sides that ex­ploited the vul­ner­a­ble roiled hol­lowed-out com­mu­ni­ties of peo­ple left be­hind, ac­cel­er­at­ing griev­ance-based na­tion­al­ist pop­ulism and po­lar­iz­ing elec­torates at the ex­pense of the mod­er­ate cen­tre, where com­pro­mise lives. Out­comes in­cluded Brexit and Don­ald Trump’s as­cen­dancy.

Once elected, Trump’s anti-glob­al­ist ad­min­is­tra­tion aban­doned world lead­er­ship, with­draw­ing from mul­ti­lat­eral ac­cords on cli­mate, nu­clear weapons, trade, health, and hu­man rights, and un­der­min­ing the world’s security and eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion frame­work that the U.S. had it­self cre­ated. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion uni­lat­er­ally weaponized tar­iffs even against demo­cratic al­lies in a vin­dic­tive and de­struc­tive search for com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage, re­duc­ing U.S. re­la­tion­ships to bi­lat­eral “deals.” The most im­por­tant and elu­sive would be with China.

Though Amer­ica now ac­counted for only one-sev­enth of the global econ­omy, the mind­set of U.S. global pri

Once elected, Trump’s anti-glob­al­ist ad­min­is­tra­tion aban­doned world lead­er­ship ... uni­lat­er­ally weaponized tar­iffs even against demo­cratic al­lies in a vin­dic­tive and de­struc­tive search for com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage.

macy en­dured, in­creas­ingly rat­tled by China’s spec­tac­u­lar and un­prece­dented rise. Pres­i­dent Xi’s own na­tion­al­is­tic pur­suit of grandeur and China’s his­tory of vi­o­lat­ing fair­ness re­quire­ments of mul­ti­lat­eral and bi­lat­eral trade agree­ments made the ri­valry tox­i­cally liti­gious.

In early 2020, the COVID-19 pan­demic sud­denly emerged as the next po­ten­tial defin­ing global junc­ture. As the chal­lenges and threats of cli­mate change, nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion, food security, and oth­ers loom over us, its proof of our need to co­op­er­ate across bor­ders is un­der­stood every­where ex­cept pos­si­bly the White House. But as a stress test, COVID-19 ex­posed an un­even, com­pet­i­tive, and politi­cized re­sponse, hob­bled with­out U.S. lead­er­ship that had co­or­di­nated the in­ter­na­tional ef­fort to sub­due Ebola only five years ear­lier.

The pan­demic turned coun­tries in­ward. Bor­ders mat­ter more. But if the im­pulse to re­duce vul­ner­a­bil­ity by self-suf­fi­ciency and shorter sup­ply chains oc­curs at the ex­pense of trade, eco­nomic re­cov­ery will not gen­er­ate ad­e­quate rev­enue to ser­vice the moun­tains of debt from the tril­lions of dol­lars of re­lief pro­grams. Trade drives glob­al­iza­tion’s his­toric ben­e­fits, which over 20 years cut the num­bers liv­ing in ex­treme poverty from 40 per­cent to 10 per­cent of global pop­u­la­tion.

Canada’s hands-on com­mit­ment to co­op­er­a­tion and global re­form must co-ex­ist with the daily stress of man­ag­ing our U.S. re­la­tion­ship. If like-minded Amer­i­cans re­turn to power un­der Joe Bi­den, con­ven­ing in­ter­na­tion­al­ist adults in a global vir­tual sit­u­a­tion room will be eas­ier. But if they don’t, we’ll have to work even harder.

Can in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal will be mo­bi­lized? Tony Blair ar­gues it should be ob­vi­ous that do­ing the best for your coun­try means work­ing to­gether, not that co­op­er­a­tion means do­ing the best for other coun­tries. Min­is­ters Free­land and Cham­pagne have been on it, pro­mot­ing a mul­ti­lat­er­al­ist de­fence sol­i­dar­ity group along with France, Ger­many and oth­ers. Canada con­vened ef­forts to re­form the WTO.

Canada’s hands-on com­mit­ment to co­op­er­a­tion and global re­form must co-ex­ist with the daily stress of man­ag­ing our U.S. re­la­tion­ship, an ex­is­ten­tial bal­anc­ing act, but un­re­lent­ing. If like-minded Amer­i­cans re­turn to power un­der Joe Bi­den, con­ven­ing in­ter­na­tion­al­ist adults in a global vir­tual sit­u­a­tion room will be eas­ier. But if they don’t, we’ll have to work even harder.

It will re­quire mod­er­a­tion of the in­creas­ingly “civ­i­liza­tional” U.S.-China an­tag­o­nism. For­mer U.S. Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Larry Sum­mers of­fers open-eyed re­al­ism: “We need to craft a re­la­tion­ship with China from the prin­ci­ples of mu­tual re­spect and strate­gic re­as­sur­ance, with rather less ... feigned af­fec­tion ... We are not part­ners. We are not re­ally friends... We need to be pulling in uni­son if things are to work for ei­ther of us. If we can re­spect each other’s roles, re­spect our very sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ences, con­fine our spheres of ne­go­ti­a­tion to those ar­eas that are most im­por­tant for co­op­er­a­tion, and rep­re­sent the most fun­da­men­tal in­ter­ests of our so­ci­eties.”

Our gen­er­a­tional chal­lenge—sav­ing the vi­tal post­war sys­tem through the sal­va­tion of its re­form—rep­re­sents a tall or­der. But stakes couldn’t be higher.

Con­tribut­ing Writer Jeremy Kins­man was Cana­dian am­bas­sador in Moscow, Rome, Lon­don, and Brus­sels and is a dis­tin­guished fel­low of the Cana­dian In­ter­na­tional Coun­cil.

Martin Sanchez Unsplash photo

A COVID in­fec­tion rate map of the western world, a new geopo­lit­i­cal map quite dif­fer­ent from the mul­ti­lat­eral or­der af­ter the Sec­ond World War in 1945, the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the col­lapse of global mar­kets in 2008.

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