U.S. tensions with China enter truly dangerous territory when they move into the arena of values, writes Branko Milanovic. Washington is trying to divide the world.
By Branko Milanovic
Social Europe and International Politics and Society
More than 100 nations’ presidents, prime ministers, and kings met virtually at the Summit for Democracy on Dec. 9 and 10. It was the first meeting in history on this scale where the application — or ostensible application — of the democratic principle in the governance of national affairs was used as a criterion to invite participants to an international meeting.
There are three ways to look at the summit.
A naïve view is to consider it as a meeting of like-minded states, interested in learning from each other about how to improve the application of democratic principles at home. (For that, however, there are already many other venues.)
More realistic is to see it as an attempt to create a loose association of states, which would promote abroad their model of governance, assuming it is the only one compatible with the aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The most realistic however is to see it as a prelude to the creation of an unwieldy association of states, which would be used by the United States to spearhead its ideological crusade in the escalating geopolitical conflict with China and Russia.
This is why the summit was, from a global or cosmopolitan perspective (which it pretended to reflect), the wrong idea. It aimed to divide the world into two incompatible camps, between which there could be little intercourse and still less understanding. Taken to its logical conclusion, conflict is then inevitable.
Clash of Ideologies
The clash between China and the U.S. is driven by geopolitical considerations — the rising relative power of China and its attempt to reassert its historical prominence in east Asia. It has nothing to do with democracy.
The clash has acquired an ideological dimension through the insistence of each side that its system is more attuned to the world’s needs. China puts the emphasis on its system’s technocratic nature which, it claims, efficiently responds to what people want; the U.S. puts the emphasis on democratic participation by the citizenry.
The geopolitical and ideological clashes however enter into truly dangerous territory when they become transferred into the arena of values. For geopolitical conflict can be solved, as has been done many times in history, by one or other formula securing a balance of power. The same is true regarding the economic or ideological competition of the two systems — it may even be beneficial to the world as each side, in trying to outbid the other, pays more attention to global issues such as poverty alleviation, migration, climate change and the pandemic.
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But if one side believes that the values it incarnates are in total opposition to the values held by the other, it is difficult to see how conflict can, in the long-run, be avoided. Compromise between different interests is possible — not different values. The creation of an association which enshrines or cements value incompatibility between American-type systems and Chinese-type systems contributes to elevating the original clash of interests to a plane where compromise is near-impossible.
The formalization of the conflict forces all countries, whether they like it or not, to choose sides. Such alignment projects the U.S.-China clash across the world and exacerbates it.
Justifications for Conflict
The lesson we should have learnt from the winding down of the first Cold War is that refusal to divide the world into two implacably opposed camps diminished the intensity of the conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and probably prevented a number of local wars. This was the contribution of the “non-aligned movement” of interposed states such as India, Egypt, Algeria and Ghana.
But this will be impossible now: there is to be no third way. According to the logic of the summit, you are either with us or against us.
The Manichean logic of a struggle between good and evil pervades much Western media and political discourse. Many may truly believe they are on the side of the angels, or may have convinced themselves to believe so, but they do not realize they are participating in a very self-serving reading of history and bringing the world closer to open conflict. What they are doing is the very opposite of what a peace-seeking, compromise-building, cosmopolitan approach would require — searching for common ground between systems and countries, and allowing them to evolve naturally towards a better state of affairs.
All great conflicts begin with great ideological justifications. The crusades started with the idea of wresting the control of Jesus’ tomb from the “the infidels.” They turned into plundering expeditions which destroyed all societies, Christian or Muslim, in their path.
European colonialism was justified in religious (evangelization of the “heathens”) or civilizational terms. These were smoke-screens for servile labor in Latin America, enslavement in Africa, and control of internal policies elsewhere (India, Egypt, China and most of Africa).
At the end of the first World War, a similarly megalomaniac project by the U.S. president, Woodrow Wilson, pretended to pursue the principle of “self-determination” he had enunciated. It degenerated into a rubber-stamping of colonial rule, under the label of “protectorates” and “mandates” and sordid territorial deals.
This new grandiose project, if it were to remain alive, would end the same way — recognized as a flimsy cover-up for much more mundane objectives. Though a further, physical, meeting is slated for about a year ahead, the first Summit for Democracy should really be the last.
Branko Milanovic is a visiting professor at the City University of New York. Prior to that, he was, among other things, senior economist of the research department at the World Bank. For his book Global Inequality. A New Approach for the Age of Globalization he won the Hans-Matthöfer-Prize awarded by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Most recently he published Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World.
This article is from International Politics and Society with and Social Europe.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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Quote, “the U.S. puts the emphasis on democratic participation by the citizenry.” Unquote. L.O.L. This is simply another hypocritical statement. The U.S. is not, and has not been for many years, democratic participation by it’s citizens. Those very same citizens have no say whatever, in what their Government does. That is a FACT.
Headline from The Guardian from 6 months ago pretty much says it all: “US seen as bigger threat to democracy than Russia or China, global poll finds”
Must interesting from that poll is that only 50% of US citizens think that their country is democratic while 59% agree with the statement: “my government usually acts in the interest of a small group of people …”
Then The New York Times ran a story a month ago headed: “U.S. Allies Drive Much of World’s Democratic Decline, Data Shows”
That story continued with: “The findings undercut American assumptions, widely held in both parties, that U.S. power is an innately democratizing force in the world.” And “[the US] backed or installed dictators, encouraged violent repression of left-wing elements, and sponsored anti-democratic armed groups. Often, this was conducted in allied countries in cooperation with the local government.”
Over the last two decades the US has killed hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. It is responsible for, or complicit in humanitarian disasters in Iran, Palestine and Yemen. Infamous torture camps, rendition and black sites feature in the US line-up. Then who could forget that US sponsored sanctions killed _half a million_ Iraqi kids before the invasion but _after_ Iraq had rid itself of WMD.
The US is a bone fide, current and continuing war criminal. I know who the good guys aren’t (they’re for example boycotting the Beijing Olympics because China is mistreating Muslims).
The only thing the US has going for it in its ideological warfare is a totally compliant and thereby complicit MsM.
Just as in the USA, divide and conquer. It seems, viewed from outside, that the United States are not very much United these days and in fact, it could be said that your corporations, institutions and corporate media and politicians have done an admirable job of dividing Americans, so now onto the greater world?
The “Democracy Summit” is rather farcical when beyond inviting many non-democratic (the UK is still a monarchy remember, constitutional or not depending on how you look at it considering the policing powers bill that just passed in the UK parliament), your own president had only just called the American citizens “customers” when he gave that nice little speech where he claimed that he was improving your social benefits through his lovely BBBetter bill that was just shelved. Somehow, I never envisioned that democracy depended on how well you citizens spent money.
Also, you can’t go around saying to people “Hey, my family was the best so everyone in the world must have a family just like mine!” No one does that nor should any country in all it own imperfections, tell others how they should run their own sovereign state!
What democracy??? The one American style??? A ruse to distract us??? As some journalist wrote recently…America should never utter the words ‘Democracy” or “Human rights”.
YESM good one Vera, I see red everytime I hear any politician from the U.S. standing on their pulpit proclaiming they support and adhere to human rights, whilst at the same time, they arbitarily impose sanctions on innocent nations that ensure the starving of their peoples and the suffering from lack of medical medicines, even clean water is denied them. They bomb and target innocent people with impunity, killing them by the thousands then point the finger at others, accusing them of not adhereing to human right principles, as if the U.S. holds us such. But the REAL problem, IMHO is the FACT that other nations can see this behaviour very clearly, they know it’s totally contradictory to claims being made by the U.S. but never offer a whisper of condemnation against them for their murderous behaviour. It’s almost as if the U.S. can do whatever it wants to, kill anyone they choose and impose whatever they want onto the rest of us with impunity. When will KARMA come to level the playing field ?
When the USA speaks of “values” as if they are beneficial, we observe the constant attacks on other countries, refusal to have equal or even civil relations with anyone designated as an adversary, pandering or bribing of “friends” and withdrawal from international treaties it decides are not in its interest. China and Russia, and if people remember, the 77 non-aligned nations, rely on “international law”, worked out by the UN, and not a self-serving “(Washington) rules-based international order”. Human rights for the USA and some others count only the civil and political rights ie voting and speaking out. We see from this century’s elections and the case of Julian Assange and Ed Snowden how free and peaceful the USA and other places are from this point of view.
Social and economic rights are not even considered in the USA’s version of human rights for all. No rights to food, housing, healthcare, education are part of the USA definition, which was in the 1948 Declaration but adjusted for US needs in the 1950s.
Not only is the USA not in a position to tell the rest of us how to run our countries, but its own version and its own degraded country show the results of USA “democracy”. Not exactly the model to follow for peace and harmony that most people want.
I appreciate and agree with your concerns, Branko Milanovic, over what seems to be a mushrooming (pun intended), but manufactured and inevitably catastrophic military conflict, sadly driven by the ideological rhetoric you refer to:
“The clash has acquired an ideological dimension through the insistence of each side that its system is more attuned to the world’s needs. China puts the emphasis on its system’s technocratic nature which, it claims, efficiently responds to what people want; the U.S. puts the emphasis on democratic participation by the citizenry.”
The faux part is that what Joe and his State Dept pretend they’re defending is a participatory democracy.
Too bad Biden’s in the process of proving that’s a lie.
The top journalist and publisher in history, IMO, Julian Assange, is imprisoned at Belmarsh awaiting extradition to the U.S. Assange’s crime? – It’s his commitment to the highest principles of a participatory democracy – a well informed citizenry.
Informing us of crimes done in our name with our tax dollars which doesn’t sit well with Joe, his AG, his State Dept. et al…
If Joe wants to ratchet up his rhetorical excuse for a war with China, he should at least admit that the death match we seem to be headed for is on behalf of a unique “participatory democracy” where the Handicapper General demands blinders for the citizens and death to those who remove those blinders.
“The top journalist and publisher in history, IMO, Julian Assange, is imprisoned at Belmarsh awaiting extradition to the U.S. Assange’s crime? “
Mr. Assange is held by some to be “guilty” of multiple crimes including but not restricted to the “intelligence crimes” which may or may not be required to be explored in a “US” courthouse and/or other fora requiring further mystification, which encouraged hopes/encouragements of Mr. Assagne’s demise before extradition.
Whether unwittingly or not, Mr. Assange aided the demystification of “drone warfare” by illustrating that de facto it is a form of carpet bombing without local intelligence/monitoring to a non-professional audience including the designers of drones.
You are much too kind in your assessment of the U.S.’s “Democracy Summit”. This is not the beginning of an attempt by the U.S. to divide the world into “those who are with us” and “those who are against us”. Rather, it is an open (and embarrassing) display of the fact that that has been the essence of U.S. foreign policy during it entire history. What changed after WWII is that, due to the utter destruction of other world powers, the U.S. found itself the sole superpower until Russia became competitive, at least superficially, a few years later (after suffering the deaths of about one-fourth of its population during WWII).
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. had occupied the position of the sole superpower in the world and has consistently used and abused that power for the benefit of the elites (which we now call the 1%) rather than for the benefit of the people. It had a grand opportunity to use that power, the greatest power ever held by one nation or other entity in the history of the world, for the benefit of all peoples and for the purpose of achieving peace, prosperity and harmony in the world. It chose not to do so and has consistently followed that path to the present time. That path is a path of endless war, aggression and looting of foreign nations and looting of its own people by the 1%. This has greatly accelerated during the last forty years as a result of the adoption of the neoliberal economic system, which has since then become the policy of both major political parties. The result in this Country is the greatest inequality in its history. In conjunction with that policy, which transferred the income and wealth to the 1%, the U.S. has also transferred the political power to the 1% by removing the limits on the amounts of money which can be contributed to political candidates (and also the unlimited use of “dark money” which can be used for “issue ads”, which are also in fact political ads) and adopting the legal fiction that “corporations are people” to enable the mega-corporations to further overwhelm any real political power still left (very little) in the hands of the people. I therefore disagree with your assessment that “the U.S. puts the emphasis on democratic participation by the citizenry”. Yes, that is the pretense of the U.S. version of what is still called democracy, but it is not the reality. The reality is that when we, the people, go to the voting booth, we are faced with choosing between Corporate Candidate No. 1 and Corporate Candidate No. 2. Both have been vetted by the 1% (which effectively owns and operates both political parties) and found to be loyal servants of the 1%. This corrupt system is known here as legalized bribery.
The U.S. Claim that it “Promotes Democracy” in the world is false.
The U.S. claim that it promotes democracy in the world is false. In fact, the U.S. is the leading destroyer of democracy in the world, as the historical record clearly shows. The essence of U.S. foreign policy is that the rest of the world must follow U.S. orders, or, in the case of its “close allies” (many of which are among the most brutal dictatorships the world has ever known, at least not interfere with the U.S. objectives, whatever they may be. The sheer hypocrisy and duplicity of the U.S. claim is revealed by countless examples too numerous to mention. I will mention only a couple of them.
One example is the case of Venezuela, a country which, despite U. S. efforts to undermine it in every possible way, does have a democratic system of government. It is in fact democracy which the U.S. opposes. The U.S. demands that other countries, especially those who citizens are non-white, submit to looting by the elites who are at the time favored by the U.S. (see the United Fruit coup in Guatemala for a 1950s era example). The unforgivable crime of other countries, in the view of the U.S. is that a country will have the audacity to use its resources for the benefit of its own people, a crime committed by many countries, including Iran, Chile, countless others). Now Venezuela is, once again, in the crosshairs of the U.S. guns. After attempting to bring that Country to its knees with illegal “sanctions” and a failed military coup, the U.S. during the Trump administration, declared a political hack named Juan Guaido, virtually unknown to the Venezuelan public, as “President”. No election was held to support this declaration. However, one must remember that, in the U.S. view, it runs the world and the world must obey its dictates. Joe Biden has continued this farce, so the current U.S. position is that this U.S. stooge, Guaido, is the President. At the Democracy Summit, it was Guaido who was invited to attend in his capacity as the “President” of Venezuela. It seems to be that that one example should be about all must say to openly and clearly display the hypocrisy and duplicity of the U.S. views on what “democracy” is. Nonetheless, I will cite one more example, which Honduras.
In 2009 Honduras was a functioning democracy. Its elections had been certified as free and fair by international observers. However, it was, like so many other cases, not the kind of democracy favored by the U.S. because it was using the resources of that Country for the benefit of the people rather than following U.S. orders. To remedy this violation of the U.S. rules, the U.S. kidnapped the democratically elected President and installed it chosen puppet, thereby establishing “democracy” in the form approved by the U.S. However, it is noteworthy that the U.S. did not invite Honduras to its Democracy Summit. Why not? After all, the U.S. had, in 2009, declared it to be a democracy after installing the President of its choice. One must wonder. I think it might have something to do with the results of a recent election over which the U.S. was not able to exert as much influence as it would have liked to do.
Nicaragua could also be mentioned. It is, despite constant U.S. attempts to keep its chosen dictators in power there, functioning as a real democracy, which, ipso facto, disqualified it as an invitee to the Democracy Summit.
Many pages could be written, and have been written, about the open subversion of democracy by the U.S. in the world. The point I wish to make is that your article treats the U.S.’s open hostility to real democracy, both abroad and here in the U.S. entirely too kindly. You write as if the U.S. acts in good faith in the world. It does not. The sponsoring of the Democracy Summit is hypocritical, duplicitous and, to informed people in the U.S. (of which there are, unfortunately, too few), an utter embarrassment.
“The sponsoring of the Democracy Summit is hypocritical, duplicitous and, to informed people in the U.S. (of which there are, unfortunately, too few), an utter embarrassment.”
Some others evaluate the “Democratic Summit” differently, including as below.
“Conflict over using resources to invent / produce products (the whole me me me thing) though inherent to above insecurity “
Conflict has various inherent lateral vectors in interaction, including but not limited to “representative/virtual democracy” but also that absence makes the heart grow fonder, whilst familiarity breeds contempt, thereby rendering the coercive social relations self-misrepresented as “The United States of America” lands of inherent opportunities and useful complicities.
“Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. had occupied the position of the sole superpower in the world “
As a function of conflating a moment in a lateral process with a lateral process, the “US” believed/beleives it won the Cold War and hence were/are the “sole superpower”, being predisposed to expect that as a function of “exceptionalism”, aided by the interpreted acquiescence of some locals as a function of “shock and awe”, a process subsequently emulated in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere who were not offered a ticket to the ball.
“ has consistently used and abused that power for the benefit of the elites (which we now call the 1%) rather than for the benefit of the people. “
This was expected by “encouraging locals” facilitating activation of the“absence makes the heart grow fonder, whilst familiarity breeds contempt” routines, which in turn was sought to be reversed by a “Democratic Summit” of vetted like minded “elites”.
Very well said. Thank you.
Awesome post. Thank you, well done.
The Chinese threat likely historic, to wit: paper of a sort as communications media invented far earlier than Euro equivalent (along w/ Printing.)
Theoretically, humanity… If… more secure with our place in an infinite environment would gladly share our gifts: bipedal bodies, opposible thumbs etc.
Conflict over using resources to invent / produce products (the whole me me me thing) though inherent to above insecurity… Need Not Rule Interpersonal Relations with each other!
Are we “Works in progress”……… or Doomed 2 Destroy ALL we’ve been Granted by fate?
Tnx CN 4 publishing from human sustainability model!
“Compromise between different interests is possible — not different values.” As Branko illustrates with examples, it is more precise to say that those who want compromise talk about interests, those who want conflict, talk about values.
But the values change from conflict to conflict. With Taiwan and Kosovo, the paramount value is “self-determination”, and “territorial integrity” does not matter. With Crimea, “territorial integrity” is the only important value, “self-determination” does not matter. Thus the choice of conflict and the outcome comes first, values are selected later.
Of course, conflicts exist even when the values are not invoked, e.g. when competing colonial powers were taking colonies from each other, early colonialism was based on piracy with royal patents.
“that those who want compromise talk about interests, those who want conflict, talk about values.”
It is not restricted to thought but also includes practice, given that value is always a standard of evaluation in “commodity relations”.
As you are aware, some are of the view that the coercive social relations self-misrepresented as “The United States of America” are “agreement incapable” as futher illustrated by attempts at a constitued/restricted “Summit for Democracy”, a component part of why others have facilities and opportunities to transcend the coercive social relation self-misrepresented as “The United States of America” through cooperative lateral strategies not emulation.
Whilst in attempts to sustain their coercive social relations, the coercive social relations self-misrepresented as “The United States of America” are restricted to forms of emulation and hence linear strategies (“reforms” aka changes to remain (qualitatively) the same), as was/is the case in the ongoing transcendence of “The Soviet Union” by the Russian Federation, in part accelerated through increasing trajectories facilitated by attempts at “reform” by useful fools such as Mr. Gorbachov through the trajectories of perestroika first, glasnost later, and practices of “The United States of America” from at least 1922 onwards.
Good observation regarding Kosovo and Crimea Piotr.
“The most realistic however is”
hope to continue to use others as food sources and human shields to create Oceania – which required the acquiescence and complicity of Eurasia -, as protection against existential threats from increasing cooperative social relations, in the context of a history of at least 400 years of using others as food sources and human shields, through belief in the continued currency of Mr. Rove’s observation that you can fool some of the people all of the time and those are the ones you should concentrate on.