Saturday, May 31, 2008

Making the New Nonpolar World Liveable

Richard N. Haass (Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008, p.52) makes the important point that while the now-emerging global political nonpolarity may be inevitable, “its character is not.” He continues with a critical contribution by opening a discussion of what action the U.S. should take to influence this dangerously “random” (i.e., unpredictable) nonpolarity away from instability. He takes as his base assumption that systems with numerous actors “tend toward greater randomness” and points out some ways in which the U.S. is currently contributing to such randomness, such as unrestrained consumption of scarce petroleum resources, which enormously inflates the power of many state and nonstate actors. However, Haass barely stratches the surface of steps that could be taken to construct a structure of global governance to manage the otherwise dangerously complex and unpredictable world that he foresees and that is, indeed, quite visible on the horizon of the contemporary world with the dual challenge to the rule of international law that currently comes both from the Islamic extremists and right-wing Western extremists, not to mention assorted narcotics and proliferation criminal networks.

Return to Being a Positive Example for Democracy. Democracy at the point of a gun, a wild-eyed hypothesis whose pointlessness has been all too clearly demonstrated in recent years, needs to be replaced by a restoration of America the example. Here, Haass hit the nail on the head, calling for the U.S. “to get its own house in order” (pp. 52-53). Bombing foreign cities because “bad guys” are mixed into their populations (what urban center has no bad guys?) or allowing local police to threaten with death refugees from fleeing U.S. cities that collapse (as happened after Katrina) does not make our system attractive, nor does torture of suspects whose guilt has not been proven or the gradual degradation of civil rights. Democracy is automatically attractive when it is nurtured, when it goes beyond meaningless elections to structuring a political system that is all-inclusive, when it protects unpopular minority opinion, when it paves the way for the common good. Actually realizing such a utopian society may be beyond the capacity of mankind, but when America is perceived at least to be working toward such a vision, it becomes irresistibly attractive and gains a power no other society can match.

From Selfish Capitalism to the Green Revolution. It is precisely the U.S., the citadel of unrestrained consumption, that needs to lead the revolution toward sustainability. Only the U.S. has the combination of economic power, excess consumption, and technical expertise to invent a profitable, sustainable, post-carbon economy. Science can be the solution, but government needs to focus scientific creativity. Call it the Green Manhattan Project or the Green NASA or the Green DARPA: government-funded research would help, government prizes for accomplishments would help, but most of all a tax structure that rewards green innovators would open the door to a new future in which we conceive of green industry as the nation’s business.

Real Non-Proliferation. Nothing more clearly symbolizes the dangerous slide of the international political system toward “random” nonpolarity than the image of a lone terrorist with a suitcase WMD. A sincere effort to curb proliferation is an essential component of a policy designed to create a stable future. Such an effort would entail, at a minimum:

  • consistent rules for all;
  • a structure of rewards for those who do not acquire certain weapons (e.g., a promise that a nation that does not possess nuclear weapons will not be threatened with nuclear attack)
    support for those willing to accept international assistance to guard the WMD that they possess;
  • a clear policy that the government will not participate in any activity designed to proliferate WMD for political benefit.

Today, not one of the above non-proliferation principles is taken seriously by decision-makers.

The point, then, is that even though we cannot prevent the world from becoming more unpredictable, there is much we could do to guide the world in a more comfortable direction…but it will require a fundamental rethinking of how the U.S. behaves.

We do not want a world dictatorship; no known human agency has the integrity to merit such power. Yet we also do not want the random unpredictability of hundreds of uncoordinated, self-centered actors butting heads with dangerous destructive but minimal constructive power. The best outcome for the foreseeable future is a complex world with many empowered actors who nevertheless operate within a structure that imposes restraints even as it liberates creativity.

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