Thursday, December 23, 2004

American Sovereignty and Globalization

Ideologues like Pat Buchanan have been debating for long that Globalization and Global Organizations setting framework for such nation to nation interactions are limiting American Sovereignty and how they are encroaching upon USA sovereign rights. It is a complex debate where one sees validity of these conservative thinkers on one hand, or at least seriousness of the issues raised, and at the same time other dynamics which leads one to think that it is inevitable that there will be some limits to what America can decide on it’s own. Other countries are accepting these limits with less fuss than America, especially European countries and then one wonders what is with America?

The latest incident which sparked the criticism from these critics is the withdrawal of US proposal in UN for continued immunity for American soldiers from legal actions in International Court by other countries whenever these soldiers are engaged in combat operations in other countries. These critics argue that this is one more typical manifestation of US abducting it’s sovereign rights. It is another matter that some of the criticism from this quarter about Iraq is that this war has compromised America’s ability to resist rest of the world about this issue, especially in light of Iraq prison abuse. To be sure I understand that these critics do not take sovereignty as full freedom only to do whatever one wants. They consider it as taking our own responsibility, being answerable to our own standards and our own rule of law. It happens to be the case that USA rule of law is probably much more creditable than rest of the world; that is what these thinkers argue. Not so incorrectly also. In the most fundamental sense Sovereignty is the onerous responsibility of defining “what is morally right” on your own rather frivolously renouncing this responsibility to some other anonymous global organization. This is especially true of global organization where there is no people’s representation. Take UN for example. People of the world do not elect any representatives to this body. Granted that elected leaders of respective countries represent in this body. But this argument does help in bringing any democratic legitimacy to this body when one considers that more than half of the countries represented in this body do not follow any democratic practices internally. It is the same UN where you get Sudan like country on Human Rights Panel and it is the same organization where one has to deal with China as the major rule setter. For that matter there was Soviet Union as well for so long, that “Evil Empire”, as a legitimate power center in this setup.

It will be wrong to forget the insistence of these thinkers on following one’s own standards and self defined rule scrupulously. They are one of the most stringent adherents of internal rule of law. Their contention is why else do we elect our Congressman, Presidents and Governors for? They are there to set the rules and American’s follow that. People’s conduct within the country and outside the country is subject to the same set of rules. Just because some one goes out of USA does not mean that the person is free of USA laws. This is because a person is defined as a political entity because of the framework of American Law and American Constitution.


It is nobody’s case that Americans have not made mistakes any time in adhering to one’s own laws. But do you have any other example in this world where there is any better and consistent implementation of Law and Justice System for it’s people over such a long period? Also the state which has tried hard to keep it’s contract to it’s own citizens and to keep it’s treaties with other countries. Very unlikely. Soviets vanished in seven decades. Europeans, except British, lost their own systems in two world wars. Many others are learning the ropes and coming up. Given that why should one think that organizations like UN, International Court, WTO, IMF, World Bank, etc. would offer better legitimacy than what American system has been able to provide in last 200 plus years? Why should American people leave a system which has served them well over two centuries to a system which is yet to prove fully over longer period of time? Indeed these are tough questions and unlikely to prompt any thinking American person to opt out of what they have, into what they may not be sure of. May be rest of the world is spooked by it’s failure to build and sustain their own nation state systems for so long on consistent basis. May be this failure makes them inherently inclined to go for multinational systems which could provide them crutches to help them withstand thorny issues of international relations and the associated contentious discourse. So one needs to be very careful in trying to apply willingness on behalf of other countries in accepting internationalism to USA or to nation states who may have maintained their own legal systems for long in thoroughly stormy waters of nation to nation relations. Willingness of other countries may have their own reasons, may be due to their own peculiar histories and should not necessarily translate into thoughtless joining by America to this fashionable Internationalism. Simply on the basis of system efficiency, why would one throw an old system which has proven over a period in favor of something which is still work in progress at the best?

European countries in particular have strong historical reasons for coalescing towards Internationalism as reflected in their consummate European Union discourse. Because of it’s own history and the status of unbroken state and law enforcing entity in continuous existence, Britain’s ambivalence towards EU is quite understandable and clearly demonstrates the tension due to conflicting forces. Rest of the world – from point of view of nation-state-law does not have any sparkling record. Unless one wears the looking glasses of non-western (like Asian or Oriental or Eastern or many other names) ways of identifying and assessing political systems, one can hardly find any mature political system. And in any case this “alternating” point of view looses it’s relevance when one sees that what the world wants as international organizations are all modeled on Western concepts of political entities. Countries like India, Japan, Australia could be regarded as stable democratic political systems. But these are young systems on their way to become mature and some of them like India still faces the danger of faltering. So all in all, given this context there is some merit in the claims of Buchanan like ideologues that American nation state is superior to all others and there is less reason to subvert our sovereignty to other international organizations. Does it sound arrogant? No doubt. But does it reduce it’s significance? No. One does need to grant some credibility to this point of view howsoever jingoistic it sounds.

So does it mean that all forms of internationalism are bad and America should simply go into the shell and forget about rest of the world and not waste it’s time in getting involved with others? Keep in mind that for these thinkers Terrorism and what prompted 9/11 are the results of simple reactions from other people when America tried to intervene and meddle in their internal affairs when it has no business to do so. In fact their argument is America is like an addict; addicted to foreign oil, foreign capital, foreign goods and as an addict for his substance abuse, it starts making more blunders in international politics and gets drowned in all that mess. For them, America is on down hill due to this addiction to what is foreign. It is not for nothing that Bush doctrine of “preemptive strikes” does not resonate with this group. Islamic Terrorism is symptom of the disease of intervening in other’s affair when you are not invited.

But things need not be so simplistic. There are so many reasons why America does need to engage with rest of the world in nation to nation mode more than “isolationists” would like to see. Global environmental issues for one are simple and straight forward set of problems where international cooperation is must. There is no reason for America to turn away here to address these problems on it’s own. Environmental issues do not see the country boundaries, for these issues the whole globe is the only one domain. Whether countries follow any democratic principles within their own state or not; it does not matter while dealing with these issues. Does that mean America needs to sign Kyoto Protocol? Well, it at least mean America needs to come up with it’s own plan what it wants to do if current fossil fuel policies are contributing to Green house effect. It is kind of irresponsible to say that America does not want to adhere Kyoto protocol because it is sovereign to decide so and not to give any credible plan to address the risks involved in current oil consumption.

The more contentious domain of internationalism is participation in Global Economy. the way global economy is currently unfolding; Western world and America are at the receiving end – losing large number of jobs to China and India and losing the competitive edge in one after the other industry. As everyone knows, this trend may very well accelerate with devastating consequences for American Economy [1]. The conventional thinking is such Globalization would help America. But the risks are not fully addressed as the famous economists Stephen Roach (Morgan Stanley, New York) point out in the next quote. “The problem is that some of the oldest assumptions of globalization are now being drawn into serious question. In their simplest form, "open" economic models can be decomposed into two sectors — tradables and nontradables. For rich developed economies, the loss of market share in manufacturing activities to low-cost developing nations is "fine" — as long as there is a secure fallback to the nontradable services sector, which is effectively shielded from international competition. The new complication arises out of the IT-enabled transformation of nontradables into tradables. To the extent that the knowledge-based content of the output of white-collar workers can now be exported anywhere around the world with the click of a mouse, the rules of the game have changed. And that’s exactly what’s now happening — not just at the low end of the value chain with respect to call center operators and data processors but increasingly at the upper end of the chain for software programmers, engineers, designers, accountants, actuaries, lawyers, consultants, and medical doctors.
Services-driven development models, such as the one now at work in India, cast globalization in a very different light. Most importantly, they broaden the competitive playing field, thereby bringing new pressures to bear both on job creation and on real wages in the developed world.” [2]

Clearly our Political class as a whole is completely unaware of what is happening here. In addition the short term interests of many opinion makers (Wall Street and large share holders who disproportionately cast a huge influence on American Policy) are propelling policy makers to ignore what is at stake here. Given this, thinkers like Pat Buchanan are on the right side of the debate that such Globalization is compromising American Sovereignty and it’s ability to decide according to what is good for itself. But the issues here are not crystal clear. The debate is not complete, consequences are unknown and the underlying dynamics is still not fully known. As Stephen Roach continues in the article “Globalization is very much a moving target. The rules of globalization are dynamic — not static. They change as the world changes.”; the whole affair is work in progress. America and the western world can afford and should in fact undertake – patience. It needs to engage fully in all these Globalization efforts and not simply get out since it is something which ties down it’s sovereign decision making. One may be on the guard; but getting out simply without knowing convincingly what is happening could leave America stranded alone with detrimental effects on it’s economic well being.

The final domain where internationalism poses challenge to American sovereignty is the realm of human rights and criminal law. It is the same domain where the issues like exemption of American Soldiers from any law suites when engaged on foreign soil belong to. I believe this is the domain where the arguments of “isolationists” are strongest and they have real rational arguments against internationalism. Simply put how come an organization like UN that is not directly elected by American people ever decide about their fate? There is no substitute here for letting American sovereign rights to take full control. The appropriate way here for any internationalism will be only within the group of countries or states which follow the democratic rule. May be America lead the way to form a group of countries and nation states which have a stable working democracy and open the way for interacting on nation to nation basis within this group. UN and other arbitrarily founded organizations or organizations founded on weaker basis, do not qualify for deliberations of democratically run nation states. May be forming and engaging such a new group effectively is where the American leadership lies in coming years. If it means snubbing UN, so be the case then. Only in such a forum of countries does it make sense to talk conceding certain sovereign rights if decided collectively.


Umesh Patil, San Jose, California
July 2004.

Reference:
[1] Ted C. Fishman – The Chinese Century, The New York Times, July 4, 2004.
[2] Stephen Roach – What About Us? Morgan Stanley, New York, July 4, 2004.

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