Chances for a New “Peace of Westphalia”?

1 august 2018

Kancho Stoychev, President of Gallup International Association, Zurich

Andrei Raichev, Director of the Ivan Hadzhiyski Institute of Sociology, Sofia

Resume: The situation which we now observe in the world, as far as the major political players are concerned, will probably continue for an unusually long time. Familiar protagonists-the current leaders-are set to retain their leading roles on the world stage: Putin for another 6 years, Merkel for nearly four more years, Macron for even longer, President Xi as long as he wishes to stay...

The situation which we now observe in the world, as far as the major political players are concerned, will probably continue for an unusually long time. Familiar protagonists-the current leaders-are set to retain their leading roles on the world stage: Putin for another 6 years, Merkel for nearly four more years, Macron for even longer, President Xi as long as he wishes to stay, and Erdogan for a long stretch too, while in the U.S. many pundits predict another presidential term for Donald Trump.

The major roles have already been cast, the actors are on the stage, but the plot of the play keeps getting more difficult to fathom. Why? Because the most “logical” prediction?that the world was once again bound to split in two halves (U.S.+Europe Vs. China+Russia)?is losing relevance. The optic of a new Cold War simply does not fit: it neither explains basic facts, nor does it provide adequate forecasts. 

In this faulty optic Trump is made to look like a clown, Putin as aggressor, Xi as a lurking threat, while Macron and Merkel appear helplessly fussing over trifles as the ship is sinking; and Erdogan is looming as another danger.  

This distorted logic has its origins in events has occurred decades ago?in the questionable notion that American “victory” in the Cold War would inevitably elevate the United States to global leadership (similar to ancient Rome’s elevation after the defeat of Carthage). Accordingly, an entire generation of Western politicians has become convinced that Russia and China are keen on revanche through a new round of confrontations. This logic might have worked properly had the world not entered into a stage of cardinal transformations, becoming more global than even the most ardent proponents of economic globalization could imagine: (1) A novel notion of sovereignty (in the sense of states being recognized by other states, i.e. “sovereignty” not based on power) has emerged and spread globally. In addition, (2) an unprecedented common understanding of nature (i.e. no one now questions the nature of the atom or of DNA) has emerged, combined with (3) consensus that peace is the natural state of mankind; and with (4) the global abandonment of the search for universal or “correct” ideology, religion, doctrine. Instant unlimited access of everyone to information negates not only habitual notions of time and space, but, in a certain sense, reality itself.  All these are not merely new phenomena: they contradict the entirety of mankind’s previous experience. 

“Heretofore, the technological advance that most altered the course of modern history was the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, which allowed the search for empirical knowledge to supplant liturgical doctrine, and the Age of Reason to gradually supersede the Age of Religion…The Enlightenment sought to submit traditional verities to a liberated, analytic human reason…[Nowadays] …data become regnant… Truth becomes relative. Information threatens to overwhelm wisdom,” as Henry Kissinger pointed out recently /The Atlantic/.


Political Regionalization

The global economy is not accompanied by global political regulations, and this inadequacy has resulted in efforts by national elites to construct regional networks. Macro-regions, based on sociopolitical rather than geographical characteristics, are emerging in the world. That is, regionalization represents the major political result of globalization. This is most evident in the case of Europe, but similar processes can be observed in the Arab World, in South America and even in the Far East. Over the last year and a half, also in the case of the United States, a huge country that by itself constitutes a kind of macro-region. Thus the new strategies adopted by the U.S. represent an attempt to move from the role of a global leader to the role of the leading region.

If these assumptions are correct, the question arises: How do people perceive this new situation, these novel regions, and these new units?

We are convinced that a huge inversion is taking place: the “nation” is perceived as the common past (common history and common language), while the “macro-region” is seen by its inhabitants as a common desired future, as joint destiny. This is an entirely novel, unfamiliar state for the human mind. A state so unusual and insufficiently analyzed, that even migrants have started moving from region to region rather than from nation to nation.

The new regionalization often is described as polycentrism/multi-polarity of the new world order, i.e. as a loss of leadership positions by the United States. This view has its merits, but the problem is that it gets us back into the Cold Warlogic where the U.S. is losing its dominant position, i.e. is suffering a defeat. However, in reality the U.S. is neither gaining, nor losing it is undergoing a transformation.    

A simple historical analogy easily reveals why the notion of defeat is wrong. Did France suffer from the loss of its colonies in the mid-20th century (as it seemed in the 1960s), or was it liberated from that heavy burden (as is obvious nowadays)? And what about Great Britain or Holland where protests against decolonization happened in even Surinam... or Portugal, where a revolution erupted, producing among its major results the decolonization of Mozambique and Angola? The position of world’s sole leader for a quarter of a century brought the United States very questionable glory, and in addition significant lagging behind in infrastructure, as Zbigniew Brzezinski noted in his recent book Strategic Vision. What is more preferable: to represent the leading region of the world or to be the leader state, meaning that all of the world’s problems are laid at your doorstep?

That is why it is wrong to describe President Trump’s policies as chaotic shenanigans of a comedian, because in this case the substance of his performance, hidden behind showmanship, is missed. But if his policies are viewed through a different prism?as an effort to promote the interests of his region as he perceives them?then a coherent pattern of events emerges, revealing the sound common sense and the acumen of a businessman; in plain words, precise calculation. Whether one likes it or not, there is logic and there is coherence in Trump’s actions, rejection of neoconservatism and a return to classical, Nixon-style conservatism. 

Trump’s opponents can hardly dare openly denounce this compelling logic. Under this constraint the diehard supporters of U.S. global leadership were virtually “compelled” to resort to the demonization of Russia as am issue over which to wage their battle. “Trump is a Russian puppet.” It is hard to invent a more absurd claim. But it has been made, and a virulent large-scale campaign has been launched under this pretext. It was a lazy, apparently simple and seemingly low-cost solution.

What impact has the campaign of ridiculing Trump and demonizing Putin made on the target audience?the global public opinion and mass awareness? A recent survey conducted by the Gallup International Association in 58 countries across the world has revealed that the adepts of political globalization have achieved precisely the opposite result: an increasingly growing number of people across the five continents would rather prefer to be governed by Putin. Considering the fiasco of the “Skripal case” (which is already resembling a vaudeville), it is hardly surprising that the Russian president has become the planet’s favorite.

The Gallup International survey has revealed another paradox: confidence in government is as a rule lower in developed democracies than in developing or authoritarian countries. The liberal elites have exclusive proprietorial claims on democracy. But the silent majority (i.e. the main genuine protagonist of democracy) has, surprisingly, started acting in utterly unpleasant ways. Does one need to cite relevant evidence to this point from recent elections in Europe or in the U.S.?

Why is the situation shaping up in that particular way? Why liberal policies, which were successful over such a long time, have started breaking down and failing?   


Globalized Hypocrisy 

This is happening because the Eurocentric elites have attempted to impose “politically correct” thinking not only as the form, but also as the content. How can one argue convincingly that the “nice Saudis” deserve universal praise for permitting females to drive cars? Or that Chinese communists deserve plaudits for their achievements, even if made at the cost of suppressing individual liberties? Or that Kim Jong-un is an admirable and gifted young man? And at the same time heap abuse on Putin, describing him as another Dart Vader!

The very core of the political posture assumed by Europe is problematic. It is the posture of global pontiff, the world’s highest priest. If Europe were a person and were examined by a psychoanalyst, the inevitable diagnosis would be “Maniac-depressive psychosis”?a mania that is openly admitted, debated, even condemned. At the core of delusion is the claim “Ours is the model with a capital M.” The latest manifestation of the syndrome was Europe’s infatuation with the “Arab Spring.” The collapse of several Arab countries, with tragic consequences for generations to come, was the result. (There is no social model in existence fit to be “adapted” and transplanted, nor are there universally valid social ethics and esthetics. Social models evolve only within specific historical contexts. But self-delusion is such a powerful stimulant that it can even provoke visions of “the end of history”?fortunately only in individual minds.)

Saying this, we certainly do not invite Europe to set fire to the banner of Locke?Voltaire?Montesquieu. We merely wish to emphasize that the export of models is a highly complex, often fatal, enterprise. France should have learned that lesson over two centuries ago after one of the original attempts to export “the free state” to Haiti.

The depressive syndrome, however, is a very complicated affair. Europe is suffering from a surfeit of consensus and from an acute deficit of goals. Social consensus and a social goal are similar since both are attributes of the future. But there is also a cardinal difference between the two. A goal describes a distinct future, but the community of forces in its support can be week and temporary. Consensus, in contrast, describes a rather indefinite future, but the community of its supporters is stable and surprisingly solid. In essence, “a goal” has at its core the word “must,” while consensus is bound with “cannot.” Consensus implies denouncing certain things (like violence, for instance). A goal, in contrast, always implies an achievement.  

In other words, Europe’s depression, is caused by overindulgence with “cannot’s” and by “deficiency of goals.” Europe has burdened itself with too many “commandments” (in the ancient sense of the word?inhibitions) to such an extent, that no major European politician today would dare publicly mention the word “interests; he simply “must” find his projects in “values.” Initially this did seem to provide a solid basis for political constructs, but eventually it turned out that projects built on values cannot last and are liable to crumble. 

The malady, however, is neither genetic nor fatal. The crisis of liberalism can also be interpreted as a manifestation of survival instincts, of the urge to renounce the messianic posture and the hypocrisy associated with it. 

Political regionalization, the initial stage of which we are witnessing now, provides logical grounds for abandoning the Eurocentric hypocrisy of political correctness. This would inevitably lead to the erosion of the currently prevailing rules of economic globalization, to the revival of protectionism and nationalism. Enormous risks are, of course, involved in this process. But the greater risk is if we once again misinterpret history and ignore its lessons, reducing it to a simplistic black-and-white image garnished with sanctions. Sanctions achieve a single “result”?the creation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver them, and more recently, of the unpreventable hypersonic weapons.   

Regionalization (to emphasize once again, not in geographic terms!) is not some person’s idea or project. It is an objective process which leads to a series of inevitable results. Some of these are:

  • Entirely novel military balance
  • New formula for global currency/currencies
  • Regionalization of the costs of labor
  • Break-up of the global Internet network
  • Inter-regional economic rivalry
  • And numerous other effects, including the emergence of regional and global public opinion.

Two roads lead to the inter-regional balance: a long one (through clashes and military conflicts) and a short one?through agreements like the famous Treaty of Westphalia.  Let us hope that this time no Thirty Yeas’ War would have to precede the “Peace of Westphalia” ... 

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