'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, May 17, 2010

Like a Bad Penny 

From today's New York Times:

NATO must be willing to fight and operate far from its borders to defend its members in a new world of terrorism, piracy and cyberattacks, according to a proposed strategy for the alliance released Monday.

The proposal, NATO 2020, also urges the alliance to restore credibility to its pledge of collective security, which it said was a prerequisite for efforts further afield.

NATO must be versatile and efficient enough to operate far from home, former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who led a team of experts in writing the report, said at a news conference in Brussels. In order to sustain the political will for operations outside its area, NATO must see that all its members are reassured about the security of their home territories.

War without end, with the usual suspects:

In a post-1999 world of terrorism, nuclear proliferation and the spread of missiles to more aggressive countries and even non-state actors, like Hezbollah and Hamas, and threats to the security of energy supplies and the Internet, NATO must reform to remain relevant, the report said, adding: Although NATO is busier than it has ever been, its value is less obvious to many than in the past.

Yes, that's a rather mild way of putting it, almost a kind of dry humor. After all, if you are French, German, Italian or another resident of the EU, the prospect of going off to fight in faraway places like Afghanistan looks less and less appealing. But there are two important things that should be mentioned.

First, the report is an implicit acknowledgement that the US military is stretched too thin to continue to perform the role of imperial, capitalist police unilaterally, and requires more assistance than the window dressing provided by the coalitions of the willing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Second, the participants involved in the drafting of the report are frightened by the fear that dare not speak its name, the decline of the nation state itself as a form of social organization. Hence, the emphasis upon non-state actors and the Internet as particular perils.

One can easily understand why they are concerned. Nation states emerged for many reasons, and were often consolidated through military violence, but they have persisted because of shared identities, invariably mythologically manufactured, and the belief that the citizens of them could assert control over their lives through them. Unfortunately, the institutions of these states were never able to assert the degree of social control that they presumed to impose (with the collapse of real, existing socialism exposing the limits of the state in regard to asserting authority over its peoples and boundaries), and, to the extent that such controls were successfully implemented by means of economic regulation, public education and social welfare programs, neoliberal trends have been eviscerating them, leaving only the bones behind.

It is no surprise, then, that people like Albright find themselves desperately looking towards transcontinental military alliances like NATO as a means of preserving the existing global order. Accordingly, this is a subject that deserves more attention on the left, equal to the efforts that have been expended towards understanding the roles of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in facilitating the expansion of global capitalism. For anarchists, who reject the necessity of organizing life through nation states, this may be an opportunity to advocate for a more benign social vision.

From a perspective based upon world systems theory, Immaneul Wallerstein places the situation within a grand context:

The conjunction of the three elements—the magnitude of the normal crash, the rise in costs of production, and the extra pressure on the system of Chinese (and Asian) growth—means that we have entered a structural crisis. The system is very far from equilibrium, and the fluctuations are enormous. From now on, we will be living amidst a bifurcation of the systemic process. The question is no longer, how will the capitalist system mend itself, and renew its forward thrust?, but rather, what will replace this system? What order will emerge from this chaos?

We may think of this period of systemic crisis as an arena of struggle for the successor system. The outcome may be inherently unpredictable, but the nature of the struggle is clear. We are faced with alternative choices, which cannot be spelled out in institutional detail, but may be suggested in broad outline. We can choose collectively a new system that essentially resembles the present one: hierarchical, exploitative and polarizing. There are many forms this could take, and some could be harsher than the capitalist world-system in which we have been living. Alternatively we can choose a radically different system, one that has never previously existed—a system that is relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian. I have been calling the two alternatives the spirit of Davos and the spirit of Porto Alegre, but the names are unimportant. What is important is to see the possible organizational strategies on each side, in a struggle that has been going on in some form since 1968 and may not be resolved before circa 2050.

Along these lines, Albright and her NATO associates are working hard to refashion it as an instrument for global domination, socially, territorially and cybernetically. Meanwhile, in the UK, the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition has promised a broad review of New Labour measures that restricted civil liberties, with the promised repeal of a plan to require national ID cards, the reiteration of the historic protections through the defense of trial by jury and the restoration of the rights of non-violent protest, but my suspicion is that many of these measures will go by the wayside as conflict over austerity within the UK and the EU intensifies. It goes against the grain of more centralized governmental control over potentially restive populations.

NOTE: The Wallerstein article is only accessible to those who have a New Left Review subscription. For those of you who do, go here.

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