November 2nd 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Bali: after the dust settles ...

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Vultures circle Crean after Cunningham debacle

NEW ZEALAND: US links free trade to repeal of NZ nuclear ships ban

NEW ZEALAND: Kiwibank on target for 100,000 customers

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Global systems / The splitting of the West / After the earthquake

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: 'Unlawful' electoral changes: McGinty tries again

AGRICULTURE: Farmers' overwhelming support for alternate sugar package

LETTERS: Bush doctrine (letter)

LETTERS: Accepting responsibility (letter)

LETTERS: Drinking age (letter)

ECONOMICS: Getting to work on the world economy

COMMENT: Holding on to the centre

COMMENT: Monash shootings and the irresponsibility culture

COMMENT: Affirmative action illuminated

EUROPE: New members, new problems for European Union

ASIA: Behind Pakistan's Islamist revival

BOOKS: Marriage: Just a piece of paper?

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Global systems / The splitting of the West / After the earthquake

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, November 2, 2002
Global systems

Global systems are creatures that like equilibrium and dislike imbalances. They fear rapid changes and constantly shifting internal alignments, for these, if endemic, can bring about breakdown, even disintegration of the system. And individual centres of power outside but adjacent to the main system, can threaten its stability in other ways.

After 1945, our global organisation was essentially bipolar with Superpowers Russia and the USA balancing one another and maintaining order among their various satellites. Nations truly independent of these Powers and their global reach were few and, with the exception of China, comparatively unimportant.

With Russia's collapse and the move into a condition of de jure independence by their client states, America was left in undisputed control. However, many of America's satellites, earlier bound to her for protection, now feel that they can not only be independent of the US but oppose her or form combinations against her.

Historically, one would expect countries facing another state which deployed great power and, were it to take its position seriously, great influence ... to seek for ways of mitigating the control of the super state, even of escaping it altogether.

This being a procedure difficult to accomplish single-handed, the usual way to go is via alliances of one type or another.

In the old days, one could unambiguously name the Alliance objective - anti someone else. Thus, the Anti-Comintern Pact of 1935 - which was directed specifically at Communist Russia. Whereas NATO wasn't, although in fact Russia was the chosen hate object.

And the substitution of general and regional titles for alliances and combinations means that they can be used for many purposes, including ones not foreseen at the time of their foundation.

Many of us have been saying that as the sole superpower, America enjoys more clout than she ever possessed before. But, upon consideration - some amendments are required.

When Russia and her client states were in place, all of America's allies accepted her lead and her right to take 10 per cent off the top - so to speak - in many of their collective transactions.

Although her word was not law in the Chinese or Russian spheres, and non-aligned states could bargain with her and say "no" from time to time, now she can, in theory, move most places in the world if she so requires. But in reality, her military presence and the lands of her allies and erstwhile allies must be by invitation.

Furthermore, in other countries not her allies, she is frequently not invited, nor is she wanted. Everything is up for negotiation, as are her trading and other economic activities.

And other countries may discriminate against, even exclude, American cultural products. In the past, some have. In the future, some may again. So, superpower though she is, America is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent.

In the post 1989 era, not only the US but the rest of us have come to realise that a great many problems which had been pushed to one side, or anaesthetised by the Cold War, have re-emerged.

Some are products of failed World War One settlements, others of decolonisation, and of new states which rose there from. Then there was the reawakening of militant nationalisms, religious movements with political agendas; the collapse of one historic power, Russia, and the return to centre stage of another, hitherto absent, namely China.

Two significant areas of unfinished political business, i.e., order, used to be called the Eastern Question and the Middle East Question.

The collapse of the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires has left groups of states which, through their periodic instability, incomplete political or economic viability, and a shortfall in genuine political legitimacy in the eyes of their own subjects, have remained as prey to outsiders, and causes of conflict.

Many of them are in danger of being called failed states. The global system is not secure, nor is it likely to work smoothly, while such troubled areas remain.

But worse, the new post-colonial states of Africa, and now a number to our north, are not working. Many are becoming more and more unstable, hence internally or in some cases externally, disputatious.

At least there was peace under the old empires and the newest products of decolonisation - the southern and central Asian republics of the old Soviet Union - promise all manner of conflicts in the years to come, likely to involve great powers. The British disposition of territories in the Indian sub-continent has come unstuck - with India and Pakistan at one another's throats, Sri Lanka locked in continuous civil war, and Burma sunk in corruption and despotism.

To which I would add the increasing failure of the states which came into being in Central and South America - following upon the disappearance of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to name a state there that is in good political and economic health, where governments are ceded legitimacy, where laws operate without the constant visible evidence of force. The mores, the religious institutions and local communities are the bonds keeping people together - and they are under siege.

I did not mention the cross-cutting attacks on order and justice represented by the global drug industry, arms industries, crime networks, organised mass migratory movements, and the marching and counter-marching of the multinationals and the great banks pushing aside governments, national borders, and fracturing civil society.

In the light of all this - is it plausible to fear that a super power, for example America, is going to set up a world empire like the Romans or a Pax Britannica? Perhaps the last chances for doing that were the Thousand Year Reich or a global Communist system.

In fact, the United States finds it virtually impossible to get even the Latin Americans to consistently do their bidding. Nowadays, it has to be done by influence, for force is quite, quite insufficient. And how much longer can this situation work?

As to the United Nations being able to deal with failed, failing or warring states - it has been a resounding disappointment, and we all know it, though many of us cannot face this. It is still mired in Yugoslavia.

The Splitting of the West

After the Berlin Wall fell, the US virtually controlled the IMF, the World Bank and GATT (now the WTO). For the time being she still does. She also had control - for what it was worth, for it was regularly inefficacious - of the UN, especially the Security Council. That control has now gone. She, and Britain, have had the major say in NATO - because they are the only ones prepared to fight, and have been putting up most of the money. But NATO, as it acquires more and more members, is failing or refusing to meet more and more of America's wishes, and needs.

The trump cards that the US and Britain have held is that they have been the ones with forces in readiness, willingness to supply peacekeepers, willingness to provide the force needed to impose UN sanctions. But, the new arrangements proposed by the UN, led by France, Russia and China, are that there are to be no resorts to or threats of force by the UN, and no unilateral use of force by individual nations either.

This was to remove the dominant influence of the Anglo-Americans. But it is also a signal to rogue states, or movements, that they can transgress with impunity. By the time the UN decides on "action", the damage should have been done. This policy, if persisted in, will mean the virtual demise of the UN as a means of protecting peace, by deterring or punishing those who breach or threaten international peace or order.

The excuse of the old League of Nations was that it had no powers to use force so as to execute its sanctions. And we still remember the regret that the US was not a member of the League, hence unavailable to lend a hand. Well ... she is now - but Old Europe wants to go back to the League. They couldn't have chosen a more appropriate time.

I suppose what we are watching is an informal coalition against the US led by France, Russia and China, designed to halt her in her tracks and destroy her prestige (and that of Britain; France's eternal wish since Joan of Arc). Even if this entails supporting and protecting Saddam Hussein. There must be no regime change!

The Western left are now vehemently in favour of all of this.

Lip service is paid about the evils of terrorism while private assurances are sought from the countries running the terrorists that they - the Western protectors of Iraq - will be left alone. The Americans and their friends can cop it. A species of proxy war against the Anglo-Saxons, supported by some of the Europeans.

As to the evidence of a world-wide stirring and spreading of militant Islam and the victory they would feel they've won, that's not important. What is important is that Europe, China and Russia would have got their revenge on America.

This project is going to fail, I would think, but it promises to create, at the very least, permanent distrust between the leading players.

The moral position in which the Australian Left and its unofficial spokesmen - including journos and clerics - have assumed is a new example of the Rake's Progress. Having lent their sympathy and support in past years to Russia, China, Pol Pot and the various terrorist groups over the years, then a chorus line of Third World Left dictators - they only had to be anti-Western to pass - the Left have been floundering for a new side with which to identify. And attacking global capitalism just didn't do the trick.

Arafat was a good old standby, but he began to look too malleable. So, when the Taliban turned up, the Left - like Vincent Price - gained fresh hope. And when bin Laden appeared and the Twin Towers were destroyed, a whisper of "serves them right" was heard running through our political underworld.

The stunning American victory in Afghanistan has not gone down too well with our true believers. But now, the man to get behind is Saddam Hussein, with the principle that there should be no regime change (a new Marxist principle?), as the centrepiece.

Australian Labor has had a long association with Iraq, so it might just be force of habit with them.

Consider what kind of regime our Left, and their friends in the media, want preserved and protected! But the Iraqi people and their persecuted minorities, the Kurds and the Shias, they shall not be free if this anti-US campaign succeeds. And just forget all those SBS films about the Kurds and oppressed Shias. Bush is the real enemy.

The Left and their spokesmen have just formally declared their moral bankruptcy.

After the earthquake; here come the looters

Someone wrote, "All newspaper editorial writers ever do is come down from the hills after the battle is over and bayonet the wounded." We have been watching this grisly exercise being enacted by the ghouls and furies of the local media, following upon the Bali tragedy - and a tasteless and periodically hypocritical spectacle it has been, too much of the time.

The private lives and personal sufferings of victims are being ruthlessly invaded, for the purpose of turning tragedy into banality, by conscienceless vulgarians, who apparently could not wait for the coming bushfire season before serving up their Mills and Boon versions of human life and private suffering.

We have earlier watched these vandals bowdlerising our religious occasions - Christmas, Easter, the initially ersatz but now emotionally important Mothers Day ... even Fathers Day - our patriotic moments of tragic remembrance - Gallipoli, Armistice Day - all trivialised and turned into touchy-feely tableaux by media cynics and rock concert entrepreneurs. Insofar as such tragic or holy occasions can ever be trivialised. But they can be commodified, and are: for nothing is sacred to the profane.

Thus Bali, possibly only one catastrophe in an unfolding process, whereby war is to be fought within civilian societies - not on battlefields - has made demands upon our media and Left establishments, that they were simply incapable of meeting. Demands of morality, sensitivity, of personal maturity. And, following from that, of ordinary patriotism and common sense.

In the face of this horror in Bali, and the far-reaching implications of the event, our media, which is the main interpreter that most people have of the world beyond their immediate circle, collapse swiftly into a banalisation of tragedy, and a search for individuals who, traumatised by their experiences, or their grief, might be persuaded to express anger, resentment, to rail against the Fates, and have them vent this agony of mind against .... The Government, John Howard, etc.

So, perhaps Bob Brown and some Labor senators could call for another inquiry.

And this is the contribution of our journalists to the tragic story of Bali.

Just compare Sir Keith Murdoch's reportage of the catastrophes of World War One, with the macabre buffooneries of his latter-day successors.

  • Max Teichmann

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