The next American Century begins,by Sharif ShujaNews Weekly
, May 19, 2001
The global economy can work only if the world is a predictable place in which individuals and corporations know their rights and can enforce them. In other words, the apolitical world of globalisation can prosper only under the aegis of a political entity, its guarantor, the United States. That is why globalisation is increasingly understood to be a synonym of Americanisation.
This identification between globalisation and Americanisation deserves further analysis because it is a source of ambiguities, misunderstandings, and resentment. Does it mean that globalisation is an instrument of American imperial design, just as communism supported Soviet ambitions? In developing countries, as well as in a rich, often anti-American country like France, many people suspect that it does.
Yet the United States, having become an empire almost by accident, does not see itself as an empire. Actually its foreign policy looks increasingly like the sum of the special interests promoted by specific internal groups. Washington may be the capital of a global empire, but this empire (uniquely) is without an emperor. How to resolve this paradox? The Asia-Pacific region furnishes clues.
Globalisation will not have the same effect in the Asia Pacific region as in North America or Europe, and (as Leszek Buszynski, Dean of the Graduate School of International Relations at the International University of Japan, noted) imagining that it ever could have the same effect would be senseless. At this stage we need to look at this globalisation issue more closely.
Samuel M. Makinda, of Murdoch University's School of International Politics, argues in the April-May 1998 issue of Current Affairs Bulletin:
"The question of how to reconcile differences with uniformity, universalism with particularism, and globalisation with fragmentation, will remain central to policy makers at the national, regional and global levels ... [Government officials] often try to blame globalisation for their policy failures. They will claim that they were powerless to do much for their countries in the face of globalising forces. But, as always, they will claim credit for any positive results."
In an Asia Week interview on November 24, 2000, South Korean President and Nobel peace laureate Kim Dae-Jung said:
"Globalisation is a historically inevitable path. The entire world will become one market, and nations will cooperate while competing. Economic activities of all nations will be aimed at producing the best but cheapest goods and services and supplying them to the rest of the world, while buying the best and cheapest products from other countries. Any nation will face defeat if it goes against globalisation."
Nevertheless there is a real risk of two civilisations emerging: one based on the capacity to generate and utilise knowledge, the other passively receiving knowledge from abroad and deprived of the ability to modify it. Humanity now faces the prospect of this Knowledge Divide.
The huge income gap between rich and poor is now being exacerbated by a North-South 'digital divide' between those who have access to computers and the Internet and those who do not.
According to a recent UN Human Development Report, industrialised countries, with only 15 per cent of the world's population, are home to 88 per cent of all Internet users. South Asia, with 23 per cent of the world's population, has less than l per cent of the world's Internet users. In South-East Asia, only one person in 200 is linked to the Internet. In the Arab states, only one person in 500 has Internet access. The situation is even worse in Africa, where, with 739 million people, there are only 14 million phone lines.
Although there have been tremendous advances in science and technology over the last few decades, the developing world is still far behind in the technological race. Many societies which have yet to finish the first industrial revolution now find themselves confronted with the third: namely, the information explosion, which often imposes on such societies a logic of disintegration.
Thanks to such factors, many critics consider globalisation an anti-democratic process that excludes the interests of a wide range of groups. But market forces alone do not shape it. Governments are vitally important.
We can see this fact in Pakistan, where an administration with a strong agenda of social reform faces the danger of a flight of capital if the agenda is actually implemented.
Faced with such a dilemma, governments have generally selected the side of capital for a simple reason: as economist Paul Krugman has noted, the collapse of communism has taken the heart out of opposition to capitalism.
International trade theorist Professor Jagdish Bhagcoati of Columbia University, argues (The UNESCO Courier, September 2000) that globally integrated free markets are essential for making a dent on poverty. He comments:
"As for inequality among nations, it is precisely those countries that embraced integration into the world economy, i.e. the Far Eastern Four and then the ASEAN countries, which raced ahead with dramatic growth rates whereas several countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia that looked inwards failed to deliver growth."
This has failed to stop protests from anti-globalisation elements around the world. Lobby groups (often ethnic minority groups) in nations as far apart as the Philippines and Ecuador have produced similar international opposition to globalisation. We have seen their opposition erupting in Seattle, Melbourne, Prague, Davos (Switzerland), Qubec City, and most recently in Melbourne again on May 1.
Protest on such a scale supplies added point to what Professor Paul Kennedy - in his contribution to a series of papers called 21st Century Talks, given in Paris on November 6, 1999 - has said:
"If we want to work towards a knowledge-based society in the coming century, over at least the next ten years, we need to make a concerted effort to bring poorer societies into the system of electronic communication. lf we do nothing, then the growing gap between haves and have-nots will lead to widespread discontent and threaten any prospect of global harmony and international understanding. That is the most significant challenge we face."