A Greek take on American hegemony

Naked US power politics and the promotion of the «markets-solve-all» model have increased global injustices and inequalities, exacerbating the danger of global instability, speakers at a conference on globalization agreed yesterday. There was less consensus, however, on how the ills of corporate-led globalization can be tamed. The discussion took place at the French Institute in Athens at the launching of Costas Vergopoulos’s new book, titled «Coming Full Circle. Repression and Hegemony in the 21st Century» and published by Livani editions. The book by Vergopoulos, an economics professor at the Sorbonne and political economy professor in Athens’s Panteion University, comes at a crucial juncture as the United States braces for a showdown against Iraq in the face of a worldwide public backlash against Washington’s arm-twisting tactics. «Globalization turned from hope into a nightmare. And now the pipe dream of globalization is giving its place to the pipe dream of repression,» Vergopoulos told the conference summarizing the concept of his latest work. But the stakes are the same, he added. «It’s all about keeping US hegemony in place.» The US can no longer shoulder the burden of the global economy, but it does not want to relinquish its dominant position. The only way in which it can sustain its hegemony, Vergopoulos said, is by tightening its grip on the rest of the world. Security against terrorism provides the perfect pretext. America’s new national security strategy announced last year authorized pre-emptive attacks against hostile states or states with weapons of mass destruction to counter the spread of terrorism. Terrorism is, no doubt, a fundamental issue, Vergopoulos said. But it is not the only issue. By promoting a Hobbesian vision of the world as «homo hominis lupus,» the author asserted, the Bush administration is effectively sidelining questions about inequality, unemployment, authoritarianism and other issues which do not serve its immediate goals. Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos added to the criticism of US foreign policy by noting that «the one-dimensional thinking (of the US administration) has acquired theological elements» – an allusion to US President George W. Bush’s «axis of evil» in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. In an attempt to justify Europe’s relative passivity toward America’s go-it-alone attitude, Venizelos said that EU pusillanimity toward US bravado in foreign policy is the result of «a century-long habit of availing themselves of mercenary services.» «Therefore, we cannot, all of a sudden, expect to have an independent defense,» he admitted. Concerns about non-EU NATO members having a say in EU military planning have long held up the formation of an EU rapid reaction force. Venizelos’s predecessor at the Culture Ministry, Theodoros Pangalos, laid out the failings and limitations of neoliberal globalization. The depletion of the world’s power supplies, the bankruptcy of a consumerist lifestyle, environmental destruction and overpopulation are all set to challenge the viability and sustainability of the current model, said Pangalos. The hegemonic powers are arrogant and shortsighted, the Socialist deputy suggested. «They would rather carry out an oil war in Iraq than seek new forms of power,» Pangalos said. New Democracy deputy Prokopis Pavlopoulos took a more liberal – economically speaking – approach on globalization, asserting that it has been a positive force in many areas of human activity such as technological innovation, artistic creation and scientific research. Nonetheless, «one can see a peculiar state of anomie (in the global system),» the conservative deputy said. «There are no rules to control globalization. There are no institutions (powerful enough) to impose international law.» «It’s a rule,» Pavlopoulos said. «One cannot expect the top dog to impose rules upon itself.» The US has provoked anger in the international community because of its lone-wolf record on international obligations such as the permanent war crimes court or the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. «We must try to tame globalization and not to abolish it. We have to play by its own rules,» Pavlopoulos said, adding that the EU could play a significant role in this area by pushing for the establishment of a legal framework binding for all. The other panelists proposed more marginal forms of resistance. Vergopoulos expressed hope that the fledging anti-globalization movement could bring about a transformation from within as growing public pressure makes the elites realize that their old tactics are a spent force. «So change will come from above, although the process will start from below.» «There is no need for a socialist revolution,» the leftist writer conceded. «The capitalist system has proved that it can be better than it is today,» Vergopoulos said, whereas Pangalos broadened the resistance beyond the so-called «Seattle movement» to include groups like the Chiapas in Mexico. «The only challenge to the new world order will come from the fringe,» Pangalos said. Eleftherotypia publisher Seraphim Fyntanidis, the coordinator of the debate, struck a more pessimistic tone. «Globalization,» he said, «is more like a rainstorm or a natural phenomenon. There’s little you can do about it.»