Globalization with a human face

The ills of US-led globalization served as the focus of a discussion that took place at the Stoa tou Vivliou book arcade in Athens on Monday, during which politicians and academics offered their diagnoses and tentative solutions. Neoliberal globalization, the speakers said, is not a rigid and inexorable process, but rather a phenomenon that can be tamed by returning to a multipolar world with reinforced supranational institutions. The discussion took place on the occasion of the presentation of Nikos Kotzias’s new book, «Globalization: Historical Overview, Future and Political Significance,» by Kastaniotis publishers. Kotzias is a former Foreign Ministry adviser whose academic career has taken him to Thessaloniki, Marburg, Oxford and Harvard. «The question is not whether globalization will go on, but how we will mold it so as to safeguard human values, principles and practices such as human rights, democracy and the environment,» Foreign Minister George Papandreou said. Failure to do so, he added, will cause «an increase in poverty, racism, fundamentalism and fragmentation.» Nikos Constantopoulos, the leader of Synaspismos Left Coalition, also rejected the deterministic interpretation of globalization, which he denounced as «a tool used to consolidate an ostensibly inescapable new world order.» In his eyes, no doubt, this new world order looks uncomfortably American. «Through its imperial hegemony, the mightiest [state] plans to refashion the world,» Constantopoulos said, stressing that America is promoting its agenda by shunning what it sees as the clumsy implements of international law and instead invoking the code of force majeure. Many states in Europe and elsewhere have been unsettled by Washington’s macho posturing and burgeoning unilateralism in world affairs as expressed in the pre-emptive war on Iraq – a radical new twist in American hegemony. The US strike was launched without a prior UN mandate. Costas Vergopoulos, a political economy professor at the Panteion University of Athens, blamed American assertiveness for the worsening state of the US economy as mirrored in its ballooning trade deficit and huge debt. «The US is sinking ever deeper, a fact which explains its growing aggressiveness.» Some analysts and historians claim that the relative decline of the once-powerful American economy is pushing Washington into alternative, more martial ways of upholding its challenged predominance, a strategic shift that is replacing the image of legitimate custodian with that of the empire. Despite their diverse political backgrounds, the panelists were more or less in agreement over the ways in which Europeans and other global players can soften the implications of US-led globalization and counter-balance America’s global power. The superpower Most asserted that states must aim to offset US power by strengthening collective international bodies like the United Nations and by bolstering regional blocs like the European Union as counterweights to US leverage. «We must re-examine supranational institutions,» said Giorgos Alogoskoufis, a deputy of the New Democracy opposition, suggesting that they were out of sync with the current balance of power. Constantopoulos struck a similar note in emphasizing the need to «upgrade and democratize» the structure of the UN. Many commentators have long called for an overhaul of the UN’s Security Council structure, which echoes the 1945 balance of power. The permanent members of the Security Council are the USA, Russia, Britain, France and China – mostly, that is, the victorious allies of World War II. Despite their acknowledgment of the essential role that international institutions must play in the new international system, the speakers agreed that the nation state should not be written off as yet. The nation state still has a paramount role to play for it is «the ultimate guarantor of individual rights,» Papandreou said, scorning the fashionable fatalism that the state «is prey to globalization.» «The state will not disappear,» Kotzias noted, but it will have to adapt to new challenges and deal with a whole new set of problems that mandate fresh strategic approaches, he added. Multipolar world Similarly, Constantopoulos and Alogoskoufis both made the argument for multipolarity as the only way of balancing and containing the influence of the superpower. Last month, British Prime Minister Tony Blair criticized leaders who advocated a multipolar world, saying that this was bound to give birth to rival power centers. Rather, Blair said, the EU and Washington should act as a «one-polar world» and deal with problems together – an idea that was later slammed by France. Russia and China have also backed the idea of a multipolar system. Constantopoulos and Vergopoulos placed much hope in the so-called Seattle movement – the mass wave against corporate-led globalization that emerged at the ill-fated WTO ministerial meeting in Seattle in November 1999. The anti-globalization demonstrations, Vergopoulos said, are a sign that «the Left is renewing itself, that it is rediscovering its natural mission,» which, true to form, he described as the effort «to unveil the hidden secret of exploitation.» As he has done in his latest work, Kotzias struck a more moderate note that was not in line with Vergopoulos’s anti-capitalist tirades, saying that we must treat globalization as «a new phenomenon» which comes with «perils as well as unprecedented opportunities.» Vergopoulos appeared barely convinced. To be sure, he said, quoting a line from Kotzias’s new volume, «in dealing with globalization, we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.» «But this does not mean that we should never clean the water for fear of throwing out the baby.»