OPINION

The scramble for survival

Europe’s economic drift, which is deepening the global crisis that broke out three years ago, the overthrow of Arab regimes and the rise of new powers constitute the main aspects of the great redistribution of resources and influence that we are witnessing today.

In the last century, the colonial powers of Europe divided the peoples and wealth of Africa among themselves; the peace imposed by the victors of World War I undermined all hope of peace in Europe and carved out the borders in the Middle East that continue to lead to wars; in Yalta, the Allies divided the world into two camps and quickly marched toward a cold war that lasted decades. Today the search for a new global dispensation is not the project of great powers and victors of war. It is the readjustment of the defeated, of those who are overburdened by debt, of the unready — all of whom, together, worry about the future.

No country has the power to force its will upon the others. The leading powers of the last century still have the greatest influence through the mechanisms of global governance that were established at the end of World War II, but their economies have exhausted their capabilities. However, the rising powers, such as China, are not in a position to impose their will on the old powers, because their development depends on the well-being and continued consumption by the economies of America and Europe. They also depend on their investments in the United States and (to a much lesser extent) in Europe.

But perhaps the greatest obstacle faced by China, India, Brazil, Russia and South Africa is the fear that stems from the wide gap between their rich and their poor. In these societies, the chasm has not been bridged, whereas in America, in Europe and other ?mature? economies, fear is focused on the fact that the gap was small but is now widening at terrifying speed, thus multiplying popular discontent.

The rising powers base their strength on others’ ability to buy their exports. But today the consumer countries are deep in debt because of their effort to maintain a high standard of life for their citizens even as jobs go toward the developing economies. Some money returns to the West to purchase debt, which allows the debtor countries to slip deeper into debt, with the result that all countries are tied together in a deadly embrace. The globalized economy has resulted in a global knot that cannot be undone without causing incalculable damage. The unfettered markets funded the swift development of the past decades, but they eradicated every border and every limit, creating the imbalances which today’s system of global economic governance is unable to deal with.

In the Arab world, the peoples’ pursuit of a greater share in political power and wealth has overturned regimes and created the momentum for more change. The frozen revolution of Egypt, where the Islamists are gaining power, shows how hard it is to predict where this year’s revolts will lead and how this will affect the political balances in the region and the supply of oil to the rest of the world.

Greece is in the center of the storm. This is where we first saw the economic and social impasse of a society that consumes more than it produces — and though our endemic problems are evident, it is just as clear that we are not the only country that is unable to stand on its own. This, too, is where we saw the first reactions against the bankruptcy of politicians and economists. This is where we saw Europe’s inability to handle the structural imbalance between its members, which has resulted in the EU’s desperate current effort to find a new form of economic governance, through half-half measures and half-truths.

The whole planet is worried. Greece is on the periphery of the changes in the Arab world and the new conditions will have an immediate impact on our country’s economy and strategic significance. Greece cannot affect developments, but it is of the utmost importance that our politicians understand that their chief obligation is to keep the country solvent by whatever means necessary and to work out a serious long-term strategy — so that we are not lost in the storm, so that we can make use of the great changes taking place around us.