Globalisation revisited: Dangers of Trump's America First

Hasnat Abdul Hye   | Published: October 30, 2018 21:26:51

President Donald Trump addressing the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 2018: "We reject the ideology of globalism and embrace the doctrine of patriotism" —Photo: AP

By now there is almost a surfeit of literature on the subject of globalisation. From erudite academics to well-known journalists, books on globalisation are pouring in the market endlessly. There have been few subjects in recent memory that have attracted so much attention from  such a diverse group for over a long time. Though it is not a new-fangled idea any more, the fascination with it and its various ramifications remain unabated.

Those who have written books on globalisation are either for or against it, with some falling in between having mixed feelings. Though no consensus has yet been reached either on the merits or demerits of the process of globalisation it has become a fact to be reckoned with all seriousness. The protagonists have been enthusiastic about the positive aspects of globalisation. Its role in expanding global trade and through it, growth of global wealth, is explicated with facts and figures. Deregulation, privatisation and liberalisation of trade, allowing free movement of goods, capital and services are held out as the key to accelerating the process. The less developed countries may not benefit much in the beginning but before long they, too, are destined to catch up with developed countries, it is pointed out.

The sceptics are not so sure about the beneficial impact of globalisation. Its egregious effects on the distribution of global prosperity is pointed out, as is the prospect of growing inequality within a country. The double standard followed by developed countries in their trading regime is explained as the major factor contributing to the deprivation of developing countries from the benefit of globalisation. Besides, exploitation by multinationals has become the staple of anti-globalisers' relentless campaign.

 By present reckoning, the polemics used by the rival and competing camps is likely to get intensified in future. The subject was looked at and analysed from a new perspective in the recent past. It was a narrow one and was pre-occupied with the interests of a single country. President George W Bush gave the National Intelligence Council (NIC), among other tasks, the assessment of the impact of globalisation in the world affairs. The effects were not to be confined to economics only and the matter had to be seen from the viewpoint of American national interests, particularly security, the Council was told. No other study or writing then or later had this focus. The scope of the study was broad in so far as it embraced more than one effects of globalisation. But it was narrow because the issues had to be seen in the light of interests of a single country. The national security aspects of globalisation were given emphasis over all other consideration. The National Intelligence Council was to live up to its designation as an intelligence gathering body and ferret out secrets of the not too distant past in order to forecast possible scenarios in the near future.

The National Security Council prepared a report under the caption 'Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project' and submitted it to the Bush Administration. Excerpts from the Report were published in newspapers. According to the forecast of the Council, marked economic progress would take place in the world by 2020 but all the countries would not progress at the same rate. What was of strategic interest and a matter of trepidation to America was that a few countries in Asia would become its rivals. Countries which would fail to benefit from globalisation would nurse grievances which, in turn, were likely to be exploited by extremists. In the view of the National Council, by 2020 many terrorist organisation like Al Qaeda would emerge across the globe. These terrorist groups would join hands with regional secessionist groups that were active at low level and add fuel to simmering wars at present or in future.

Considering the uncertainty about the directions in which globalisation might proceed, the Council prepared four scenarios. The first of it this was called "Davos World" which had positive aspects and played a conducive role in the world economy. Opposite to this was the scenario named by the Council as the 'Cycle of Fear'. In this case the fear of conflict and terrorism would spread in such a way that large-scale use of military force will be necessary to maintain security. The environment of suspicion and fear created by the development had been described as 'Orwellian'. The Council had thought of a third scenario and named it "New Caliphate" where a religion-based movement would challenge the values of the West. Under the name 'Pax Americana', the Council had outlined a scenario where America would give leadership to build a new world order to survive the emerging changes in world politics. The Council pointed out the huge cost involved in this.

In economic matters, the Council had highlighted the fact that China and India might shape the process of globalisation in the coming 15 years. It had spelt out the implications of development in respect of influence over world economy. The emergence of these two economic powers had been compared with the unification of Germany in the nineteenth century and the rise of America as a global power in the twentieth century. According to the Council, China and India's growing economic power would change the geo-political power in the world and its consequences would be as profound as the global changes during the past two centuries. Both China and India would give leadership in the technology arena in future. By 2020 the head office of global corporations would be located in Asia and they would be less dependent on Western economies. They would have their operation mostly in China, Brazil and India.

It is obvious that the Council, under the mandate given to it, was primarily concerned with the economic supremacy of America and its national security. That a new international economic order led by the new economic powerhouse like China, may displace the pre-eminence of America had been sent as a danger signal and not as a prospect to be welcomed. The policy implications for this scenario had not been delineated but are not difficult to conclude. America and Europe should band together to face the emerging challenge from Asia. This would require closer economic relationship and co-operation between America and Europe, it was implied. The council did not share the widely held view that the major beneficiaries of globalisation would be the developed countries like America because of the head start they had. Rather, it indirectly cautioned America against opening its market to countries like China and India. Based on its forecast about the impact of globalisation recommendations for more protective measures in trade were made.

By arguing that some countries would fail to benefit from globalisation and thus become breeding ground of extremists and terrorists, the Council seemed to further ask for rethinking globalisation as it was unfolding. Globalisation should be welcome as long as it serves the interests of America, the Administration was bluntly told. This was a rank reactionary, parochial and selfish point of view. Its premise was political hegemony as the by-product of economic power. The conclusion was America could let upstarts like China grow powerful economically, only at its own peril.

By drumming up fear about the spread of extremism and the emergence of more terrorist groups like Al Quaeda, the Council had given adequate justification for the continuance of the "war on terrorism" even at the cost of violating sovereignty of nations and human rights. Reference made about the need for large-scale military operation was in fact a not too subtle suggestion that pre-emptive and unilateral military attacks would be justified. By referring to the burden of cost to make the world safe from terrorism, discreet overture had been made for help and co-operation from Europe.

The most divisive prediction by the Council was made under the 'New Caliphate' scenario, where a religion-based movement had been envisaged challenging western values. It does not require much imagination to realise that the religion in question is Islam. If there was any doubt about that, the epithet 'New Caliphate' dispelled it almost graphically. It is the 'Clash of Civilisation' revisited in propaganda terms. Not that it was not pressed into service before. The neo-cons and the hawks in American Enterprise had already taken over foreign policy and security strategy making, with clash of civilisation as the ideological underpin. The Council had propagated the idea and recycled it more bluntly and openly in its Report. Based on this scenario, America could only be expected to be more biased against Muslims and engage in forms of hostility towards regimes in the Muslim world that were not its stooges. If that really came about, the world in near future was going to be a very unstable place, adversely affecting almost every one, in some way or other. From this point of view, the Council had not promoted the interests of the world community at all. If its explicit and implicit recommendations were acted on, it might turn out that even American long-term interests had been jeopardised.

It is known how seriously the Report of the National Intelligence Council was deliberated by Bush Administration and the subsequent administrations in America. But there is no doubt that the views and recommendations about terrorism found immediate response in Bush Administration resulting in further toughening up its measures against terror, giving new momentum to the ongoing war on terror. As regards globalisation's consequences for American economy, the recommendations of the Report seem to have been put on hold. President Trump resurrected the perceived threat to American economy by liberal trade policy following his surprise victory in election. He did this, taking note of the grievances and discontent among the workers and members of middle class on the back of whose support he rode to power. He had no doubt that America had spoken against globalisation, particularly in respect of trade and investment. Backed by popular support, the Trump administration under 'America First' slogan adopted a no-holds-barred policy to stem the tide of globalisation of trade and investment that targeted not only China but some of its closest allies also. India was not a threat, as was forecast by the Council in its Report to Bush Administration. Trump Administrations' unabashedly nationalist approach to trade and investment may have taken a leaf out of the Council Report but the immediate and most potent source of policy decision in this regard has been the popular discontent which was not evident earlier when the Council prepared the Report. It can now be said that the policy on trade and protection derived more traction from popular mandate than intellectual or ideological policy analysis. The Council's Report may have provided facts and figures about the adverse impact of globalisation on American economy but it is mainly popular discontent against globalisation that has served as the spring board for policy making and actions in respect of trade by Trump Administration. It is not arguable that an elected regime has to respond to popular sentiment. Whether that response should be free from any concern about a global economic architecture based on mutually supportive policies is a question that America cannot avoid to answer.




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