This paper is a modest attempt at offering some tentative thoughts on one of the most momentous changes taking place in the contemporary world: the decline of United States’ helmed hegemony and the possible emergence of a more equitable pattern of international relations with all its implications for global politics and economics.
I shall begin with an analysis of the first phase of the US quest for global hegemony from 1945 to about 1991. I shall then examine the causes of the decline of US hegemony in the current phase. This will be followed by an overview of a post-hegemonic world and its possible pattern of power. The paper ends with some reflections on some of the implications of this pattern of power for a more just and equitable world order.
Neither Global nor Total
It should be stated at the very outset that US hegemony has never been global or total in the real sense. In 1945, it appeared for a while at least that the US would dominate the world totally. It had just emerged from the Second World War, (WW2) relatively unscathed, as the world’s mightiest power. To demonstrate its military superiority to the world, it atom bombed Hiroshima on August 6 1945. Three days later, it bombed another Japanese city, Nagasaki, killing a total of two-hundred and fifty thousand people. This twin bombing had no justification since the Japanese military elite had already intimated to US commanders in the Pacific that their country was prepared to surrender. The real motive behind the bombs, to reiterate, was to send a warning to all other powers that no one should fool around with the planet’s supremo. The US’s military might was one critical dimension of its hegemonic power in 1945. It established its power in two other important areas as well. It set up the United Nations as the political infrastructure for its dominance and control. This is why it established within the UN an entity called the Security Council with five permanent members, the US and four of its allies at that time (Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China), each equipped with a veto, to ensure that the five would determine the direction of the world. For managing the global economy, which was even more important, the US elite devised three inter-related institutions: the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. GATT, now supplanted by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), was initiated ostensibly to create an environment that was conducive to free trade--- free trade which often was not fair trade. The IMF’s proclaimed goal is to stabilise exchange rates and foster global monetary cooperation though what it has done in fact especially since the nineties is to strengthen neo-liberal capitalism and to preserve the US dollar as the pivot of the global financial system. Similarly, the World Bank, whose main stated aim is to extend loans to developing countries has been asking them to promote liberalization, deregulation and privatisation which lies at the core of what has come to be known as The Washington Consensus.
The US was also at the forefront of science and technology immediately after WW2 which was one of the reasons for its economic dominance at that point. Its command over technology also gave the US a huge advantage over other states in the dissemination of information and in the popularisation of American culture.
In a sense, the combination and concentration of overwhelming military power, political power, economic power, scientific and technological power and information and cultural power in the hands of a single nation in 1945 was a unique and unprecedented moment in history. It would have set the stage for total US global hegemony. However, certain developments occurred in the years that followed which stymied the US’s hegemonic ambition.
The first of these was the split between the US and the Soviet Union. Uneasy allies in WW2, the ideological chasm that separated capitalist US from communist Soviet Union came to the fore in the immediate post-war period. Fearing the expansion of Soviet influence from Eastern Europe --- most of the states there were Soviet satellites--- to Western Europe, the new US President, Harry Truman, enunciated the Truman Doctrine in 1947 that sought to check communism. His aggressive stance towards the Soviet Union culminated in a clash between US led Western allies and the Soviet Union over Germany in 1848-9. As a consequence, Germany was divided into the German Federal Republic (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The US and its European allies then established a military alliance ---- the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) ---to counter what it perceived as the Soviet threat to Europe and North America. Six years after NATO was formed, in 1955, partly in response to the incorporation of West Germany into NATO, the Soviet Union forged the Warsaw Pact, a military agreement that linked the Soviet Union to its East European satellites. The lines were drawn for a confrontation between the US and its allies, on the one hand, and the Soviet Union and its satellites on the other--- a confrontation known as the Cold War.
It was the Cold War which checked US hegemony from the late forties to the early nineties. Indeed, the communist challenge to the US also emanated from another direction. In 1949, the pro-US regime in Beijing, the Kuomintang, was overthrown in a popular revolution led by the communist leader, Mao Tse-Tung. China, another war-time ally of the US, was now an adversary. There were other communist challenges from Asia. As a result of the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, the peninsula was divided with North Korea professing communism. Over the last 59 years it has been consistent in opposing US hegemony. Vietnam is another country in Asia which was a victim of US hegemony in the sixties and early seventies. More than 3 million Vietnamese died at the hands of the hegemon defending their land and their integrity.
It was not just communist states. The post-war decades saw the growth of nationalism and the rise of independent nation-states all over Asia and Africa. While some of these states were completely aligned to the US, a number of them were determined to protect their newly acquired independence and sovereignty. The Bandung Conference of 1955 which brought a galaxy of Asian leaders to the Indonesian city was a manifestation of this determination. It was the Bandung spirit that gave birth to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1961. NAM’s leading lights such as Indonesia’s Sukarno, India’s Nehru, Egypt’s Nasser, Yugoslavia’s Tito and Ghana’s Nkrumah were committed to the creation of a force in international politics that would be neither the pawn of the US nor the puppet of the Soviet Union. It is worth observing that in the early seventies, some members of NAM, propelled by their oil wealth pushed hard for the UN General Assembly to adopt resolutions on the establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO) and a New International Information Order (NIIO). It was, to a large extent, a response to US and Western dominance of both the global economy and the global media.
However, resistance to hegemony from the newly independent states of Asia and Africa and NAM began to lose momentum from the early eighties onwards. The explanation for this lies in a variety of reasons. The capitalist model of development pursued by some of these states which increased their dependence upon the centres of power in the West; different rates of growth and progress among them which impacted negatively upon their solidarity; preoccupation with their own internal challenges; conflicts between states which not only increased mutual antagonism but also sapped their resources; and most of all, the enormous difficulties encountered by nation-states seeking to preserve their independence and sovereignty within a global system dominated by the interests of the hegemon, would be some of the reasons that account for the weakening of resistance to US power.
The communist challenge also waned from around the same time. China chose to embrace the market and open itself to Western investments and technology from 1978 onwards, two years after the death of Mao. So did Vietnam in the mid- eighties. Like China, it felt that the market was a necessary pre-requisite for its economic development. More importantly, Vietnam has been most accommodative of US interests in the region.
In the case of the Soviet Union, both internal and external circumstances forced it to yield to US hegemony. The inability of a command economy to fulfil the consumer wants of a significant segment of society was a factor as was pervasive corruption which tarnished the integrity of the ruling elite. Since the Soviet State maintained its power through a degree of regimentation and repression it fuelled widespread anger and resentment against the communist system. The defeat of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan after almost a decade of occupation also eroded the credibility and legitimacy of the State. In the midst of all these, the reforms introduced by President Mikhail Gorbachev through Glasnost (Openness) and Perestroika (Restructuring) only served to exacerbate the situation. One of the consequences of his reforms were the democratic uprisings in the Soviet satellite states - from Poland and Bulgaria to Czechoslovakia and Rumania - in 1989 which reverberated within the constituent republics of the Soviet Union itself. As a result of these upheavals the Soviet Union itself disintegrated from August 1991. It should be emphasised that the US under Ronald Reagan also had a hand in these upheavals. The pressures exerted directly and indirectly by the US and its agencies without doubt loosened the Soviet grip upon its satellites and hastened the disintegration of the Soviet Union itself.
With the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the most formidable challenge to US hegemony for more than four decades had evaporated. The US was once again the world’s sole superpower. It was master of the universe. That unique 1945 moment had returned.
What this means, in other words, is that in 1991 the US was in a position to establish total, global hegemony. President George Bush Senior’s ability to mobilise a whole spectrum of nations to liberate Kuwait from Iraq’s Saddam Hussein who had invaded the Sheikhdom the previous year, in August 1990, in complete violation of international law, showed that the US commanded considerable support in the international arena.
But that support began to wane when it became clear that it was not just the liberation of Kuwait which was the goal of the US leadership. It was using the Kuwait War to emasculate Iraq through crippling economic sanctions in pursuit of the US’s - and Israel’s - agenda. This agenda which is an important aspect of the ideology, interests and actions of the US elite is partly responsible for the decline of the US.
I shall now look at this decline from three angles. The first is related to the US elite.
Decline: The Elite
War, with the aim of ousting a leader or a government and installing in its place a servile, subservient regime has been a major policy platform of the US elite since the early nineties - though it was evident even in the first phase of hegemony. If the imposition of sanctions in order to punish a state or leader who refuses to submit to the will of the hegemon is a form of war, then Iraq would be the first of the US’s wars in the current phase of its hegemonic drive. After almost 13 years of sanctions which had taken a heavy toll on Iraqi society, the US and Britain, with the connivance of some Arab states, invaded Iraq, without authorisation from the UN Security Council, in March 2003. The pretext offered for the invasion was that the Saddam government possessed ‘weapons of mass destruction’ - which needless to say was a monstrous lie.
The real motives for the conquest and occupation of Iraq are well-known by now: control over the oil of one of the world’s major exporters of the commodity; control of one of the most strategically located countries in the world’s most strategic region that is home to some of the most strategic seas and straits on earth; control over a country which has an abundance of water--- the Tigris and Euphrates--- which is specially crucial for arid Israel; the elimination of a leader and a regime that had utilised its wealth to develop a strong scientific and technological foundation a product of which was a nuclear plant that Israel destroyed in 1981; and the elimination of a leader and a regime that was firmly committed to the Palestinian cause which it supported with ample funds and was, at the same time, totally opposed to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
Because the motives behind the occupation of Iraq, it is so apparent, only served US and Israeli interests, anger and disillusionment with the hegemon and its surrogate remain high, in spite of US troop withdrawal. Besides, it is estimated that from 2003 to 2011 between 107,789 and 117,776 civilians had died as a result of the violence associated with the occupation. Many Iraqis continue to carry physical and psychological scars of rape, of torture, of incarceration. A very big proportion of Iraqi society still has no access to the basic amenities of life. Youth unemployment remains a huge problem. Corruption is rife. There is no political stability either. Massive killings in the name of sects and factions continue. The Shia-Sunni divide has become deeper and is a major cause of violence and bloodshed. In a nutshell, Iraq today is a broken society - when it was once an organised, functioning nation with a relatively prosperous middle-class. The current Iraqi situation is a damning indictment upon US hegemony. That the hegemon has been forced to withdraw testifies to the failure of occupation. It is one of the reasons why the majority of the American population is opposed to their government indulging in military adventures of this sort in the future.
A section of American society also knows that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has been a colossal burden to the taxpayer. According to Economics Laureate, Joseph Stiglitz and Linda T. Bilmes the entire operation had come up to 3 trillion dollars by 2008 and is irrefutably much higher today. While some US oil companies which have won handsome contracts would have benefitted from the occupation, for the ordinary American there have been no direct gains. The US led NATO invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in October 2001 is another war that proves the failure of hegemony.
The war was retaliation of sorts for the 9-11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. since the Taliban regime in Afghanistan had refused to hand over the alleged master-mind of the attack, Osama bin Laden, to the US justice system. As an aside, the attack itself has raised some legitimate questions about who the actual perpetrators were and what the motive was. Whatever the truth, 9-11 became the rationale for launching a ‘War on Terror.’ The US-led War on Terror, contrary to the denials of its initiators and their friends, has for the most part, targeted Muslim groups. Equating Muslims with terrorism and violence which has a long history behind it has become even more rampant. 9-11 has thus rendered Islamophobia more pervasive than before and has even seeped into non-Western societies. This is why there are individuals who argue that the targeting of Muslims and Islam may well have been one of the motives behind 9-11 and the War on Terror.
There may have been other motives. Invading Afghanistan as the curtain-raiser in the War on Terror may have been linked to its strategic location as a nation in the vicinity of China and Russia, on the one hand, and Iran, on the other, and therefore of tremendous significance to the US. Control over Afghanistan also enhances access to the oil fields of a couple of Central Asian republics and Caspian Sea oil. It has been suggested that in terms of oil production the entire region could rival Saudi Arabia in the near future.
Since occupying Afghanistan, the US and its NATO allies have realised that they cannot stem the unending violence which is due largely to their presence. The Taliban who were ousted from power by the NATO invasion have become stronger and have much more support today because they are perceived as a movement fighting the foreign occupier. It is said that they control more of Afghanistan than the NATO backed Hamid Karzai government in Kabul.
The fighting between the Taliban and the NATO-Karzai forces has resulted in thousands of deaths. Tens of thousands of others have also become victims of this conflict mainly because of the displacement and dislocation it causes. Like the war in Iraq, Afghanistan has also been a financial albatross around the neck of the US and its other NATO partners. A 2011 report states that, “The final bill will run at least $3.7 trillion and could reach as high as $4.4 trillion, according to the research project “ Costs of War” by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.”
Once again, both the colossal loss of human lives and the exorbitant financial costs associated with the Afghan adventure condemn the US’s and NATO’s hegemonic agenda. They underscore - if one may reiterate - the failure of hegemony.
The financial costs in particular have sapped the strength of the US economy. The hegemon’s two full-scale wars have contributed to the nation’s burgeoning debt. The world’s largest debtor nation, - with a national debt that stands at 15.9 trillion as of 7 August 2012 - it is quite conceivable that about a third of that debt is attributable to the wars the US has been embroiled in since the beginning of the last decade.
Apart from its national debt, there are other serious flaws in the economy which are also responsible for its deepening malaise. In 2007, the richest 1% of the population owned 34.6% of the nation’s total wealth while the bottom 80% owned 15%. Economic and social disparities in the US are the worst among all industrialised nations of the world. One out of six persons lives in poverty and needs food assistance. In July 2012, 8.3% of the population was unemployed.
Given the magnitude of its economic malaise, the US is in no position to dictate to the world. It is ironical that it is partly because of its quest for global hegemony, that the US is no longer capable of dominating the global economy. But it is not just hegemony that is the cause of its economic decline. Neoliberal capitalism which is the economic credo of the US elite concentrates wealth in the hands of a few. It is an economy that allows investment bankers, hedge fund managers and currency speculators to call the shots.
While the ideology, interests and actions of the US elite has been a major factor in the decline of the US, the resistance of many groups, movements and States to US hegemony has also played a significant role.
Let me begin with resistance from Latin American states, a continent which for nearly two centuries has borne the ignominy of the hegemon’s hubris. In the last 10 years or so, the situation has been changing as one Latin American state after another stands up to defend its independence and integrity.
Before the current period, there was one country though that resisted the might of the US with invincible courage and indomitable fortitude. Because Cuba, an island republic of 11 million people, has refused to submit meekly to its giant neighbour and has insisted upon pursuing its own communist path to development, it has been subjected to severe sanctions for the last 51 years, an invasion, biological warfare, bombings, an airline explosion, and countless attempts to assassinate its revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro. To put it simply, the US has been at war with Cuba for decades. The ability of the Cuban leadership to preserve the honour and dignity of the country for so long has inspired other states in Latin America to resist US hegemony and to enhance their own sovereignty and independence. In the present phase, Venezuela under Hugo Chavez was perhaps the first to follow Cuba’s example. Others such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and to a lesser degree, Brazil and Argentina have also sought to reduce US power and influence upon their economies. There has been a sincere attempt to restructure their economies so that the well-being of ordinary citizens and the interests of the nation would take precedence over elite privileges and the demands of the hegemon in Washington.
What is remarkable about the resistance of some of these Latin American states is their foresight in trying to forge a regional alliance which would endow them with the collective strength and solidarity to withstand pressures from the US. This regional outfit called ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas, was the brainchild of Chavez who in April 2001 objected to the US idea of establishing a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) which would have perpetuated US hegemony over Latin America, and instead proposed an organisation that would facilitate the economic, social, political and cultural integration of Latin America and the Caribbean. ALBA became a reality in December 2004 with the signing of an agreement between Venezuela and Cuba. Today, it has eight members. Apart from the two founders, the others are Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Among the principles of ALBA are a commitment to fair trade; promoting trade and investment for attaining sustainable and just development; encouraging capital investments within the region; seeking energy integration among countries in the region; defending the cultural identity of the people of the region; and evolving common foreign policies among ALBA states.
Since its formation, ALBA has undertaken some concrete projects. It has for instance facilitated the delivery of about 96,000 barrels of oil per day from Venezuela to Cuba while in exchange Cuba has sent 20,000 medical staff and thousands of teachers to the poorest states in Venezuela. Through mutual assistance programmes of this sort, ALBA hopes to enhance the resilience of individual states and the region as a whole as it confronts US hegemony.
The other region which has had to face US helmed hegemony is of course West Asia and North Africa (WANA). For a lot of people in WANA the stark reality of US hegemony presents itself through the powerful presence of Israel. Since the US is the patron, the protector and the provider of Israel, the people know that the annexation and occupation of Palestinian land and the expulsion and annihilation of the Palestinians would not have been possible without the collusion of the hegemon. So when Palestinians resist Israeli arrogance --- as they have been doing for 64 years - they also see it as resisting US power. The steadfastness and perseverance that they have shown in their resistance places them in a class by themselves.
The Lebanese also deserve accolades for their resistance to Israel which has invaded their small country on three occasions. Indeed, since the advent of Hizbollah in 1982, Lebanese resistance has become more organised and focussed. It is partly because of this that the Israeli armed forces suffered a major setback when it sought to crush Hizbollah in 2006. Syria - whose Golan Heights has been under Israeli occupation since 1967 - has also been unyielding in its resistance. The Syrian leadership is that vital link that connects Iran to the Hizbollah. Together, they constitute a steady, solid ring of resistance to US-Israeli dominance and control. This is the main reason why Israel working hand in glove with the US, Britain and France and aided and abetted by states in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are hell-bent on crushing Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
I had alluded to Iran in the context of resistance. In fact, few other nations in the world have been as consistent as the Islamic Republic of Iran in its opposition to US hegemony. The birth of the Republic itself in 1979 was an expression of the people’s rejection of US hegemony and its client ruler on the peacock throne. For the last 33 years, the Iranian people have been subjected to wide-ranging sanctions, assassinations, terrorist plots and even cyber-attacks in order to coerce the leadership into acquiescence with the US-Israeli agenda in WANA. But the people and the leadership have stood firm. Iran’s insistence that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes and is not geared towards the production of nuclear weapons - in spite of all the aggressive posturing from Israel and the US - is an example of that resoluteness. It should be mentioned at this point that Syria and Iran have forged close ties with various countries in Latin America which are also resisting hegemony. Economic and cultural relations have been strengthened with Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil. In December 2010, Syria and Iran were accepted as observer states in ALBA. This bridge between WANA and Latin America is of tremendous significance for the struggle against hegemony.
There are other states in WANA who have also resisted hegemony - hegemony often expressed through Israel. I have already referred to Iraq and its resistance. Libya under its mercurial leader, the late Muammar Gaddafi, was also an opponent of US hegemony. Apart from his rejection of Israeli occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories, Gaddafi resisted all attempts by Western oil corporations to gain control over Libyan oil which he had nationalised at the outset of his 42 year-old rule. He was also an enthusiastic advocate of African unity and was particularly keen on developing a single African currency that would reduce the continent’s dependence upon the US dollar. At the same time, Gaddafi made it known publicly that he was opposed to the US sponsored, German based concept of African military cooperation called The Africa Command (AFRICOM) which he regarded as another form of Western neo-imperialism. For all these reasons, Gaddafi had to be eliminated.
One can argue that both Somalia and Sudan have also been victims of hegemonic politics. With its strategic location at the Horn of Africa and its potential oil reserves, Somalia is a magnet that has attracted the US, on and off, for the last 20 years. Its tribal and factional politics have been manipulated by both the hegemon and groups resisting the hegemon such as affiliates of Al-Qaeda, aggravating the violence and lawlessness that have blighted the land for so long. Sudan, a huge oil exporting nation, divided by internal religious, sectarian and tribal loyalties was also an easy prey for regional and global predators with their own nefarious agendas. In this regard, the Khartoum government, always wary of US and Israeli designs, in the end failed to protect the territorial integrity of Sudan and had to acquiesce to the separation of the south from the north of Sudan.
Sudan and Libya, like Syria and Iraq, some critics observe, are - or were - opposed to hegemony but are - or were - led by autocrats. Shouldn’t we condemn their suppression of the rights of their people? We should, as I have done on numerous occasions. But we should also not hesitate to oppose global hegemony and all that it stands for. Those who resist hegemony should be supported while we make it abundantly clear that if they are autocratic we would want them to introduce democratic reforms. This sort of position is quite different from those who are opposed to autocratic regimes when it suits their interests but are happy to hobnob with autocracies and endorse the suppression of democratic rights when it serves their agenda.
This brings me to Afghanistan where the Taliban continues to resist hegemony. I have already analysed this in another context. The Taliban’s violence is also an issue which critics have raised. Here again, we should repudiate their violence without losing sight of the larger significance of resistance to hegemony.
Russia is also resisting US helmed hegemony as is obvious from the triple veto it has cast in the UN Security Council in the last few months to thwart Machiavellian moves by Western powers and their regional clients and proxies to further their hegemonic goal in Syria. It is not just in relation to Syria. In recent years, Russia has witnessed manoeuvres by the US in Georgia, in Ukraine and in some of the East European states which have convinced her that she has to both sharpen her diplomatic skills and strengthen her military muscles in order to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the Russian Federation.
A triple veto was also cast by China in the Security Council on the Syrian crisis for the same reason. China has become increasingly conscious of why and how US’s hegemonic agenda is going to impact upon her. She is after all one of the primary targets. This is why when US President, Barack Obama openly proclaimed that “as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region (Asia-Pacific) and its future,” China began to watch US moves closely. The US plan to establish a base in Darwin, Australia; to deploy ships in Singapore; to forge closer military ties with the Philippines; and to enhance its military cooperation with Japan and South Korea are matters of concern for China. Viewed against this backdrop, it is not surprising that China has decided to adopt a firm position on the question of its claims over the South China Sea. In other words, it will resist any attempt by the US to impose its hegemony over Asia-Pacific. I have already noted that China’s ally North Korea - its outlandish pronouncements notwithstanding - is also an uncompromising opponent of US led hegemony.
There are two other elements that are part of resistance that we should record. In the current phase of hegemony, as in the past, there are numerous citizens’ groups that are struggling for a world that is more just and egalitarian. In a sense, the mass protest movement against the Iraq war in 2003 was a boost to citizens groups opposed to hegemony though a lot of the energy and enthusiasm generated at that time has since dissipated. A small segment of the media also challenges US power. These media outlets are sometimes the only channels of expression available to global dissidents.
If we reflected upon resistance to hegemony in different parts of the world - from Latin America to East Asia - it is apparent that in each and every instance it is the US’s drive for control and dominance that compels its targets to respond. This is a dimension of international relations that is concealed from the general public by the media which is often in cahoots with the hegemon. The impression given by the media is that the target of hegemony is the party responsible for the conflict.
Resistance to hegemony is intimately linked to the rise of new centres of power. For instance, ALBA is both resistance and rise. Its resistance could give rise to a new pattern of inter-state cooperation in Latin America and the world. Similarly, Iran’s scientific output is not only a contribution to resistance but also a sign that the country’s scientific foundation is viable enough to enable it to catapult into the future. Russia is not only resisting hegemony but also preparing to play a bigger role in terms of security and politics within a region that it categorises as ‘Eurasia.’
However, of all the nations that are on the rise, it is China’s ascendancy that has astounded the world. Thirty years after abandoning the communist model of development and opening itself to free enterprise and the market, China has become the world’s economic powerhouse. Through domestic firms and foreign corporations operating in China, the world’s largest nation produces goods for the entire human family. From Bangkok to Buenos Aires, ‘Made in China’ is a ubiquitous trade label. Both in manufacturing and trade China is number one.
China also has massive investments everywhere. It has poured billions of yuan into infrastructure development in almost every African state just as it is building oil rigs in Venezuela, a hydroelectric project in Ecuador and a railway system in Argentina. In Asia itself, there is perhaps not a single country that has not benefitted from Chinese investments in manufacturing or infrastructure or from trade ties with China.
In all three continents, the Chinese presence is viewed favourably. For instance, “a 2007 Pew Research Center survey of 10 sub-Saharan countries found that Africans overwhelmingly viewed Chinese economic growth as beneficial. In virtually all countries surveyed, China’s involvement was viewed in a much more positive light than America’s; in Senegal 86 per cent said China’s role in their country helped make things better, compared with 56 per cent who felt that way about America’s role. In Kenya, 91 per cent of respondents said they believed China’s influence was positive, versus only 74 per cent for the United States.”
China’s global economic role is a reflection of fundamental strengths in its economy. Its foreign reserves are the largest in the world at 3.24 trillion in June 2012. Its domestic savings rate is high. Its adult literacy rate is now almost 95 per cent. “Shanghai’s 15 year-old students were recently ranked first globally in mathematics and reading as per the standardised PISA metric. Chinese universities now graduate more than 1.5 million engineers and scientists annually.” To enhance its economic ascendancy, China has been in the forefront of a couple of groupings. The BRICS --- Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa--- brings together five large economies at more or less the same level of development which through joint programmes and initiatives hopes to create a more equitable global system. China is also a founder of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in which it partners Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, with the aim of further strengthening economic and social cooperation.
As an aside, China’s phenomenal economic transformation has also seen China becoming more prominent globally in other areas as well. International sport is one such activity. China’s stellar performance at the 2012 Olympics in London which came on the heels of its splendid showing at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, confirms its position as a great sporting nation.
China’s successes do not mean that there are no weaknesses in the system which can impact upon its rise. Environmental protection could be better. Issues of governance related to public accountability and integrity should be addressed with greater vigour and sincerity. People’s participation in the political process should be enhanced. The gap between those who have-a-lot and those who have-a-little in the cities should be reduced, just as income disparities between urban and rural sectors should be narrowed.
Having said that, no one can deny that the rapid and dramatic rise of China in the last few decades is an amazing achievement without precedent or parallel. It is an achievement which worries the hegemon--- the hegemon who fears losing his dominance and therefore seeks to contain and encircle China.
A Post-Hegemonic World
China’s phenomenal rise signals the birth of a post-hegemonic world. There are of course sceptics who dispute this. China they say will be the next hegemon.
There is no basis for drawing such a conclusion. For three sets of reasons, it is very unlikely that China will attempt to conquer other lands militarily or usurp their resources through aggression or massacre hundreds of thousands of people in its drive to control and dominate the world.
One, historically, China has never sought hegemony even when it possessed the strongest fleet in the world during the time of the Ming Dynasty. The commander of the fleet, the famous admiral, Zheng He, made seven voyages to various parts of the world but did not pillage or plunder the lands he visited. It is also a matter of some significance that the land territory that China occupies today is what it was since the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC- 24 AD).
It is true that throughout history China has been obsessed with safeguarding its borders. It has sometimes resorted to force to protect its territorial integrity. But this is quite different from marauding land and ocean in order to subjugate some unknown alien people through barbaric violence.
Two, even in the contemporary period, in spite of China’s voracious appetite for oil and gas and other minerals, it has not tried to control the source of these resources. All it wants is access, not control. This is why China does not have a single overseas military base.
Indeed, as I have often pointed out, China is the first nation to emerge as a big power on the world stage that has not resorted to imperial wars or bloody conquests or the usurpation of someone’s resources in its ascent up the ladder. To put it in another way, China’s rise to power without violence, and through peaceful means, is unique. This is something that the world should appreciate.
Here again, one must concede that when it comes to what it defines as its territorial integrity, China has no qualms about using force. This is what it did in 1962 vis-a-vis India in the dispute over the McMahon Line. In 1974 and 1988, China clashed with Vietnam over the Spratly Islands. But even in such conflicts, China is more inclined towards bilateral talks, negotiations and peaceful settlement.
Three, all said and done, China, the world’s second largest economy, is still a poor country and is determined to concentrate upon raising the standard of living of its people in the next three or four decades. Seeking hegemonic power, especially through war and violence, is certainly not on its agenda. Chinese policy-makers and analysts never cease to remind the world that with 1.3 billion people, “China’s per capita GDP is only US 3,800, ranking about 104th in the world, even lower than many African countries. By the United Nations standard of one US dollar a day, 150 million Chinese are still living below the poverty line.”
It is also important to note that China is perhaps the only big power that has a clause in its Constitution that repudiates hegemony. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also renounces hegemony. Every major Chinese leader in the present phase of US helmed hegemony from Deng Xiaoping to Hu Jin Tao has pledged that his country will never ever seek hegemony. This was also the position of the late Chinese Prime Minister, Chou En-Lai.
Apart from historical and contemporary evidence, constitutional guarantees and verbal undertakings, that underline China’s non-hegemonic character and orientation, one must also acknowledge that the regional and global environment will not allow any one nation to dominate and control regional and international politics and economics. Even within China’s immediate neighbourhood, countries such as Japan and South Korea are economically powerful and politically influential. If South and North Korea re-unify over the next two decades - which is not inconceivable - it would be a formidable force which the world will not be able to ignore.
In Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Vietnam, with huge populations and credible economic performances, could well emerge as important players in the future. India is often spoken of as a rising power. Iran has the spiritual strength, the material resources and the human capital to contribute towards a more equitable global order. So has Turkey whose economy and society exhibit some positive traits. Russia, given its history, its resources and its leadership is destined to become a major world actor again. South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba, among others, all have the potential of emerging as important centres in a post-hegemonic world.
The United States, though no longer a hegemon, will still be a significant player. Its northern neighbour, Canada, will continue to wield some economic clout. And in Europe, there is no doubt at all that Germany which in the midst of the European sovereign debt crisis has remained resilient and viable will be a major force to reckon with well into the future.
There will be other states in all continents that will also rise to the forefront in a post-hegemonic world. The post-hegemonic world I envisage will have multiple centres of power, some more important than others. Even in their exercise of power, these centres would be varied, with some commanding more clout in politics, others exhibiting more economic strength and yet others displaying their prowess in the realm of culture. What is important is that there will be no one dominant centre combining the different manifestations of power and coercing all others into submission.
There is a trend in international relations which, it seems to me, could well strengthen post-hegemonic politics and economics. This is the formation of regional bodies. I have already lauded the birth of ALBA. It should be mentioned in passing that there is an even newer regional grouping from that part of the world called CELAC, The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which hopes to enhance cooperation in economic, security and social matters among all the 33 states that constitute the Latin American and Caribbean region. I have noted the role of BRICS and the SCO. NAM was mentioned in the context of the first phase of hegemony. Then there are the older regional entities such as the Arab League or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or the South Asian Association for regional Cooperation (SAARC) or the African Union. There are also outfits such as the European Union and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Not all the above bodies will be able to contribute to a post-hegemonic world. In fact, some of them like the Arab League are mere vehicles for the perpetuation of US helmed hegemony in WANA. Others - whatever their current orientation - may choose to adjust to a post-hegemonic world as it emerges as the new reality.
A Post-Hegemonic World: What It May Signify
A post-hegemonic world may be less unjust and iniquitous. When power is diffused and dispersed, there is a greater possibility of the different states and regions adjusting to, and accommodating, one another. The interests of the various actors, big and small, will have to be given due consideration. As a result, there will be some sort of equilibrium, a just balance.
I see a degree of justice manifesting itself in a number of areas in a post-hegemonic world.
One, in the observance and implementation of international law.
Because of hegemonic power, political leaders who had fabricated a lie to justify the invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation leading to the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people are not hauled up before the International Criminal Court or some other international tribunal. In a non-hegemonic world, a crime against humanity of such magnitude would not go unpunished.
Two, in the effective and honest functioning of international institutions charged with protecting global peace such as the UN.
Since a number of major wars in the last 67 years are linked directly or indirectly to the hegemon, its clients and proxies, or other big powers, and their pawns, the UN whose primary purpose is to save humankind from the scourge of war, has not been able to play its role. It is hoped that in a non-hegemonic world, the UN will be in a better position to keep the peace.
Three, in defending the dignity of the victims of oppression and aggression wherever they may be.
Here again, the power of the hegemon has been a primary factor in denying justice to one of the longest suffering victims of dispossession in the contemporary world, namely, the Palestinians. In a non-hegemonic world, one hopes that justice will finally be delivered to them.
Four, in ensuring that iniquities in the global economy are eliminated so that development will bring the greatest benefits to the greatest number of people on earth.
It is largely because of the hegemon and economic elites elsewhere that speculative capital dominates the global economy and neo-liberal capitalism holds sway to the detriment of ordinary women and men. Since some of the leading states in the emerging non-hegemonic world are not beholden to neo-liberal capitalism, there is a possibility that this scourge will be eliminated.
Five, in overcoming some of the impediments that prevent the global community from adopting more effective measures aimed at protecting the environment and saving the planet.
The hegemon and elites in many other societies are averse to dealing with the fundamental causes of the environmental crisis since they impinge upon their vested interests. When hegemonic power disappears, it may be easier to achieve and to implement a just global consensus on saving the planet.
I am sure there are other areas too where the end of hegemonic power and the rise of a non-hegemonic world may bring justice.
However, if justice is to become the leitmotif of a non-hegemonic world, the people as a whole should exhibit a deep and abiding commitment to justice. It should be a vision of justice that is inclusive and universal. Only such a vision will cater for the interests and meet the aspirations of all the states that are part of tomorrow’s non-hegemonic world. For justice to be inclusive and universal, states and regions should have some empathy for the other. Justice, in other words, should be accompanied by compassion. There is yet another value which is also important. This is restraint. It is restraint that indicates that one is disciplining oneself with the interests of the other in one’s heart. Likewise, responsibility is a virtue in a non-hegemonic world. A profound sense of responsibility ensures that power is neither aggrandized nor abused. For if the exercise of power fails to meet ethical standards, hegemonic tendencies may set in - which would be a bane in a non-hegemonic world.
These values and virtues essential for sustaining a non-hegemonic world are embodied in all our great spiritual and philosophical traditions. They are our common legacy. They bind us together as human beings. They should be at the core of our popular consciousness.
In the ultimate analysis, this is perhaps the most compelling reason why a non-hegemonic world is imperative. If hegemony distorts our humanity, a non-hegemonic world celebrates our humanity.