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Forum Post: The World Without US

Posted 10 years ago on Oct. 26, 2013, 3:17 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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The World Without US

Saturday, 26 October 2013 09:57 By John Feffer, Inter Press Service | Op-Ed


In his 2007 bestseller The World Without Us, journalist Alan Weisman describes a planet that regenerates itself after the disappearance of human beings. Skyscrapers crumble and bridges collapse into rivers, but the primeval forests take over and the buffalo return to roam.

It’s an optimistic vision of the future – if you’re a buffalo or a dolphin or a cockroach. No more ranchers. No more huge trawling nets or D-Con.

But it’s not such a great future if you’re a human being. In its dispassionate, non-human-centred perspective, Weisman’s book is designed to shake humans out of our naïve assumption that we will always be around, regardless of the existential threats that drape our shoulders like the cloak of Nessus.

Evolution has, for some reason, made us incapable of facing our own demise. It’s almost as if we wouldn’t be able to balance our checkbook or plan our vacations unless we treated nuclear weapons and climate change and pandemics as just another set of vaporous bogeymen that scare the bejesus out of us but always disappear at morning’s light.

Now let’s turn from the existential to the geopolitical. What would the world be like without the United States?

The recent government shutdown has prompted many to contemplate a world in which the United States hasn’t so much disappeared but collapsed in on itself. Focused on domestic issues, Washington would cancel Pax Americana (or Pox Americana, as anti-imperialists like to say) and step down from its role as the world’s policeman and the world’s financier.

Would the world be better off? As in Weisman’s hypothetical universe, how one answers this question depends a great deal on who one is. Americans certainly profit from our country’s economic and military hegemony: our carbon footprint, our per capita GDP, our mighty dollar, our reliance on English as the world’s default language. We take these entitlements for granted. Non-Americans, however, might feel a bit differently. Like the buffalo and the dolphins and the cockroaches in a human-free world, everyone outside the United States might very well applaud the end of American superpowerdom. At the height of the recent political crisis in Washington, an English-language opinion piece from the Chinese news agency Xinhua called “for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanised world.”

It repeated many familiar arguments. The United States “has abused its superpower status and introduced even more chaos into the world by shifting financial risks overseas, instigating regional tensions amid territorial disputes, and fighting unwarranted wars under the cover of outright lies.”

The solution, according to the widely read piece, is to strengthen the U.N., create a replacement for the dollar as the global currency, and give more power to emerging economies in international financial institutions. These all seem like sensible suggestions.

But as several U.S. commentators have pointed out, this provocative essay doesn’t necessarily reflect Chinese government opinion. Beijing remains dependent on U.S. economic power, whether in the form of American consumers or Wall Street liquidity.

And, to the extent that the United States fights terrorism, polices the world’s sea lanes, and continues to more or less constrain the ambitions of its key allies in the Asia-Pacific, China is also dependent on U.S. military power.

Chinese leadership values domestic, regional, and international stability. It wants, in other words, to preserve an environment in which it can pursue its primary objective: domestic economic growth. If it can hitch a free ride on the gas-guzzling, armour-plated American Hummer, China will gladly get on board.

But if the Hummer starts to mess with its economic growth, political stability, and regional interests, China will bail. For now, after a congressional deal has averted default and ended the government shutdown, Chinese calls for “de-Americanisation” have subsided. But political deadlock in Washington is by no means over. And the structural issues that underlie the relative decline of the United States over the last decade remain in place.

Most observers of U.S. decline, from Paul Kennedy to Fareed Zakaria, have generally shared the same ambivalence as China. They see U.S. decline as relative, as gradual, and as something to be mourned in the absence of a viable alternative.

The same could be said of the Latin American nations that have long decried U.S. imperialism. The latest salvos in this conflict have concerned the Snowden affair and revelations of the NSA’s overseas surveillance. But like China, Latin America is heavily dependent on trade with the United States and thus also ambivalent about U.S. economic decline.

Some participants in this debate, of course, have no ambivalence at all. The 2008 documentary “The World Without U.S.” describes the state of anarchy that would result if a future progressive president trimmed the military budget and withdrew troops from around the world.

The film relies heavily on British historian Niall Ferguson’s rosy descriptions of American hegemony. At one point, Ferguson suggests that U.S. military withdrawal would likely send the world down the same path of destruction that Yugoslavia experienced in the 1990s.

The European Union was feckless back then, and continues to be so today. No other guarantor of peace has stepped forward. Only China looms on the horizon, and the film ends with images of nuclear blasts hitting Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, presumably from Chinese missiles launched in the wake of the U.S. military’s departure from the region.

In Alan Weisman’s book, the primeval forest takes over the once-civilised world. In The World Without U.S., the primeval forces of anarchy take over a world once made stable by U.S. military presence.

It is, in so many ways, a dangerously silly movie. The United States has supported plenty of dictators in the interests of stability. We have generated considerable instability – in Afghanistan, in Iraq – when it has served our interests. Our stability is often unjust; our instability is devastating.

Moreover, we have cut back on our military involvement in Latin America and the region has prospered. We’ve reduced our troop presence in South Korea, including the legendary “trip wire,” and no anarchy has been loosed upon the peninsula. We are finally closing down many Cold War-era bases in Europe, and Europe remains calm.

Remember, the real message of Weisman’s book is that there are still things we can do, as humans, to develop a more cooperative relationship with nature and prevent apocalypse. Similarly, the United States can take positive steps to avoid the global Balkans scenario.

It’s not a matter of appointing a successor as global guardian or duking it out with China to prevent Beijing from stepping into our shoes. It’s not about crawling into our shell and pouting because the world no longer wants to follow our orders.

We are in the world, there’s no escaping that. Just as humans must reconfigure their relationship with nature, the United States must reconfigure its relationship with the world. In both worst-case scenarios, the only winners will be the cockroaches.

Visit IPS news for fresh perspectives on development and globalization.



Read the Rules
[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

Ban the Bomb!

Saturday, 26 October 2013 09:35 By Tad Daley, Foreign Policy in Focus | News Analysis


Several months ago, even the most politically engaged Americans had probably never heard of either the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) or the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). That was no longer the case after August 21, when news broke of a chemical attack in Syria that led to the agonizing deaths of more than a thousand people. A U.S. military strike on the regime of Bashar al-Assad was only forestalled by Russian diplomacy, intense public resistance in more than one Western nation, and Syria’s agreement to join the CWC. Just a few weeks later, the OPCW won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.

Chemical weapons have been banned all around the world since 1997 by the CWC. Biological weapons have been banned all around the world since 1975 by the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).

So why aren’t nuclear weapons banned by a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC)?

Obama’s Half-Promise

In April 2009 in Prague, President Obama told an adoring throng that he intended “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” His administration has undertaken some baby steps in that direction. Most notably there has been the New START Treaty with Russia, which placed ceilings on each side’s deployed strategic nuclear warheads and launchers (albeit placing no limits on either “tactical” nuclear weapons or strategic nuclear warheads sitting in a warehouse). There has also been an ongoing series of multilateral Nuclear Security Summits that focus on securing all things nuclear from aspiring terrorists.

But the president has rebuffed any kind of initiative inside his administration to define what an NWC might look like. He has not convened any kind of consultations with other states to explore how state parties might go about negotiating an NWC. And he has never even stated that an NWC is the eventual goal of American nuclear policy.

Yet a very elaborate and carefully constructed Model Nuclear Weapons Convention—the product of dozens of scientists, lawyers, nuclear experts, and former government officials, and based in large measure upon the CWC—has been floating around the nuclear policy arena since 1997. Every year since, always completely unnoticed in the United States but widely recognized elsewhere, the UN General Assembly has passed a quite explicit resolution on the matter. It doesn’t just vaguely announce support for nuclear weapons abolition. Nor does it consign that goal, as President Obama did in Prague, to a date “perhaps not in my lifetime.” Instead, it calls for “commencing multilateral negotiations leading to an early conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention, prohibiting the development, production, testing, deployment, stockpiling, transfer, threat or use of nuclear weapons, and providing for their elimination.” But the U.S. government has refused even to recognize a new UN working group tasked with pursuing formal intergovernmental dialogues about the road to nuclear weapons abolition. Last month, at the UN’s first-ever “high-level meeting” on nuclear disarmament, a low-level British official—dispatched to speak to the assembled on behalf of the UK, the United States, and France—expressed the “regret” of all three countries over the initiation of the new working group, the convening of the high-level meeting itself, and “the push for a Nuclear Weapons Convention.”

The Chemical/Biological Precedent

The OPCW has been portrayed in recent weeks as primarily concerned with overseeing the destruction of chemical arsenals—today in Syria but previously in both the United States and Russia. But the fundamental raison d’etre of the OPCW, as envisioned in the CWC itself, is not just to authenticate the destruction of existing stockpiles of chemical weapons but also to verify, over the very long term, that they never again re-enter history.

Both the CWC and the BWC provide for significant intrusions on national sovereignty in order to ensure such perpetual compliance—including, in the case of CWC, surprise, no-notice inspections. The BWC is unfortunately far less robust after the George W. Bush administration sabotaged efforts to build an accompanying verification regime with real teeth. But the prospect of compliance with the CWC and BWC is enhanced by the encouragement of “societal verification” (whistleblowing) and independent monitoring by national governments. Moreover, a taboo against the possession and use of these agents has arguably grown more widespread with each passing year. The signatories of these two conventions have concluded that they can forever forsake chemical or biological “deterrents,” because they are confident that the mechanisms of the CWC and the BWC will prevent potential adversaries from developing a secret stash and deploying apocalyptic chemical or biological arsenals.

There’s no reason why the nuclear-armed nations cannot someday arrive at the same conclusion about their apocalyptic nuclear arsenals as well.

The administration’s willingness to relegate the achievement of nuclear weapons abolition to the distant future becomes all the more excruciating when comparing the great horror that chemical or biological weapons could inflict with the far greater horror of a single nuclear warhead. Ivan Oelrich of the Federation of American Scientists likes to say, “I hate the term WMD. Nuclear weapons are not in the same category as chemical and biological weapons. Nuclear weapons are the only thing that can destroy a city in a second.”

Or, indeed, a world in a morning. More than two decades after the Cold War’s conclusion, the shadow of full-scale global thermonuclear war, with thousands of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles passing each other over the North Pole, seems almost impossible to imagine. But the possibility remains for severe miscalculation during a hot political crisis involving one or more nuclear-armed nations. So too, however unbelievably, remains the opportunity for what we might call “accidental atomic apocalypse,” as illuminated so vividly in Eric Schlosser’s recent book Command and Control.

Also, we cannot rule out the possibility of a future geopolitical conflict between members of the nuclear club. History happens. Arms races happen. Unless humanity can someday manage to establish something like a world republic, the logic of anarchy will endure. So long as several thousand atomic weapons persist, so too will persist the possibility of not just genocide, but specicide (the extinction of all human life) or even biocide (the extinction of all terrestrial life). That, of course, would exterminate not only every single living thing on our planet today, but all the future life on our planet yet to come. This is the “crime against the future” that we commit right now, every single day. Our reliance on nuclear deterrence places at risk an infinity of potential lives, never to be born, on and on into an infinity of tomorrows.

Perhaps we might we call that “chronocide.”

Creating the Convention

The nuclear weapon states—most especially the world’s leading nuclear state, the United States—should now do what the UN General Assembly has called on them to do for 17 years. They should initiate some kind of multilateral negotiating process, aimed at the eventual goal of designing and enacting a universal, verifiable, and enforceable Nuclear Weapons Convention.

Such a convention would outlaw the possession of nuclear weapons by all countries, provide for their dismantlement and elimination by a designated deadline, and create mechanisms to ensure that nuclear weapons never return to haunt humanity ever again. Many experts maintain that a ban on nuclear weapons would be considerably easier to verify than the bans on chemical and biological weapons. Such a convention would also quite likely include something like an “Organization for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” Which might just merit another Nobel Peace Prize: either for that hypothetical future agency, or for the world historical figure who launches the initiative to finally bring it into being.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

World's Anger at Obama Policies Goes Beyond Europe and the NSA

Sunday, 27 October 2013 11:06 By Jonathan S Landay and Hannah Allam, McClatchy Newspapers | Report


Washington, DC — Whether miffed over spying revelations or feeling sold out by U.S. moves in the Middle East, some of the United States’ closest allies are so upset that the Obama administration has gone into damage-control mode to ensure the rifts don’t widen and threaten critical partnerships.

The quarrels differ in their causes and degrees of seriousness. As a whole, however, they pose a new foreign policy headache for an administration whose overseas track record is seen in many quarters at home and abroad as reactive and lacking direction.

In Europe and the Middle East, rifts that once would’ve been quietly smoothed over have exploded into headlines and public remonstrations.

The uproar in Europe over revelations from fugitive former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the United States spied on as many as 35 government leaders, including Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, has become so great that early Friday 28 European leaders said Merkel and French President Francois Hollande would open negotiations with the United States over a “no-spying agreement.”

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, already fed up with U.S. reluctance to get more deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, has become alarmed by Obama’s overtures to the Saudis’ archenemy, Iran, with which the Saudis are locked in a battle for regional supremacy. Reports indicate it is considering breaking over cooperation with the Obama administration on a range of issues, including training for so-called moderate Syrian rebels.

Once-ironclad ally Egypt, meanwhile, is upset that the U.S. is cutting some of its massive annual aid amid a dispute over getting the country back on track after a military coup that ousted an Islamist president elected after a popular uprising. Earlier this month, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy told a state newspaper that U.S.-Egyptian ties were in “turmoil” and that “anyone who says otherwise is not speaking honestly.”

For Middle East observers, the Saudi case, especially, has been fascinating to watch as the kingdom rarely allows diplomatic spats to go beyond palace walls.

“It’s part of an overall trend, America’s disengagement and a seemingly aloof Obama, and in the Syrian case, that aloofness ran counter to the Syrians’ and Saudis’ interests,” said Andrew Tabler, who focuses on Syria and U.S. policy in the Middle East at The Washington Institute For Near East Policy. “The Syrian conflict has become so regionalized that our Saudi allies will now openly criticize the White House. It’s amazing.”

Nobody’s expecting breaks in relations. But U.S. diplomats are working hard to ensure that the disputes don’t escalate. So far, those efforts appear to be failing.

The alleged NSA monitoring of Merkel’s phone is a key case in point. On Wednesday, Merkel confronted Obama about the claim in a phone conversation in which she reportedly used words like “unacceptable.” The White House later said in a statement that Obama had assured her that her cellphone was not being targeted. But a German statement recounting the same call made no mention of Obama’s assurances, and it was clear the next day that Obama had had no calming effect when the Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador to deliver another dressing down.

Early Friday, the extent of European pique was evident again when a meeting of European heads of state ended with a demand that the United States enter into a “no-spying agreement” with European allies.

“The friendship and partnership between the European member states, including Germany, and the United States is not a one-way street,” Merkel said. “There are good reasons that the United States also needs friends in the world.”

Edward Joseph, a senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University, calls the anger in Europe over Snowden leaks and the NSA “really, really different from spats in the past, the scale of this, the amount of exposure Snowden has given on this incredibly expansive project.” He described the Europeans as “indignant.”

In the end, however, he believes the U.S. and Europe will resolve their differences over the NSA because the two powers remain “in sync.” As for the Saudis, Joseph said, the fractures will be much harder to paper over because the Saudis fundamentally disagree with U.S. policies.

The Saudis “don’t like that we spent two and a half years trying to avoid Syria, lecturing them about who to give their aid to when we haven’t given really anything in lethal aid,” Joseph said. “It’s really over substance.”

Saudi Arabia’s exasperation has been brewing for some time, with U.S. policy toward Syria at the top of the list, experts said.

Obama’s cancellation of missile strikes last month against Damascus for crossing his “red line” on chemical weapons, and his withholding of significant military aid to moderate rebels, are seen by the Saudis as evidence that Washington has gone wobbly on what Riyadh believed was a shared goal to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad. “The Saudis saw the use of chemical weapons as the threshold for a deeper American involvement in Syria and to their astonishment there was no such thing,” said Simon Henderson, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Saudis also are unnerved, experts said, by Washington’s recent decision to engage in new talks with Iran over its nuclear program. Obama’s readiness to enter negotiations, coupled with the canceling of the missile strikes on Syria, has raised doubts among Saudi leaders that he really would use force to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear arsenal that would make Iran the dominant power in the Persian Gulf.

Saudi Arabia’s priorities are rooted in the centuries-old rivalry between the majority Sunni branch of Islam, of which the kingdom is seen as the champion, and the Shiite branch led by Iran. The confrontation’s latest bout was uncorked by the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, which replaced a Sunni regime with a Shiite-run government. It is now playing out in Syria, where Iran is backing the regime dominated by Alawites, a Shiite offshoot, and Saudi Arabia is supporting the overwhelmingly Sunni opposition.

The sectarian hatreds are infecting the region, especially Lebanon, whose Iran-backed Shiite militia movement, Hezbollah, is providing fighters to Assad.

The Saudis’ displeasure with the United States’ reluctance to become embroiled in the sectarian rivalry burst into public on Oct. 17, when the kingdom abruptly rejected a two-year U.N. Security Council seat for which it had rigorously campaigned.

Several days later, according to news reports, the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud, told an unidentified Western diplomat that the decision “was a message for the U.S., not the U.N.,” and that he’d also be scaling back cooperation with the CIA in the training of moderate Syrian rebels in Jordan.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met in Europe this week with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, acknowledged the U.S.-Saudi differences in London on Monday. He insisted, however, that overall ties are solid and that the sides remain “on the same page.” “We worked closely with Saudi Arabia on a range of regional, political and security issues, including Syria, Iran, Middle East peace, Egypt,” said Kerry. “We’re still working with them on those.”

Some experts countered that it’s too early to tell how much damage has been done to relations between the United States and one of its longest Arab allies.

They noted that some differences may prove to be irreparable, such as U.S. reluctance to be drawn more deeply into Syria. As a result, the Saudis could step up support for the most effective Sunni rebel groups, which are those linked to al Qaida.

“The Saudis will arm whoever the hell they please and that will deepen the sectarian dimension of the conflict,” said Daniel Serwer, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and a former senior State Department official. With the United States moving toward petroleum independence, the coming years could see even wider swings in the decades-old U.S.-Saudi relationship, he said.

“There is something going on here. It’s like a tectonic shift,” he said. “We have to make some adjustment to it.”

As for Europe, Merkel has said she wants the United States to agree to the no-spying accord before the end of the year. That could well be a difficult goal, with an Obama-ordered study of U.S. surveillance practices that is to be completed also by the end of the year already behind schedule because of the nearly three-week-long shutdown of the federal government.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.


[-] 0 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

I did not know you were incapable of reading entire articles to know what they're actually about. Simple observations of Saudi disapproval with U.S. actions or the lack thereof are not rightist perspectives while any perceived comparisons with Bush are entirely of your own making as Bush is nowhere mentioned in the article.


[-] -1 points by oktoberchill (-3) 10 years ago

How limiting for you to view everything thru the left/right paradigm


[-] -2 points by oktoberchill (-3) 10 years ago

I understand your conclusion....what else could you think with your left or right lens? I suppose you think Jill Stein is a republican too, since she is not a Democrat Same with Bernie Sanders


[-] -1 points by oktoberchill (-3) 10 years ago

By your logic, that makes YOU a repelican!