[in] focus

BRICS Strategy: Towards the 2018 Johannesburg Summit

Sanusha Naidu

In six months’ time, South Africa will host the 10th BRICS Summit. This is a significant achievement since the grouping became a formalised inter-state platform.

The timing of the Summit could not come at a better time for Pretoria. The significance in chairing and hosting the Summit represents a strategic moment for the host country to take advantage of its Chairperson in pushing for key institutional mechanisms in terms of global development and strategic governance. It also exemplifies the opportunity for the South African government to identify and pursue a set of objectives aligned to the national political and economic interests that must address the triple helix challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

And it is precisely in this context that South Africa’s BRICS Presidency under Cyril Ramaphosa government needs to be understood.

In the past several weeks as ANC President and, now, as President of the Republic, Cyril Ramaphosa has shown dexterity in what he sees as critical junctures for recalibrating the country’s ailing economy. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ramaphosa pursed an agenda of rebranding South Africa as an investment destination. He showed that he is a man on a mission to reclaim the country’s State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) as being held hostage to be looted. Instead under his watch he sees the SOEs together with international and domestic investors to be drivers of the economy and assist in rebuilding the country’s socio-economic base so that poor and marginalised are provide with access to their basic human right resources. The message in Davos was loud and clear: SA remains open for business but with policy certainty and stability.

The suave of Ramaphosa in Davos was also about retuning the default setting of our foreign policy gauge. For some time now South Africa has been at odds with its direction and vision. This is not to suggest that the bureaucracy in DIRCO have been sitting on their laurels; they have shown stellar commitment in effecting the country’s foreign policy pillars. But their jobs were made that much harder when it became unclear where and who was implementing the foreign policy objectives. What is needed now is clarity and coherence around our foreign agenda is.

So what will Cyril Rampahosa’s BRICS Strategy be? It will be one that builds on Davos and extends the charm offensive to make BRICS an indelible part of the country’s growth, employment and investment pathway. While President Ramaphosa is seized with recorrecting the domestic landscape, and fairly aware of how he will be judged in delivering on the big promises of growing an economy that creates jobs, the newly elected President of the Republic is also acutely attentive that he has to makes the BRICS work for the country’s national development plan and socioeconomic priorities. This means changing the completion of the trade relations between the country and the other BRICS’ countries, increasing the investment footprint and ensuring that South African investors are equally able to access the BRICS markets.

The stage is set for President Ramaphosa to introduce himself to the BRICS leaders in July and present his vision of a rebalanced non-aligned vision that encompasses more than business as usual approach but a more pragmatic and integrated tactic that ensures greater economic traction between South Africa and the BRICS.

Sanusha Naidu is a Senior Research Fellow the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA.

This article was first published in the Sunday Independent 18 Feb 2018 https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-sunday-independent/20180218/282381220020588

BRICS 2018, who are the role players in the South African agenda?

ArinaMuresanThis year is South Africa’s turn to host the BRICS presidency. The statements thus far have focused on synergy and continuity of previous BRICS summit joint statements and declarations, but pivoted upon taking active steps towards a national and international developmental agenda. In addition, South Africa has identified four new key priorities for its presidency in 2018 by establishing a vaccine research platform, a forum centred on gender and women, a working group on peacekeeping, and further linkages between economic partnerships and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Having joined the partnership in 2010, South Africa’s membership has been questioned critically due to a weaker economic position contra the BRIC complement; however, others have lauded South Africa’s ability to punch above its weight. As South Africa undertakes the chairing duties and prepares for the summit, scheduled for 25 – 27 July 2018 in Johannesburg, it is important to explore which stakeholders contribute to the formal discussion on BRICS and the challenges and opportunities they may face in 2018.

The first of three levels contributing to the discussion, Track I diplomacy, consists of the official governmental engagement between the BRICS partners. At national government level, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) liaises with Parliament, the Presidency and various technical departments in making links to achieve their foreign policy. The BRICS partnership holds strategic importance for South Africa’s international relations, as emerging powers are changing the geopolitical landscape and existing power structures. This membership makes a significant contribution to South Africa’s soft power potential and strengthened bilateral and multilateral ties, which have contributed to increased co-operation in trade, finance, development and other sectors. The BRICS’ interest in the rest of Africa also allows alternative forms of finance to reach the continent. While the BRICS have been criticised for focusing their trade on commodities, exporting cheap retail objects to Africa and replicating neo-colonial models of cooperation, the diverse forms of development and peace and security assistance have also presented alternative options of growth and empowerment for the continent. For many South Africans it is still difficult to discern why South Africa is part of this partnership and why it may benefit. Government departments and official agencies will indeed step up their public communications for a period, yet it is important to keep the citizenry informed at all times.

Track II diplomacy includes officially designated or government-affiliated institutions such as the BRICS Think Tanks Council (SABTT) and the BRICS Business Council (SABBC), which were both institutionalised in 2013. The pre and post-summit SABTT discussions will be drawn from a theme of inclusivity, whereby research will be focused on four areas: 1) economic prosperity and inclusive growth; 2) prioritising our productive, creative, and scientific powers; 3) conflict resolution, peace and social justice; and 4) revisiting the global commons by strengthening responsible forms of strategic cooperation and sustainable development. These research areas are central to the South African context; however, communicating academic research to a wider audience that includes government, businesses, civil society and citizens may remain a challenge. Similarly, businesses in the BRICS countries also have an important role to play in strengthening the partnership and facilitating trade and investment links between the governments. At present, there are a number of working groups on the topics of infrastructure, deregulation, agribusiness, financial services, energy and the green economy, skills, manufacturing and aviation; which were created to support businesses to navigate markets and gain a better understanding of the various dynamics in the BRICS countries.

The third track of diplomacy, Track III, includes interaction with civil society organisations and people-to-people engagement, which represents the largest South African stakeholder, the citizens. Civil society organisations were first invited to the 2015 BRICS summit, held in Ufa, Russia. This diplomacy track is still in the processes of moving towards institutionalisation and thus engagements are held on an ad hoc basis. Civil Society allows more citizens to engage on core societal and developmental issues, as well as receive more information regarding BRICS and how individuals may benefit or become involved. The bigger challenge that the South African civil society contingent is experiencing is access to sufficient funding to support their activities in communicating the BRICS agenda, in addition to carrying out their responsibilities. National government departments, such as DIRCO have been quick to support ad hoc meetings; however, more work needs to be covered consistently in order to support the Civil BRICS movement.

Based on the interaction in the various tracks of diplomacy, it is possible to see both a bottom-up and top-down approach to South Africa’s agenda setting. Actors are able to draw clear linkages between national priorities, found in documents similar to the Constitution, the National Development Plan 2030 and various emerging trends, and foreign policy commitments. Although DIRCO has explained that it envisions BRICS having a direct impact on South African domestic priorities, glaring economic and social disparities still exist, which call to question the attentions paid to these partnerships. The upcoming summit is being anticipated as a prestigious event in South Africa’s diplomatic calendar, which may garner national success if a synergised communication strategy includes all stake holders.

Arina Muresan is a researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the IGD or UNISA.

Chinese strategies in cultivating soft power

ArinaMuresanThe promotion of Chinese public diplomacy became more visible with the leadership of Hu Jintao, who held the position of president from 2003 – 2013, and was increased significantly by President Xi Jinping, whose leadership has spanned from 2013 to the present. At the end of the 19th Communist Party of China (CPC) national congress, held in October 2017, Xi announced the close completion of China’s centenary goals that include achieving a moderately prosperous Chinese society and building a modern socialist Chinese republic, as well as contributing to a new international relations approach. With China’s growing influence in the world, China has a conscious desire to tell the good China-story. China’s new style of international relations that was discussed at the 19th CPC congress is part of China’s public diplomacy and national branding strategy. This article puts forth that China’s new approach will not necessarily be vastly different from previous approaches, but rather that its efforts and growing soft power have started to change the perceptions of the international community.

Public diplomacy is the communication of a country’s foreign policy objectives to a foreign elite population, while nation branding is the management of a nation’s reputation and image through the spirit and substance of a nation’s identity. Both of these activities are conscious desires to improve and manage global perceptions, however both are affected by the choices of political leaders, events, and the national and foreign policies of the country. Both of these concepts are linked to the understanding of soft power, the ability to persuade others without resorting to means of force or coercion. Classical Chinese thought and values will continue to inform China’s relationships and engage partners in terms of mutual respect, fairness, justice, and win-win cooperation. This international relations strategy remains largely unaltered but it is anticipated that China’s new approach will be more holistic. Although China’s emphasis on its cultural heritage as the idiomatic root of departure for its national and foreign policy goals may be critiqued for not showing a stronger political imperative, it does not mean that China’s approach has not been successful.

China’s branding strategy is focused on Chinese culture that is disseminated through numerous national and international media platforms, student and other people-to-people exchanges, cultural showcases and exhibitions, a large emphasis on sharing Mandarin through Confucius Centres, as well as building on friendships and economic cooperation. Critiques express that China’s focus on culture prevents it from communicating new images and changing identities. Yet this critique does not necessarily take into account the growing importance of branding initiatives linked to cultures and ways of life, which are becoming more important in how a country is represented. Perceptions of China are starting to improve, and once hardened impressions are beginning to soften through the use of culture, and the Chinese nation brand and related reputation is steadily improving or ranked highly internationally. In addition to China’s changing image, observers have started predicting that China’s rise to geo-political and geo-economic notoriety is an indication of China’s superpower potential. Although China’s response to this credit has been to express that it is not the intention or desire to become the next superpower; China’s geo-strategic positioning, and historical and political relationships position it as a favourable leader in international relations. For example, firstly, China has not acquired its international status through historical colonial relations, which is immensely valued by countries of the global South; secondly, China’s leadership is relatively stable and predictable; and thirdly, China is renowned for its successes in economic and mega-infrastructure development. China’s participation in international trade through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) positions China to market its nation brand at the centre of international trade which could contribute to redefining globalisation. Moreover, China is taking more global responsibility in promoting peace and global development. However, this also creates a challenge to China’s international image, as China’s military presence creates regional ambivalence. Another barrier is the knowledge and ease of doing business with China. While the Chinese market is relatively accessible, Latin American countries have cited issues with labour practices, unfair competition and too many informal barriers in entering the Chinese market. Although this may paint a relatively bleak picture, perceptions of China in Latin America are relatively positive because of the development cooperation coming from China. Noting sources of barriers to China’s soft power justify the importance of continuing to pursue the Chinese brand abroad. Such barriers are similar in African countries, yet the perception of China is more positive because of the impact that China has had on African infrastructure. Particularly, China’s success in cooperating with Africa has portrayed it as a favourable global leader and partner that can bank on the un-bankable and grow from the partnership.

Challenges to China’s image are existing perceptions about a rigid or strict political system, imbalanced trade and economic competition, human rights issues, severe environmental concerns associated with fast industrialisation, and the existing international bias towards a western knowledge system. Although it has been challenging to completely alter existing negative perceptions of China; Chinese public diplomacy and nation branding efforts, as well as China’s engagement within regions, has encouraged positive perceptions of the giant. While criticism may be aimed at China’s strategy of promoting its national culture as a soft power strategy; China’s commitment to telling its own story and changing perceptions may be an illustration of China’s interpretation of soft power and its long term soft power strategy.

Ms Arina Muresan holds a Masters in Political Science from the University of Johannesburg and is a researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD.

A PALESTINIAN-ISRAELI ONE STATE-TWO STATES PROCESS?

FrancisKornegayWhether US President Donald Trump and his administration and supporters appreciate the magnitude of Trump’s anti-Palestinian policies and pronouncements (as Jesus intoned on the cross: ‘they know not what they do…’), Trump’s dubious achievement has been to force a total recasting of the Israel-Palestine logic. It is thus no longer a question of land, but of democracy. And as might apply to that old pre-Trump logic, there is the old saying: ‘You can never go home again,’ ‘home’ being the ‘peace process’ mantra of Camp David, Oslo and the Quartet: the ‘two-state’ delusion a la Padrig O’Malley . International reactions following Trump’s Jerusalem bombshell has shifted discourse definitively in the direction of ‘one-state’ as the only realistically inevitable outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But does that automatically put paid to the two-state scenario? Not necessarily, though it certainly places this outcome far into a long-term future if not ruling it out altogether – not that ‘one-state’ is imminent either. It is the pure sequencing logic of the two/one-state dynamic that requires critical interrogation.

To be sure, the bi-national one-state option is not what Jews and Israelis wedded to an Israel, both democratic and Jewish look forward to given the demographic future of political geography stemming from the eastern Mediterranean to the Jordan Valley. A two-state solution is the only path to a genuinely democratic state that is also Jewish. Yet the ultra-rightwing, pro-settler drift in Israeli politics, augmented by the powerful US Israel Lobby spearheaded by the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and financing from such ultra-right oligarchs as Sheldon Adelson (a major financier in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as well as an underwriter of rightwing pro-settler politics in Israel) has all but buried the two-state scenario.

The Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace process’ might better be dubbed the Israeli ‘piece process’ as Tel-Aviv, under successive Likud regimes, backed by a bipartisanly captured US Congress relentlessly gobbles up the West Bank. Whether or not such a stealth strategy was the original intent, Israel and its over-zealous backers face a ‘beware what you wish for’ trap as the Piece Process rolls on! Israel-Palestine is de facto one state. As such, Israel’s presumed democratic character has long since eroded into what can now only be candidly described as a minority-ruled settler-dominated, military occupationist state.

Many in the US seemed emotionally traumatized by former President Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid when it came out in 2006. Yet 12 years later, we are looking at a repressive regime in Tel-Aviv that has tracked almost to the letter the path of racist minority-settler regimes in Algeria, Kenya and throughout a Southern Africa that also veered increasingly to the repressive ultra-right before ultimately succumbing to majority-rule. Is this now the scenario awaiting Israel? For like apartheid South Africa, Israelis seem hell-bent on turning Israel into a pariah state on the international stage, repudiating the Liberal Zionist Project.

So what might be done? It may well be that the long-term solution – and it will be long-term and bitterly protracted – is one that turns the two-state vs. one-state logic on its head instead of ruling out the two-state option altogether. The emphasis, instead should shift to democratizing the repressive one-state reality; this calls for a new discourse that no longer marginalizes the one-state option, but openly and honestly recognizes it as a plausible though daunting path to Israel-Palestinian peace (as opposed to Israeli ‘piece’!).

As such, the one-state option could be hypothetically linked to an eventual two-state possibility (in theory) in a two-stage process: First, an internationally-backed ‘anti-apartheid’ movement throughout historical Palestine aimed at transforming racist and militaristic minority-settler occupation into a non-sectarian, multi-ethnic democratic state with equal political and civil rights for Arabs and Palestinians residing within and outside Israel, including in the West Bank and Gaza. The Second stage would be optional.

This would involve a bi-national referendum among Israelis and Palestinians on whether-when-how to move toward negotiating two democratic states – or remain a one-state bi-national democracy. In other words, it may well come down to realizing that two-states may only emerge after a one-state transition to democracy in historical Palestine. But ‘two-states’ becomes purely an optional possibility, no longer the centrepiece of a ‘piece process.’

Meanwhile, the bottom-line should dictate that democracy and human rights for Palestinians not be held hostage to what has evolved into nothing more than a morally and politically bankrupt expansionist colonial-settler ‘apartheid’ charade. As it is, the plight of the Palestinians now takes a back seat to the US and Israel prioritizing with Saudi Arabia a dangerous sectarian geopolitical power-struggle against Iran at the expense of the Iran Nuclear Deal. Thus is democracy for the Palestinians and the two-state charade interlinked with wider geopolitical power dynamics in the Middle East.

Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. is the senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA and Global Fellow of The Wilson Centre in Washington is co-editor of Laying the BRICS of a New Global Order (AISA).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent IGD/Unisa policy.

PLURAL BUT EQUAL IN EVERYONE’S WORLD: Dialogue in Sochi – or Information Warfare by Other Means?

FrancisKornegayPreface

What follows is a commentary on the Valdai International Discussion Club convened at Russia’s Black Sea resort in Sochi between 16-19 October 2017. I was invited to participate on one of its panels in what was my first visit to Russia. I was subsequently requested to submit a commentary to their website. For those not familiar with the Valdai Discussion Club, it was founded in 2004 to promote dialogue between “Russian and international intellectual elites and to deliver independent objective scholarly analysis of political, economic, and social developments in Russia and the world.” While the Discussion Club seems highly regarded internationally as well as in Russia, its 2017 session took place against the backdrop over Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election.

This unavoidably colored the atmosphere in Sochi. Given Russian official participation in Valdai sessions always concluded by an address and Q&A from President Vladimir Putin, the “objective scholarly” independence of Valdai’s discussions may be questioned although substantively, what was on offer was, overall, very stimulating. Yet the geopolitical backdrop of Russia’s problematic relations with the US and the West generally, unavoidably clouds Valdai’s niche in the global dialogue intellectual food chain of brainstorming about the world’s problems. In my case, my commentary was punted from the Valdai website to the Global Affairs journal edited by Dr. Fodor Lukyanov who presided over the discussions in Sochi and was one of its leading organizers. Dr. Lukyanov is also a contributor to Laying The BRICS of a New Global Order co-edited by myself and HSRC’s Prof. Narnia Bohler-Muller in 2013.

Finally, while I was asked to comment on Valdai 2017, I felt compelled, as an African-American with a background of political and anti-apartheid activist involvement in Washington to be candidly critical of this year’s Valdai experience given how Russia relates to the most unprecedently racist and reactionary right-wing administration in America’s recent history, factoring in Moscow’s profoundly anti-Barack Obama prejudice. The Trump threat to black America, let alone US national security as a whole, implicates Russia. As it is, while I was the only participant from South Africa in Sochi, I was one of only three participants of African descent on a program including world renown Nobel Lautrate, Wole Soyinka and executive-secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, Lassina Zerbo of Burkina Faso. Soyinka more than made up for the global African deficit in Sochi. However, the fact that we were so few reflects where we of African descent stand in the hierarchy of an essentially Euro-Asiatic global intelligensia – which, in turn, reflects the stratification of global power; this is something to reflect on during our UN Decade of Peoples of African Descent! That said, the commentary follows. It will also appear in an upcoming issue of Global Affairs.

Introduction

In 1987, the great African-American cultural nationalist, Harold Cruse, author of Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (Morrow, 1967) followed up with, Plural But Equal: A Critical Study of Blacks and Minorities and America’s Plural Society (Morrow). In many respects, Cruse’s depiction, not only accurately reflected American realities then. His conception can also be applied to the global pluralist landscape in today’s world as discussed and debated at this year’s Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi.

To understand this event, it should be placed in a broader morbidly symptomiatic Gramscian context; that is, bearing in mind that Valdai 2017 unfolded against the backdrop of American domestic political civil war linked to the adversarial dynamics of US/Western-Russian relations. These circumstances carry major implications for US racial-class dynamics interacting with US-Sino-Russian maneuvering for position at the international level on the global stage. Interlinked US-Russian and American racial-class equations will be returned to later. Suffice, for now, to reflect on discourses emerging out of three days of Valdai think-tanking.

Intellectual discourses and the noise of politics

If one distills the diversity of perspectives presented at Sochi, guided by the overview ‘Valdai Discussion Club Report’ on The Importance of Being Earnest: How to Avoid Irreparable Damage (Moscow, October 2017), this year’s dialogue might be suggestive of what could be termed Pluralist Internationalism as liberal internationalism’s logical successor as the next phase in an evolving multipolar order; that is, were it not for the problematic geopolitical atmospherics clouding such an incipiently shared consciousness.

This atmosphere of background noise derived from Russian official tendencies to protest a mite too loudly over ‘non-intereference’ in America’s 2016 presidential election. Otherwise, the discussions were rich in perspectives to be built upon and further fleshed out in taking forward an urgently needed international conversation on areas the organizers identified for those of us panel participants to poniticate on in trying to define and solve the world’s problems – works in progress to be sure!

Taken together, the panels, interacting with the discussion club report, might also be collatted with the “11 chilling predications for what the world will look like in 10 years” unveiled in 2015 by Stratfor as reported in Business Insider UK. The opening special session explored the overarching annual report on “the importance of being earnest” and avoiding “irreparable” damage, featuring Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (along with Valdai programme directors Timofey Bordachev and Andrey Sushenstov). This set the tone for the next two interrelated sessions on “The Conflict Between Differing Geopolitical Worldviews” and “The Conflict Between Rich and Poor,” leading into the special session on “America: What Next?” involving Moscow’s former Ambassador to Washington, Serghey Kislyak with Eurasia Group Chairman, Clifford Kupchan and Angela Stent, Director of Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies.

The essentially geopolitical reflections and brainstorming in these sessions formed the backdrop to follow-up panels devoted to discerning trends shaping humanity’s and the planet’s medium to long-term future, including normative, ecological and security implications that, in turn, impact back onto the global strategic landscape discussed in earlier sessions. These included sessions on “The Conflict between Man and Nature,” during what some now consider the geological era of the Anthropocene; that between “Universalism and Self-Identity” featuring the gravitas of Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka while problematizing globalist-particularist divides in international society at different national and regional levels; and finally between “Progress and Humanism” amid the global roll-out of the 4th Industrial Revolution, backwashing onto bioethical considerations interacting with economic, employment, security trends.

Scoping geopolitical and rich-poor terrains

Forgrounding the geopolitics of the global strategic landscape, interacting with destabilizing challenges emanating from multi-dimensional inequalities amplified the big picture of risks and uncertainties in search of coherence set out in the Discussion Club Report. As an entre into these sessions, the report’s authors are candid about how the international system has evolved with its contradictions. Notable is where emphasis is placed. The post-Westphalian reality is acknowledged in as much as “there has never been a fixed and absolute written expression of the inviolability of sovereign states.”

But instead of tying eroding national sovereignties in the 21st century to the realities of global economic integration as the Financial Times’s Philip Stephens observed in 2012 as having robbed nation-states of control over their destinies, the report’s authors’ understandable Russian fixation is with the “now universally accepted concept of the protection of human rights.”i This is seen as having given rise “to the conviction that some states have the right to interfere in the internal affairs of other states for the purpose of/under the pretext of protecting human rights” in spite of the fact there exist “no supreme power” abrogating the unlimited power of states over citizens within their own territory. Such actions can only “be sanctioned by the sovereign will of signatory states to the UN Charter as a binding treaty of international law.”

While noting that Western opinions are fluctuating on how much importance to attach to interventions on behalf of protecting human rights as an expression of such powers holding themselves up as “the standard bearers of historical progress…For their part, non-Western states have never favored revisions to the concept of state sovereignty.” (italics added) It is on this basis that the author’s contend “the liberal world order (that many contend never existed in stable form, but for argument’s sake, we will allow existed after the Cold War) has been subjected to forces of revision on both sides, and for disparate reasons.” Absent from this critique is reference to popular sovereignty as ultimately legitimating state sovereignty and how the latter, as often as not, mutates into the elite sovereignty of incumbent ruling classes against the will of the people.

They reiterate that “the non-Western world adheres to the classic form of the Westphalian system” while “Western opponents of the liberal order, primarily mercantilists in the United States, advocate a return to the realist approach inherent in the the Westphalian system” (read Trumpista-Bannonism!). (italics added). This is a rather long-winded rejecting of human rights-motivated liberal internationalist interventionism in the internal affairs of ostensibly sovereign states, though the authors acknowledge: “the classic Westphalian world is gone: too many objective factors now blur the former understanding of sovereignty.” (italics added)

The complexity of world reality is the international system’s economic integration on the one hand, interacting with its multipolarity on the other, or what Samuel Huntington dubbed “uni-multipolarity” given US full-spectrum strategic dominance offset by ongoing relative economic decline as a function of the diffusion of economic power among several powers.ii Tensions between economic integration and multipolarity poses a question as to how a revisionist internationalism might emerge. Here, the report’s authors move away from human rights non-interfering defensiveness onto more relevant terrain regarding how the current global economic integrationist-multipolar reality might be consolidated.

In Laying the BRICS of a New Global Order (Africa Institute, 2013), this author suggested an unfolding scenario underway toward “global economic federalism” as reflecting an incipient regionalizing of the global economy in all its emerging pluralities.iii This conceptualization is in line with the global governing architecture implied by the report’s authors. They recommend that any understanding of sovereignty should include “mechanisms for coordinating interests within societies and between states” linked to overcoming governance challenges to integration:

“As we suggested in previous reports, part of the solution would be to organise the international economy and politics according to macro-regions. This could reduce the number and the scale of the dividing lines that tend to spark conflicts. It is also necessary to place states within an institutional framework that would limit their national self-centeredness, and to reduce the number of states that, at some stage, would have to start formjulating the rules of a ‘new Westphalia’.” (italics added)

They further propose: in “renewing the international legal system, it will help to take into account the best practices of the macro-regional communities” in what can only imply evolution toward a supranationalist global economic federalist order. In elevating such an order to the normative high ground, they site Martin Luther King in King’s appeal for an end to the Vietnam War:

“A genuine revolution of values means…that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.”

So the norms and values of liberalism, in its essential tolerance of diversity remains intact. The challenge is surmounting contemporarty geopolitical dynamics and obstacles to arrive at the post-Westphalian revisionist amending of the current exhausted liberal order while elevating “Indivisibility as a Value.” In other words, how to institutionalize the ‘unity in diversity’ of humanity in all our plural morphological and cultural manifestations -- tall order that is! Hence, lead-off sessions that sought to unpack the geopolitical pluralism of differing worldviews amid challenges of rising inequalities fueling populist political reaction in many a G7 economy – blowback from west-to-east shifting center of gravity in the world economy.

The attempt at unpacking conflicting world views on the state of global geopolitics predictably came up short. Yet, this session did illuminate a number of relevant observations and a certain amount of convergence as in a general consensus that the West is clearly on the defensive and in a structurally weakening state amid a resurging China and Russia. But whether their challenge to the West (as erroneously dubbed ‘new powers’) foreshadowed radical transformation in the strategic landscape, overturning the incumbent order was open to serious question.

Here, Russia could turn out to be something of an outlier. China’s rise was occuring within the incumbent order, not external to it. China, under Xi Jinping, is assuming the initiative on globalization as America, under Trump, abdicates leadership. In the process, Europe seems up for grabs between an uncertain US in terms of transatlantic commitments, on the one hand, and intertwined Sino-Russian ‘macro-regional’ integration projects, on the other: namely, China’s Belt-Road Initiative via an expanding Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union.

If there is a threat to the West, it emerges from within as economic dislocations from the west-to-east global economic shift expand terrains of inequality and insecurity among formerly privileged social strata fueling anti-globalist reactionary populist challenges to liberal democratic governance. Oligarchic orchestarted political dysfunction encourages this. As such, there exist interlinkages between domestic politics of growing inequalities along socio-racial, ethnic and class lines, finding expression in rising xenophobic hysteria throughout Europe and in the US, interacting with east-west geopolitical-strategic dynamics generally. Yet global economic integration interacting with the regionalizing of multipolarity marches on!

This is all well and good as far as China is concerned because ‘geopolitics’ is disavowed – what geopolitical agendas? Geopolitics? Beijing doesn’t do geopol? Why? Because geopolitics, which has led to a zero-sum world (as opposed to ‘win-win’) has not been a very familiar term in China – really?! Moreover, the world has become ‘flat’ as a result of globalization which China embraces gung-ho, and which reshapes ‘center-periphery’ relations in a manner in which we are now all in the same economic system. In what was offered as a Chinese bid to transcend geopolitics, the existing system should be reordered along nodal lines with China emerging as a Nodal Power emphasizing ‘sharing’ as a value (sharing resources, sharing power — sharing burdens?).

The problem is that global governance has yet to keep up with global economic integration. Otherwise, not everyone bought China’s narrative being put forth, stressing that the trans-regional integrationist economics of Belt-Road were heavily laden with geopolitics via the SCO (as is no doubt the case with Russia’s EEU). Russian representatives were definitely not disavowing geopolitics.

Clearly, amid a presumed fading Pax-Americana, transcontinental Eurasia was taking center-stage in the theater of conflicting geopolitical world views. But this begged yet another question about who leads in an Asia emerging as the epicenter of global economic dynamism? It was pointed out that since neither China nor Japan will accept one another’s regional leadership, the Souheast Asian ASEAN should take the lead in inter-Asian affairs.iv This is an intriguing notion with intriguing implications, but revealing of how Asia comparatively lags, overall, behind Africa as well as Europe in evolving an architecture of regional or trans-regional cooperation and governance (not that Europe or Africa have reached the nirvana in these regards).

This no doubt reflects the vastness of Asia’s multi-regional diversity and weakness in such structures as the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) due to unresolved historical and contemporary contradictions plaguing the South Asian-Hindu Kush macro-region. Theoretically, SAARC should be foregrounded in stabilizing Afghanistan and Kashmir. Could a Sino-Japanese backed ASEAN potentially extend its remit to South Asia? Would India, let alone Pakistan, bandwagon onto such an East Asian-driven Pax-Asiatica (even with increasing closeness between Delhi and Tokyo)? Such considerations, in turn, beg other questions pertaining to a west Asian Middle East, currently in turmoil, fueled by the Own-Goals Axis of Trump-Netanyahu-Salman! Riyadh’s US-Israeli-sanctioned backfiring in Yemen, Qatar and, most recently, Lebanon speak for themselves.

Meanwhile, the emerging balance of regional dominance appears to be leaning toward a Russo-Iranian-Turkish alignment with Iran, prospectively, becoming a full member of the Trans-Eurasian, Sino-Russian-led SCO. As Turkey, under Erdogan, appears rapidly evolving into an interregional ‘swing state’ as a member of NATO (which it will not give up – or be ejected from!), Ankara may well end up in the SCO as well; possibly even in association with Moscow’s EEU. Brussel’s lack of a pluralist vision for Europe long ago pointed Turkey in a Eurasianist direction. A similar lack of geopolitically pluralist vision on Germany’s part, foreclosing expanding the G8 into a G13, including what was once the ‘Outreach Five’ comprising China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico, inevitably paved the way for BRICS at the apex of an emerging suborder within the G20.

However, this gets a bit ahead of the Valdai discussions. Suffice it to point out that the unfolding geopolitical discourse was at a loss on the Middle East, viewed as reflecting a “paradigm that is foggy amid a world order that is blurry.” Loss in the mix was any reference to what Trump’s predecessor was attempting in his multilateral nuclear deal initiative with Tehran which aimed to try and nudge Iran and Saudi Arabia toward a regional balancing accommodation.v This would overcome the sectarian geopolitical dynamics unleashed by George W. Bush’s unraveling of Iraq to the widely predicted benefit of Iran.

Of course the Israelis, Saudis and their neoconservative and ultra-right lobbies in Washington and in the US Congress were militantly against President Obama’s incipient realigning of the US policy playing field into a more considered off-shore balancing posture as opposed to current disarray under Washington-Riyadh-Tel Aviv collusion. As the Syrian civil war moves into a still uncertain endgame, this scenario makes Russia the default beneficiary of the strategic vacuum in search of an orchestrating great power-broker, complements of Obama’s successor.

Toward a Pluralist Worldview: Geopolitical and cultural?

The question that emerged out of recognizing the reality that different geopolitical visions of the world are a give, boil down to this: “How do we create a system that allows them to interact without destabilizing the world; what are the parameters and constraints? This should allow for flexibilities without aggressive interfering in the affairs of states.” A tentative answer implicates the logic of geopolitical pluralism as a principle amending liberal internationalism into a more tolerant reflection of current and emerging realities in the global geopolitical economy and strategic security playing field. Generically, with any number of caveates and exceptions, if one defines the global order into economic governing alignments within the G20, there is an emerging taxonomy discerning broadly western and non-western suborders comprising the G7 and BRICS interacting with and overlapping security alliances and emerging security-economic macro-regional communities: namely NATO and an expanding Sino-Russian SCO.

These overlapping subordinal alignments reflect considerable intra-as well as inter-bloc pluralism and cross-subordinal arrangements. Many a major and minor state actor are and have been developing multi-vectored diplomacies in accordance with geoeconomic and security interests which may not necessarity align. Thus, India is a member of BRICS, the SCO and ministerial trilateral with Russia and China, while forging increasingly close relations with Japan and the US in what, in strategic security terms, revisits Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Quadrilateral comprising a Tokyo-Delhi-Washington-Canberra Indo-Pacific security arrangement offsetting China’s rising regional ascendancy. The so-called ASEAN+3 comprising China, Japan and South Korea, with India also having its links to ASEAN reflects yet another pluralist reality; it is one underpinning reference during the discussion to how China and Japan could accept ASEAN’s leadership umbrella in what could emerge as a Beijing-Tokyo entente as Trump beats an American retreat from Asia-Pacific multilateralism. This rang loud and clear on his Asian tour and participation in Danang and Manila summits.

Meanwhile, on the transatlantic side of geopolitical equations, the EU is reflecting increasing diversity and fluidity in the foreign policies and economic diplomacies of its member states amid the Trump-Brexit weakening of Anglo-American leadership and cohesion. As such, strategic autonomy is emerging as the leitmotif of Europe’s security calculus on the basis of the EU’s recent decision to initiate a program of joint military investment in equipment, research and development, complementing their NATO commitment.vi The EU, after all, is a security as well as an economic community. However, intra-EU multi-regionalisms and faultlines are increasingly apparent along with subnational contradictions within member states (think Scotland and Catalonia) although the threat to European integration seems considerably overblown. Indeed, European integration could feed into an even broader trans-Eurasian inter-continentalism as China’s Belt-Road Initiative gathers momentum. And here, it should kept in mind that Africa forms the peninsular extension of what, geologically, is the Afro-Eurasian supercontinent with geostrategic relevance to both EU and Asian interregional dynamics.

Ideological and geopolitical pluralism is endemic to a post-cold war African landscape that remains fragmented to a fault in spite of the African Union (AU) as the world’s second continent-wide governing community (with the EU). However, the absence of North African integration due to the unresolved Western Sahara stalemate has to be factored into the trans-Mediterranean security conundrum implicated in terrorist threat perceptions and in migratory flows into Europe fueling its politics of reactionary populism challenging integration. But as far as Africa is concerned, the continent of elite sovereignty remains de facto divided between Arab north and sub-Saharan south while the Horn of Africa emerges as a rear-base for Persian Gulf geopolitical contradictions.

South Africa’s role as the continent’s presence in BRICS has registered no impact in bringing coherence to a predicament amounting to pluralism devoid of overarching governing logic in an AU system constantly in reaction mode to external influences. Thus, Africa along with much of the America’s, except for the US (obviously), was left out of geopolitical visionary brainstorming at Sochi save for ‘America: What Next?’ Domestic political contradictions within Latin America’s major state actors, notably Brazil and Venezuela have pushed promising regional autonomy initiatives toward geopolitical pluralism, such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (CELAC) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), to the margins of discourses on global geopolitical worldviews.

Yet, overall, geopolitical pluralism, in all its continentally and regionally uneven permutations is the global reality in what passes for ‘no one’s world’ (Charles Kupchan) and/or a ‘world in disarray’ (Richard Haass) when in fact, there is an evolving underlying logic to a multipolar landscape in what should be considered ‘everyone’s world.’ Such laments as offered up by US foreign policy establishmentarians seem to imply that in a post-Western world no longer solely the domain of Euro-America, the world belongs to no one! In fact, whereas the world should belong to everyone in all our human diversity, the problem is that, cutting across geopolitical domains and worldviews, the world is effectively the domain of the 1 percent. It comprises a rightwing oligarchic class of plutocracy waging class warfare against everyone else in the interest of political dysfunction as a means of entrenching economic inequalities.vii This is where the ‘America: What’s Next’ session fell down in illuminating post-2016 realities.

This unremittingly transnational class struggle implicates elite sections of America and Russia alike, illuminating extant controversies in US-Russian relations. More broadly, rich-poor inequalities in all their transnational manifestations have to be confronted in terms of more historically enduring inequalities rooted in subnational, socio-racial, ethnic, sectarian and gender fault lines. These can only be rectified through adaptive political solutions tailoring pluralism as a universal principle to uniquely national, regional and local circumstances. These, in turn, should be linked to striking complementarities between socialist and capitalist governing formulas, not pitting them against one another.

Thus, does pluralist internationalism, as liberalism’s amended successor in defining a transitioning federalist global economic order, illuminate more broadly its sister relationship to Democratic Cultural Pluralism as the basis for reconciling contradictions between ‘universalism and self-identity’ as necessary precursors to procedural democratization. Democratic cultural pluralism within a pluralist global order can be considered interlinked in establishing national integration as preconditional to regional and continental integration within and between western and non-western suborders comprising the international system.

If – and a big if this is – global governance might evolve toward rationalizing a pluralist consensus upon which to reconstruct the world order, a basis could increasingly be laid for building momentum on issues addressed in sessions addressing the “Conflict between Man and Nature” interacting with prospects for harmonizing “Progress and Humanism.” As humanity’s population expands beyond 7 billion, there is a sense of urgency In terms of how these considerations bear on sustainable security overall. This takes us back to geopolitics; will great power compulsions driving global geopolitical dynamics allow for adaptive sustainability during the Anthropocene ‘Age of Man’? The answer to this question may well hinge on the trilateral terms of engagement between Sino-Russia and the United States and whether a transitional tri-multipolar global governance dynamic can unfold, moving international politics further toward cooperation and away from conflicts over who dominates the world’s political geography and its finite resources.

Indivisibility weaponized?

Here, the Russian proposal regarding “indivisibility as a value” is worth problematizing. Rather than a ‘value,’ it seems more likely ‘indivisibility’ relates more to the real-time human interdependence and interconnectivity we currently find ourselves. That said, how does humanity, in all its pluralistic diversity, manage our indivisible reality which, truth be told, exposes myths of ‘non-interference’ and its Westphalian principle of national-cum-elite sovereignties?
After all, indivisibile realities of interdependence in the global informational landscape is a double-edged sword tempting power-political exploitation of unresolved fault lines in one another’s countries. Which is why Russian denials, concurred by President Donald Trump, of having interfered in the 2016 US presidential election undermines indivisibility as a value – in all earnestness, aimed at avoiding “irreparable damage”!

This is especially so if domestic political consequences in one another’s countries are either ignored or exploited irrespective of implications for affecting socio-cultural balances of forces that may, in turn, generate foreign policy blowbacks. There is a dialectic at play. It is ironic that progressive forces in the US were always on the defensive throughout the cold war as being stooges of the Soviet Union, only now to be presented with its post-cold war opposite: an international rightwing reactionary alliance of plutocracy biding for global hegemony with profoundly racist implications.

In terms of Trump-Putin/US-Russian dynamics, the stakes could not have been articulated more profoundly than by Nation magazine contributor Juan Cole:

“Playing on ethnic and racial divisions has become a hallmark of crony-capitalist Russia. In the United States, as well, during the 2016 presidential campaign Russian websites pretending to be American waged vicious campaigns against African-American disenters such as Black Lives Matter and against Arab-Americans, and attempted to tie both to the Clinton campaign. At the same time, some Moscow-linked sites attempted to stir African-American militancy in order to slam Clinton. The aim was to put Trump and the Breitbart gang of alt-white supremacists in power in Washington, in hopes they would prove to be isolationists and stop sanctioning Putin’s government over human-rights issues. Putin appears to have attempted a similar creepy alliance with the French National Front, whose Marine Le Pen obilingly sided with Moscow over the annexation of Crimea.

Both in the Middle East and in North America, Putin prefers strongmen and police states, dependent on public fears and bigotry for their popularity, to the ‘chaos’ of dissent and a free press and messy parliamentary politics. In Syria, he has won. It remains to be seen if over the long term he will prevail in North America and Western Europe.”viii

The tragedy contained in this harsh rebuke is how urgently imperative a US-Russian rapprochement really is. It is needed for forging a partnership with China in operationalizing indivisibility into a cooperatively strategic as opposed to a weaponized agenda; this might be one commencing a protracted multilateral process of negotiating a UN Security Council-centered global security architecture decentralized into evolving macro-regional economic communities based on subsidiarity. As such, pluralist internationalism might motivate a transition from an Americo-centric world order that is already effectively post-western into a more manifestly UN-centric order.

A multilaterally embedded American leadership would still resonate; however, this would be within a context of genuine burden-sharing and strategic devolution wherein US statecraft is invested in fundamentally reforming and strengthening the UN in a manner freeing up budgetary resources for pursuing former President Barack Obama’s Nation-Building at Home vision. In this, the US is not alone. All states, great and lesser alike, need to pursue domestic and international public policy agendas interactively strengthening and enhancing national and global integration simultaneously. The alternative to be avoided is some of Stratfor’s predictions for the next decade wherein they foresee sanctions, declining oil prices, a plunging ruble, rising military expenditures and increasing internal discord coming close to disintegrating the Russian Federation, placing its nuclear infrastructure at risk while Germany experiences “Japan-style stagnation” amid further weakening of the EU. Uneven development between Beijing’s thriving coastal regions and its interior could, meanwhile, challenge China’s stability and cohesion.ix

At the end of the day, only sustained international dialogue cutting across the plural diversity of ‘everyone’s world’ may, over time, make a difference in how state actors manage the challenges deliberated on at Sochi, a most splendid environment for stimulating such brainstorming. Yet there is a contradiction between the international public policy intellectual agenda of Valdai and its usage as a platform for what can only be described as but another front in Moscow’s informational hybrid warfare against the West. The two do not mix. Thus, does the Valdai Discussion Club face an identity crisis at a time when global dialogue becomes paramount in discerning a new theory-praxis of democratic international relations based on the world’s manifestly pluralist realities.

 

Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. is the senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA and Global Fellow of The Wilson Centre in Washington is co-editor of Laying the BRICS of a New Global Order (AISA).

This article was first published at http://eng.globalaffairs.ru/book/Plural-but-equal-in-everyones-world-Dialogue-in-Sochi--or-Information-Warfare-by-Other-Means-19173

 

i “A transatlantic tale of paralysis,” Financial Times, April 19, 2012. “Powers that once resided in nation states have been lost to global economic integration.”
ii Smuel Huntington, “The Lonely Superpower,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 1999, pp. 35-49.
iii See: “Laying the BRICS of a New Global Order: A conceptual scenario,” by Francis Kornegay, Laying the BRICS of a New Global Order: Yetkaterinburg 2009 to eThekwini 2013, Pretoria, Africa Institute, 2013, pp. 1-32.
iv However, in a sign of possible Sino-Japanese rapprochement, the New York Times on November 17, 2017 carried the following article: “Seeing the U.S. in Retreat Under Trump, Japan and China Move to Mend Ties.”
v See: Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Obama Doctrine: The president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world,” The Atlantic, April 2016 Issue.
vi ’E.U. Moves Closer to a Joint Military Force,” New York Times, November 13, 2017.
vii See for example an insightful analysis in Politico: “How to future-proof the West’s economies: Top economic thinkers from the U.S. and Europe say we need to start by fixing our politics,” by Maura Reynolds, 11/16/2017.
viii “What Russia’s Syria Intervention Tells Us About It’s Interference in the US Election,” by Juan Cole Twitter, The Nation Magazine, November 6, 2017.
ix “Strafor has 11 chilling predictions for what the world will look like in 10 yesrs,” Business Insider, February 2, 2016.

 

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