quinta-feira, 18 de dezembro de 2014
‘Fragmentation’ and ‘identity’ are reshaping the world
It is that time of year. What single word, an old friend challenged, best describes the forces that have been shaping the world. If I am allowed only one choice it has to be “fragmentation”. Were I permitted a second, it would be “identity”.
The splintering of the old order is at its most stark — and brutal — in the Middle East. In Iraq, Syria and Libya the state has all but collapsed. Whatever one thinks of Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot, the map they drew almost a century ago no longer describes the territorial reality. These states will probably never properly be rebuilt.
The fragmentation dynamic reaches well beyond the murderous sectarian conflicts engulfing the Arab world. The founding assumption of the post cold war settlement was that global economic integration would drive closer political cohesion. In today’s post, post cold war order, economic and political nationalism are marching together in the opposite direction.
The frontiers of globalisation are being rolled back. Remember the Washington consensus? The crash of 2008 read the rites over what was to have been a seamless melding of the world’s capital markets. Banking has been renationalised as governments repudiate responsibility for anyone else’s debts.
The internet faces the same process of Balkanisation. For good reasons and bad, states have decided that the digital age cannot be left in the charge of the corporate behemoths of Silicon Valley.
Trade multilateralism has been replaced by bilateral dealmaking and regional pacts. There is a symmetry here. China, India and the rising rest are jealous guardians of their national sovereignty. A world-weary — and wary — US no longer has the capacity for, or self-interest in, writing and enforcing universal rules. Beijing views the Bretton Woods institutions as emblems of passing western hegemony. Washington refuses to stump up its dues for the International Monetary Fund.
Vladimir Putin has delivered the most abrupt shock to those 1990s assumptions about values and interests being shared across state borders. By annexing Crimea and sending his little green men into eastern Ukraine, the Russian president tore through the fabric of the postwar European settlement.
Mr Putin is paying a heavy price as western sanctions amplify the impact on the Russian economy of the sliding oil price, but, even so, you do not hear much talk nowadays about a Europe whole and free.
The response of the EU to such aggression has been, well, fragmented — an unseemly struggle between those, including, thankfully, Germany’s Angela Merkel, who think international rules are worth defending and those — stand up Italy’s Matteo Renzi — who assert the primacy of national economic self-interest.
Solidarity is not the EU’s strongest suit these days. The long march towards political and economic integration that began with Franco-German reconciliation has stalled. Leaders across the continent are running scared of populists such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France and Nigel Farage’s UK Independence party. Brussels has been cast by the xenophobes as the agent of uncontrolled immigration and untrammelled capitalism.
The logic of the single currency, as Mario Draghi, European Central Bank president, never tires of saying, demands that governments pool economic decision-making. In spite of the near collapse of the entire enterprise, the pull of national prerogatives and preferences has proved too strong. The euro is left stranded in the no-mans land between systemic cohesion and potential disintegration.
Much of this speaks to an effort by states to recover the levers of power lost to globalisation. Under pressure from disenchanted electorates, governments want to call more of the shots — though none will admit that it is too late now to unravel the tightly bound threads of economic interdependence.
The more dangerous dynamic is the visceral nationalism evident in Mr Putin’s claim to be protector of all Russian-speakers from the former Soviet Union, in China’s assertive pursuit of its territorial claims in the western Pacific, in the xenophobia of would-be political strongmen such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban, and in a resurgence almost everywhere — and here I come to my second word — of the politics of identity.
Identity is often deployed as a powerful instrument of state power. But, save in singularly homogenous communities, it can also serve as the catalyst for fragmentation. At its most extreme this sees national allegiances abandoned to primordial loyalties to clans, tribes or religion. Shia, Sunnis and Kurds are carving out their own territory. The terrorists of the self-styled Islamic State are offering Muslims everywhere an alternative identity.
At the other end of the spectrum, a narrowing of identities drives constitutional separatist movements such as those of the Catalan and Scottish nationalists. Somewhere there is a line between legitimate self-determination and destructive fragmentation; the problem is that no one is quite sure just where to draw it.
It always strikes me when I visit Beijing that Xi Jinping’s much vaunted “China dream” throws a cloak over deeply felt fear of the separatist movements in Xinjiang and Tibet. Mr Putin’s Slav nationalism sits ill alongside the Islamist insurgencies in much of the Caucasus.
So there you have it, albeit in two words rather than one. Fragmentation and identity serve as mirror images in a world that seems to be looking for reasons to splinter. It is not a cheering prospect. The one thing we can say with certainty about this new international disorder is that it will not be stable. Happy Christmas.