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Nationalists hijack Washington
Posted: Tuesday, March 4, 2003

By Ash Pulcifer,

Anti-globalization protesters may soon be celebrating. Globalization -- often referred to as the theory of all countries adopting similar political, economic and social platforms -- has stumbled in its seemingly unstoppable march toward uniformity; moreover, it doesn't look to be recovering anytime soon. While many agreed that the fast pace of globalization achieved in the '90s could not be sustained, very few predicted that it would be the United States that would inevitably halt its progress.

During the Clinton years, the success of globalization was thought to be indisputable. Economic and political leaders spoke about an end to trade barriers and a dawning of a new world, free from major political, economic and social conflict due to the reasoning that when state economies are so intertwined, all groups will have too much to lose in the case of war and will prevent major conflicts from arising. Yet with the fall of the Twin Towers, suddenly the idea of a "free world" disappeared behind the protective barriers quickly built to shield the United States from both foreign economic and military threats.

After it became clear that the attacks on September 11 created a damaging ripple effect through the global economy, there was concern that a sustained campaign of terrorism could ruin the chance for future economic integration. With the world's economies so closely tied together, when an economic powerhouse like the United States suffers economic setbacks, it is also felt throughout the rest of the world. The danger was that terror attacks created global consumer uncertainty, which acts as a major impetus against economic growth. Yet the blows to globalization not only came from terror attacks, but also from official U.S. policy.

After the attacks of September 11, the Bush administration acted to shield the U.S. economy from global integration, putting the future of globalization in doubt. In addition to increasing restrictions on foreign tourists and immigrants, threatening the proposed borderless world of globalization, Washington, to the ire of globalization proponents, imposed trade restrictions on international trade. Along with boosting agricultural subsidies to its farm industry, Washington placed tariffs on steel imports to protect its domestic steel industry from foreign competition. Both of these moves ran counter to the theory of free trade and acted to block temporarily the path toward globalization.

By only focusing on national interests and not global interests, the United States is beginning to abandon this once sacred ideal. Adding to these trends, the Bush administration's public distaste for international treaties - shown through their withdrawal from the 1972 anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, refusal to participate in the International Criminal Court, and rejecting the Kyoto protocol -- and its choice of unilateralism over multilateralism have globalization proponents rightfully concerned.

The simple explanation for this change can be found in the theory of nationalism, when states pursue national goals often at the expense of international ones. The nationalist rhetoric coming out of Washington is stunningly blunt. Richard Perle, Chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, closely tied with other members of the Bush administration through their work with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and its spawn, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), both Washington based think tanks, epitomizes the unilateral and nationalist bent of this administration. Perle has claimed that "France is no longer the ally it once was," and also stated: "It is now reasonable to ask whether the United States should now or on any other occasion subordinate vital national interests to a show of hands by nations who do not share our interests." President Bush, in his 2003 State of the Union Address, also threatened to eliminate America's history of multilateralism by announcing that the "course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others."

In addition to nationalists in the Bush administration, members of the U.S. Congress are also abandoning their global outlook. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert has called for restrictions on the imports of French water and wine. France, being the top exporter of water to the United States, would be notably angered by such an action and would react by creating trade barriers of its own. To begin a cycle of various trade wars would obstruct free trade and bring the return of nationalism along with what comes with it: a receding of political, economic and social integration and a higher probability of great military conflict.

That is the ultimate danger of emphasizing national goals at the expense of international ones. If the United States stops taking into serious account the views of other governments, these governments will no longer feel tied to the United States and will also begin to follow nationalist policies. When powerful governments follow nationalism, they always clash in their undying pursuit of national objectives.

What is remarkable is that the United States -- which was the core of globalization -- is the country that is bringing about this change. It is abandoning the policies drafted after the fall of the Soviet Union when the U.S. used persuasive pressure to rally the world behind the ideal of internationalism and what is known as globalization. Now, the United States is pushing a message that the U.S. will take actions based upon U.S. interests alone in a definite diversion of policy.

The unremitting mission to invade Iraq is the most visible effect of U.S. nationalism. With important regional powers -- and nearly the entire world population -- against its invasion plans, the Bush administration is still warning that the U.S. will take action regardless of lack of support from regional powers; moreover, Washington has warned that it will even disregard the United Nations if the organization does not endorse a U.S. invasion. This will cause other states to feel powerless and they will develop their own nationalist policies in response.

Already, Kim Jong-il in North Korea has deserted international agreements protecting North Korea from foreign aggression and has instead decided that the only way to protect against the United States is to develop a nuclear arsenal that would make it difficult for the U.S. to attack Pyongyang. Iran, too, has raised eyebrows in its insistence of managing every aspect of its nuclear energy program, including the handling of nuclear waste that can be used to create nuclear weapons. In addition to North Korea and Iran, other countries have also begun to follow more nationalist and unilateralist policies.

There is no doubt that France, Germany and Russia's stance against U.S. plans in Iraq are primarily founded on the fear of having to deal with an American nation unrestrained by international agreements. These three nations in particular do not want to have to deal with a country that threatens to invade other states without achieving multilateral support. If Washington chooses to go ahead and attack Iraq without their support, these three states will reevaluate their foreign policy and may choose to distance themselves from Washington and the rest of the world; nationalism will creep in and what once were America's allies may end up being aggressive competitors.

The dreams of a globalized future so prevalent during the Clinton years have been temporarily halted. While the last decade was a time of strengthening allies in an attempt to bring the world's economies closer together, the beginning of this decade is radically different. The September 11 attacks provided the radical elements of the Bush administration -- those members who were part of the neo-conservative AEI and its various offspring such as the PNAC -- just the justification they needed to divert the course of U.S. foreign policy away from internationalism and toward nationalism. If these policies continue, the chances of a new global polarization that could easily break down into violence will be assured.

[Ash Pulcifer is a U.S. based analyst of international conflicts and is also a human rights activist. While he does not justify or accept the killing of civilians in warfare, he attempts to understand why groups or governments resort to such means in order to achieve their strategic objectives.]

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