Out of the wreckage: By tearing up the global rulebook, the US is in fact
undermining its own imperial rule


George Monbiot Tuesday February 25, 2003 The Guardian

The men who run the world are democrats at home and dictators abroad. They came
to power by means of national elections which possess, at least, the potential
to represent the will of their people. Their citizens can dismiss them without
bloodshed, and challenge their policies in the expectation that, if enough
people join in, they will be obliged to listen.

Internationally, they rule by brute force. They and the global institutions
they run exercise greater economic and political control over the people of the
poor world than its own governments do. But those people can no sooner
challenge or replace them than the citizens of the Soviet Union could vote
Stalin out of office. Their global governance is, by all the classic political
definitions, tyrannical.

But while citizens' means of overthrowing this tyranny are limited, it seems to
be creating some of the conditions for its own destruction. Over the past week,
the US government has threatened to dismantle two of the institutions which
have, until recently, best served its global interests.

On Saturday, President Bush warned the UN security council that accepting a new
resolution authorising a war with Iraq was its "last chance" to prove "its
relevance". Four days before, a leaked document from the Pentagon showed that
this final opportunity might already have passed. The US is planning to build a
new generation of nuclear weapons in order to enhance its ability to launch a
pre-emptive attack. This policy threatens both the comprehensive test ban
treaty and the nuclear non-proliferation treaty - two of the principal
instruments of global security - while endangering the international compact
that the UN exists to sustain. The security council, which, despite constant
disruption, survived the cold war, is beginning to look brittle in its
aftermath.

On Wednesday, the US took a decisive step towards the destruction of the World
Trade Organisation. The WTO's current trade round collapsed in Seattle in 1999
because the poor nations perceived that it offered them nothing, while granting
new rights to the rich world's corporations. It was relaunched in Qatar in 2001
only because those nations were promised two concessions: they could override
the patents on expensive drugs and import cheaper copies when public health was
threatened, and they could expect a major reduction in the rich world's
agricultural subsidies. At the WTO meeting in Geneva last week, the US flatly
reneged on both promises.

The Republicans' victory in the mid-term elections last November was secured
with the help of $60m from America's big drug firms. This appears to have been
a straightforward deal: we will buy the elections for you if you abandon the
concession you made in Qatar. The agri-business lobbies in both the US and
Europe appear to have been almost as successful: the poor nations have been
forced to discuss a draft document which effectively permits the rich world to
continue dumping its subsidised products in their markets.

If the US does not back down, the world trade talks will collapse at the next
ministerial meeting in Mexico in September, just as they did in Seattle. If so,
then the WTO, as its former director-general has warned, will fall apart.
Nations will instead resolve their trade disputes individually or through
regional agreements. Already, by means of the free trade agreement of the
Americas and the harsh concessions it is extracting from other nations as a
condition of receiving aid, the US appears to be preparing for this possibility.

The US, in other words, seems to be ripping up the global rulebook. As it does
so, those of us who have campaigned against the grotesque injustices of the
existing world order will quickly discover that a world with no institutions is
even nastier than a world run by the wrong ones. Multilateralism, however
inequitable it may be, requires certain concessions to other nations.
Unilateralism means piracy: the armed robbery of the poor by the rich. The
difference between today's world order and the one for which the US may be
preparing is the difference between mediated and unmediated force.

But the possible collapse of the current world order, dangerous as it will be,
also provides us with the best opportunities we have ever encountered for
replacing the world's unjust and coercive institutions with a fairer and more
democratic means of global governance.

By wrecking the multilateral system for the sake of a few short-term, corporate
interests, the US is, paradoxically, threatening its own tyrannical control of
other nations. The existing international agencies, fashioned by means of
brutal power politics at the end of the second world war, have permitted the US
to develop its international commercial and political interests more
effectively than it could have done alone.

The institutions through which it has worked - the security council, the WTO,
the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank - have provided a semblance
of legitimacy for what has become, in all but name, the construction of empire.
The end of multilateralism would force the US, as it is already beginning to
do, to drop this pretence and frankly admit to its imperial designs on the rest
of the world. This admission, in turn, forces other nations to seek to resist
it. Effective resistance would create the political space in which their
citizens could begin to press for a new, more equitable multilateralism.

There are several means of contesting the unilateral power of the US, but
perhaps the most immediate and effective one is to accelerate its economic
crisis. Already, strategists in China are suggesting that the yuan should
replace the dollar as east Asia's reserve currency. Over the past year, as the
Observer revealed on Sunday, the euro has started to challenge the dollar's
position as the international means of payment for oil. The dollar's dominance
of world trade, particularly the oil market, is all that permits the US
Treasury to sustain the nation's massive deficit, as it can print inflation-
free money for global circulation. If the global demand for dollars falls, the
value of the currency will fall with it, and speculators will shift their
assets into euros or yen or even yuan, with the result that the US economy will
begin to totter.

Of course an economically weakened nation in possession of overwhelming
military force remains a very dangerous one. Already, as I suggested last week,
the US appears to be using its military machine to extend its economic life.
But it is not clear that the American people would permit their government to
threaten or attack other nations without even a semblance of an international
political process, which is, of course, what the Bush administration is
currently destroying.

America's assertions of independence from the rest of the world force the rest
of the world to assert its independence from America. They permit the people of
the weaker nations to contemplate the global democratic revolution that is long
overdue.

7 The Age of Consent, George Monbiot's proposals for global democratic
governance, will be published in June