Let me begin this commentary on a new geopolitics by making two more or less irreverent remarks about how best to think about this dialogic approach to political transformation. To begin with, I would encourage a greater emphasis on what I would call to the vertical dimensions of dialogue. Let me try to clarify this observation. It is, of course, important to have eminent people drawn from different civilizational and religious orientations speaking to one another in civil tones. But part of the ethos of humane dialogue at this time in world history is to realize that all voices are relevant and deserving of recognition. In this spirit, it may be especially important to arrange for the participation in the future of those who are habitually excluded from such interaction. We need to listen carefully to youth, to oppressed peoples, and to women, that is, to those whose voices are typically not heard at all at high-profile gatherings, and if represented at all, then only nominally. I believe that a proper vertically conceived dialogic process would certainly include representatives of indigenous and minority peoples whose ancient wisdom is urgently needed by the world at this ecologically and normatively troubled time. And all of us must learn to listen in ways that are not characteristic of the manner in which the elites of the Western world are accustomed to heed the complaints and concerns of those who have been marginalized and oppressed.As the wave of migrants from the killing fields of the contemporary world suggests, the response of Western publics is increasingly exhibited by barbed wire, police brutality, and mob xenophobia.
The second irreverent suggestion that I would make underscores the importance – because of the urgency of some of the challenges facing humanity – that one move toward a politics of dialogue.
One has to imagine political projects that can move dialogic reflections on what needs to be done into the life world of change and struggle. I wish to critique the old geopolitics which is based on the primacy of hard power, essentially conceived of as military power and its accompanying diplomatic clout, as the essential agent of historical change in the affairs of sovereign states. It seems appropriate at this stage of history to contrast this old geopolitics with an emerging but yet not emergent new geopolitics that relies on soft power and grasps the limits of the role of force in achieving the goals of peoples and the objectives of national governments and international institutions.
This transition will not go forward very far unless reinforced by a dramatic enlarging of the political imagination of leaders and of citizens. This mutation of the imagination must reinterpret its core understanding of what is best for the promotion of national interests. The reigning idea of the national interest must be reinterpreted to include within its compass deference to global interests and human interests. Without this enlargement of the political imagination, the problems that beset the planet at the present time will not be resolved in effective and equitable ways. The current political leadership of states, particularly in the dominant countries, continues to be enmeshed in a dysfunctional ideology of realism that is premised on the effectiveness and necessity for relying on hard power and a national interest orientation to promote the wellbeing of established political communities comprising sovereign states without much concern for adverse implications for the world or the future.
If we bother to look around at the issues that confront the world, starting with climate change, we see the inability of either states on their own or states operating within the framework of the United Nations to address the problem in a manner that responsibly responds to the most dire warnings the world has ever received from the scientific community. Such a consensus has rarely existed among scientists, and yet its policy implications continue to be ignored. We creatures of modernity pride ourselves as belonging to a scientific civilization that flourishes within the ample confines of a temple of reason, and yet we fail so far to heed these warnings because they collide with perceived short-term national and private sector interests. The result is a very dangerous failure to live up to the challenges that are increasingly confronting the world and the human species in currently harmful and potentially disastrous forms.
At the other end of the policy agenda from ecological rebalancing is the kind of interference without constructive results that is exhibited by attempts to shape the outcome of the ongoing bloody conflict in Syria and, to some extent, the earlier conflict in Libya. In other words, the world community lacks the wisdom and capacity to address effectively the war/peace issues of the day at either end of the policy spectrum, that is, either within states or of global scope. There is no current prospect, I believe, that a world structured as ours is, will have that capacity or even the knowledge and wisdom in the foreseeable future to solve the major problems confronting the peoples of the world. A major shift in political consciousness is needed and hopefully can come about voluntarily and through the development of a more cosmopolitan and wiser public and a leadership better attuned to the world historical situation.The unhappy main alternative is for such a shift to result from a traumatic shock administered by a catastrophic breakdown in basic order or through the rise of a dialectic of terrorism (extremist movements and counterinsurgency responses) of the sort undoing the social order of the Middle East.
None is more disturbing ethically and more revealing of the shortcomings of the old geopolitics than is the prolonged failure to end the ordeal of the Palestinian people that has lasted since 1948. The Palestinians are now either disposed from or captive in their own historic homeland, and the remnant left to them after Israeli military expansion is a mere 22 percent of historic Palestine. This remnant has been further reduced by Israeli settlements, the unlawful construction of a separation wall, and through the construction of a network of settlers-only roads linked to Israel. The Palestinians of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza have endured this stateless condition of apartheid occupation, an oppressive occupation for more than 45 years following the early dispossession in 1948 known as the nakba. And because of the old geopolitics and the way in which the American hegemony operates there is no capacity to address this Palestinian litmus test of human suffering and its indications of the unwillingness and inability of the world system to promote minimal justice in instances of this type.
Despite this generally bleak picture of the existing global setting, of the existing global political landscape, I believe that a new geopolitics is struggling to be born and assert itself. It is forging a different global politics that will incorporate by stages the global and human interest and make our understanding of what it means to be a citizen of a political community have an existential planetary dimension and no longer be confined to the geographic national space of sovereign states, and within that, to short-term concerns.
This is an extract from Richard Falk’s new book Power Shift.