Develop or Die
Last month saw the UN General Assembly as the focal point for global affairs, with the center stage given to the confrontation between a 16-year-old climate activist and the orange-hued leader of the supposedly free world. Aside from the liberal angst of the international media, bemoaning the callousness of the Trump administration on the rapidly worsening climate disaster, little attention was paid to Trump’s actual speech at the UNGA.
In short, he laid waste to the American commitment to liberal internationalism, proclaiming that ‘Patriots’ (read white nationalists) own the world now and the globalism was a defunct American ideology. This brushed off yet another one of Cheeto Fuhrer’s deranged rants against the international system, but Trump is an early social media pioneer who knows how to manipulate his base. His statement at the United Nations is not merely designed to throw shade at the developing world or the EU, it’s meant to remind his supporters that he is serious about global power remaining in Caucasian hands.
As much as DC wishes to turn back the clock and select a leader that is more in-line with the institutional order after the Cold War, it is impossible for them to ignore the white nationalism that has been strongly revived since the 2016 election on both sides of the Atlantic. The EU and the UK are experiencing the strongest surge in nativist electoral politics since the 1930s, with right-leaning parties beginning to sweep across various jurisdictions. On a darker note, several IGOs are warning of the surge in white nationalist infiltration in the US military, paramilitary forces, and mercenary groups in Ukraine, Africa, and the Middle East.
The idea being that since one cannot defeat the Taliban, its best to become the next incarnation of fundamentalism, but for Caucasian people. It is not true that Trump doesn’t possess a foreign policy game-plan, it’s just that the structure is crudely unpalatable to the liberal international order that is vaporizing before our eyes. The State Department piece on the “civilizational conflict” with China is an example of this sort of crude Realist mash-up with Huntington that Trump represents. But this is a belief that is closely held by various factions within the US military, diplomatic corps and academia. But of course, no one is impolitic enough to come out and state it.
But what has this got to do with the rest of the developing world? ASEAN, Africa, South Asia, MENA, and the Caucus? Commentators like Parag Khanna have suggested that the developing world will simply pick and choose between the West and Beijing, selecting various aspects of technology and capital that will accelerate their own technical growth. Eventually, this hybridized growth model will supersede the bipolar rivalry and cause a developmental surge in the remaining 70% that had been left behind for so many centuries. In other words, this is liberal institutionalism with a third world slant; the global market mechanism and the need for neo-liberal growth will persuade the West and industrial Asia’s corporate giants to continue gelling African and Asian trade routes. The technology and skills flow is unstoppable regardless of tariffs and other intellectual property shenanigans, simply because the global middle class demands it.
This is simply too optimistic and smacks of the deep regional integration of Colonial Europe before 1914. There are flaws in this perspective; connection is not development; at its best, the international developmental regime has failed Africa since the 1960s and allowed egregious rent-seeking in local government. The African bright spots of Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, etc. have only come about after merging state development models and relatively stable governance since the end of the Cold War and with considerable obstacles remaining to their access to the EU and North America. The rising tide of nationalist thinking and the return of nativist racism as a respectable form of politics in the EU and the US threatens to doom these bright spots in the near future.
Foreign Aid, questionably administered and fraught with multiple levels of corruption in the metropole, is already drying up rapidly as “America First” policies become paramount. With the rise of a virulent form of white nationalism in the US and the penetration of mercenary forces into African conflict zones, the unrest can “accidentally” spill into any African economy that is considering aid from East Asia or China. As it is, the global media frequently labels African economies that accept a multitude of assistance from non-western sources as being “corrupt” or technically inept. Essentially, painting various African governments as cow-towing to renewed colonialism. This is laughable because the older form never truly left. Think this is left-wing propaganda? Witness how the Franc Zone remains in Africa and how it guarantees industrial dependency on France while making it impossible for agricultural products to grow in the Francophone region. This is colonial dependency in all but name.
Development is typically described as an international relations issue and therefore the subject matter of external experts. In reality, these have a direct correlation with domestic race and violence issues that flow from the developing world. The sharp rise in race-based arrests, hate-crimes and economic violence in the US against black people and minorities since 2016, cannot be divorced from US foreign policy or the shifts in the governance culture of Washington. Africa is the next frontier in industrial development and for every year that peace is maintained between the US and China, its chances improve evermore. But there is still the absence of an African developmental champion, akin to the Asian Tigers of the 1980s and 90s.
The absence of an actual Wakanda, that Africans can look to with global pride that places the entire continent on the take-off trajectory. Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda are the best candidates so far and it is questionable that in the absence of heavy-duty Chinese investment since 2004 in all three, whether the technical progress would have been possible thus far. The techno-optimism of high neo-liberal global capital is not possible without the realist peace between the world’s two largest industrial economies. But the prospects for this are dimming with every month.
Another aspect of the white nationalist revival is its categorical denial of climate change and the environmental collapse that we are witnessing in real-time. Sustainable development is not about recycling straws or using electric cars, it is to distribute global wealth more equitably in Asia and Africa before time runs out. Quietly as the trade war and Sino-American rivalry accelerates, the OECD is seeking to corner resources, curate technology and establish rent-seeking access to talent via corporate mechanisms. There will be a dash for polar resources in the coming five years, while rare earths access is becoming national security prerogatives in East Asia and North America.
Climate change will wipe out easy access to growth resources and endanger the health of the entire developing world, extinguishing Africa’ bright spots. The influx of mercenaries, private armies and other crime-related arms of foreign policy have ignited a series of proxy wars in African jurisdictions as a means to lock-down Africa’s vast natural wealth. Once again, this is as old as Conquistadores raiding Mexico in the 15th century. But will Africa survive a second disappointment of development, following its disappearance in the 1960s after independence? The return of racism as a respectable means of foreign policy in the West, is basically kicking away the ladder, writ large.
What remains is for the lucky few who have escaped to engage in a fresh paradigm of growth; combat developmentalism akin to Israel, pulling in technological capital whenever it’s possible to reach. Disregarding established divides between the State and the free market by utilizing governance planning with market savvy, throwing away ludicrous divides between what is “developed” or “developing” etc. Cultural connections, history, technology and capital, all of these are now up for grabs. Witness the “left-coast” development models of Mexico, the Penang region in Malaysia; deploying diasporic networks of talent while free-riding on global manufacturing for unexpected avenues of market access. In the case of Mexico, the ubiquitous access to the cocaine industry created a groundswell of laboratory equipment and doctoral level talent, a pharmaceutical and biotech sector blossomed unexpectedly. The international order is turning away from global capitalist growth and going into “lock-down” mode, in order to curate access to privileged few. Very soon, it will be every man for himself.
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