The Post-War ‘Consensus’ is Over – ‘Either We Reinvent Bretton Woods, or It Risks Losing Relevance’
The EU premise was of ‘uncle’ America, always being ‘there’, in case of difficulties. This is no longer true – and shocking it is, for EU élites.
Kevin Baron, editor of Defense One (a leading US defence publication, funded by the defence industry) explains his anxieties about NATO’s future:
“NATO’s external threats, and internal leaders’ divisions are not what worries me the most … I expected panelists I spoke with over the past month to raise familiar issues … but I was surprised by their serious concern about the very fabric of the alliance: ‘This time it’s different’, many insist: “The philosophy on which this whole institution is built is profoundly challenged,” opined journalist Bobby Ghosh of Bloomberg Opinion (“in our pre-summit conversation at IISS”). [Emphasis added].
“His point was – that if leaders such as Trump and Erdogan continue to cosy-up to Russia – then what’s the purpose of this Cold War-era alliance? That’s a fair point. But I believe NATO’s biggest threat [comes from] its own inward-turning electorates. To global security leaders, from think tanks to the secure ‘tank’ inside the Pentagon, NATO is an essential organization and tool for the West’s ‘way of life’. It’s not even a question … Those leaders believe: How could anyone want to harm that?”.
Yet that is exactly what is happening. Political leaders no longer want (or can afford, politically) to go where US Defence Establishment points. “Perhaps the biggest threat to the alliance” Baron suggests, is precisely “the gap between those political leaders – and the national security community [sic] leaders, gathering on the side lines, begging to be heard.”
President Macron appeared to pinpoint this gap exactly, when he said, “what we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO”. Some observers saw this as Macron grandstanding, as he seeks to seize the political leadership of Europe from a fading, Chancellor Merkel (which to an extent, he probably was). But the attention-grabbing point, more likely, was intended to underscore how the world has changed: Both France and Germany are experiencing grave internal political protest, as Europe’s economies slow.
The EU needs to re-position geo-politically, Macron asserts, “and secondly, we need to reopen a strategic dialogue with Russia – which without being naïve – will take time,” Macron said this week.
Strategic dialogue? Why? Maybe because Trump does not view the EU as either a close friend, or as trade partner in good standing? Trump puts it straight: the EU is worse than China (in stealing America’s ‘lunch’), and Trump is threatening the EU with a harsh tariff war.
Such an eventuality – such hostility towards Europe – was unimaginable when Europe was founded as a subsidiary ‘liberal empire’, within the US global orbit. The unquestioned EU premise, had been of ‘uncle’ America, always being ‘there’, in case of difficulties. This is no longer true – and shocking it is, for EU élites.
And, as America’s radically financialised, max-pressure assault across the globe – with its prime focus on a tech Cold War with China – unfolds, the EU sees itself becoming the unhappy ‘piggy-in-the middle’ of this ‘war’. Expected to give fealty to America as usual, but in want of China and Russia as its trading partners, too.
Macron thinks Europe therefore, will need added strategic diplomatic strength – hence the notion of Europe partnering Russia. (Macron probably two-facedly, suggests to Trump that this – putative splitting of Russia from China, by Europe – is in the US interest, too).
It won’t work. Russia well understands Macron’s game (but would be happy to play Macron and Merkel along, towards a lifting of EU sanctions on Russia).
But more than this, what Macron is proposing is the re-positioning of Europe. Europe, he suggests, must have its own ‘clout’; its own separate global leverage – and this means European military clout. NATO essentially is ‘welfare’ for the US Military Industrial Complex, in his view. Why not spend that 2% of EU GDP with European manufacturers (especially French ones), he muses, and have some military clout of Europe’s own.
So Bobby Ghosh is somehow right when he says that it is “the philosophy on which this whole institution [NATO] is built, [that is being] profoundly challenged”. It is not just NATO – though – it is rather, the whole ‘constellation’ of Washington consensus institutions. For those (IMF, World Bank, etc.), are being challenged too. (Albeit from a completely different angle):
France’s finance minister said last week that the post-war international monetary order needed to be reinvented, or become increasingly dominated by China. “The Bretton Woods order as we know it has reached its limits,” Bruno Le Maire said. “The alternative we have is now clear – either we reinvent Bretton Woods; or it risks losing relevance, and eventually disappearing”. Whilst Bretton Woods had defined the international economic order of the second half of the 20th century; the first part of this century may be defined by China’s New Silk Road project. “And Chinese standards – on state aid, on access to public procurements, on intellectual property – could become the new global standards”.
But that is only the half of it: these fora, David Stockman (President Reagan’s former Budget Director) writes, are but:
“Washington fostered fig leaves designed to legitimize and provide ‘multilateral’ sanction for the Empire’s projects of global hegemony. Indeed, they are actually the vital glue which cements the bipartisan consensus in favour of Washington’s interventionist foreign policy.
“This multilateralist scam originated during the Cold War when there was at least a modicum of justification for the Empire’s imperial pretensions. But after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 … it was multilateralism which enabled the reprise of Empire … [and] provided the fig leaf of cover and sanction for Washington’s imperial ventures, that fueled the rise of the bipartisan ‘War Party’ on the banks of the Potomac. Still [today], the Achilles Heel of the Imperial City is [its] pretense of global leadership and multi-lateral blessing for what amounts to a rogue regime of superpower hegemony.”
The post-WWII, Washington consensus was, from the outset, a political design that evolved in response to the Woodstock era into something of a counter-revolutionary (neo-liberal) project, designed to weaken the populist forces of organised labour: “It would nip in the bud what, at that time, were revolutionary movements in much of the developing world — Mozambique, Angola, China etc. — but also a rising tide of communist influences in countries like Italy and France and, to a lesser degree, the threat of a revival of that in Spain”.
“Even in the United States, trade unions had produced a Democratic Congress that was quite radical in its intent. In the early 1970s they, along with other social movements, forced a slew of reforms and reformist initiatives which were anti-corporate: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, consumer protections, and a whole set of things around empowering labour even more than it had been empowered before.
“So in that situation there was, in effect, a global threat to the power of the corporate [élite] and therefore the question was, “What to do? …”
“[The challenge was to keep US corporations profitable]. One way was to open up immigration. In the 1960s, for example, Germans were importing Turkish labour, the French Maghrebian labour, the British colonial labour. But this created a great deal of dissatisfaction and unrest.
“Instead they chose the other way — to take capital to where the low-wage labour forces were. But for globalization to work you had to reduce tariffs and empower finance capital, because finance capital is the most mobile form of capital. So finance capital and things like floating currencies became critical to curbing labour.
“At the same time, ideological projects to privatize and deregulate, created unemployment. So, unemployment at home; and offshoring, taking the jobs abroad; and a third component: technological change (deindustrialization through automation and robotisation): That was the strategy to squash labour.
“It was an ideological assault, but also an economic assault [writes Professor David Hervey].
It was Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chief who died last week, who finally decided that the working man or woman needed to pay the price of the Fed’s victory in stemming inflation. He explicitly aimed at breaking the power of organised labour, and just after being appointed as Fed Chair declared: “The standard of living of the average American has to decline”.
When looking at the trend of median real wage stagnation in the US and Europe – something now broadly acknowledged as the root cause of most of Europe’s socio-economic and political problems, and of our distorted markets – all this started with Volcker.
This (the economic stagnation and the incremental impoverishment of the 60%) is at the root of their complaint, when Europeans, such as Le Maire, lump NATO, together with the whole Washington consensus institutions, as being obsolescent (and lying, as it were, at the root of their domestic crises).
When the US recession began during the Great Financial Crisis of 2008, Ben Bernanke (the then Fed Chair) thought that low interest rates and massive money printing would lead to lending and spending that would restore growth. But those policies did not result in growth, which requires productive investment (from savings) to increasingly accumulate. Instead rather, it eviscerated private savings (low or negative interest rates).
The Germans have been warning about this for years – and now Germany is plainly in recession – and the CDU’s coalition partner, the SPD, consequently has taken a sharp turn to the left in response – threatening the viability of Merkel’s government.
The bottom line: the NATO disquiet is not just because the US wants to prioritize competition with Russia and China over counterterrorism, or that NATO now seeks to address China’s military rise. Though these policies would place Europe in an invidious position strategically, as well as vis-à-vis trade with both powers, but because the entire Washington consensus is blowing up – politically – in the Europeans’ face.
The underlying, ideological political project (of a ‘liberal’ global order), fuelled and furthered by radical money ‘printing’ as an integral to the project, has produced nothing other than asset bubbles, amidst protests against neo-liberalism spreading across the globe.
NATO leaders will say they did not print the money. True. But Stockman is quite correct when he says that NATO is part and parcel of the multilateral institutional ‘scam’ which has legitimised, enabled, and encased the underlying, financialised hegemony project.
The paradox is that originally conceived as a counter-revolutionary tool to smother ‘60s and ‘70s radicalism, neo-liberalism has pushed the pendulum so far towards élite interests, that it has succeeded in birthing a new era of protest and radicalism. Well, what goes around comes around.