Global-Politics Shifting Goalposts

Observations of an Expat: Shifting Goalposts

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Global-Politics Shifting GoalpostsWe are moving in a very dangerous direction. Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a great fracture- a technological and economic divide risks inevitably turning into a geo-strategic and military divide. We must avoid this at all costs – UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres

By Tom Arms

If evidence was required of shifting global goalposts then diplomatic observers didn’t need to look any further than the start of this year’s UN General Assembly.

For a start, the General Assembly Hall was sparsely populated with socially distanced diplomats. Coronavirus has kept away the heads of state, government and foreign ministers who normally gather in the UN building on the west bank of New York’s East River. Instead, the speeches have been pre-recorded and displayed on the giant screen.

No politicos means no chance for the usual annual flurry of bilaterals where the real diplomatic business is done. It also means fewer opportunities for world leaders to make the 214-mile plane journey to Washington for a photo-op and short chat with the US President.

But all of the above are relatively speaking cosmetic changes compared to the rapidly moving substantive global shifts pushing the world down uncertain paths.

This is a big anniversary for the United Nations. It is 75 years since the organisation’s founding in October 1945. Europe had been devastated by World War Two. Politically the world was still Euro-centric with the end of the colonial era yet to be confirmed. Asia was a backwater. China was riven by civil war. The Soviet Union was threatening and the United States had emerged as the number one military, political and economic power.

The formation of the UN formally ended the roughly 150 years of American isolationism and catapulted Washington into the position of world policeman and bastion of democracy, capitalism and free trade.

In the ensuing three-quarters of a century the Soviet Union has collapsed under the weight of its internal contradictions. Empires have disappeared.  A Chinese-dominated Asia has emerged to challenge Western hegemony. And Europe has recovered from the disaster of two world wars to move towards unification aimed at ending centuries of wasteful feuding.

In 1945, multilateralism through bodies such as the UN was a key element of American foreign policy. It was the diplomatic tool which Washington used to challenge the European empires. As the imperial system collapsed the focus shifted to the Cold War and then, more recently, the War on Terror.

With multilateralism came its economic handmaidens of free trade and globalism, both spurred on by the IT revolution of the late 20th and early 21st century. The US prospered. But the pre-war isolationism continued as a political undercurrent and mingled with a feeling that America’s open-handed good nature was being exploited.

The result was Donald Trump’s jettisoning of multilateralism for the unilateralism of “Make American Great Again.”  Tariffs were imposed. Trade agreements were renegotiated or scrapped. Established military alliances have been threatened with the withdrawal of American support and conspiracy theories and political scapegoating have replaced international cooperation.

But Trump’s unilateralism has not negated the need for the United Nations and multilateralism. It has only created a vacuum which America’s number one scapegoat/rival—China– is rushing to fill. In his recorded address to the General Assembly, Donald Trump repeated previous assertions that countries should follow his unilateralist example and accused China of unleashing the “plague” of coronavirus on the world. President Xi Jinping countered with a dismissal of Trump’s plague claims and the declaration that “anti-globalisation was going against the trend of history.”

In his address, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned: “We are moving in a very dangerous direction. Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a great fracture- a technological and economic divide risks inevitably turning into a geo-strategic and military divide. We must avoid this at all costs.”

Guterres added that coronavirus was only a “dress rehearsal for the challenges ahead.”

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Tom Arms Journalist Sindh Courier Mr. Tom Arms is the London-based American foreign affairs journalist. He has nearly half a century’s experience of world affairs, and has written and broadcast for American, British and Commonwealth outlets. Positions he held included foreign correspondent, diplomatic correspondent, foreign editor, editor and founding CEO of an international diary news service. He is the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War,” “The Falklands Crisis” and “World Elections on File.” His new book “America: Made in Britain” will be published next year.
{The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sindh Courier}

 

 

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