New World Order of Walk-away Wheeling and Dealing
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 16 Jul 2018
Creating Strategic Dependency and Vulnerability through Confidence Tricks
Produced on the occasion of the NATO Summit (Brussels, 11-12 July 2018)
Introducing the new reality
13 Jul 2018 – History will presumably appreciate the radical role of President Donald Trump in making apparent the new global reality on which future human survival is now dependent. Rather than a dysfunctional global order based on the essentially static pattern of international agreements and nation states, the USA is now enabling a transition to a dynamic pattern of shifting temporary allegiances and walk-away deals. Essential to this shift is a more radical approach to changing levels of confidence between partners in this dynamic. Binding agreements are now simply indicative of nostalgic yearning for an obsolete Old World Order. Other than promises via the media, there are no guarantees of continuing fulfillment of an agreement — and only the most unreliable processes for ensuring such fulfillment.
Promotion of a threat: The art of the deal in this context is, by any means, to cultivate fear of an unquestionable potential threat in order to seal any deal creating strategic dependency. Use of fear in this way to frame an indisputable need has a long history.
“Terrorists” or “Muslims” in current declarations can be readily replaced by “barbarians”, “heretics” (witches), “native savages”, “unbelievers”, “communists”, “fascists”, “socialists”, “capitalists”, and the like — just as those terms can be replaced by “terrorists” in arguments and declarations of the past. Other threats which may serve this purpose in the future include epidemics, Earth-crossing asteroids and extraterrestrials. What cannot now be reframed as a source of fear — justifying any measure to safeguard security and health?
Walking away from any deal: Once dependency has been ensured for the transfer of goods and services, the scope of the deal can then be called into question at any time by increasing the price or withholding transfers — with the possibility of walking away from the deal whenever it is useful to frame it as unsatisfactory or fundamentally flawed. It is no longer appropriate to deprecate this as blackmail. As realpolitik, it is the nature of any deal in the New World Order of wheeling and dealing.
The new pattern became widely evident through the leadership offered by the USA in walking away from the Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and calling into question the NAFTA arrangement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the Iran nuclear deal, In the same spirit the USA has withdrawn from membership of UNESCO and has withdrawn from membership of the UN Human Rights Council. From which international agreements, if any, could the USA now be considered realistically as being reluctant to withdraw?
The pattern has become all the more dramatic in the case of NATO from which the USA has now effectively framed itself as free to walk away at any moment. Especially indicative in the latter case is the primary argument of the USA to Germany (and Europe) that use of Russian gas is unacceptable if the USA is expected to defend Germany (and Europe) against Russia — framed as a common enemy. The proposed deal is that Europe should match USA defence expenditure, with the implication that European military hardware (and gas) should be purchased from the USA (Trump claims victory at Nato summit after fresh row over defence spending, The Guardian, 12 July 2018; A NATO summit in Donald Trump’s parallel universe, Deutsche Welle, 11 July 2018; What Trump’s Critics Are Missing About the NATO Summit, The Nation, 11 July 2018).
This is a smart move in the new context because it locks in European strategic dependency on the USA, notably for vital energy supplies and for spare parts to maintain sophisticated hardware. At the same time the USA is free to walk away from the deal as soon as it is considered unsatisfactory. An intermediary step is for the USA simply to increase the cost of the weaponry, the spare parts, or the gas, whenever convenient — as illustrated by recent decisions on tariffs against European goods (and those of China). Other sanctions and travel restrictions can be implemented at any time.
Rejecting arbitration processes: Essential to this shift away from the static arrangements of the past is the manner in which legal arrangements between states, based on multilateral agreements, are simply set aside — whether temporarily or permanently. The USA has been notable in distancing itself from any dependency on rulings of intergovernmental bodies or constraints these might impose. That pattern has long been institutionalized as a precedent in the veto procedure of the UN Security Council.
The USA is not party to the International Criminal Court (ICC); it has an uneasy relationship with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which arbitrates legal disputes among UN member recognizing its jurisdiction. The USA has withdrawn from some protocols of the ICJ. A similar process will presumably become evident with respect to the arbitration procedures of the World Trade Organization following claims recently made to it by China as a result of imposition of tariffs by the USA (Back to the Jungle: WTO Faces Existential Threat in Times of Trump, Spiegel Online, 30 June 2018).
The process has been strikingly evident in the manner in which electronic surveillance of allies and enemies has become a tolerated norm, irrespective of provisions of the various conventions (Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961; Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1969; Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties between States and International Organizations or between International Organizations, 1986). This pattern became notably evident in wiretapping of UN offices in New York (Alleged Breach of UN Treaty Obligations by US, 2010).
It is readily to be anticipated that interference in the elections of other countries via lobbies and other means will also become a norm — in the interests of national security — rather than being framed as fundamentally unacceptable when undertaken by one country, as is currently the pretence (Foreign electoral intervention, Wikipedia). Which governments and lobbies with the capacity to do so avoid interference in the elections of another country — however that is framed?
This posture in relation to international agreements then frames the challenge of what any party is then able to do about an unsatisfactory arrangement which cannot be resolved through any court of appeal. To date it has become apparent that this encourages retaliation in whatever manner proves viable, whether imposing sanctions, reducing diplomatic representation, travel restrictions, or freezing funds — to name only the most obvious. Recourse to military action may of course be overtly or covertly threatened (Bomb them Back to the Stone Age: An Etymology, History News Network, 10 May 2006). This option may of course be preceded by a pattern of military encroachment by air, sea or land.
Confidence in any proposed future deal? Especially curious with respect to this new reality is how any claim can be righteously made that a deal can be reached by the USA with North Korea, since it is now evident to all that no deal is worth the paper it is written on, irrespective of the authorities signing it.
Both parties can walk away from it at any time, reinterpreting it as they please, whenever any element can be framed as unacceptable. This is presumably the case with any effort to renegotiate a deal with Iran — or to resolve any other international conflict for any period.
Especially questionable is how the USA, as exemplar of the new strategic approach, could present itself as a viable partner in the controversial major multilateral agreements in process of negotiation: Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) — especially in the light of its problematic relationship to the complementary Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It would seem that all such agreements are vulnerable to the new “walk-away” option — perhaps now to be recognized through a generalization of the so-called “diplomatic clause” in a rental agreement.
What guarantees according to the conventions of the Old World Order are to be assumed to be meaningful in the New World Order? How credible are those who make such assumptions — or endeavour to present them as credible?
Especially significant on the occasion of the NATO Summit (July 2018) was the stress on mutual commitment and burden sharing — despite the ambiguity expressed by President Trump prior to the event and on that occasion with regard to the commitment of the USA to NATO. The ambiguity extended to hints that he might instigate withdrawal. A question asked of the NATO Secretary-General in a closing briefing, but not answered, was on what grounds should European countries trust the commitment of the USA to defend Europe in the light of its treaty obligations and the understanding of European countries. What meaning is to be attached to “trust” in the New World Order — beyond its value for public relations purposes?
Reframing facts in a “post-truth” era: Significant to both engendering fear to seal a deal, and to disputing claims of infringement of signed agreements, is the new pattern of manipulating facts and massaging data to create whatever reality is convenient whenever it is convenient to do so — and for whatever period is deemed necessary.
This is compounded by the use of simple denial of the relevance of any claims made, when other processes of dissuasion have proved inadequate. Governments are increasingly free, as demonstrated by the USA, to call into question the agreements made by the previous government in power — readily held to be irresponsible. There is no longer any basis for enduring agreements at any level of society — other than claims to that effect for temporary presentations through the media.
Authorities, including governments, are now in the awkward position of having the power to lie with little possibility of effective challenge — and to ensure the suppression of contrary arguments. The awkwardness lies in the fact that as a consequence they no longer have the capacity to prove the veracity and credibility of any authoritative declaration they may choose to make.
It is questionable in a context of “walk-away dealing” why governments might choose to respect any international agreement or to honour their membership responsibilities in intergovernmental organizations. There is clearly a case for many to withdraw from such frameworks — other than for public relations purposes and the personal convenience of delegates.
Whether or not governments choose to continue their membership, other than for purely tokenistic reasons, there is an even stronger case for moving the UN HQ from New York — to which travel and budgetary restrictions may apply to an ever increasing degree (Why UN should move headquarters out of New York, The Mercury News, 2 February 2018; Moving the UN in the light of a US perspective, 2017; Arguments for movement to other locations, 2017). The case is all the stronger since President Trump has explicitly expressed is lack of belief in multilateral arrangements. Financing the continued presence of the UN HQ in New York is therefore as much a contradiction as his recent claim with regard to European use of gas from Russia.
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