A 21st Century Worldview: Interviewing Ahmet Davutoğlu
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 30 Mar 2020
28 Mar 2020 – Interview I conducted with the former Turkish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, published in Middle East Monitor on March 23-24, 2020. His responses to questions 18-20 concern the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on the world. The interview is long, yet a worthwhile overview how the most important intellectual political figure in Turkey views global and national reality given the shape of recent developments. It was framed to touch upon the main themes of his pathbreaking contribution to the scholarly literature, Systemic Earthquake and the Struggle for World Order, published in 2020 by Cambridge University Press, available via Amazon. (Disclosure: I wrote the foreword)
Davutoğlu has recently formed the Future Party to work in opposition to the AKP led government headed by President Erdoğan, with an intention to mount an electoral challenge in coming years. The main programmatic feature of the Future Party is its advocacy of pluralist & inclusive democracy as distinct from the contentions of majoritarian democracy.
- You were a prominent figure in academic circles before you entered political life. What prompted you to become a politician?
Whatever field we work in, the unavoidable fact is that we live in a certain space and ﬂow of history. Our existence is defined and limited by the dimensions of time and space. If you are an academic in the social sciences, especially international relations, the inﬂuence of these space and time dimensions are felt even more deeply. In a sense, they form an existential framework for your own test tube.[i] Theoretical academic studies beyond the test tube draw one into the reality that exists within it; the conclusions one reaches within this reality start inﬂuencing one’s academic work’s theoretical perspective.
This intellectual dialectic between academic theory and socio-political reality also applies to me. My journey between these two fields has been a dynamic process rather than a single, sudden decision. I presented my doctoral dissertation in comparative political theory, later published as Alternative Paradigms[ii] in June 1990, two months before Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in the year the Cold War ended. History’s rate of ﬂow has accelerated here in the Middle East. In a sense, the time/space dimension of our ontological existence has been reshaped.
It was in this context that I wrote articles criticising the End of History hypothesis that claimed that far from gaining pace, the ﬂow of history, when it came to ideas, had actually slowed to a virtual halt; a theory that gained popularity at that time and found adherents in Turkey as well. In these articles I stressed that we should not be fooled by overly optimistic visions as the Cold War came to an end; on the contrary, we were in a far more intense philosophical-political crisis in which decision-makers in Turkey, a country that lay at the centre of all these shifts, needed to be prepared for all kinds of surprises and alternative scenarios. People took a closer look at my views in the wake of developments in Bosnia, which gave Turkey and the world a psycho-political shock. I rejected offers to enter Turkish politics in the 1995, 1999 and 2002 general elections – offers that came during the establishment of new political parties as well. I said I would remain in academic life with a view to pursuing academic studies, seeking to make sense of all these processes and would only be able to offer theoretical advice.
However, it sometimes happens that a person’s own work has a transformative impact on that person’s own life as well. Within a short time of its publication in June 2001, my book Strategic Depth, which analysed regional and global post-Cold War developments and specified Turkey’s strategic position in this new historical context, made a widespread impact in universities and military academies. This led me to accept an invitation to act as chief advisor to the then-prime minister, Abdullah Gül, and later Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This invitation reﬂected the change of government in 2002. At the time, Turkey faced three huge issues that would determine its strategic future: the Iraq War, the EU accession process and the Cyprus negotiations.
For seven and a half years I served as chief advisor. This period involved me in a large number of policy processes responsive to these three overall challenges, a few noteworthy examples of which are mentioned in the book Systemic Earthquake. For Turkey and for me, it represented a transition from theory to practice, as well as from scholarship and teaching to politics. Because of my determination to get back to academic life, I respectfully turned down Prime Minister Erdoğan’s suggestion that I be included as a parliamentary candidate with a possible ministerial post after the 2007 elections. The reason I gave for declining was that I intended to return to academic life soon after the elections.
The main factor behind my decision to finally enter into politics was the closure case brought against the AK Party (the Justice and Development Party). The case was initiated about eight months after the party’s overwhelming victory with 46.6 per cent of the votes in the July 2007 general elections – a result that was impressive in the Turkish multiparty context. I regarded this case as a declaration of war against democracy in my country, which amounted to a virtual coup attempt. At that point, I went to see Prime Minister Erdoğan and told him that I would not hesitate to take part in politics at a time when our democracy was under threat, and that I was ready to assume any duty to protect democracy. In response, I was appointed as foreign minister in May 2009 and prime minister in August 2014.
In a nutshell, two principal motives prompted my longer-term involvement in political life: the moral untenability of staying aloof from the practical side of the history, of which I was trying to make theoretical sense, and a sense of democratic responsibility to my country and people as they found themselves at the centre of a turbulent historical process that was gaining ever-increasing momentum, and was challenging the leadership of the country to minimise risks and take advantage of opportunities.
- This makes me wonder: even with such strong motivational factors, was it difficult for you to make the transition from the academy to the government, having resisted the call for so long? Abandoning teaching and scholarship? Making political compromises in the course of shaping policies and reaching decisions?
Being an academic is not just a profession, but a way of life. You can adapt to changes in your life, but you cannot totally abandon an intellectual calling. Taking on political decision-making roles may limit academia’s field of operation, but cannot erase its nature as something integrated into one’s personality. This limitation is related to the fact that these two areas call for different psychologies and methods, with respect to ethical and professional qualities. The academic life requires pure freedom. The moment one starts self-censoring, one’s freedom of thought evaporates. Yet the diplomatic/political field consists mostly of process management, a process that requires tact, discretion and a certain amount of secrecy. If one discloses one’s views and assessments to the public with an academic’s degree of freedom, one will eventually lose the ability to manage these processes, as well as the confidence of colleagues in government.
This difference in method led me to stop publishing and media activities, including works that were ready for publication, when I assumed duties as chief advisor and ambassador, and started getting involved in diplomatic processes. After continuing my university lectures for about two years, I stopped my teaching activities as well. It seemed to me that my frequent absences abroad in connection with Turkey’s European Union (EU) accession negotiations were imposing unfair burdens on my students.
None of these adjustments meant that I entirely abandoned my identity as an academic, which was very much part and parcel of my personality. There were times when I turned diplomatic/political meetings and even mass campaign rallies into lectures, without being aware of doing so. There were also times when I took refuge from the pressures of diplomatic/political activities by writing and reading. In this context I also took great pleasure in intellectual discourse with counterparts who shared an intellectual/academic background that went beyond the normal diplomatic process. I would also make a point of visiting bookstores in the cities where I found myself, taking full advantage of gaps that allowed me some free time during even the most critical diplomatic talks. Knowing of my proclivities, ambassadorial colleagues involved in our overseas trips would locate the best bookstores in the cities we were visiting, and then make arrangements sensitive to the fact that I might pop out from meetings at any moment to satisfy this book-craving impulse of mine.
All this gave me a deeper understanding of the reason why Ottoman rulers became proficient in some area of handicrafts or fine arts: Süleyman the Magnificent, like his father, in the art of jewellery making, Abdul Hamid in carpentry, Selim III in music, and almost all of them in writing poetry. After intense all-day diplomatic/political activities, it is almost impossible to fall asleep as the issues being discussed agitated my mind to such a degree that sleep became impossible, or it even happened that my dreams would often continue the discussions of the previous day. In such circumstances, the best way to relax is to take refuge in a favourite habit or hobby that will divert you from an intense daily rhythm. So, I would often make a late-night visit to my library before going to bed, or spread books out over my desk after getting the required briefings on long-haul ﬂights and after everyone had gone to sleep, resting my mind and soul by reading and writing. I wrote Civilizations and Cities, published a month after I left the prime ministry, in these intervals during my many long ﬂights.
But no matter how much effort I devoted to making up for what was lacking, I still missed teaching and scholarship. In time, I saw more closely that there are no more loyal friends than books and no more valuable investment in the future than students. When I became foreign minister, diplomats who had worked with me in my capacity as an academic and chief advisor carried on calling me “Professor-Hodja” instead of “Minister” out of habit, which acted as pleasant reminders of the life I had partially left behind. When they apologised for their apparent faux pas, I told them that all posts and positions are transient, but teaching and academic work endures. And today, after I have left my government experiences behind, I would like to reiterate the fact that for those who love it and do it justice, academic work, which is a quest for truth, endures and is invaluable.
Politics is ultimately a process of rational negotiation that, by its nature, requires certain compromises. Nevertheless, it remains vital that these political imperatives should not contradict your fundamental beliefs and/or encroach upon your personal integrity. In a sense, politics is the art of being able to adapt ideals to reality, values to interests and principles to solutions. As a scholar who attaches importance to personal integrity, I have faced some severe tests in this regard during my public life. When I found that this process of adaptation was in general no longer possible, I chose to leave the prime ministry, rather than compromise my personal integrity. In light of this personal experience, I advocate more strongly than ever an understanding and a practice of politics that accords priority to personal integrity. I have never swayed from this approach to politics or the lure of political life, and never shall.
- I understand that returning to a scholarly life may not have been such a wrench. Nonetheless, do you miss the experience of exercising political inﬂuence? You have recently established a new party, Future Party. How do you now envision your future in Turkish politics?
The first thing to say is that my decision to leave the prime ministry did not follow an election defeat or the end of a term limit. On the contrary, it was taken about six months after winning the most overwhelming election victory (49.5 per cent) in the history of Turkish democracy. My decision reﬂected my principal focus – to prevent differences of view over principles within the party, and the administration of the state to rupture political stability in the country. I also wanted to avoid conﬂicts of authority between offices of the state over the proper shape of the constitutional order, from turning into a crisis of state. You can imagine how tormented I was in the process of making this decision.
There are two main reasons, to do with my perspective on political and academic life, why the onset of such a sudden and disheartening process did not have a traumatic impact on me. The first, is that I have never seen politics as a career field; on the contrary, I see it as a field of accumulated experience and mission unfolding on the basis of the authority granted by the people. In other words, I have always seen government service and leadership not as permanent property, but as something temporarily entrusted to politicians in the name of public order, to be terminated in the event that the public interest so requires.
The observations I have made during my political life have truly shown me that for those who aim to gain status, money and prestige after becoming a politician, politics begins to take on the characteristics of an ontological field that must on no account be abandoned. Autocratic tendencies develop on just such a psycho-cultural connection between ontology and politics. Seeing the beginning and end of politics as the ultimate career brings about the permanence and sovereignty not of values, but of a status. In a sense, this is to see the concept of glory, which was an inherent value in Roman political culture, as a human condition that has been cleansed of this value.
Secondly, I already had a field of mental and intellectual activity that I loved and that made politics meaningful to me. This is why I have had no adjustment problems, in spite of having made an unplanned and unforeseen return to academic life in the wake of a distressing process. The day I announced my resignation I went back to my natural habitat – my library. I focused on half-completed projects and published a book within a month. I published six more books within two and a half years of my resignation, and participated in several national and international conferences.
There was no contradiction in carrying on my publication and conference activities while my political activities continued, even after my resignation. I took care to do my best in both areas, which required two different psychologies. As I stated at a press conference, announcing my decision not to participate in the 24 June parliamentary elections had two distinct and complementary meanings for me – although I was now focusing on my academic work, I had not left politics.
I continued to follow developments in the political domain closely with regular daily briefings. Just as in academic life, certain habits gained in political life persist. You feel responsibility whenever you see negative developments in your country. I, as a former prime minister and former chairman of the party, expressed my concerns and opinions to relevant authorities on different occasions behind closed doors – whenever I had deep concerns regarding the rising populism and polarisation in our society, limitations imposed on democratic rights, stagflation in the economy, spread of corruption and extensive mistrust to judicial system. When these sincere observations and suggestions were not taken into consideration, I prepared and issued a manifesto after the local elections on 31 March 2019, on the need for extensive reforms in the party and state administration. The party administration decided to expel me and my five other colleagues from the party, rather than to understand our concerns and suggestions. There was no other choice for us, but to establish a new party. The main philosophy and objective of the Future Party is to implement inclusive democracy as set forth as my core political vision in the Systemic Earthquake and the Struggle for the World Order: Exclusive Populism versus Inclusive Democracy. The founders’ board of the party composed of 152 leading personalities, represents all ethnic, sectarian and religious segments of the society. For instance, for the first time ever in Turkish politics, representatives of religious minorities (Armenian, Greek and Assyrian citizens) became members of the founders’ board of a party.
My most important realisation in all these endeavours, is that I have felt no change in my sense of duty to my country and people. I feel this not only as an academician and politician, but as a citizen. I have consistently regarded this obligatory feeling not as a question of office or position, but as one of principle and morality. What is important for me is to try my hardest to fulfill the needs of each moment.
Moreover, one cannot split a person’s identity according to the activity in which they are currently most involved. The principles, feelings and objectives that have guided me as an academician or a politician are the same. In personal transitions of this kind, those who look at life on the basis of a “divided self” psychology may encounter adjustment problems. In contrast, there is no question of such psychological tension for those who see their areas of work as reﬂections of the same “self” situated in a different time-space dimension.
- In writing Systemic Earthquake, did you benefit from your own earlier scholarship, particularly Strategic Depth, as well as from your recent political experience?
Absolutely. Systemic Earthquake is posited on a unique synthesis of these two experiential legacies – one mainly theoretical, the other practical. With respect to historical background and global culture, the perspective of comparative civilisational analysis that I used in Alternative Paradigms, is reﬂected in this work as well. However, the initial theoretical work on which Systemic Earthquake is directly based, is a paper entitled Civilisational Transformation and Political Consequences that I presented at an International Studies Association congress in March 1991, in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War, and published in 1994 as a book. In this paper, I argued that contrary to the claims of the End of History hypothesis, the ongoing process going forward was not the end of history, but a comprehensive civilisational transformation in which fresh elements introduced by globalisation were shaking the basis of conventional modern philosophy, and the revival of traditional civilisational basins that would change the Eurocentric concept of world order. Working from these premises, I foresaw that first of all tensions would arise from the reawakening of historical factors as a natural consequence of this transformational process. From this perspective, I anticipated there would be a transition from a unipolar world, to a balance of powers system that itself preceded humankind, finally entering a new phase through the birth pangs of change in the axis of civilisation. Refreshed with new elements, the theoretical framework I depicted at that time also played a role in my subsequent works.
In Strategic Depth, published ten years after this paper in 2001, I attempted to examine the geopolitical elements of the comprehensive transformation, then under way in relation to the previous ten years of political developments, and thus define Turkey’s strategic position within these new global and regional configurations. Looked at from the perspective of the framework in Systemic Earthquake, Strategic Depth was written with a view to analysing the 1991 geopolitical earthquake. Systemic Earthquake maintains this theoretical line of interpretation through its analysis of the security (2001), economic (2008) and structural (2011) earthquakes. In this sense, the book was reﬂective of my academic identity and accumulation of knowledge and experience.
Strategic Depth came from the pen of an academician without any diplomatic experience, Systemic Earthquake reﬂects the intensive diplomatic and political experiences of someone who had served for seven and a half years as chief advisor to the prime minister, five years as foreign minister and two years as prime minister. In this context, Systemic Earthquake reﬂects a method and style that includes both these sources of accumulated experience. From this perspective, the inclusion of intensive historical and theoretical analyses in the same framing as political/diplomatic experiences, may challenge the reader with respect to the proper alignment of theory and practice.
- Which political leaders have inﬂuenced you the most? Are these the ones you most admire?
In fact, the life of every leader who has combined historical processes with their own personal quests offers a very serious transfer of experience for anyone keen to draw its lessons. Looking at the lives of great leaders from this perspective, I have found unique instructive qualities in each of them, in terms of human nature, philosophical/intellectual background, historical process and social networks. During my academic life, I designed two courses for particular student groups with this background in mind: first, the intellectual/historical relationship between great intellectual movements that had an impact on humankind and comprehensive political transformations establishing a new order, and secondly, the relationship between intellectual and political leaders who had played a role in the development of national strategies.
It is not right to reduce leaders to a single category in terms of the factors that gave them an enduring place in history, or to evaluate them as individual personalities separate from one another. Leaders in different categories attracted my attention for various reasons, and I tried to learn from their varied experiences and particular talents. The most fundamental lesson to be drawn from the lives of leaders who have pioneered a new order by forging a link between the general ﬂow of human history and the social/historical context in which they live, is the transformative and order-forming power of visionary leadership that recognises and accepts no limits or obstacles. Such leaders include Alexander the Great, who unified almost all of the ancient civilisational basins around a single order; Caesar, who made Rome the centre of a world order by leading to assume a role and reality beyond being a Mediterranean state; Caliph ‘Umar, who, together with a pioneering society without any great experience of governance, led a new order by rapidly spreading a new faith to all the ancient civilisational basins from Iran to Egypt; Mehmed the Conqueror, who established a new order by uniting state traditions drawn from the depths of Asia with the Roman tradition of political governance; and Napoleon, who, through his victories and defeats, had such a profound impact on a Europe being reshaped in every aspect around the system of values, given historical force by the French Revolution.
On the other hand, the most important lesson taught to us by leaders who had an order-restoring impact in periods of major transformation, is the need to establish harmony between the vision being pursued and the actual historical reality in critical transformative processes. In this leadership group I would include Marcus Aurelius, who restored the Roman order in a cosmopolitan context around Stoic thought against Germanic attacks; King Alfred the Great, who led the unification of Anglo-Saxons fragmented by Viking attacks, thereby achieving an English identity; Saladin, who achieved a crucial act of consolidation by uniting many elements of the East, whose order had been deeply challenged by the Crusades; Cardinal Richelieu, who laid the grounds for the era of Louis XIV by uniting France, at that time undergoing a process of ethnic and sectarian disintegration, around a common language and idea of national identity, in spite of the fact that both he and the country were Roman Catholic and therefore owed a form of allegiance to an authority other than the French King (i.e. to the Pope); Bismarck, who pioneered the unification of Germany on the basis of the identity of a modern nation-state, managing in the process to transcend the fragmenting impact of the Thirty Years War that had endured for some two centuries; Lincoln, who ensured the emergence of a United States of America united around shared values from the wreckage of the American Civil War; and Atatürk, who founded the Republic of Turkey by leading anticolonial independence movements after the First World War that destroyed traditional empires.
Leaders such as Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill, Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Paul Henri Spaak, Alcide De Gasperi and Johan Beyen – all of whom pioneered the post-war “new Europe” idea that would later evolve into the EU, a series of developments arising from the ashes of the bitter experiences of the Second World War, the bloodiest conﬂict in history – are fine examples of the collective rational leadership, the need for which is so keenly felt during and after major crises.
The lives of three twentieth-century leaders with different civilisational and religious identities (Gandhi, Mandela and Alija Izetbegović) provide us with serious lessons and experiences in terms of their forbearance through all the challenging tests they underwent, especially the tensions between ideals and reality, values and power. They never shirked such tests, although often paying the price of confinement or even death.
In summary, whether you support them or not, and whether partisan or foe, the life journey of every figure who has left a mark on history is replete with valuable lessons. It is crucial that we learn from these lessons in light of our shared humanity, and to transfer this learning as sources of guidance in life and reality.
- What writers and scholars exerted the greatest inﬂuence on your intellectual development, and which were most relevant and important to you in the preparation of this manuscript?
Intellectual development is not a process that emerges in a linear fashion and through specific inﬂuences; rather, it is a cumulative work in progress that develops through interaction and internalises itself by reproducing itself at every stage. Therefore, specific, selective and micro-inﬂuences may be incomplete.
That said, I would like to list particular names in various fields that I have read with admiration and from whom I have benefited from since the earliest stage of my academic life, to the present day. Among many others, these include paradigm-founders such as Plato, Aristotle, Abu Hamid Al-Ghazālī, Kant and Hegel, who had an inﬂuence on intellectual currents carrying their names such as Platonic, Aristotelian, post-Ghazālī, Kantian, Hegelian, etc. Thinkers who played a significant role in the civilisational interaction such as Al-Fārābī, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sīnā. Thinker-statesmen such as Cicero, Seneca, Nizām Al-Mulk, Thomas Moore, Ahmed Cevdet Pasha, Khayr Al-Dīn Tūnusī Pasha and Sa‘īd Halim Pasha, who endeavoured to establish a sound relationship between intellectual theory and political practice, experienced the tension inherent in this struggle, and in most cases paid a heavy price for it. Leaders like Marcus Aurelius, Winston Churchill and Alija Izetbegović, who produced substantial intellectual works in addition to leading their countries. Historians like Ibn Khaldūn, Arnold Toynbee, Fernand Braudel, Marshall Hodgson, Fuad Köprülü, Halil İnalcık and Kemal Karpat, who used inclusive methodologies while adopting a holistic approach to human history. Political philosophers such as Machiavelli, Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose writings so brilliantly reﬂected the characteristics of the political culture in which they lived and who had a profound impact on later periods. Modern philosophers/ theoreticians such as Edmund Husserl, Max Weber, Hannah Arendt and Eric Voegelin, who exhibited horizon-expanding approaches in modern thought in their development of conceptual frameworks; and intellectuals/academicians who adopted multidimensional approaches so as to contribute to civilisational interaction, by transcending settled exclusionary molds such as Muhammad Iqbal, Lewis Mumford, Malik bin Nebi, Edward Said, Ernest Gellner, Ali Mazrui, Immanuel Wallerstein, Şerif Mardin, Fred Dallmayr, Richard Falk and Johan Galtung.
Systemic Earthquake is the product of blending the theoretical knowledge I have accumulated through a process of filtering the intellectual works I have studied in the fields of comparative civilisation studies, political history, political sociology, international relations and international political economy.
- In general, do you learn more from scholars with whom you agree or from those with whom you disagree? Can you give any examples?
In fact, the objective and simultaneous recognition of opposites facilitates learning and correct reasoning. Understanding is a prerequisite for developing an interpretative framework. Even if you end up disagreeing with a person or an idea, you must first understand it correctly. In a sense, understanding something requires an accurate grasp of its opposite. In the words of an old Turkish proverb, “things exist through their opposites.” This is the dialectic of existence. One cannot meaningfully adopt or defend any idea or viewpoint without a proper understanding its opposite. Thinkers with whom I disagree have thus contributed to my accumulation of knowledge as much as those with whom I agree.
I can give an example from the time I was writing my doctoral dissertation in the field of comparative political thought. I was undertaking a comparative study between Niccolò Machiavelli and two thinkers, one who lived in the same historical/cultural basin as Machiavelli (1469–1527) but at a different time, the other who lived around the same time but in a different historical/cultural basin. The first was Rome’s Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius (121–180) to whom Machiavelli makes reference, the other was Kinalizāde ‘Alī (1510–1572), whose lifespan overlapped with Machiavelli’s and who wrote a book dedicated to an Ottoman Pasha (Semiz ‘Alī Pasha, during the rule of the Süleyman the Magnificent) on the relationship between politics and morality.
Reading Machiavelli’s The Prince, which places power at the center of things and links moral principles to power, Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, which deals with state governance in relation to the moral teachings of Stoic philosophy, and Kinalizāde ‘Alī’s Akhlāḳ-ı ‘Alāī, which puts the principles of affection, morality, and justice at the center of politics, together, made it possible for me to better understand all three of them.
When it came to the relationship between morals and politics, I always felt closer to Marcus Aurelius, whose use of power was seen by Machiavelli as an exception in the relationship between the use of power and morality,[iii] and Kinalizāde ‘Alī than to Machiavelli. However, this did not lead me to conclude that Machiavelli was entirely wrong. My opposition to Machiavelli was over the issue of what kind of a future a person might expect in a world where every leader’s approach made morality subservient to power. However, in terms of the aspect of power that is related to human nature, my better understanding of Machiavelli also provided me with a more realistic context for power-oriented political relationships. In addition, a deep reading of Machiavelli gave me a clearer vision of how psychological factors related to human nature could produce moral deviations, which helped me to develop a kind of warning reﬂex when engaged in the practice of politics.
I still feel an affinity with Marcus Aurelius and Kinalizāde ‘Alī, who were trying intellectually to create the moral basis for expansive imperial orders in political terms, and I have learned a great deal from them. However, I have learned as much from Machiavelli’s work, which consists of advice given to the eponymous Prince with a view to consolidating his power in a fragmented Italy, even though I cannot on principle espouse his views, because learning is not about agreeing but understanding. Everything that allows one to understand is of value as an object of learning.
- In a world of sovereign states, is it possible to have a moral foreign policy? What role should respect for international law and the authority of the UN play in developing national policy, especially with respect to security concerns?
We may talk of three different types and areas of relationship in assessing the reciprocal actions of nation-states: shared destiny, common interests, and conﬂicting interests. The area of shared destiny, especially with respect to ecological issues, transcends territorial boundaries. Countries that share the same ecological destiny in the same geography are expected to cooperate on ecological issues even if they are in dispute over most other issues. In this sense, national security becomes a subcomponent of ecological security because, as the book emphasizes, one cannot possibly achieve national security in the absence of existential security. Nation-states that come into conﬂict over short-term interests or matters of prestige in these kinds of long-term matters over our shared destiny lay the ground for a shared catastrophe that will negatively impact everyone.
The area of common interests between nation-states relates to the existence of a sustainable peace and order that will enable them to coexist. In this sense, there is a direct relationship between national, regional, and global order on the one hand, and peace and order on the other. Respect for borders envisioned under international law and the development of common policies against terrorism and nuclear proliferation may be appraised in this context.
However, conﬂicts of interest between nation-states are an intrinsic aspect of international relations in spite of areas of shared destiny and common interests. And when a serious conﬂict of interest arises, the fundamental issue is the existence or lack of rational crisis management, as well as sophisticated diplomatic knowhow.
If the concerned parties behave with reference to the entirety of common normative principles in these kinds of relationships and areas, it means the suitable basis for the implementation of a moral foreign policy exists. In this context, the principal duty of international law and the UN is to consolidate this normative basis and keep nation-states adhering to this common ground as much as possible. In the event that the UN does not perform this function and international law is con- ducted on the basis of interpreting distinct national interests rather than by reference to common normative principles, the basis of shared destiny is weakened, areas of common interests are narrowed, areas of conflicting interests become more apparent, and crisis management becomes harder. In such situations, the basis of foreign policy shifts from ethics to raw power.
The logic of raw power is more and more becoming the organizing principle of major international powers in the conduct of international affairs. This is rather new, because both during the imperial era and ideological competition between socialism and capitalism (liberal democracy), power was accompanied by moral claims. Irrespective of whether these claims were genuine or not, the imperial powers predicated their scramble for power and authority on moral justifications. Likewise, both socialism and capitalism laid claim to legitimacy based on their contention that their ideological programs better fit the humanity’s needs and progress than did that of their ideological rival.
In recent years, there is a decoupling between power and moral claim. Trump represents the crystallization of this trend – power for the sake of power. Unless it is reversed, this trend will leave many fundamental questions of humanity unanswered. A question that this trend will face is whether it is tenable to have universal organizations without universally agreed-upon principles and values underpinning it? Unfortunately, decoupling of power and values and power and principles bodes ill for the course of human progress.
In the event that the UN performs its mission for international order within the framework of international legal norms and the practitioners of international law inspire confidence on the question of treating nation- states equally in terms of their shared destiny and common interests, it becomes less likely that nation- states will come into severe conflict while pursuing their individual interests. The current tendency of tensions between nation-states rapidly to morph into crises and wars stems from the international order’s failure to inspire successful forms of peaceful settlement of disputes.
- Do you think that the world map will look very different in a hundred years?
History reflects the dialectic of change and the sustainable order reflects the harmony of the continuity. The future is shaped through the inter- action of elements of change and continuity. Those who defend the order by reference to the permanence of the status quo based on conjunctural maps cannot predict or anticipate the dialectic of historical change; those who get lost in the volatility of geopolitical maps shaken by ongoing earthquakes fall into the trap of chaos while imagining they are directing, or at least, controlling change.
While the change in the geopolitical map created by a geopolitical earthquake that struck approximately thirty years ago has still not achieved legally grounded stability, claiming that the same map will still be relevant a hundred years from now detaches history from the dynamic of change. The question is not whether there will be change or not, but how it will be directed. An unprincipled and opportunist approach that provokes change in line with its own interests will pave the way for new destructive processes. These will also likely engulf the advocates of such an approach, while a principle-based, visionary approach in managing the birth pangs of change will lead to a new order with far better prospects of viability.
In addition, the head-spinning pace of human mobility and technological innovation is likely to lead to the replacement of a territorial and space-dependent perception of the current world map with the shaping of a space-transcendent perception of the world map, especially when we appreciate the fact that this momentum is set to accelerate even further in the coming century. In such a process of paradigmatic change, non-conventional maps such as demographic maps, ecological maps, and cyber-communication maps will be as influential as territorial political maps of the world; it is a virtual certainty that world order will be dynamically reshaped on this multidimensional basis, but in what patterns cannot be yet discerned.
- In addition to law and international public opinion, should ethical principles shape policies? How to balance military necessity against civilian innocence in combat situations?
It is essential that ethical principles shape policies. An understanding of politics that is free of ethical principles ultimately gives rise to an environment in which the rule of the jungle prevails in national and international relations, leaving humankind to face an undesirable future. The alignment of ethical principles and policies is critically important, especially in relation to international humanitarian law.
The exponential increase in the destructive capacity of weapons technology has enormously amplified the imbalance between military capacities, military objectives, and civilian losses unrelated to the object- ives of combat. When it comes to destructive capacity, human history has gone through three stages with respect to types of weapons as underlying technology-based conflict and now stands on the threshold of the fourth.
The first stage was pitched battles in which the destructiveness of war was limited to the soldiers located in the battlefield itself; enemy sides stood face to face and tried to liquidate one another. The second stage saw the introduction of air forces and long-range artillery and, with that, the exposure of troops and civilian targets far beyond the battle lines to the destructiveness of war. Destructiveness thus gained a supraspatial quality and ethical control became considerably more challenging to maintain. With the use of the atom bomb against Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the third stage saw destructiveness becoming supratemporal and impacting future generations. In this case the moral responsibility for the political decision to drop the atom bomb took on a transgenerational dimension.
The fourth stage, at the threshold of which we now stand, involves a destructive capacity that is both supraspatial and supratemporal in such a way as to risk the eradication of the future of all humankind. Albert Einstein’s well-known statement that “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones,” a prediction that is used to demonstrate the level that this destructive capacity has reached, indicates the total destruction inherent in a mechanism of war detached from ethical control. As I stressed in the book I wrote immediately after the Cold War,4 the ethico-material imbalance that most strikingly manifests itself in the destructiveness of war technology constitutes one of the most critical dimensions of the comprehensive civilizational crisis that we are going through. Since then, the concept of the ethico-material imbalance that I employed to show the gaps between political mechanisms and moral values has grown wider in almost every field.
In addition, the advent of remote-controlled drones in conflicts and robots developed without moral responsibility and accountability has produced serious issues of ethical control even in conventional wars and limited military operations. In this context, there is now a pressing need for a reconsideration of international conventions on these issues.
You propose “inclusive democracy” as a desirable political goal. How does this differ from “electoral democracy”? Should the values and procedures of inclusive democracy also inform the structures and practices of global governance?
One of the most fundamental areas of tension in thinking about democracy today lies in this very critical difference between inclusive and electoral democracy. And the source of the threat to Europe, which is seen as the cradle of democracy, by extreme-right and racist currents that use electoral democracy as a base from which to impose an exclusionist political agenda after winning an election through all kinds of populist rhetoric, also reﬂects this dilemma. The fact that Marine Le Pen got through to the second round in the French elections and that racist parties are on the rise in Holland and Germany makes it clear that if these political currents win an election, even by a small margin, the entire concept of citizenship in constitutional societies will be eroded and fall victim to a polarization based on a binary division. Drawing a distinction between “real” French, German, British, Dutch, Italian, etc. people and “newcomers” or “strangers” means the destruction of inclusive democracy by electoral democracy. An electoral democracy that eradicates inclusive democracy will lead to the revival of the historical experiences of extremism undergone in Europe between the two World Wars.
The only way to overcome this tension is to view electoral democracy and inclusive democracy not as alternatives but as complementary to one another. The process of electoral democracy takes precedence over the principles of inclusive democracy. As a process, electoral democracy is a sine qua non for a real democracy, a real imperative. A lack of respect for the national will expressed in an election means the eradication of the principal gains of democratic history. But inclusive democracy is an absolute prerequisite in terms of enabling the grounding of a real, self-regenerating democracy. Otherwise, as happened in the period between the two World Wars, when a government formed on the basis of the unqualiﬁed nature of the one-time results of electoral democracy breaks away from inclusive democracy, electoral democracy is likely to be rendered meaningless, and totally undermined.
In this context, electoral democracy constitutes the infrastructure of a real democracy; inclusive democracy its load-bearing pillars. Without electoral democracy inclusive democracy cannot be realized; without inclusive democracy, electoral democracy degenerates, and cannot ﬂourish through self-regeneration. Electoral democracy makes up the mechanics of democracy, inclusive democracy its organic structure. In other words, electoral democracy is hardware, inclusive democracy is software.
A constitution based on the human rights and human dignity serves to guarantee the complementary relationship between electoral democracy and inclusive democracy. In societies where constitutional consensus and conventions are in crisis, the risk is that inclusive democracy gets hollowed out by coups or populist ideologies, and that electoral democracy becomes a mechanical legitimating instrument of government. The coupism in Turkey and Egypt, which disregards the results of electoral democracy, and the rising extremist trends in Europe to use electoral democracy to destroy the most fundamental elements of inclusive democracy, threaten the future in equal measure.
These principles also apply to global democracy and governance. A UNSC system that ﬁxes ﬁve permanent members in place without any electoral process while revolving non-permanent members are selected by means of elections involving the other 188 member states has minimal inclusivity while its electoral attributes reﬂect an ineffective oligarchic concept of governance. There is also a manifest need for new conventions to protect the rights of countries and indeed all humankind.
To sum up, and as emphasized in various sections of the book, the most pressing condition for a new world order today is the emergence of a new philosophical and implementable set of principles for inclusive national, regional, and global governance.
- World order continues to be state-centric in its fundamental character – that is, with respect to the formation and implementation of policies on matters of global concern – yet the problems (climate change, nuclear weaponry) seem global in scope. How can the pursuit of national interests be reconciled with the realisation of global interests?
It is normal that the international system is state-centric. I think the problem here isn’t that the international order is state-centric. The real problem lies in the deﬁnition of sovereignty. Because the division of labour at multiple levels – local, domestic, regional, and global – requires a new understanding of sovereignty backed up by the political will of leaders. Given the hyper-interdependency of the international system and human destiny, the state can’t operate on the basis of the traditional Westphalian conception of the nineteenth- and even early twentieth-century understanding of the sovereignty. The concept and institution of sovereignty is in dire need of redeﬁnition. In a revisionist understanding of sovereignty, the national level shouldn’t be set against the global level. They should be framed in ways that complement each other. In this respect, we should contemplate a new form of sovereignty, which is multi-layered, inclusive, and driven by commitments to the collective good.
From such a perspective, the nation-state is not a competitor of the international order but its building block. What is important is that these building blocks have a strong basis of legitimacy within themselves and that they have the ﬂexibility and dynamism to accommodate the diverse concerns of the international system’s nation-states. When I spoke at international platforms about matters of universal concern like climate change and nuclear weapons, I always mentioned the need to develop ﬁrst a global awareness and only then to posit this awareness in an international normative framework and convention. On the question of awareness, it is an absolute condition that issues related to the ontological existence of humankind supercede all kinds of concepts of individual state interests, because (and I emphasize this in the book) the political existence of nation-states is impossible without ontological existence. Ignoring the threat to humankind’s common security posed by the excessive pursuit of individual national security presupposes an Armageddon psychology and apocalyptic scenarios.
The most effective method to eliminate such scenarios is the application of legal norms developed in this context, without exception. For example, the inconsistency of certain countries who regard nuclear weapons as a threat but ignore the nuclear armament of other countries in the same region shakes trust and conﬁdence in the international system as a whole and paves the way for every country to take its own measures to arm itself regardless of the threat to collective wellbeing, even survival. It is impossible to overcome individual conﬂicts of interest in an environment where the interests and concerns of certain nation-states are regarded as more important than those of others.
In this context, it is essential to establish a strong and consistent connection between consciousness of humanity and of citizenship. This can only be achieved through the spread of communications between global civil society and national civil societies and can be realized by the emergence of psychological spheres of inﬂuence that transcend the outlook of nation-states. It should not be forgotten that threats such as climate change and nuclear arms whose destructive impact cannot be restricted to the legal and spatial boundaries of nation-states cannot be resolved only by negotiations limited to nation-states.
- In this conversation you have talked about how your career has made the shift from academic to political, then back to academic life and now back again to the political domain after establishing a new party. Do you consider this to be your ﬁnal professional destination? Or would you welcome a future rhythm that involved alternating periods of government service and scholarly life? In this sense, would you describe your present state of mind to be best described as “post-political” or “pre-political,” or some combination?
A person making his or her own decision about personal ﬁnal destination is like the “end of history” claim for humankind, a claim that I have opposed in this book and on every possible occasion. As Demetrius strikingly said, “An easy existence untroubled by the attacks of Fortune is a Dead Sea.”
If one’s ﬁnal destination were known, the excitement and energy of life would be lost. Perhaps the most important thing that makes a person happy, even when they cannot know it, is their own ﬁnal destination. The only thing I know at this point is that neither my personal future nor that of humankind is going to be “an easy existence.” This doesn’t mean I have a pessimistic view about the future. Quite the reverse, the new challenges brought by those “attacks of Fortune” also require fresh paradigmatic initiatives. With the dynamism engendered by these challenges, it is certain that neither my personal future nor the general future of humankind is going to be that “Dead Sea;” the challenge is to ﬁnd key wavelengths and frequencies able to surf successfully through the continuously rising ﬂow of history, and thereby reach their target. The “future rhythm” you refer to in your question will also to some extent be the work and challenge of this surﬁng exercise.
I have always approached post- and pre-conceptualization with caution. Every post-situation harbours its own pre-situation. In other words, in the process of history every post-situation is shaped in the womb of a pre-situation. As Wordsworth said, “The child is father of the man.” Could the conditions of the post-Cold War period have been formed without the process of change that occurred in the ﬁnal years of the Cold War?
This also applies to personal journeys and quests. The academic work Strategic Depth that I wrote in the pre-political period of my life deﬁned my behaviour in the political phase of my life, while my post-political academic works have been shaped by the experiences derived from that same political phase.
When I left the prime ministry, I never said I had left politics behind. In any case, after such a high-proﬁle past in politics, one can’t really remain outside of political debate even if one says “I’m out.” Although I have tried to avoid political polemics in this period, I have remained on the political agenda with both positive and negative comments. So, there is a clear difference between becoming post-governmental and post-political. Regardless of ofﬁcial titles I was and will always be political.
At the early stage of writing Systemic Earthquake in 2017, I was a parliamentarian of my previous party, when the book was published in January 2020 I became Chairman of a new party, Future Party. As I have underlined in my books, history continues to flow personally, nationally, and globally. I do not think there will be a pre- or post-era in my life. But, there will be a difference compared to my previous experiences. Unlike my decision not to write when having an official position which I followed faithfully during my public services as Chief Advisor, Foreign Minister and PM from 2002 until 2016, I am planning to continue my academic publications in the future despite resuming the work of being an active politician.
All these challenges are inherent to politics. But just as one’s personality cannot be divided, nor can one’s life. The key thing is to live an unfragmented life with an undivided integrative personality. One can do this by taking the right steps that bring together the needs of the moment with one’s own conscience. The difference I made in politics came to a large extent from my scholarly past. On the other hand, what is distinctive about my post-political academic works will undoubtedly be fed and inﬂuenced by my political experiences. Therefore, I can say that my present state of mind is a combination of both.
As an academician I never underestimated the signiﬁcance of being a politician, and when I became a politician I tried never to forget my identity as an academician. The ﬁrst stopped me from getting detached from the reality of the ﬂow of history, while the second kept me from getting imprisoned in constructed conjunctural reality.
- In contemplating Turkey’s future in a time of systemic earthquake, what sorts of response would you hope to be forthcoming from political leadership and from civil society?
No scholar can ignore the time–space dimension they encounter within themselves and the experiences they have gained as they generate and develop ideas. In that spirit I naturally drew upon the case of Turkey throughout the book and especially in the chapter entitled “Inclusive National Governance.” I believe that the ﬁve main principles I considered with reference to the recommended approach to deal with the systemic earthquake are primarily applicable to my own country. In fact, Turkey constitutes perhaps one of the most striking examples with respect to these principles.
If we take a summary view of Turkey in terms of these principles, an inclusive sense of belonging and citizenship is a priority prerequisite for the country’s internal order, because Turkey, with its Ottoman legacy, includes within its borders almost every ethnic and sectarian element of the Balkans, Middle East, Caucasus, and Central Asia. The country’s political leaders and civil society must act in cognizance of this reality and exhibit a stance that does not exclude any ethnic or sectarian identity. People want to see those who govern and represent them by their side at critical periods. During our struggle with terror organisations such as Daesh, the PKK, and (DHKP-C), whose terror activities escalated in 2015 on account of developments in Iraq and Syria, I would spend every weekend with people in the most affected districts, addressing some mass meetings in Kurdish as best I could. I was the ﬁrst Prime Minister in the history of the Republic to take part in an Alevi gathering at a djemevi (cemevi) and as a minister I paid visits to all the non-Muslim religious centers including the Greek and Armenian Patriarchates and the Chief Rabbinate. These experiences convinced me that the strongest link between political leaders and the people is a shared sense of belonging. Over time, political leaders and civil society groups who neglect this lose not only their administrative but also their representative effectiveness, and of course, diminish their legitimacy.
Secondly, Turkey is a remarkable case when it comes to a nation-state’s geopolitical basis, because apart from the one with Iran, none of the country’s borders rest on sound geopolitical ground. The border with Syria cuts through residential districts, the border with Iraq through mountains, and its Aegean border skirts islets and rocks. The risk of suddenly erupting tensions is always present. The main reason for my advocacy of the “zero problems with neighbouring countries” principle from 2002 onwards was the potential that existed to derive an order from these geopolitical abnormalities. Successfully pursued up until the structural earthquakes that occurred in surrounding countries in 2011, this policy saw the establishment of high-level cooperation mechanisms with Russia, Greece, Iraq, Syria, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, and Romania, and the development of relations between peoples through mechanisms such as visa waiver and free-trade agreements that were developed with neighbouring countries. Our 2004 negotiations with Greek Cyprus, and the protocols signed with Armenia in 2009[i] showed our determination to achieve normalization (we did not have diplomatic relations with either state before). Today, one of Turkey’s top priorities is the achievement of stability and peace all along its geopolitically sensitive borders.
Thirdly, the freedom–security balance that forms the basis of political legitimacy needs to be painstakingly maintained. It is crucial that a country like Turkey, which has passed the test of being a democratic country in a high-risk geopolitical environment, does not lurch between freedom and security preferences. The fact that in the face of the global security earthquake in the post-9/11 period that shook the world and tended to detach countries from human rights, Turkey made signiﬁcant strides with respect to the implementation of human rights and freedoms, which are the fundamental elements of inclusivity, and backed this up with a multidimensional foreign policy, enabled the country to make a regional and global difference in those years.
Fourthly, its young and dynamic demography is both a major advantage and a serious challenge for Turkey. Educating and preparing this young and dynamic population for the future requires a policy of sustainable economic development and fair income distribution. It is crucially important that political leaders, the business world, and civil society generally agree on this issue on the basis of shared, rational objectives.
The ﬁfth point is that Turkey is going through an absolutely critical process with regard to the institutional structure of national order. With institutions developed within a deeply rooted state tradition, Turkey faces the need to rebuild its state architecture as a result of the recent constitutional referendum. In this context, the balance between institutional continuity and institutional restructuring needs to be carefully developed to safeguard democratic expectations.
In summary, Turkey’s geography requires multidimensionality, its history inclusivity. If Turkey takes both these elements into account, the ongoing systemic earthquake will present not only risks but opportunities. Turkey needs to ﬁnd its own distinctive path at a time when the systemic earthquake has encouraged a global trend towards exclusionary autocracy. The course of historical change is determined not by those who act in line with the general trend on the basis of herd mentality but by those who make a distinctive difference. Even if this difference is not sufﬁciently appreciated in the heated midst of the process, its inﬂuence will make itself felt over time. This is how to ensure national legitimacy and international prestige.
- Since completing Systemic Earthquake there has been a continuing trend toward demagogic political leadership, coupled with polarized patterns of governance, in many of the most important countries in the world. Does this trend disturb you? Do you expect it to continue?
The most frequently overlooked element in efforts to establish national, regional and global order is the psychological factor. In a psychological atmosphere in which feeling, emotion, and sentiment overwhelms rational thought, rhetorical radicalism subsumes any shared or common view, tactical steps subsume strategy, and impulses subsume principles. While building sustainable order is all about a set of principles generated by a common mindset and the strategic issues based on them, acquiring and keeping hold of conjunctural power is a tactical question based on impulsive and rhetorical radicalism. The growing trend to demagogic political leadership is the psycho-political reﬂection of rhetorical radicalism; a polarizing and exclusionary understanding of politics, a reﬂection of its impulsive radicalism. Like everyone with a worldview that envisions a future for humankind based on equality and human dignity, I am seriously concerned about this development. A number of large-scale wars in the past were triggered by reciprocally impulsive reactions that had emerged from such a psycho-political atmosphere.
However, it is impossible to overcome this disturbing development by getting caught up in a psychology of helplessness in the face of such a wave, or turning a blind eye to the conditions that have led to the wave in the ﬁrst place. What is needed is an accurate analysis of the psychological grounds that have been thrown up by it and the promotion of a vision of order based on humankind’s shared legacy of experiences with the capacity to generate the global momentum required to create a counter-wave.
- The Trump presidency has epitomised this trend, which has also led to an ultra-nationalist foreign policy, which exhibits hostility to international law, the UN, human rights, and cooperative approaches to global problems. Does the world suffer from the loss of a more internationalist style of global leadership associated with pre-Trump American foreign policy?
To use the conceptualisation I have proposed in the book, we might say that Trump represents the most extreme slide into strategic discontinuity in US foreign policy that has been experienced with any post-Cold War change of presidency. In every period changes in the international system have necessitated a paradigmatic renewal in US strategy. As the eighteenth century gave way to the nineteenth, and however much the young United States of America appeared to have been excluded from the international Eurocentric colonialist power struggle, the Monroe Doctrine published in 1823 in line with the new state of affairs in the wake of the Congress of Vienna helped to lay the ground for an internal consolidation around republican principles as well as an American continent-oriented consolidation of power far from the inﬂuence of monarchical restoration in Europe. Through the nineteenth century, this founding paradigmatic principle, which was enunciated by the ﬁfth US President James Monroe, recognized as the last of the United States’ founding fathers, constituted a strategic basis unaffected by whichever political party the president happened to be afﬁliated.
As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, the United States, whose economic prowess had turned the country into a leading actor in international economic-political balances, became an international naval power in the context of the Roosevelt Corollary’s more assertive interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, after which the beginning of the country’s assertion of inﬂuence within the international system through the principles laid out in President Wilson’s Fourteen Points indicated a continuum of change in the US strategic paradigm. The fact that Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican, and Wilson a Democrat, never caused any strategic discontinuity in terms of the United States’ status as a leading actor. The proactive strategy of Franklin Roosevelt (a Democrat, unlike his Republican cousin Theodore) in the Second World War put the United States center stage in the post war international system. Even in this paradigmatic transformation, the “American Century” was one of consensus and continuity in terms of twentieth-century economic-political, geopolitical, and geo-cultural balances in the strategy’s principal elements.
However, as the world moved into the twenty-ﬁrst century, and in spite of having emerged as the victor of the Cold War, the United States’ strategic paradigm proved unable to forge a coherent and consistent whole. George H. W. Bush’s “new world order,” Bill Clinton’s “humanitarian interventionism,” George W. Bush’s “pre-emptive strike,” Barack Obama’s “multilateralism,” and Trump’s “America First”-oriented conceptualisations contained elements of incoherence and discontinuity as well as being in part reactions to their predecessors’ policies.
In a nutshell, while the nineteenth century was the European, and the twentieth century the American century, the twenty-ﬁrst, a “Global Century” shaped by the dynamic elements associated with globalization, has a complexity that is hard to comprehend, disentangle, and resolve by reference to just one geographical location. While a multi-dimensional, multi-actor period such as this (in the book we call it the “multiple balance of powers system”) requires a far more sophisticated approach, the US slide towards a one-dimensional, self-centric approach characterized by Trump’s “America First” slogan, with its disregard for international law and norms, is not sustainable either in terms of the functioning and operation of the international system or of US interests.
- The rise of China represents the most dramatic geopolitical development in the twenty-ﬁrst century. Do you think that the rise of China is on balance beneﬁcial or detrimental to the future of world order? Do you believe China can ﬁll the global leadership vacuum created by the Trump withdrawal of the leadership role that the United States played since 1945? Could you envision a more multi-polar global leadership emerging in the future? Or possibly a post-Trump US/China joint leadership? Or is a new Cold War more likely with the United States on one side and either China or Russia, or some combination, on the other?
In the post-Cold War era, especially after the 2008 global crisis, China’s attainment of a leading position in the world economy was a new state of affairs that represented a test for China itself as much as for the world and the other major powers. During its classical periods, China saw itself as the “civilized center of the world,” even “the world itself”; it possessed a strategic paradigm based on protecting itself from potential threats from the world outside, rather than taking any interest in the external world. The Great Wall of China constitutes the most striking manifestation of this strategic mindset paradigm, which was the product of China’s effort to protect its own world from the that which lay beyond. In this context, except for the Hui-origin Muslim Chinese Admiral Zheng He’s overseas expeditions at the beginning of the ﬁfteenth century, China had no concept of a common order, or working to establish contacts with the non-Chinese world. The Opium Wars, which forced China’s strategic culture to change in the mid-nineteenth century, were essentially waged with a view to discontinuing this strategic resistance. Once again China’s confrontation with modernity took place through the inward-looking Maoist methods identiﬁed with the Cultural Revolution.
In the post-Cold War period, China’s ever more rapid integration into the international economy along reformist lines pushed China to change its aloof approach towards the outside world that it had adopted in the traditional and modern periods. Indeed, it would be impossible for a global power with an economic structure integrated into the world economy either to remain outside the world political system or to remain indifferent to developments within it. In this sense, Chinese President Xi’s The Belt and Road Initiative project is not just a sign of economic interdependence. It will also reﬂect China’s inevitable and growing interest in the ﬁeld of international politics, including the security of the transport corridors that it naturally requires.
In this framework, the main question is what tools and methods are going to be applied by China to further its interests. From the perspective of China’s traditional stance as well as today’s economic-political balances, a scenario in which China gains the status of guarantor of the global order by itself, by ﬁlling the vacuum left by the United States in the wake of Trump’s policies, appears unlikely. The scenario in which China assumes a leadership role in conjunction with the United States risks creating a polarization that could bring actors such as the EU, Russia, Japan, and India together in such a way that this kind of quest for balance would frustrate any such joint-leadership project. The move towards the conditions for a new Cold War with the United States at one pole and China at the other is not a burden that an increasingly complex network of economic relations can carry. It should not be forgotten that the previous Cold War did not take place within the same economic model but only ever between blocs of countries with different economic models. It would be very hard to forge an enduring Cold War in a world where the same or similar economic models are interacting in a global economy. In this context, the most likely scenario is a “multiple balance of powers” system with growing Chinese economic-political inﬂuence but in which the thematic, sectoral, and geopolitical basis of international relations may be dynamically determined at any moment.
Yet it would be wrong to restrict China’s distinctive and distinguishing features to the realm of economic-political balances in this new period. Every change that occurs in China, home to one-quarter of the world’s population, will also be decisive in the cultural order that includes the scientiﬁc and technological elements of the international system. China’s growing inﬂuence in the restructuring of the global cultural order will be accompanied by the transformation of the modern, mainly Eurocentric, cultural order. Therefore, this “multiple balance of powers” system’s soft (cultural) aspects need to be taken very seriously and all multinational platforms, especially the UN system, need to have a genuinely peace-promoting and inclusive character. As is emphasized in the text of the book, Pax Universale does not need global Caesars followed by self-centric Neros, but rather Marcus Aureliuses from different cultural basins.
- Your book Systemic Earthquakewrites about ruptures that change the international atmosphere in dramatic and unexpected ways. Do you consider the global spread of COVID-19 virus is or could become such a rupture?
Since we are still living through this pandemic, it is hard to make a definitive judgment that it will lead to a global rupture. However, it is at least clear that COVID-19 is set to be a precursor and test bed for probable global-scale ruptures.
Precursor, because COVID-19 has strikingly shown once again that human destiny flows along a single common river that does not allow for the separation of one continent from another or one religious or ethnic community from another. It is both natural and inevitable that with the acceleration of growing global interaction we shall soon see stronger waves and ruptures that will impact our common future.
Test bed, because the stance taken on COVID-19 will determine the course of subsequent ruptures. Broadly speaking, when it comes to this stance there are two options. The first is that just like quarantining people during the pandemic, societies and countries will tend to quarantine themselves on a long-term basis through inward looking policies designed to avoid being affected by global ruptures. It is extremely hard for this introspective attitude, which I define in the book as a cynical reaction against globalization, to deliver a lasting solution with respect to the impact of global rupture. It should not be forgotten that quarantine is a temporary measure; making it permanent means the end of societal life. Likewise, the long-term nature of the restrictive measures taken by countries to mitigate the impact of the epidemic serves to minimize the positive interaction gains of globalization.
The second possible stance is to move forward once again with a shared global-scale ontological consciousness based on a common concern for the existential future of humanity in the face of this global rupture. This shared ontological consciousness will not have the capacity to develop enduring responses to global ruptures unless it transcends the political and economic interests developed individually by political actors and countries. As we underline in the book, where there is no ontological existence, political existence loses its presence and meaning.
- This health challenge arises in a historical circumstance in which the world is experiencing trends toward the embrace of ultra-nationalist ideologies and the rise of democratically elected autocrats. Against this background, does the COVID-19 challenge underscore the importance of global cooperation under the auspices of the United Nations?
Absolutely. In order to be able to transform this shared ontological consciousness into a set of global policies, the only tool available to us is the UN, whatever its troubles. Yet if the UN is to be able to carry out this duty, the privileged status it affords to certain countries in terms of their capacity to determine the destiny of humankind needs to be reformed. Having said that humankind needs to move forward with a single and shared ontological consciousness, the current UN structure, based on granting five countries ultimate decision-making status with respect to the political manifestations of this destiny, of its essence runs contrary to this consciousness.
In particular, in the event of ultra-nationalist and autocratic leaders who prioritize their own short-term personal and national interests coming to the fore in these five countries, the UN ceases to be a solution-producing body and turns into a source of problems. In the context of a state of affairs in which these five countries pursue their disparate interests and display mutually polarizing attitudes, it becomes difficult for the UN to mobilize a shared ontological consciousness. The tendency of the US and China to exchange accusations during the COVID-19 crisis has been a cautionary tale. Approaches such as this serve to block the existing UN system and undermine the idea that the UN is the shared mechanism of humanity. Right now, the urgent need is to achieve an inclusive, democratic and participatory United Nations, and to enhance its effectiveness.
- In a deeper sense, the COVID-19 eruption suggests the limits of our understanding of what the future will bring to humanity. Does this uncertainty about the future make it more essential than ever to govern societies in accord with ‘the precautionary principle’? Does the ecological fragility of world order, combined with its vulnerability to previously unknown viruses, suggest the need for more flexible democracies or does it portend a post-political future for all levels of social and political order?
Yes, ‘the precautionary principle’ can be an important reference point in overcoming the global vulnerabilities and uncertainties associated with rapid technological development and globalization. However, the success of this principle in practice depends on its unconditional and blanket acceptance and implementation by all parties. Otherwise, non-compliant parties may gain a scientific / technological / economic advantage over their compliant counterparts. In the framework of this principle, the manner in which the United States’ failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and Canada’s withdrawal from it prevented the World Charter for Nature adopted by the UN in 1982 and enshrined in the preamble of the 1987 Montreal Protocol from achieving its desired effect, is clear. When ‘the precautionary principle’ framework is correctly defined and implemented without exception, it can prevent or at least limit this kind of vulnerability. And for this to happen, an institutional body and mechanism that is not wrapped up in political concerns but motivated by universal principles needs to be established.
The most effective solution to the ecological vulnerability further exposed by the emergence of viruses previously unknown to the world order is the concept of an inclusive and participatory flexible democracy. This concept of democracy must bring with it a fresh political mindset. Perhaps these developments can be seen as a precursory phase towards a new political understanding, rather than a post-political phase. At the beginning of human history too, human beings basically transitioned to the phase of forming a political society by removing the security risks associated with natural life in the most primitive fashion. This time, humanity will have to develop a new global-scale concept of political societal order in order to bring the ecological risks created by humankind’s own hand under control. Although this concept of order appears post-political from the modern political perspective, from the perspective of a political order based on global governance, it could well take the form of a harbinger.
In any case, all these developments show that we are pushing against the limits of current understandings of political order. Humankind will either turn to a new humanity-oriented concept of global governance, or rupture from human values on the wheels of autocratic structures seeking to exploit all these vulnerabilities. Our primary duty today is to strive to forge the intellectual infrastructure of a new humanity-oriented order of global governance.
Indeed, this is the fundamental purpose of this book, Systemic Earthquake.
[i] For an assessment of these negotiations from a third perspective see Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hard Choices, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014, s. 218-220.
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, Distinguished Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies, UCSB, author, co-author or editor of 60 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to two three-year terms as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and associated with the local campus of the University of California, and for several years chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is On Nuclear Weapons, Denuclearization, Demilitarization, and Disarmament (2019).
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