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The Arab Spring and “Structural Power.”

Posted by democratist on March 31, 2011

March 31st 2011,

A few days ago we noted Michael Cox’s recent restatement of the argument that, despite the current debate about it’s supposed decline, the US has managed to retain a great deal of “structural power.” However we did not explain this concept in any detail.

The notion of structural power was first put forward by the British academic Susan Strange in the 1970′s. In her classic States and Markets (1988) she defined it is as;

“the power to shape and determine the structures of the global political economy within which other states, their political institutions, their economic enterprises and (not least) their scientists and other professional people have to operate…Structural power in short confers the power to decide how things shall be done, the power to shape frameworks within which states relate to each other, relate to people, or relate to corporate enterprises.”

Essentially in Strange’s view, “structural power” is the power of a state to shape various kinds of international frameworks: For her, the advantages for the US of the dollar as the key post-War currency for international trade was the central example of structural power at work, because it allowed the US to run large deficits at reduced cost (a feature of the International Monetary System which continues to this day).

However, it has occurred to Democratist that beyond the realm of economics, the “Arab Spring” we are now witnessing may well represent the strengthening and maturing of a new and potentially far more important form of structural power, one that may well confer considerable advantages for the US, and the wider West over the coming years.

As Halliday argues in Revolutions and World Politics (1999), in addition to expressing the tensions that occur within societies in transition, revolutions are also a result of the pressures placed on traditional societies by international factors.

And over the last 20 years the international trend towards democratization - which therefore increases pressure on others to democratize - has strengthened markedly; the end of Communism, the enlargement of the EU, the continued democratization of Turkey,  the revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon - and now Tunisia, Egypt and (possibly) Libya.  These will all add to the already considerable domestic problems faced by developing autocratic states as an additional, and now heightened structural pressure for domestic reform, if revolution is to be avoided.

This trend has in turn been encouraged by a developments in IT and globalization;  Al Jazeera, Twitter, Wikileaks, Wikipedia and Facebook are all a part of this process.

But while the US has consciously (and sometimes counterproductively) sought to export democracy for much of the last century, a great deal of the attraction of democracy - its equation with modernity for increasing numbers of people throughout the world - has been partly independent of the United States’ actions. Rather the desire for freedom and egalitarianism which informed the French and American revolutions has taken on something of a life of its own – regardless of (for example) the US invasion of Iraq, or support for Hosni Mubarak.

Nonetheless, since democratization represents the development of an international framework within which states relate to each other, and one which seems likely to disproportionately favour the democratic West (no two democratic states have ever gone to war with each other), whilst placing an additional pressure on authoritarian competitors, this democratization has to be seen as a burgeoning form of Western structural power.

Posted in Democratization, Egyptian Revolution, Historical Materialism, International Political Economy, Jasmine Revolution, Libyan Revolution, Orange Revolution, Revolutions, Russia 2012 Elections, wikileaks | 4 Comments »

The Great “Arab Spring” of 2011: Causes and Consequences.

Posted by democratist on March 28, 2011

28th March 2011,

As the “Arab Spring” rolls onwards through Libya, and towards Yemen and Syria, Democratist – like many others (not least a number of red-faced foreign policy professionals), has been looking to get some sort of an explanatory purchase on recent events in the middle East. Why there? And why now?

For Democratist,  the key factor lies in the interrelationship between globalization (Al Jazeera, Twitter, Facebook, Wikileaks and the rest), and a number of other historical-sociological factors that have been perhaps slightly less eagerly grasped upon by (especially the US) media.

These include the rupturing of corrupt political, economic and social systems dominated by authoritarian cliques (and supported by the West) for decades; tremendous social upheavals provoked by poverty, the evident injustice of crony capitalism (abject poverty cheek by jowl with decadent wealth), the rising expectations of the (literate and tech-savvy) young; and the delayed flowering of civil society.

Looking at the broader, global context, a superbly insightful, if so far largely ignored framework for understanding these events is to be found in Revolutions and World Politics: The Rise and Fall of the Sixth Great Power. (Palgrave, 1999) by the late Professor Fred Halliday of the LSE (1945-2010).

One of the main conclusions of this 300-page comparative study of revolutions and their international aspects is that over the last three centuries, the focus of revolutionary upheavals has been, not (as Marx had hoped) on the most developed states, but rather in the contrary direction; that revolutions have historically tended to occur in less developed countries, and during periods in which the “conflicts of modernity” were at their sharpest, with these states only subsequently settling down into democratic reformism.

In other words, the historical pattern has been one in which revolutions take place in societies that have embarked on, but are at a comparatively early stage of economic and political development: One of Halliday’s key insights is the idea that, in the contemporary world, revolutions express the pressures placed on traditional societies by international structural factors, in addition to the tensions that occur within societies in transition, and the drive for accelerated development.

All three elements have been present in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. They are also present to a very considerable degree in a large number other less developed countries – including Yemen, Syria and Iran, and throughout much of the former Soviet Union.

What the revolutions in the middle East represent therefore, are the increasingly inevitable consequences for states which refuse to meet their citizens expectations, after a certain level of development has been attained, in an increasingly integrated world.

While not linear, or liable to easy prediction, this trend has become all the more evident since 1989; in the collapse of the USSR itself, in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), Lebanon (2005), Kyrgyzstan (2005). Moldova (2009), and now with the great Arab Spring of 2011, whereby the democratic agenda has been firmly set for much of the rest of the developing world.

As Halliday notes;

“Revolutions are moments of transition which, once passed, may not need replication. Instead, they lay down an agenda for political and social change that through reform, struggles and democracy may take decades or centuries to be achieved. This is at once evident from the programmes on rights of the American and French revolutions, the radical egalitarianism and the international programme associated with each; the point is not whether America or France always, or ever, lived up to these ideas, any more than Russia was to do after 1917, but rather how ideas and aspirations that emerged from these revolutions retain their validity in subsequent epochs.”

2011 may then therefore eventually come to mark the decisive point at which among the populations of developing states, democractic reformism ceased to be seen as essentially a restrictedly “Western” phenomenon, and became recognized as a potentially universal one.

See also my pieces:

Russian Autocracy and the Future of the Arab Spring

Revolution, Democracy and the West.

The Arab Spring and Structural Power

The Egyptian revolution and the precariousness of autocracy.

Posted in Democratization, Domestic NGOs, Egyptian Revolution, Fred Halliday, Historical Materialism, Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR), Jasmine Revolution, Libyan Revolution, Moldova, Russian Corruption, Soviet Union, Ukraine, Western Foreign Policy, wikileaks | 12 Comments »

Ekaterina Zatuliveter and the Neglect of Public Opinion.

Posted by democratist on March 24, 2011

March 24th 2011,

This morning Democratist has been enjoying yet another prize example of media manipulation, disinformation and obfuscation, courtesy of the (curiously) increasingly amateurish Russia Today (“Neglecting Public Opinion is a Privilege of the West“)

Given permission from the relevant judge, the Kremlin’s English-language mouthpiece has taken to employing Ekaterina Zatuliveter (Mike Hancock’s former parliamentary researcher, currently on bail after being arrested on charges of espionage last December) as a “contributor.” 

And naturally, the chosen subject for  Zatuliveter’s  journalistic debut is that mainstay of Soviet-era propaganda; Western hypocrisy – as expressed through the pretext of support for the anti-war movement.

In halting, accented English, the lissome Ms. Zatuliveter gives it her best shot, reading out the following (which we reproduce in full);

“This Saturday, London might experience the biggest protest in its history. Bigger even than the anti-war coalition march in 2003. Up until now the [inaudible] political activist groups have not been very well-organized, but they have finally decided to gather everybody who has been badly effected by the actions of the coalition government. With 35-45% of British people opposing intervention in Libya, it seems that on Saturday those intervention protestors will not be lost in the crowd. I will not expect [sic] the government to rush into doing everything straight away, it rarely happens in practice, but those protests are simply a part of a democratic system. However, there is a paradox in here; when non-Western countries experience protests, and their governments do nothing about it, western countries immediately accuse those governments in being undemocratic, but when western countries do the same, they ignore opinion of people [sic] in their country. [Inaudible very short sentence]. The polls show that public opinion in the UK regarding intervention in Libya, is not mirrored by MPs in the house of commons, with only 13 of them voting against the military intervention this vote was taken on Monday, two days after the UK had started bombing Libya. This was a rare moment in the House of Commons, when Labour literally occupied seats next to Tories and the Lib-dems, vacating the opposition side of the chamber to the people of Britain.”

Where to start with the unravelling of this inelegant, unwieldy macédoine of quarter-truth?

Apart from the obvious questions about Zatuliever’s impartiality/objectivity, and why the “independent” Russia Today has seen fit to employ her as a commentator (thumbing their noses at the British establishment, whilst in fact unwittingly highlighting the UK’s liberal bail conditions and commitment to freedom of speech – even for suspected spies) Democratist sees Zatuliever’s first journalistic effort as raising the following main points;

The first is that the piece appears to have been edited to focus more on Western military action in Libya than originally intended; a quick check of the Stop the War Coalition’s Website reveals that this weekend’s demonstration is not principally intended to be about Libya, but rather that, “Stop the War will be marching with CND in an antiwar and peace contingent on the 26th March TUC anti-cuts demonstration.” – i.e. Stop the War and CND will be tagging along on a larger TUC demonstration focused on spending cuts.  This explains some of Zatuliever’s otherwise more opaque comments (“intervention protestors will not be lost in the crowd” etc). But this information is not contained in the piece as broadcast – which misleadingly implies that the entire demonstration is in opposition to Western military action in Libya.

Second, the original YouGov opinion Poll (upon which we assume Zatuliever/RT are basing their figures – and we have to assume this, because the data provided in the piece are not attributed) was taken between 20th-21st March, and is poorly worded in terms of the question it posed (“Do you think Britain, France, the US and other countries are right or wrong to take military action in Libya?”) because it did not differentiate between the imposition of a no fly zone, and a full ground invasion, or between action that had been mandated by the UN, or not: Further work is therefore required before British public opinion on this issue can be satisfactorily established. But the figures cited seem to support the idea that military action is unpopular, and that a big anti-war demonstration due to take place this weekend in London as a result of that, and they seem to imply that British MPs don’t really care about, or represent the opinions of their constituents (just like the Duma!) - so why let something as trifling as accuracy get in the way of a good story?

Let us finally then examine the core question of Western hypocrisy. Zatuliveter’s  report suggests that the UK government is ignoring popular anti-war demonstrations at home, while accusing non-Western countries as being “non-democratic” when these experience supposedly comparable demonstrations. But we have already established that i) this weekend’s “anti-war” demonstration may well turn out to be for the most part something quite different from what is implied by RT, ii) British public opinion has not yet been fully established on the subject of military action in Libya, and that therefore iii) the question of the extent to which British MPs represent their constituents on this issue remains open. It is however, certainly correct to say that the UK government is accusing Libya of being undemocratic (to say the least), and has helped to enforce the UN no fly zone. But then again (the very real considerations of geopolitics and oil aside), that might be to an extent because the regime in Tripoli used its airforce to repeatedly strafe and bomb its own population over much of the past month: The Libyan government response was not (as Zatuliveter implies) to “do nothing about it” when they experienced protests, but rather to kill large numbers of their own people.

Perhaps if President Medvedev (partly in reaction to events in the middle East over the past few months) was not quite so concerned about the long-term reaction of his own population, he would have had the guts to veto UN Security Council Resolution 1973, and say in public what Prime Minister Putin did effectively say; that the West has no right to interfere in the affairs of repressive regimes such as Libya (or Russia for that matter). But in fact, as Medvedev (but not Putin) seems to understand, it looks increasingly that taking public opinion for granted is a privilege that not even the Russian elite will be able to maintain for that much longer, despite the best efforts of Russia Today’s domestic homologues.

Posted in Democratization, Human Rights, Libyan Revolution, Russia Propaganda, Russia Today, Russian Espionage | 2 Comments »

 
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