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Publication Details

Reference
Bond, Patrick (2002) WSSD: `A Test for Multilateralism' - or Imperialism-as-Usual?.  : -.

Summary
Kofi Annan reckons that `six clusters of issues hold the key to agreement' in Johannesburg, namely the Rio principles; finance; trade; good governance; time-bound targets; and technology transfers. He continues:

Johannesburg is a test for multilateralism and for the international community. It is a test for all leaders who profess to care about the well-being of our planet and its people. Johannesburg must send a message of solidarity and concern, and must produce real change, on the ground in people's lives, where it matters most.
Progress since the Earth Summit has been slower than expected and--more important--slower than what was needed. A setback now would be a tragic missed opportunity. Your work here can help avert the worst, and restore the hope for the future of all humankind.

At the time of writing (July 2002), the worst looms as a likely outcome. For although the European Union remains a formidably partisan promoter of corporate prerogatives, the clear and present danger to the world's prospects for improved environment, development and peace is still the United States government--acting as proxy for what we used to call, and should now again, `imperialism'.

Simply taking George W. Bush's first year in power as indicative of the problem, and setting aside the obvious overarching phenomena of resurgent US militarism, geopolitical ambitions, and rising economic protectionism, Richard duBoff listed aspects of the anti-ecological and social tendencies that run rampant in the capital of the `world's biggest rogue nation' (ZNet Commentary, 28 April 2002: http://www.zmag.org):

December 2001: Bush withdraws from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty;
December 2001: US Senate legislates that US military personnel must not obey the jurisdiction of the proposed International Criminal Court (ICC) Treaty, to be set up in The Hague to try political leaders and military personnel charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity;
November 2001: Bush shuns Marrakesh negotiations to revise the Kyoto Protocol on global greenhouse emissions;
November 2001: Bush continues traditional US opposition to the Comprehensive [Nuclear] Test Ban Treaty and forced a vote in the UN Committee on Disarmament and Security to demonstrate its opposition to the Test Ban Treaty;
October 2001: Bush continues the illegal US boycott of Cuba in spite of UN General Assembly resolution, for the tenth consecutive year, calling for an end to the US embargo, by a vote of 167 to 3;
September 2001: Bush withdraws from International Conference on Racism in Durban;
August 2001: Bush disavows Clinton's promise that by 2006 the US would comply with the 1997 Land Mine Treaty ban (the US was one of a very few countries to oppose it originally);
July 2001: Bush authorises US walkout from London conference aiming to strengthen the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention;
July 2001: Bush is lone industrial-country leader opposed to G-8 International Plan for Cleaner Energy;
July 2001: Bush stands alone to oppose the UN Agreement to Curb the International Flow of Illicit Small Arms;
May 2001: Bush refuses to participate in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development-sponsored talks in Paris on ways to crack down on off-shore and other tax and money-laundering havens;
April 2001: US not reelected to the UN Human Rights Commission due to years of withholding dues to the UN (in 2001 outstanding dues were $244 million), and to consistent opposition to UNHRC resolutions supporting lower-cost access to HIV/Aids drugs, acknowledging a basic human right to adequate food, and calling for a moratorium on the death penalty;
March 2001: Bush declares the 1997 Kyoto Protocol for controlling greenhouse gas emissions and global warming to be `dead';
February 2001: Bush refuses to join 123 nations pledged to ban the use and production of anti-personnel bombs and mines.

In addition, Bush continues the Clinton and prior administrations' tradition of not ratifying--even after formally signing--several crucial global governance treaties: the 1966 UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; the 1989 optional protocol prohibiting execution of prisoners under age 18 within the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the 2000 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

Meanwhile, other aspirant (non-US) global elites are hopelessly confused by this kind of unilateralism, largely because of their debilitating dependency, over the past few decades, upon the combined economic and military power wielded by Washington. A live microphone at the Bali PrepComm picked up WSSD secretary-general Nitin Desai's plaintive query (unintended for broadcast): `What are we going to do about the United States?' The logical answer began to gel during 2002, with periodic corporate scandals, stock market crashes and currency turbulence emanating from Wall Street. The Bush/Cheney regime was deeply implicated, not only through the rancid Harken and Halliburton corporate connections, but more generally because of Washington's need to distract or repress the growing popular upsurge of hatred against chief executive officers.

The dangers of Washington's game have rarely been greater. One high-profile conservative commentator, John Podhoretz, wrote an open letter to Bush arguing--in all seriousness--that he quickly invade Iraq as a means of distracting attention from the worsening US crisis:

Go on, Mr. President: Wag the dog.
It would be good for the world, it would be good for America and it would be good politics as well.
You've made it clear for 10 months now that you want to rid the world of Saddam Hussein's rule in Iraq...
You're in some domestic political trouble, Mr. President. You need to change the subject. You have the biggest subject-changer of all at your disposal. Use it.
I can hear the screaming already from certain quarters. How would such a thing be different from what Bill Clinton did in 1998, when he used cruise missiles twice in response to Osama bin Laden at crucial moments during the Lewinsky scandals?
Here's how it would be different, Mr. President: You'd get the job done...
There's a luscious double trap in starting the war as soon as possible, Mr. President. Your enemies are delirious with excitement about the corporate-greed scandals and the effect they might have on your popularity and the GOP's standing in November.
If you get troops on the ground quickly, they will go berserk. Incautious Democrats and liberal pundits will shriek that you've gone to war solely to protect yourself from the corporate-greed scandal. They will forget the lesson they so quickly learned after Sept. 11, which is that at a time of war the American people want their political leaders to stand together.
Your enemies will hurl ugly accusations at you, Mr. President. And at least one of them will be true--the accusation that you began the war when you did for political reasons.
But that won't matter. It won't matter to the American people, and it won't matter as far as history is concerned. (New York Post, 16 July 2002.)

No doubt, Bush was preparing to follow this poisonous advice, which no doubt is also being repeatedly proffered by Pentagon hawks. Attendance at the Johannesburg WSSD does not feature in whatever meagre coalition-building effort he has in mind. Thus the answer to Desai's question is become increasingly clear: people of good conscience should isolate, boycott, oppose and fight the United States government in all possible venues where its core values and dynamics--imperialism, neoliberalism, consumerism, patriarchy and anthropocentrism, amongst others--are on display.

From any call for non-violent war on Washington, two other questions immediately follow, however. The first is whether a counter-hegemonic force will emerge, aside from the usual suspects of anti-imperialist civil society protesters. For example, will the world's progressive forces include any democratic rulers of nation-states--especially from the Third World--who can take up the challenge of opposing Washington?

Such support appears necessary. Although internal US-based solidarity groups helped end Washington's 1960s-70s war on Vietnam and 1950s-80s support for the apartheid regime, they were terribly disempowered by September 11, 2001 terrorism, lending real substance to Podhoretz's hubris. The US populace has been sufficiently dumbed down, despondent and demobilised, so that prospects for even reclaiming civil liberties squashed by Bush, or national-level electoral democracy--through, at the minimum, a genuine reform of campaign look dim.

There is, thus, a terribly urgent need for a resurgent Third World leadership with integrity. Beyond the weak Castro-Chavez-Aristide trio in the Caribbean, it would be self-defeating for progressives to count on self-described `anti-imperialist' dictators like Mugabe, Gaddafi and Mahathir--or regimes in Beijing and New Delhi--for any substantive support. Brazil's Workers Party is on the verge of winning an election, but Lula has already compromised his principles by committing to repay the country's Odious Debt and giving the vice-presidency to a conservative businessman.

Moreover, where does South Africa's leadership stand in relation to US imperialism? The answer, as demonstrated both in Pretoria's support for the Bush-Blair war against Afghanistan and in Nepad, is this: with Washington/London no matter how humiliating. One emblematic source of shame was president Thabo Mbeki's decisions to codify the unfree, unfair Zimbabwe election of March 9-10 2002 as `legitimate' one week at a Cabinet meeting, and the next to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth because of G8 pressure. This kind of political alignment represents the worst of all possible worlds.

Civil society movements for global justice will, as a result, have to continue building popular support for their causes without recourse to reliable, powerful nation-states in the foreseeable future. It hardly needs adding that forces demanding global change via Islamic fundamentalist terror (e.g., al Qaeda) do infinitely more harm than good. So too will global justice movements have to start distinguishing between allegedly friendly forces--e.g., Oxfam Great Britain--which have erratically moved to the right, endorsing free trade in the alleged interests of fighting poverty.

Too broad an anti-imperialist alliance with state elites would be dangerous in any case. British author George Monbiot describes the global justice movements as beneficiaries of a reality check caused by the terrorist attacks:

To the extent we had an effective dynamic before 11 September, we've had one since. That hasn't changed. What's changed is that we're less visible in the media and we've been caused to think about both our tactics and strategy. The big set-piece protests were very effective at drawing attention to the issues but they're not a good way to precipitate change. Look, it's like the Peasants' Revolt. The peasants revolt, they meet the king, the king promises them the earth and they all go home. Whereupon their leaders are hanged and nothing happens. If we follow that model, we're doomed, so you could say that 11 September, by putting a roadblock in the way of that model, did us a favour. (The Observer, 14 July 2002.)

The second logical line of questioning is also, at first blush, debilitating: is the problem merely a very evil group of pro-corporate, energy-based, militarily-minded Republicans who stole the US presidential election in December 2000? Or is it, more broadly, the internal processes and power politics associated with early 21st-century capitalism, evident not only through the actions of the `executive committee of the bourgeoisie' at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but also inside the Union Buildings in Pretoria?

Notwithstanding abundant ANC rhetoric to the contrary, the South African government has failed along quite similar lines in addressing domestic environment/development problems, and also, through Nepad, aims at establishing subimperial relationship with the rest of Africa, through clever Pretoria geopolitics and aggressive Johannesburg capitalism. In the spirit and even the style of Washington, Pretoria's overall vision of regional capital accumulation is overtly biased towards privatisation, neoliberalism and destructive mega-projects, augmented by R60 billion worth of offensive military capabilities.

Rejecting Nepad, as an example of the general WSSD privatisation-of-everything, becomes as important an anti-imperialist stance, for South African and African civil society, as the ongoing local and global resistance to Washington's combined neoliberal economic and militarist-chauvenist agendas.

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