Campaign Ignores New World Realities

FRANZ SCHURMANN

October 04, 1992|By FRANZ SCHURMANN

America's election campaign reflects virtually nothing of th struggles unfolding between the great powers of the world. Yet that struggle is likely to determine the future world political alignment for decades to come.

That alignment will be shaped either by: 1) an expansion of the current U.S.-dominated world system, or 2) the formation of regional blocs dominated by other great powers, or 3) the rise of a pluralistic world system not dominated by any of the great powers or 4) chaos.

The tearing down of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 marked the end of the Cold War and also of the world-wide West-East divide. But a year later, the Persian Gulf crisis pushed the United States to seek a new global power alignment which President Bush called the New World Order. The NWO was to be formed by a cooperation between the North's great powers -- Japan, China, the Soviet Union/Russia, Germany, France, Britain and the United States. Its purpose was to maintain peace in the North and to contain turbulence in the South.

In 1991, all the great powers tacitly agreed that the United States had to be the leader of the NWO, and the spectacular expansion of the global role of the United Nations was a product of that agreement. However, the NWO soon enough found itself seriously challenged from within the United States itself.

Even before the 1992 election campaign, it was evident the U.S. economic decline was uppermost in voters' minds. And the nationalism that now sweeps the country calls for a reduction in the U.S. global role.

As the sense spreads that the United States might opt out of the world system, other great powers have been rising to fill the void. The most significant of these are Germany and France in Europe, and China and Japan in East Asia.

Ever since the Common Market was formed in the early 1950s, Germany and France have been coming closer together. Now, as U.S. ally Britain openly rebels against German-dominated European unity, Germany and France are going ahead with plans for a "smaller Europe" centered on themselves.

Politically, such a scenario would realize French World War II hero General Charles De Gaulle's vision of a united Europe free from both American and Russian control. It would also mean the formation of a powerful Europe-wide economy dominated by the German mark, looking to expand eastwards.

In East Asia, Japan throughout the Cold War was reluctant to join America's crusade against Chinese communism. Now, ties between these economically dynamic former enemies will take a giant step ahead when Japan's emperor visits China in the coming month.

Japan's Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa stresses that this new Sino-Japanese relationship operates within a "world context," yet to Washington's annoyance -- gives equal weight in his foreign policies to China and the United States. "Both are like the wheels of a car which cannot run without either," he says.

But Mr. Miyazawa's implication, echoed by German officials, is that the United States must accept the other great powers as co-equals, otherwise they will make their own regional arrangements.

While the North's great powers wrangle over regional and global systems, several of the South's rising powers, notably India, Iran and the billion-strong Muslim world in general, are developing their own political and economic strategies. Links between all three have recently been growing, a trend which could help India bridge its domestic Hindu-Muslim split.

While the United States is hostile to these new Southern moves, China is attracted by them, as is (though more circumspectly) Japan. And strong sentiment among Europeans to aid the Bosnian Muslims is making them take a more favorable look at Islamic countries. Closer to home, the United States may find its new Mexican partner in the North American economy far less subservient than it expects.

The world will be best served by some combination of world system, regionalism and pluralism. It will be worst served if the United States, once again as after World War I, turns isolationist. If a new administration becomes obsessed only with revving up a stagnant America, it could soon find itself facing a world in chaos.

Franz Schurmann, author of "The Logic of World Power," teaches history and sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. He wrote this commentary for Pacific News Service.

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