Growing nationalism eroding decades of international gains

Sunday, December 16, 2018

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GLOBAL peace, democracy and prosperity are always threatened by internal and international conflicts often arising from economic, political, social, ethnic, religious, racial, and cultural factors.

As transport, migration and communications have improved over time, conflicts of national origin or between two or more countries have tended to spread to become international. Today the world community is facing an existential threat from rapidly accelerating climate change.

Apart from a few misguided individuals who opt to ignore the overwhelming empirical scientific evidence, the people of the world understand the clear and present danger of climate change, yet their governments cannot arrive at a consensus on what to do about it.

In addition, the world community has not implemented the actions agreed upon in the Paris Accord: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change governing greenhouse gas emissions.

The lessons of the modern era from World War I ending 100 years ago until the end of the 20th century is that international cooperation is the most effective way to deal with global problems and prevent them from becoming destructive global crises.

The matrix of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization form an overarching institutional arrangement for managing economic and political conflicts.

These arrangements worked well until a decade ago when they were undermined by the outbreak of extreme nationalism in an increasing number of countries which have become infused with xenophobia.

This is manifested in anti-migrant sentiments, aspirations to regain a greater degree of sovereignty, and the resort to bilateral policy in international trade and national security.

But the desire to return to an atomistic world of independent nation states is unrealistic in a globalised world in which so much is beyond the control of even a superpower and certainly beyond the feasibility of a very few countries.

Common to ultra-nationalism is an underlying element of suspending reality by a large part of the electorate who long for a romantic and nostalgic past which cannot be repeated. The spark for the outbreak of extreme nationalism is a political leader who believes the return to halcyon days is possible.

This longing is aided and abetted by identifying specious external causes for internal failures. These include migrants, unfair trade practices, the media, multilateral rules, and international organisations.

Every country must guard against sinking into nostalgia about its national prowess. Every nation needs to distinguish what was its past glory, what is current reality, and what is probable.

Here in the Caribbean, we must ask ourselves: is it realistic to expect the West Indies Test cricket team to rule the game again? Are the Reggae Boyz going back to the World Cup Finals anytime soon? Are we always going to have the fastest sprinters? Are the sugar and banana industries going to recover? Will the Caricom Single Market and Economy ever be achieved?

Believing that all is possible is a good motivator, but we must consider that all is not realistic.

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