Globalization: Some Ground Realities

The first and the foremost reality of the modem world to be recognized is the fact that there exist gross asymmetries of political power, military strength and levels of technological and economic development in different parts and countries of the world. Foreign rule is nothing new in history. However, European colonial rule, which held sway over a large part of the world for more than four centuries, has something unique about it. For the first time ever in human history, during this period, a large-scale physical transfer of resources took place from the colonies to the colonial overlords - the so-called mother countries. Consequently, the erstwhile global balance was destroyed and a new global arrangement appeared which established the authority of the Western hemisphere and marginalized all other regions, cultures and people. During the twentieth century, although the colonization process apparently reversed, Western powers gained further grounds because of selective and lopsided development strategies. As a result, today, one finds a strong center periphery relationship that has been embedded into the global system’s political, economic and technological spheres, and which is primarily responsible for producing serious deformities and inequities.

Let us glance over certain anomalies. Up until the end of the eighteenth century, the per capita income of Europe, America, the Muslim World and the rest of the Third World was within a differential of 1: 2; in certain parts of the world, it was in favor of the Muslim World. From the nineteenth century onwards, the trend changed until, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, 87 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) is produced in 22 rich countries, while the rest of the world, consisting of some 170 countries and over four-fifths of mankind, tries to survive on the remaining 13 percent.2 3 In 1800, Europe’s share in the world’s manufacturing output was hardly 28.1 percent; America's, less than one percent; while that of the rest of the world - the so-called Third World of today - was almost 67.7 percent. Notably, the share of the Muslim World was roughly around 40 percent of the world GDP.2 This sea change has totally distorted the balance of power in the world and created a situation where liberalization and globalization only accentuate these disparities.

The distribution of wealth is grossly skewed, not only globally, but also within the regions and between persons. There are gross inequalities of wealth and income within the developed and underdeveloped world. Forty billionaires alone, according to a CNN survey in September 2003, owned US$955 billions, which is more than the total wealth of almost 30 percent of the Third World countries, the abode of over 1.2 billion people. While over a billion persons in the world live on less than one dollar a day, the European Union gives its citizens a subsidy of US$2 per cow per day and this subsidy, in Japan, is US$7.5 per cow per day. Even in the richest country of the world, the USA, with a GDP that is 26 percent of the world GDP, over 12 percent of people live below the poverty line.

Asymmetric economic wealth is both accompanied and accentuated by asymmetrical political power and military strength. The expenditure of the US alone on its war machinery is equal to the combined defense expenditure of all the other countries of the world.5 US forces are stationed in some 40 countries of the world with an outreach to every comer of the globe. Technology has reached a state where a target anywhere in the world can be struck from the US Military Command stationed in Florida. Most of the countries of the world are dependent on the US arms systems and supplies for their defense; indeed, the US accounts for 48 percent of the world’s exports of arms and defence systems.

In a world like this, competition and liberalization shall mainly contribute to the disadvantage of the poor and the underprivileged. Moreover, those who stand for trade liberalization insist on liberation of the capital markets and flow of goods and services only: they do not believe in free movement of labor. This is why liberalization has become an instrument for neo-colonialism and a method for the virtual establishment over the weak of the dominion of the powerful - particularly the country that today boasts of being a hyper-power.

This being the state of affairs, unless there are safeguards for the weak, globalization can safely be termed as a race between the unequals. It will aggravate a process through which, whatever economic and political wherewithal remains in the hands of the poorer countries of the world, will be further reduced, if not decimated. This is the concern of the people in the Third World as well as of those who care for justice and fair play elsewhere in the world. It is symbolized by protests against WTO, and also the Group of 8, in the two bodies’ recent ministerial meetings and summits.

The second ground reality to be aware of is that today’s globalization is taking place in the absence of any just and agreed juridico-political and economic infrastructure at the global level. The legal, political, economic and financial architecture of the world is out of tune with the demands of a healthy, sustainable and equitable globalization process. Good governance is not merely a national virtue, it is equally important for the global community. The United Nations Organization (UNO) and its organs and the Bretton Woods infrastructures built after World War II reflect and perpetuate the equation of power that existed at the time of their creation. The demise of the Soviet Union has further tilted the balance of power in favor of the only remaining superpower. New institutions, which could ensure security and justice for all the countries and the people of the world, are conspicuous only by their absence. America’s refusal to accept the authority of the International Criminal Court ratified by over 80 countries of the world, its unilateral withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, and its recent veto in the Security Council on the issue of a resolution condemning Israel’s threat to kill or expel the elected President of the Palestinian Authority, is an index of the incongruity of power and the poverty and deficiencies of the global infrastructure. The result is obvious: the lone superpower is now calling the shots and regards itself above the law. In fact, America is acting in a manner that is contemptuous towards international norms of behavior and is arrogating to itself the right to disregard even its own constitution. It can violate any international treaty, walk out of any international institution, invade any part of the world in the name of “preemptive strike” and in pursuit of its alleged “right” of “regime change ” and self-defence. Globalization of terrorism is one ugly consequence of this unilateralism and brinkmanship.

In such a setting, the globalization process can be successful and become a blessing only if there is a global infrastructure ensuring good governance, equitable opportunities of participation to all, and commitment by everyone to respect recognized processes for dispensation of justice among the nations and the people of the world. While there is talk of democratization as part of the globalization agenda, there is no mention of making the global players - the UN Security Council, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the NPT, etc. - more democratic and accountable to the people. Similarly, if the people of a country, out of their own free will, choose an alternative culture, political strategy or economic order and are not prepared to tow the liberal US-European model, their choice is disregarded with impunity. Democracy no longer means the will of the people of every country; it only means ‘surrender to the wishes and preferences of the dominant powers. This makes the whole process of democratization a sham. Moreover, democracy cannot be imposed from outside; it can only evolve from within. So is the problem with forced liberalization and imposed openness. They are contradictory in themselves.

The third reality is that globalization needs a particular mindset and an approach based on commitment to and respect for universal values and principles. Globalization with a parochial or nationalistic mindset and in pursuit of hegemonistic ambitions of a nation, system or civilization cannot but be a threat to mankind. It can succeed and become a blessing for mankind only if it is rooted in shared universal values and commitment to the processes and traditions of respect for plurality and acceptance of variety and differences as authentic. This calls for a very different psychological and moral approach. It demands an approach based on values and geared to achieving the common ideals of justice and fairplay for all. This is not possible in a climate of obsession with national interests, regional concerns, unilateralism, cultural arrogance and imperialistic ambitions. Free trade is a virtue only if it is also fair trade. So is the case with every other aspect of international contact and cooperation.

What one witnesses today, instead, is a globalization without the change required in the psychology and mindset of the leadership, and in the dynamics for the use of power at the global level. The dominant paradigm is fundamentally flawed. Change within this paradigm cannot deliver. What is needed is the change of the paradigm itself. Without a new moral and ideological dispensation, the dream of a just global order will remain unfulfilled.

This brings the discussion to the fourth important dimension. The new paradigm that can ensure healthy and fair globalization, and universal and shared prosperity, must be based on the values of (a) freedom with responsibility, (b) individualism tempered with social concern and solidarity, (c) competition with cooperation and compassion, (d) efficiency and profit motive with justice and fair play, and (e) power with rule of law and accountability. The incorporation of these prerequisites warrants a major paradigm shift to a just order from the dominant civilizational paradigm of the West, which remains one-sided, despite the fact that this one- sidedness is rooted in partial reality. The West’s one-sidedness stems from its emphasis on freedom, individualism, profit motive, competition, liberalization, efficiency and power, without incorporating within the model the other coordinates of responsibility, solidarity, cooperation, compassion, justice and accountability.

Lastly, the central issue: whether the globalization shall take place in the context of the supremacy of one power - now actually a hyper-power - and one economic system, capitalism, or it shall take place in the framework of a pluralistic world where different cultures, religions and socioeconomic systems could flourish without the over lordship of one or a few powerful players? Free movement, dialogue, competition and interaction at the global level can lead to freedom, well-being and opportunity for all, only if this takes place in a landscape of genuine diversity, plurality, respect for the rule of law and supremacy of shared values. This is not possible if only a few dominate while others are forced to follow and succumb.

Khurshid Ahmad


Source: Essays on Muslims and the Challenges of Globalisation, Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad. Republished with permission.
Copy URL