The End of American Power
Trump’s Reelection Would Usher in Permanent Decline
The United States has passed in the last decade from the United Nation's most influential state into a position of accelerating isolation as it confronts a very large proportion of the member states over a long agenda of contemporary issues. This is a truly novel development, one which threatens to poison international relations at a time that shrieks with the need for uniquely broad essays in international cooperation.
Three issues shape what may be called the North-South confrontation. One is the question of how global income and wealth and decision-making authority with respect to international economic problems should be distributed. A second issue is the attitude of the United States toward the two white-supremacist regimes in Southern Africa. And the third is the U.S. role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although each issue represents a distinct axis of confrontation, they are linked by a single world view, a kind of ideology, which imparts to them an intense emotional coherence. That ideology is not, as suggested recently by Ambassador Moynihan, "socialist," unless one follows Durkheim in defining socialism not as a political program but rather as "a cry of pain." It does indeed incorporate certain themes which recur in British socialist thought, just as it patches in a number of conventionally liberal ideals such as self-determination. But socialist and liberal fragments are reshaped by a special historical experience to produce in practice a distinct amalgam which can most usefully be described as the developing states in fact describe it: "anticolonialism."
The paramount objective of the anticolonialist amalgam is the eradication of all the conditions and insignia of inequality and humiliation associated in the minds of the Southern elites with the epoch of European domination. This objective guides Southern positions across a broad spectrum of contemporary issues.
One vivid illustration of the adaptation of a Western liberal theme to the felt exigencies of anticolonialism is the contrasting attitude toward inequality and the deprivation of human rights in the white enclaves of Southern Africa, on the one hand, and various Third World states on the other. While the government of Burundi, for instance, was busily exterminating the entire elite of that country's majority tribe, its President received a message from the Council of Ministers of the Organization for African Unity stating that: "Thanks to your saving action, peace will be rapidly reestablished, national unity will be consolidated, and territorial integrity will be preserved." Uganda and Bangladesh could be added to the list of massacres ignored by all but a handful of Third World leaders.
The causes of immutable antagonism to South Africa and Rhodesia are evident: those societies are the residue of the European migrations which occurred during the colonial epoch, and they exemplify the racial subordination which added a special edge to colonial domination. Hence Africans everywhere participate vicariously in the travail of the suppressed black populations.
Sympathetic involvement naturally attenuates where the persecutors, as well as the victims, are non-white. But that in itself does not explain the resolute determination of the Southern bloc to ignore barbarous delinquencies committed by certain of its member governments. Something more positive than indifference is at work here. These delinquencies are, in the first place, an enormous embarrassment and a serious wound to the anticolonial movement because they seem to confirm the propaganda claims of the white racist regimes about the consequences of the loss of white supremacy. Although the wiser tactic might be to assume the lead in condemning the barbarity and proposing remedial measures, the evident instinct is to pretend it is not happening.
Perhaps that reaction stems in large measure from an inability to intervene to terminate the delinquency. Since developing states cannot intervene themselves, a call for remedial action must be addressed to the West, the homeland of colonialism. That alternative is intolerable, first for psychological reasons and secondly for the very practical one of avoiding any erosion of the barriers against intervention which the Third World has been busily constructing for the past fifteen years. The Southern elites have not forgotten that "humanitarian intervention" has been one of the favored legal and rhetorical justifications for Western interventions in the Southern Hemisphere in defense of political and economic interests. It was, for instance, one of the announced justifications for U.S. intervention in the Dominican Republic.
Fearing intervention in its own vulnerable polities, yet wanting it in South Africa, the Southern bloc has relentlessly deployed its legal and rhetorical ingenuity to impose a unique status on the southern African cases and thus to isolate the resulting precedents. Consistent with this effort was the refusal, prior to 1971, to expand the General Assembly's list of national liberation movements beyond those at work in South Africa, Rhodesia, and the Portuguese Territories.
Burgeoning support in the Third World for the Arab states and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in their struggle with Israel also owes much to the anticolonialist world view. Yasir Arafat's address to the General Assembly a year ago culminated an accelerating shift in moral perception confirmed two years before by General Assembly Resolution 2787 (XVII) which for the first time included the "Palestinian people" in an authoritative enumeration of national liberation movements: i.e., those struggling "for . . . liberation from colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation."
The PLO's legitimation could not have been accomplished without the support of the African caucus. To believe that its support for the PLO reflects simply a desperate need for petrodollars rather than any sense of moral solidarity is to practice self-deception. For some African leaders, need or greed would be enough. But not for all, not for men of such fierce moral commitment as Kaunda of Zambia and Nyerere of Tanzania.
Not many years ago, most African states, including Tanzania, enjoyed distinctly cordial relations with Israel. Israeli agricultural advisers surveyed the possibility of adapting the kibbutz to the necessities of Tanzania's rural development program. Its military advisers trained counterinsurgency forces in Ethiopia and elite paratroop units in Zaïre. Trade missions proliferated. Today, the missions and advisers, even the thinnest diplomatic relations, all are gone.
What, other than the pull of petrodollars, can explain this volte face? In part, there is here a certain guilt by association. At the same time that the gradual movement of European states, especially France, toward neutrality was leaving the United States as almost the only sure source of Israeli support, the United States was shuffling ostentatiously closer to colonialism and apartheid in South Africa. In this way, the issues became linked in the African mind. The Arab bloc helped along that linkage by offering heightened support for the struggle against the white regimes, a matter which, until 1973, had evoked its yawning indifference.
But that is only part of the explanation. The shift in African attitudes toward the Middle East conflict also arises, on the one hand, from the evolution of a coherent political-military organization able to incarnate a Palestinian identity and, on the other, the determined denial of that identity by Israeli officials, most notoriously by Golda Meir. This forged a second perceived link between the Israeli and South African cases. Much as South Africa sought to enhance its claims and fragment its indigenous opposition by describing its non-white population as a collection of separate nationalities, Israeli rhetoric tended to impose on the Palestinians the nationalities of the various states of their Diaspora.
Before the rise of the PLO, most non-Arab governments saw the Arab-Israeli issue as a problem of interstate relations with a refugee dimension. But after 1967, when the PLO ceased to be a passive instrument of one or another Arab state, Palestinians generally began to think of themselves as a nation rather than simply the former inhabitants of Haifa or Jerusalem or some obscure village from which they or their parents had fled years ago; then they assumed the familiar characteristics of a true national independence movement.
One of those characteristics is a distinct territory to which the PLO can lay claim. Most non-Arab states were not disposed to challenge the legitimacy of the frontiers carved out by the Israelis in 1948 in defense of rights accorded to them by the United Nations. So as long as the remainder of the West Bank of Mandate Palestine was seen to be part of Jordan, the Palestinians had difficulty associating themselves with a territory widely perceived to be legitimately theirs. Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the justifications announced by some authoritative Israelis for keeping at least a part of the seized territory helped to expose the tenuous moral and legal basis for Jordanian suzerainty. The net result was to make the occupied territory seem available for appropriation by Arab Palestinians. Thus the Palestinian people, having acquired almost simultaneously both a recognizable political personality and a potential territorial base, could be integrated into the anticolonial honor roll.
Taken seriously, anticolonialism helps to explain the moral double standard, the obsessive concern with developments in the white enclaves of Southern Africa, and the crystallization of a politicized sympathy among many Southern Hemisphere elites for non-Jewish Palestinians. But as a key to understanding it is even more useful in the economic realm which is today the main battleground for the United States and the Third World. Most dramatically, it is this sentiment that has helped greatly to glue together a solid front of Third World support for the exercise of monopoly power by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). In comparison with its destructive impact on the majority of non-Arab developing states, the stratospheric leap of oil prices is little more than a minor inconvenience to the West. Yet when Westerners speak of military intervention to lower the price for all users, or even of concentrated economic pressures to that end, one listens in vain for any sign of Southern support.
The silence of some oil-poor countries may be attributable to their hope of participating in an effective producer's cartel for another Southern product. But there are at least several dozen states which have not the slightest hope of exploiting the OPEC precedent, and there are many others for whom the prospect of an effective cartel is decidedly remote. Then why the deep reservoir of sympathy for OPEC?
By describing North-South disputes concerning economic issues as a struggle over the distribution of wealth, Northern analysts assimilate them into a familiar form of social conflict. But if nothing more were at stake, one would anticipate defections from the Southern bloc particularly on an issue like oil prices. If, however, one returns to the conception of anticolonialism as an elite's deeply emotional response to a sense of humiliation, then solidarity ceases to be surprising, or at least no more surprising in its way than solidarity among classes in Western states during the two world wars. Perhaps it should be even less surprising, because while a member of the English working class could attribute particular privations to the policies of the upper classes-at a minimum, the bloody suppression of his strikes-the life-style of elites in oil-poor states is largely unaffected by the price of oil. Only the masses suffer and they do not make or seriously influence foreign policy.
It is far less surprising for yet another reason. The average Englishman had never met a Hun. His animosity was entirely vicarious. But all Southern elites have experienced immediately one or more facets of colonial behavior, if not outright domination then at least a searing patronization. They are the leaders of countries once alleged by Western scholars and diplomats to be incapable of participating in the international legal system because they were not "civilized states." They spring from peoples to whom the Laws of War did not apply according to the diktat of the West. They and their countrymen have been and remain to this day objects of study by the cultural institutions of the West. For hundreds of years they have been people to whom things happen. And that is in significant measure why all cheer when a few of their number find the strength to stand up and lash out at the source of their historical torment.
In this respect, close-to universal Southern support for OPEC is only one sign of the subordination of economic interests to ideological preoccupations. A second is the incessant campaign against the obligation, enshrined in the classical system of international law, to compensate the alien owners of expropriated property.
The very fact that most Western scholars and diplomats speak of the obligation as if its existence were unquestioned is a sign of an earlier epoch's ethnocentrism. Latin American governments and scholars consistently urged the view that international law required nothing more than equality of treatment for indigenous and foreign investors. Yet, although they pulled all the right buttons on the international legal console and pedaled vigorously, they might as well have been silent for all the effect they had on the views expounded in Western universities and chancelleries or, for that matter, on the gunboats and marines dispatched periodically to enforce the "law."
Recent changes in both theory and behavior, centering particularly on methods for evaluating expropriated enterprises, have opened the door to compromise. So far, no one has walked in. As evidenced in the debate over the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States, adopted in December 1974 by the U.N. General Assembly, the Southern bloc continues to demand Western acknowledgment of the death of the international standard. One is reminded of the old Welsh proverb: "The dumb will wait a long time at the door of the deaf."
George Lichtheim was right when he wrote: "No ruling class can function without a creed." One facet of the creed of the ruling class in the West is the sanctity of property. Third World elites know that. Hence they must be fairly confident that they will not secure the acknowledgment they seek. Moreover, even if through some accelerated atrophy of will the United States made the demanded concession, so far as the North-South transfer of wealth is concerned little if anything would have been gained.
What, after all, are the main restraints on confiscation? Clearly not the threat of force. That option was interred in 1956 when the Anglo-French entente flinched at Suez. Nor, in most cases, is it the threatened loss of bilateral economic assistance, the proportions of which have shrunk to the edge of insignificance for most Southern nations. Rather it is the threatened loss of private credit and private investment. And that risk cannot be affected by a formally recognized change in the legal standard. Whatever the standard, private capital will not flow to states ruled by regimes with a penchant for confiscation.
If, as suggested, the issue of compensation is at best marginally relevant to the distribution of wealth and, in any event, the Southern bloc is waging a campaign which it cannot hope to win unequivocally, its furious persistence must reflect something more than a set of shrewdly calculated economic claims. What it does reflect, I would submit, is the claim to autonomy, to insulation from appraisal, let alone intervention, by the governments of Western capitalist states. It is, in short, a collective cry of defiance.
Are there positions available to the United States within the confines defined by its history, its ideology and its domestic politics which, if adopted, would moderate its acerb dialogue with the developing states and thus enhance the prospects for cooperation on the global issues which will not submit to unilateral or even regional manipulation?
If anticolonialism, as defined above, is in fact the paramount source of cohesion in the Third World, one necessary consequence is the intense links it forges among all the issues which it touches. Hence, the successful accommodation of U.S.-Third World differences on some issues would necessarily enhance the prospects for accommodation all along the line. A second corollary of the main proposition is the importance of gestures. It is not only what the United States does that matters; what it says also counts. After all, some of the most damaging humiliations of the colonial relationship were a function of Western rhetoric and the patronizing and contemptuous attitudes which it embodied and to a not inconsiderable extent continues to embody. It is, for instance, still commonplace for Anglo-American "experts" on the Arab world to refer to the "Arab mind" as if it were an unchanging and slightly bizarre object of disinterested study. Yet, as Arab intellectuals wryly note, if one were to speak of a "Jewish mind" there would be an immediate outcry from organs of respectable opinion against the sort of crude stereotyping which the term implies.
The single issue most readily susceptible to accommodation is U.S. policy toward the white-supremacist regimes of Southern Africa. By its consistent behavior, the United States has managed in two decades to transform its image from that of Black Africa's best friend in the West to its most dangerous adversary. Most of the hard work was accomplished during the national stewardship of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.
Early evidence of their tilt toward increased cooperation with the triumvirate of South Africa, pre-1974 Portugal and the illegal Smith regime in Rhodesia was the failure to mobilize effective opposition to the chrome amendment, which opened the doors of the U.S. economy to the full range of Rhodesian mineral exports in clear violation of our obligations under the U.N. Charter. Another piece of hard evidence was Washington's loosening of the ban on the sale of military hardware to the Portuguese and the South Africans. Items clearly susceptible to military applications, including computers (for many years banned for security reasons from East-West trade), light planes, and helicopters, were treated as civilian products. In addition, large commercial planes were sold to the Portuguese with no restriction on their use as troop carriers and with the expectation that they would in fact be used for that purpose.
The tilt was magnified by the strident, largely isolated position hacked out by the United States in response to a series of General Assembly resolutions on the situation in Southern Africa. For instance, in 1973, at the 28th session of the Assembly, the Afro-Asian bloc introduced a resolution calling for the formation of a commission of inquiry concerning the reported massacres in Mozambique carried out by the Portuguese army (Res. 3114). It was passed by a vote of 104 to 4 with 12 abstentions. The United States joined Portugal, South Africa, and Spain in casting the four negative votes.
During the same session, the Afro-Asian bloc introduced three resolutions on the Rhodesian situation. The United States opposed all three, including one condemning South Africa and Portugal for violating sanctions imposed by the Security Council-violations established by incontestable evidence-and calling on all states to comply strictly with the economic embargo. On one vote it was joined by Portugal, South Africa, and the United Kingdom; on another, this group was swelled by the addition of France. And on the third, the United States could muster no company other than the pariahs of pre-revolutionary Portugal and South Africa.
The following year, with South Africa out of action and Portugal rehabilitated, the United States found itself utterly alone when it voted against a toughened iteration of the Assembly's earlier request for a comprehensive embargo on arms for South Africa (Res. 3324, Para. B). Even a plea for the release of political prisoners in South Africa could not summon U.S. support. The vote was 118 to o, with two abstentions-the United States and Malawi (Res. 3324, Para. C).
Accommodation is possible here because Black African leaders ask so little of the United States. And much of that little is essentially rhetorical. So modest a gesture as endorsing the view championed by Kaunda and Nyerere that when all peaceful means have been exhausted, any oppressed people may turn legitimately to violence as a last recourse would transform the tone of our relations with the African caucus. And what is such a statement other than a reaffirmation of the Declaration of Independence? Yet the U.S. government continues to insist on a "peaceful solution" in such a way as to imply hostility to violence under any circumstances, thus distorting its own historical traditions while contributing nothing to the "peaceful solution."
Another modest gesture, one even more clearly within the bounds of domestic political realities, would be a determined effort by the Administration to secure repeal of the chrome amendment and to prosecute energetically any U.S.-related companies and individuals who conspire to evade the economic sanctions mandated by the Security Council. The failure of the U.S. government to meet its treaty commitments in this regard makes a mockery of its critique of procedural irregularities at the United Nations. Not only would this return to legality assuage African bitterness, but it would have the additional merit of fortifying respect for the sanctity of international agreements, a matter of some considerable importance to a powerful state preferring order over change.
There are an array of other low-cost measures available to an American Administration which placed significant value on the amelioration of its relations with the Third World. On the material side, it could widen the ban on the sale of military goods to South Africa; this could be accomplished by employing definitions of strategic goods used in the past to restrict sales to China and the Soviet Union. It could also follow the British lead in using the country's foreign intelligence apparatus to detect violations of Rhodesian sanctions by the nationals of other states. And it could initiate special educational programs openly designed to prepare black Rhodesians, Namibians and South Africans for the assumption of political, administrative, and highly skilled technical roles in societies purged of white-supremacist conceits.
On the symbolic side, it could agree to join the United Nations Council on Namibia, it could declare its opposition to any South African-imposed solution for the Namibian problem which would fragment the country and concentrate its natural resources in minority hands, and it could not merely support but actively sponsor resolutions in the political organs of the United Nations calling on South Africa for the release of political prisoners and the progressive elimination of racial criteria for the enjoyment of social, economic, and cultural rights.
These modest steps would not commit us to a particular political solution. Nor would they be inconsistent with frank acknowledgment that the unique historical circumstances of South Africa make it difficult to safeguard the rights of all its peoples within the context of a single centralized state. We would simply be taking a stand on behalf of a fair division of that tragic country's vast resources, a result which might be achieved by a variety of electoral mechanisms and an equitable allocation of territory. Since opposition to ethnic and racial discrimination flows directly, albeit sporadically, from our central moral tradition, it should command the support of authentic conservatives as well as liberals.
Right now the question of the Palestinians stands at the other end of the spectrum of tractability. The Israeli government and almost surely a large majority of its electorate are convinced that a wholly independent Palestinian presence on the West Bank represents an intolerable threat to the security of the Israeli state.
Many Israelis cite declarations of the PLO to prove that the Palestinians categorically reject coexistence. Yet many of the same Israelis deride the PLO's claim to represent the Palestinian people. One cannot have it both ways, particularly when one has done everything in one's power to prevent the Palestinians from acquiring a political form in which they could at least speak for themselves. The Israelis some years ago dismantled an Arab nationalist party within their own state and have effectively suppressed political activities on the West Bank since the beginning of the occupation.
There is, moreover, the question of mutual recognition. While the rudimentary organs of self-expression now possessed by the Palestinians withhold recognition of Israel, their mirror image is the government of Israel which, since the failure of partition, has generally denied that the Palestinians are a distinct people with a peculiar historical attachment to the villages and towns and cities of Mandate Palestine rather than an essentially indistinguishable part of the surrounding Arab world.
In private, Palestinian intellectuals often insist that official Israeli recognition that non-Jewish Palestinians also have legitimate territorial claims on the West Bank would open the door to genuine reconciliation. Yet one cannot fault the Israelis for hesitating. They accepted the original United Nations decision to divide the land. They were compelled to fight in defense of the land ceded to them. And to this day even the ablest and most morally sensitive Arabs, after alleging their grudging acceptance of Israel as an immutable fact, in the next breath wistfully imagine the ultimate "peaceful" assimilation of Israel into a larger state system in which Judaism would lose its political form.
There is every reason to take seriously the stated determination of Israel to fight yet a fifth war rather than concede on issues deemed fundamental to its long-term security. The present Israeli government may be erroneously calculating the risks of negotiating directly with the Palestinians or of recognizing in any other way their right to self-determination in the West Bank occupied territories. But so long as it hews to the view that such recognition threatens vital security interests, the ability of the United States to remove the issue of the Palestinians from its confrontation agenda with the Third World is powerfully circumscribed. Domestic political realities, moral commitments, international credibility, and the threat to Western interests immanent in any outbreak of conflict in the Middle East-all preclude the theoretical option of abandonment.
On the other hand, the United States need not act as if it were completely paralyzed by Israeli immobility. In the end, the Arab-Israeli conflict can be resolved peacefully only by agreement over the repartition of Palestine. Suppose the United States were openly to characterize the conflict in these terms while coincidentally announcing its resolve not to exercise leverage on behalf of partition until the Arabs demonstrate that they are at last reconciled to it. Such a gesture might simultaneously strengthen our relations with the major Arab states while bolstering those political forces within Israel willing, for moral and practical reasons, to explore the grounds for compromise with their fellow Palestinians. But its main virtue would be to soften our image as an intractable opponent of change by indicating that whatever we may think of their present set of leaders, we are not deaf to the appeals of the Palestinian people.
There are few more contentious questions in American public life today than the possibility and desirability of accommodation with the Third World on so-called economic issues.
The anti-accommodationists, exemplified in the writings of Patrick Moynihan and Irving Kristol, argue along the following lines: The Third World is attempting to extort-through economic blackmail, moral bullying, and outright theft-a portion of the West's legitimately acquired wealth. The declared justification for redistributive claims, compensation for colonial and neocolonial exploitation, has no basis in fact. As Kristol, echoing Moynihan, has declared, Third World "economies do less well than they ought: . . . the difference is of their own making and no one else's, and no claim on anyone else arises in consequence." The West's failure to reject this justification simply encourages ever more arrogant, extortionate demands. Gestures of accommodation, both rhetorical and substantive, are construed by the Third World as evidence of a loss of will. Which, in fact, they are. And so the demands, by their nature insatiable for there is no practical limit to the "reparations" which can be justified under the theory of compensation, can only grow.
While rhetorical accommodation is said to sap our will while bolstering theirs, substantive accommodation is said to have still more serious consequences. A "New International Economic Order" designed to equalize rather than to produce wealth will undermine the incentives to efficiency, rationality, fiscal discipline and hard work which lie at the root of the First World's productivity and hence of its wealth. In absolute terms, the economic decline of the West is detrimental to the Third World as well. But that will not affect the views of Third World elites because they are essentially disinterested in productivity. What matters to them are relative shares. Now is the time to take a stand, it is claimed. If we consent to new structures which simultaneously shrink the economic pie and leave a smaller percentage in the hands of the West, it will be progressively more difficult to resist at a later date.
Implicit, sometimes explicit, in this line of argument is the claim that the developed states still deploy sufficient power to resist the Third World's redistributive efforts. The latter is portrayed largely as a paper tiger, faking it with éclat, to be sure, but still faking it. Precisely why we should regard the Southern bloc in this light has yet to be adequately explained. In the writings of Kristol and Moynihan and other such neo-conservatives one looks in vain for a serious effort to project the costs of the coercive measures required to assure continuing access to the resources and growing markets of the Third World. Seemingly buried in their subconscious is the idea that colonial rule was relinquished as an act of grace. In fact, as John Strachey and other students of imperialism have demonstrated, the colonial retreat was a grudging concession that once the Third World became infected with the virus of self-determination, the price of domination became intolerable.
For decades, France occupied Vietnam with an army of less than 20,000 men. But once the dormant idea of national independence came round again, the United States could not hold half of the country with 500,000 men and a million native auxiliaries. The proliferation of modern weapons in the Third World can only increase the costs of coercion. Moreover, the level of destruction required to reassert a Northern imperium would in many instances jeopardize the very economic ends for which the effort would be made.
Much anti-accommodationist rhetoric is unremarkably reminiscent of the haute bourgeoisie's response to working-class demands during the ascendancy of laissez-faire economics. The poor were deservedly so, the rich as well. The distribution of wealth was determined by the free market which in turn reflected an individual's net contribution to productivity. The poor were profligate, incapable of postponing consumption. Any effort to tamper with the workings of the market would reduce the wealth of the nation without any corresponding benefit to the poor who would only dissipate it in reckless consumption. To compromise with these basic principles was to threaten the whole structure of legitimacy, including private property and democratic liberties. (That the men propounding these views were often hard at work substituting their hands for the invisible one of the market seems to have affected the intensity of their belief not at all.)
The profound fear that accommodation would topple the whole structure, that concessions would simply feed an insatiable appetite, helps to explain the animosity generated by that arch American accommodationist, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Wildly vilified as a traitor to his class, F.D.R., the supreme pragmatist, contemptuous of ideology, set about saving that class. In retrospect he seems a human analogue to Irving Kristol's vision of the State Department recently set forth in the columns of The Wall Street Journal: a "non-ideological institution which never fully appreciates the ways in which words and ideas ultimately shape world politics and always prefers negotiation to confrontation."
What in fact happened to mitigate the class conflict which in the early decades of this century threatened to tear apart the national societies of the West and undoubtedly played a major role in the rise of fascism? What, in essence, did accommodation involve? It had, it seems to me, several elements. There was the creaming off and cooptation of the natural elite of the working class. Some members were drawn off early by opening the channels to higher education. Those who rose within the institutions of the working class, the trade unions, were welcomed into the establishment.
Their followers were pacified in very small measure by vicarious participation in the structure of power and in very large measure by receipt of slightly increased shares of a very rapidly growing pie. There is no evidence that any existing wealth was redistributed; but there was some redistribution, albeit modest, of shares in the large increments which Western economies began to produce after World War II. In addition, Western governments increased the security of the workers with measures that cushioned temporary setbacks in particular industrial sectors and in the economy as a whole.
Governmental policies effecting modest redistribution of the incremental shares and increasing security of expectation were not uniformly successful in the United States in giving the working class a vested interest in the basic institutions and ideology of the capitalist society. A quarter or more of the lower classes were left far behind the rest. In effect, those policies succeeded in creating two classes with sharply divergent interests. Members of the lower classes who worked in the key industrial and service sectors acquired a bourgeois outlook; they came to identify more closely with the upper classes than with those who were left behind.
Is the present struggle between the classes of nation-states not susceptible to mitigation by the employment of an analogous strategy of accommodation?
Some may cite the embittering experience of colonial and racial domination as a differentiating factor. For all the residual force of that experience, there is reason to question that it has been much more searing than the experience of Western working classes before they organized effectively for the ascent to political power. It is not only a question of parallel physical privation, but of humiliation. Conor Cruise O'Brien called attention some years ago to the striking similarity between racist apologetics for colonialism and the degrading descriptions of the English working class found in nineteenth-century tracts commissioned by the paladins of industry. In both cases, the exploited object is characterized as a repulsive, lower order of humanity.
In many respects, indeed, the strategy of accommodation might in fact be easier to implement in the present case than in its predecessor. Our conflict is not with huge, anonymous masses whose demands have to be aggregated through fairly uncertain representational arrangements. For the most part, Third World elites are even less committed to human equality as a general condition of humanity than are we. They are talking about greater equality between states. And in their largely authoritarian systems, the state is they.
What contemporary Brazilian statesman deplores the fact that the wealthiest 20 percent of his country's population receives over 60 percent of the national income while the lowest scrapes together three? Is there any record of a parliamentarian in the former French territories of West Africa returning part of his monthly pay because it was the equivalent of what a peasant would earn through 35 years of incessant labor, in the unexpected event that he lived so long? The central fact is that the overall number of people who have to be given a stake in the essential structures of the existing international economic system is relatively small.
That is one factor which makes accommodation seem potentially easier or at a minimum not more difficult on balance than in the prior case of class confrontation. A second is the existence of articulate, well organized representatives with whom to negotiate: the bureaucrats and political leaders of the 100-odd states which aggregate the demands of the Third World elite. There is, moreover, no reason to doubt whether the negotiators can deliver their constituents. For unlike nouveau-riches labor leaders separated from their followers by the sheer fact of becoming negotiators, the Third World's representatives are an animate expression of the yearnings and aspirations of the elite which for the indefinite future will dominate most of the states with whom we must negotiate.
Of course the tenure of these specific negotiators may be transient. But the stability of new agreements forged in the spirit of accommodation will rest not on personal commitments but rather on their ability to reflect the class interests of which these leaders and their successors in the game of Third World musical chairs are a continuing embodiment.
A third factor facilitating accommodation is the very small number of representatives that have to be co-opted into senior decision-making roles in the management structure of the international economy. In Africa, only Nigeria. In Latin America, Brazil and Venezuela, perhaps Mexico. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Iran. And in Asia, India and Indonesia.
If one is persuaded by the overall analogy, what programmatic conclusions might follow? What must be defended? And what can be conceded without threatening the fundamental arrangements which an accommodationist policy, as much as the hard line, is calculated to preserve?
What must be defended in the large is an economic system which rewards the capitalist virtues of investment, innovation, hard work, and sensitivity to the shifting needs and preferences of consumers. As Lincoln Gordon recently noted, this is one of the reasons why a comprehensive system of "price indexation" should be unacceptable: "If world demand is shifting away from a given commodity, . . . what is needed is a structural shift in . . . production and exports to items in stronger demand." Preservation of the incentives to practice those virtues is essential because without them the world's product will shrink. That is bad for the North, worse for the South, and absolutely destructive of any possibility of accommodation. For if anything is clear it is that the electorates of the First World will not support revisions in the economic order which intensify the transfer of existing wealth. It is with respect to the distribution of new increments of wealth that the "Haves" may be prepared to concede larger shares to the "Have-Nots." Hence, accommodationists must take a hard line against proposals which would reduce the prospects for growth in the global product.
Ironically, preservation of the principled foundations of the existing international capitalist system-an assemblage of values and institutions designed to reveal comparative advantage and reward economic efficiency-actually requires some practical concessions from the North rather than the South. A central plank of the latter's platform is removal of the various tariff and nontariff barriers to its present and potential exports. As investment in Southern infrastructure comes to fruition, comparative advantage in labor-intensive products shifts progressively away from the developed states. Volkswagens can already be produced more cheaply in Brazil than in Germany. For many textiles, the South's advantage has long been apparent. In addition, certain raw materials can now be refined with equal or great efficiency at their Southern sources.
So in this area, at least, all the South must yield is its rhetoric-the claim for reparations. It is we who must yield the tangibles: higher tariffs on refined raw materials, coerced textile agreements and the various other gimmicks-including restraints on the export of capital and related jobs from sectors of Northern industry that have lost their competitive edge-with which we cheat or might soon like to cheat on our own ideals.
This will be painful. If it were not, the North would have done it long ago simply in order to maximize its own growth. But if we cannot accommodate where we are asked only to bring practice into line with economic ideals, it is hard to foresee any option other than the barricades.
Consistent with its bedrock objective, the North also can respond affirmatively to Southern demands for tariff preferences in cases where they rest on a plausible claim to infant industry status rather than a mere appeal to equity. Nor is there any systemic objection to an affirmative response on the issue of more stable commodity prices. The North's record of economic dynamism since World War II suggests that public intervention in the market to prevent radical oscillations is perfectly compatible with and probably contributes heavily to economic growth, as well as social peace. What we cannot do, however, is guarantee a price level for any commodity in long-term opposition to powerful trends. On the other hand, following the domestic analogy, there is ample justification for accumulating funds to ease the transition out of declining economic activities.
The nub of the matter is that a considerable measure of economic security is thoroughly compatible with economic progress. That has become Holy Writ in the national societies of the North. To the extent that the South now seeks to extend the venue of this once radical notion, I see no principled grounds for resistance.
Petroleum earnings have already given one bloc of Third World states a considerable material interest in preserving the basic features of the international economic system, including the prosperity of the First World. Reduced barriers to Third World exports, transitional preferences for new industries, and the unimpeded flow of capital and technology will enhance that stake and extend it to other countries that have sufficient assets and organization to grasp the resulting opportunities for accelerated growth. In theory, then, one might expect the large number of Third World countries that could benefit from such pragmatic changes to adopt in time a sort of middle-class outlook of their own and to dissociate themselves from a rhetoric of revolution and revenge. Yet even with these countries the answer will not be as easy as that, for reasons related to our earlier analysis of the attitudes that bind together all the Third World countries.
Let us look again at our recent behavior. In the first place, the transfer of wealth effected by the oil-producing OPEC states has not gone unchallenged. Official references to military action in case of "strangulation" and a drumbeat of unofficial calls for recourse to force or an economic blockade simply to roll back prices do not inspire confidence in the West's acceptance of the newly rich. Fearing an effort to reverse their gains, the oil producers naturally seek allies among the class of disadvantaged states from which they have sprung.
Secondly, given the rancorous response to this initial loss of unquestioned economic dominance, the OPEC states and others in the economic vanguard of the Third World can hardly assume that the reforms required to consolidate and expand their beachhead in the international economy will be conceded without additional struggle. The solid front and the radical rhetoric are in part designed as instruments of effective bargaining with what is seen as a tough and thoroughly unsentimental adversary. The protagonists of a hard line may convince themselves that the liberals' guilt has cost the West its will, but to the presumed beneficiaries of that loss of will it is not the "liberal" but the rigid reaction that comes across as dominant.
The radical rhetoric is not, of course, simply a bargaining ploy. It also functions to hold together the alliance of traditional "Have-Nots." There is yet another reason for the harshness of Third World rhetoric. To return to our original theme, more, much more, than economics is at stake. There is the question of dignity and respect, the redress of profound humiliations. Those humiliations continue.
Calls for action to dam the outward flow of petrodollars are often linked with vilification and crudely bigoted stereotyping of the Arab recipients. Economic coercion, so long a powerful weapon in the foreign policy armory of the United States, is transformed into "blackmail" when employed to advance the interest of other states. The clear implication is that only we have the decency of motive, the loftiness of purpose, to be entrusted with power.
The often unconscious bias which infects so much of our own rhetoric about the Third World resonates against a background of subordination to the West. Through our language, the transparent skin of our thought, we succeed only in raising the emotional barriers to pragmatic accommodation. A change in tone, possibly foreshadowed by Secretary Kissinger's more recent comments on international economic issues, is a good way to begin the process of lowering them. The small gestures enumerated earlier in our discussion of the political axes of confrontation will help. So will a formal reception of the Third World's leading states into the management group of the international economic system. Countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Iran, Nigeria and at least one of the major Arab states might, for instance, be invited to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and other organs of developed-country consultation.
The advocates of confrontation claim that no useful overall bargain can be struck because as soon as the Third World has devoured its benefits new demands will be made. Support for a policy of accommodation, however, does not imply support for a grand compact. Indeed, the notion of a grand compact is an illusion. The stunning diversity of problems and parties converging in this period of accelerating change simply do not admit of a single or final solution. There must be many bargains, not all of them among precisely the same parties. Some bargains will wholly resolve the issues to which they are addressed. Others will be stopgaps. Still others may prove so asymmetrical because of developments which the parties could not foresee that, just as in domestic society, the parties will have to renegotiate. No bargain is forever.
And there will remain desperately serious problems with the so-called Fourth World, for they, like the lower classes in American society, are disabled by a congeries of historical and natural forces from exploiting the opportunities for more effective participation in the competitive system. One cannot yet visualize the combination of self-help and external effort that may in time improve the lot of these poor countries. Neither the amelioration of their present agony nor the beginnings of rehabilitation can be accomplished without joint effort, free of rancor, on the part of the West and the more advanced Third World countries.
In the years of bitter class conflict between capital and labor, before the ameliorations and compromises of the welfare state, many advocates of a hard line against the demands of labor invoked the alleged insatiability of those demands in support of a confrontational strategy. In one sense they were right, even trite. Once the myth of divinely authored shares in the social pie is fractured, no group settles willingly for less when it can, without risk, have more. Competition and struggle over the allocation of wealth and power seem endemic. But so, too, may be cooperation, which grows both out of fear of loss and the desire for absolute as well as relative gains.
One of the potential strengths of the present international system is the reality of national interdependence which creates an objective need for cooperation and consequently for accepting sharp restraints on the competitive aspects of interstate relations. The principal danger is an irrational assessment of risks and opportunities. Nothing is better calculated to promote miscalculation than the pretense that the equilibrium of power has not shifted, that we can continue to dictate to the Third World on the terms which sufficed in the epoch of the Western imperium.
Although the confrontationists indict advocates of accommodation for discounting our still-great strength, in fact, as is so often the case with those who extol coercion, it is they who seem infected with a debilitating insecurity. To accommodate sensibly to real changes and legitimate demands is not the sign of a weak will. It is rather the essence of statesmanship.