Thursday, 11 September 2008

Heart of Darkness, the Core and the Gap - 3

jan de hartog andre morell pamela brown frederick richterContinued from here.

First post in the series here. Fourth post here. Fifth post here.

Is Russia a Core state?

The most obvious objection to Thomas PM Barnett’s view of the Russian invasion of Georgia is of course the one he begins by anticipating, namely that including Russia amongst the Core nations in his global strategic model is a mistake. His reasoning for including Russia seems based on two points. One, Russia’s economic connections with the wider world are strong enough to qualify, and two, not including Russia in the core is too costly in terms of greater demands on remaining Core nations, both in dealing with Russia and with dealing with the rest of the Gap without help from Russia.

On the first point, I’m unclear why TPM Barnett feels Russia qualifies for the Core while other oil rich states do not; I’m thinking particularly of those nations in the Gulf who invest widely in other countries and are therefore important in the global economy beyond their role as suppliers of oil.

80% of Russia’s exports are commodities; there is not the focus on manufactured goods or services seen in China and India, other big countries that TPM Barnett also counts as New Core states. Despite Russia’s gas and oil boom, Russian economic growth this century is below average amongst former Soviet states. In 2007 the Russian economy grew at only two-thirds the rate of the Georgian economy for example, though the other side of that story is that Georgia is growing from a much lower base.

There is a strong danger then that the current Russian economy based on exploitation of natural resources may be stuck in an asset stripping mentality, and the only expansion it will be capable of will be in gaining control of more natural resources beyond the state’s borders, by fair means or foul.

The bigger problem in regarding Russia as a Core state is in the attitude of the current Russian leadership to the rule of law, and how this affects globalisation, firstly in working against the integration of the Russian economy into the global system, and secondly in the role Russia plays in affecting other nations’ progress towards global economic integration.

Russia has long been a gangster state, most obviously in the time of Yeltsin when various parties competed in a lawless scramble to secure assets as the Soviet state was demolished, but also before then when the gang in control was the Party, when there was no law outside of the Party, no higher authority, no alternative. Now there is one gang in charge again, and having defeated or incorporated the other gangs at home it now uses the same gangster methods abroad, in Ukraine, in Britain, and now in Georgia.

Use of violence with no legal sanction is only the most extreme manifestation of gangsterism here. Russia’s pipeline policy is indicative of a gangster mentality. They want a monopoly on the dope they’re peddling, squeezing competing supplier nations, pushing out foreign investors while pushing into foreign markets, threatening cold turkey on anyone who doesn’t co-operate.

TPM Barnett sets aside systems of political government when considering whether a country belongs in the Core. That China is a one party state, that Russia has become a Potempkin democracy, these issues are less important than that China and Russia are ‘actively integrating their national economies into a global economy’. So China qualifies as it imports raw materials from round the world, exports manufactured goods round the world, and invests abroad. But does Russia qualify?

Made in China goods are ubiquitous, and are now central to the world economy. China’s need for raw materials worldwide gives it an interest in global stability. While some of its resulting engagements in the wider world are negative, most prominently in Sudan, and look like exporting totalitarianism rather than encouraging globalisation, it is also clear that China is growing globalisation within its borders. The results may yet confirm TPM Barnett’s view of economic integration being more urgent than political reform.

To Russia: I don’t see Made in Russia on anything I buy in the supermarket. I do see spam apparently facilitated by Russian ISPs clogging my inbox. I do see the after-effects of a London house price boom fuelled partly by wealthy Russians insecure about staying in Russia. I see antique-looking Russian strategic bombers showing off in the UK ADIZ. And I see the flames on our stove burning blue and hear the hum of the gas fired boiler when we run the bath. The bills are going up, and we’re looking for alternatives.

The Russian monopoly strategy on energy is not compatible with advancing a competitive global economy. Neither is the focus on asset-stripping which reduces the Russian economic system to commodities out, money and manufactured goods in: a classic Gap economy, like the Gulf states, like Nigeria, or to return to Conrad, like the Congo. The company in this case is not a Belgian elite exploiting African resources, it’s a Russian elite exploiting the resources of Russia and its neighbours.

While the Chinese model requires dispersal of economic power amongst the population to foster enterprise and competition, Russia’s asset-stripping, dope-peddling model is leading to the opposite, a re-centralisation of power. The ruling gang are maintaining domestic support through nationalism promoted via a controlled media rather than broad-based economic progress. The population is not empowered in such an economy. It’s out of their control as much as it is for the native population in Heart of Darkness. And the populations of neighbouring states falling under Russian control would see no benefits, except for those amongst them given the privilege of preying on their neighbours. From Joseph Conrad’s book:
‘A slight clinking behind me made me turn my head. Six black men advanced in file, toiling up the path. They walked erect and slow, balancing small baskets ful of earth on their heads, and the clink kept time with their footsteps. Black rags were wound round their loins, and the short ends behind waggled to and fro like tails. I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking. Another report from the cliff made me think suddenly of the ship of war I had seen firing into a continent. It was the same kind of ominous voice; but these men could by no stretch of imagination be called enemies. They were called criminals, and the outraged law, like the bursting shells had come to them, an insoluble mystery from the sea. All their meagre breasts panted together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes stared stonily uphill. They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages. Behind this raw matter one of the reclaimed, the product of new forces at work, strolled despondently, carrying a rifle by its middle. He had a uniform jacket with one button off, and seeing a white man on the path, hoisted his weapon to his shoulder with aclarity. This was simple prudence, white men being so much alike at a distance that he could not tell who I might be. He was speedily reassured, and with a large, white, rascally grin, and a glance at his charge, seemed to take me into partnership in his exalted trust. After all, I was also a part of the great cause of these high and just proceedings.’
Continued here.

Related: The Real Price of Oil by James Surowiecki, The New Yorker, December 3 2001.

Top image: illustration for the Times Higher Education Supplement, 17 February 1995, accompanying a review of Cold War histories. Click on the image to see the article.

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