oday the country celebrates its 71 anniversary of independence at a time marred by internal political divisions and heading towards decisive elections which may yet not fix most of our system of governance that has metastasized, with the only hope of a complete makeover which is unimaginable at the current conjuncture.
This column will focus on the greater challenges of a global system which is finally showing the symptoms of terminal decline that is bringing significant chaos to global governance. The consequences are many but the focus in this analysis is on a two-fold rupture. The increasing geo political tensions which are disrupting and destabilizing regions and creating spillovers. Secondly a course diversion by right-wing leaders who earlier were the harbingers of death of global governance are now actually on a roll to grab power in governance institutions.
Populists Take over international institutions
It seems that many have got these leaders wrong, when president Trump came into power, the conventional narrative was he will dismantle the architectures of the post Second World War economic and security arrangements. Trump will pull up the draw bridges and separate the United States and take it towards isolation. This narrative is being proven wrong, he may be pulling troops from Syria and Afghanistan and blaming NATO allies for not doing enough yet he is not interested in letting these institutions unravel, he wants to take over them.
This is just not an American push, there is an emergence of a global push by the populist right wing to take over global governance institutions. Such a take over is dreaded by traditional liberals and leftwing movements yet it is happening. The closest example being the Davos summit of last month. It seems Davos ironically the Elysium of capitalist elites who preached liberal values and how to implement progress through a techno Utopia suddenly seems to be sharing the floor with leaders who are propagating ideas of exclusion, civilizational supremacy and hate.
The fear is that Davos may be over run in the future by such ideologies and with the crucial May 2019 elections for EU is setting up a bitter battle which pits the old Europeanists against new populists,wants to have a larger control of the supra national institutions. Thus, it seems rather than dismantling the institution they may start using it to further their agendas.
2018 was the year that clearly presented that the World was becoming increasingly territorialized within the interests of geo political rivals, it also was the year that clearly showcased the coming geo political conflicts are unique to this century as the conflicts are taking place amidst push for serious integration attempts at regional and global levels through ambitious infra structure development projects.
Connectivity and Strategic ruptures
Thus United States, Russia, EU, China, Japan and Australia share a common mantra, the mantra of Connectivity. All these powers tend to benefit from strategic connectivity that comes in the form of infra structure development and investment in massive infra structure projects across identified nodes in regions.Geo Strategist and Futurist, Parag Khanna few years back celebrated this in his book title Connectography, as the emergence of a world of connections in both terrestrial and non-terrestrial spaces that leads to progress.
While this connectivity is pursued with strategic interests,small States such as Sri Lanka are challenged to manage the strategic compulsions of the infra structure projects from Port City, Mattala Airtport, Hambantota Port to Trincomalee the nation is struggling to articulate its own position and take a course of action that puts its interests first. Sri Lanka, Seychelles, Oman, Bahrain, Estonia even Singapore are all struggling to adapt to these realities. The success of mitigating such external compulsions is based on internal political coherence which currently is not working for Sri Lanka.The secondary challenge emanates from the struggle for leadership in global institutions and regional arrangements, if populists who preach nationalism take control of global and regional mechanisms it will immensely disadvantage peripheral states such as Sri Lanka. As the conventional wisdom about global governance has always been about presenting more opportunities and justice.
The danger is that this populist model can be quickly customized into domestic architectures. Where the majoritarianism will create power centers that are hugely exclusivist. The impending Taliban take over of Afghanistan and the US facilitation of such a take over can be taken as a classic example of this new world,contradictions that traditional frameworks of analysis has no intellectual or policy perspective to explain and understand.
Challenges from the global economic downturn
The global economy is deeply affected by the trend of economic interconnectedness measures that are circumvented by political divisions and strategic compartments. The two moves are incommensurable. Simply what good can massive infra structure connections do when strategic use of trade wars, economic sanctions and rapid militarization of global commons have become proxies for geo political rivalries.
The annual report of the World Bank, titled‘ Global Economic Prospects’ released in January 2019 has a secondary title, which reads as Darkening Skies. In chapter one the report highlights how IMF has further cut the prospect of Global GDP Growth, and it also attributes that the ‘Escalating trade tensions are another major downside risk to the global outlook’. The report highlights the increasing global debt as private creditors are benefiting from huge interest rates, Sri Lanka’s debt crisis attributes largely to the sovereign wealth funds that the governments borrowed lavishly are now sky rocketing our debt burden.
Wither the Idea of Sri Lanka
Our nation has endured many hardships, challenges and crossed a decade since defeat of terrorism, yet we are not made peace with ourselves, the ideological and political structures that divides have not being bridged. There are genuine leaders and compulsions for reconciliations, but the deep political divisions are stalling and dismantling such efforts. The global failures of governance and take over of governance mechanisms by populism further strengthens and emboldens politics of exclusion. Sri Lankan political forces are already feeling the appeal, charm and the promise of populism.
One reason why we are in this situation is simply because we have failed to create an image of ourselves. We have symbols, rhetoric we have a set of abstract values which we politically can articulate and be convincing, yet we do not have a composite idea of what Sri Lanka is and what should be the Sri Lankan identity in the 21st Century. Our political visions have been about political aspirations of paths to power, not grander vision of a nation that needs to be on the larger political map.
The virtue of strategic location of Sri Lanka, does not guarantee strategic advantage or transformative power properties into internal political stabilization and external leverages. Instead it has led to gradual surge of external actors to influence Sri Lanka’s domestic and international decision making leading into the 21st Century. 71 Years since independence we seem to be drifting further into a state of dependence. Thus 2019 provides an opportunity to stop this drift put the people at the heart of the political process and finally shape the idea of Sri Lanka, the field is open, but the clock is ticking.