Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
25 Nov. - 1 Dec. 1999
Issue No. 457
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

Out of the barracks, into the state

By Gamil Mattar *

Gamil MattarTwo warring camps: one championing globalisation (which 1...Snderstands to varying degrees), the other attacking globalisation (sometimes with a grasp of the issues, often with a refusal to comprehend). Both have their fanatics. When globalisation sceptics talk about "the hidden hand", I do not think they have in mind an underground society or a secret international ring bent on toppling governments, assassinating world leaders and founding NGOs. Rather, I believe they are referring to a set of rituals practiced by people in power, the financial markets and the media; rituals reminiscent of those practiced by underground movements that prevailed in certain phases of European capitalist development.

For some politicians, globalisation has taken on a sacred hue. To many ministers, bankers and economists, the concept incarnates a new divinity, a Greek goddess with supernatural powers and legendary mood swings. Anger this goddess, and rioting will erupt within hours. Should she vent her anger, entire economies will fall, millions will go hungry, investments will flee the country and politicians will be brought to their knees.

Globalisation advocates swear there is no "hidden hand", yet they assert that the state is doomed to perish unless it dons the mantel of economic reform, sells off its assets, opens its borders to hamburgers and Walt Disney and encourages its citizens to speculate on the financial markets. We are in the age of assimilation, which is simultaneously the age of dissolution and fracture; one way or the other, the state's destiny is ultimately dependent upon the will of extraterritorial powers or institutions.

Violence is not necessarily a corollary of globalisation, but it is impossible not to notice that the past decade has brought civil wars, domestic strife and brutal genocide unlike anything seen during the Cold War. The community of nations has also experienced an unprecedented phase of disintegration. In the span of a decade, over 20 new nations have emerged from formerly solid and stable national entities.

If the two sides to the globalisation debate agree on anything, it is that the state has weakened, even if it remains the largest dispenser of social welfare. They also agree that the base of participation in economic and political decision-making has shrunk, contrary to the predictions of globalisation pundits. Privatisation takes place far from the public eye, as demonstrated by the increase in money laundering and organised crime, and the enormous capital flight out of countries that have undergone privatisation. As for democratic choice -- the jewel of the globalisation crown -- it appears to have been sacrificed to the totalitarianism of globalist ideology.

Globalisation crusaders have vowed that the future is safe in the hands of a few thousand individuals who will secure the merging of international markets and bring about peace and prosperity for humanity. A growing number of politicians and government leaders, particularly in the developing world, have subscribed to this optimistic viewpoint, and even believe that the prediction has come true. Many intellectuals and media figures have attempted to encapsulate globalisation as the political creed of the rational, ambitious and astute. What they never bothered to allude to, or explain, is the growing phenomenon of militarisation.

Any country undergoing difficulties with the process of globalisation must be concerned with the grievances and discontent it generates. Faced with the growing perception that it is no longer able to fend off potential secessionist movements, extremists, violence, corruption, organised crime and rapacious speculators, the state is bound to want to prove that it is still in control. China, for example, within a single year, conducted three naval manoeuvres and the largest military display it has held in half a century. This show of strength, clearly designed for domestic consumption, also sought to convey a message to the forces of globalisation abroad: the Chinese state would be resolute in countering challenges to its status, the government's ability to defend its territorial integrity and the steadfastness of its people's resistance to globalisation.

Similarly, military intervention in Chechnya, today as in 1994, represents an attempt to assert the existence of the Russian state. Russia has become the archetype of the fragility of the contemporary state. Without a single domestic force capable of regulating either the assimilation of its society or the country's integration into the global market, Russia has confirmed that globalisation is indeed a one-way road. Even foreign assistance pours into the globalisation pipeline thanks to the free transfer of capital to Switzerland, the UK, the US and a plethora of off-shore accounts. This is why the army in Russia is acting. The military is not happy about the state of the nation, even if it too now scoffs at such outdated ideals as patriotism, nationalism and religious pride. The military has intervened in Dagestan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Abkhazia, and Chechnya, in order to prove that the Russian state, under the army's leadership, is regaining its strength.

Indonesia, too, has witnessed an escalation of military activity. In fact, the military has never been far from power; Suharto himself was a military ruler. But in Indonesia, the military is not permitted to hold direct power. Nor is there any political or religious force in Indonesia capable of single-handedly regulating public dissatisfaction and forestalling the collapse of a state beleaguered by separatist movements. It was surprising, in this context, that Habibi felt compelled to ask a high-ranking military man to run alongside him in the presidential campaign as vice-presidential nominee. Nor was it surprising that the potential candidate refused. He did not want the army to be associated with a government that had surrendered to terms imposed by outside powers before it returned to power. I believe that the idea of taking on Megawati as vice-presidential candidate originated here. The army, determined not to allow any further dissolution, has succeeded in bringing the major political forces in Indonesia together in a single place -- where it can keep an eye on them.

But most active of all is the American military establishment, in terms of the extent of its interests around the globe and its influence on US foreign policy. The American military has strengthened its relations with military leaders in most nations, offering them training, indoctrinating them and keeping them under close supervision. Nor has it spared any effort in fostering young Ataturks throughout the developing world, and the Islamic world in particular. The Germans, too, can be found taking on military responsibilities in other European countries, while Australian military personnel have resurfaced as American proxies in the wars against peoples of colour. They fought against the Japanese in World War II, against the North Koreans and Chinese in the Korean War, and against the Vietnamese in the Vietnam War. Now they are engaged in manoeuvres that threaten to drag them into a new war with their neighbours in Indonesia.

In the Middle East, the Turkish army is growing restive, while in Israel, the military establishment is increasing its hold on national affairs. Indeed, in Israel, the president is a military man, as is the prime minister and the head of the opposition coalition. In the rest of the Middle East, and the Arab world in particular, the influence of the military on government has never gone away. There have been some cosmetic operations here and there, but the army continues to hold sway. Any increased activity, however, has been confined to signs that it is revving up for a comeback.

* The writer is the director of Arab Centre for Development and Futuristic Research.
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