Global Change and Social Justice: An Introduction

By Shank, Gregory | Social Justice, Spring 1992 | Go to article overview
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Global Change and Social Justice: An Introduction


Shank, Gregory, Social Justice


Emergent Trends for the 1990s

As part of a broader oppositional tendency, critical thinkers concerned with law and justice must adjust to the watershed processes that have radically restructured power relations at the world level. These changes - encompassing the democratic openings in Latin America and South Africa, the Democratic Revolution of 1989 in Eastern Europe, the Gulf War in 1991 and the aftermath of the August coup that year in the Soviet Union - have forever altered the bipolar global framework familiar to critical thinkers. We have witnessed the end of the Cold War, which left its imprint on East-West relations for nearly half a century; national liberation movements, which played a central transformatory role in North-South conflict, appear to have run their historical course; and a multipolar world economy, controlled by a consensus among the wealthy powers of the North against the increasingly impoverished and disenfranchised populations of the South, will be firmly in place at the millennium.

Ironically, although these changes portend an even greater challenge to visualizing a just social order, the withering away of Cold War superpower conflict and the consequent downplaying of ideological struggle in world political relations should facilitate a revitalized progressive agenda. Complicating this task, however, is the disintegration of the liberal social program and the sense that progressives' efforts to counter a new U.S. militarism fell into disarray during the Gulf War. Meanwhile, a well-funded and growing network of conservative think tanks, public-interest law firms, and related organizations have increasingly come to dictate the terms of public debate domestically and to advise the democratic movements in the newly independent states and republics abroad.

What global and local realities will constrain our future options? In the following pages, a variety of viewpoints contribute to an assessment of the political, economic, and ideological features of the "new world order," of America's future role in world affairs, and of the possibilities open to oppositional forces. A common theme is that North-South conflict will continue to dominate the world system and most likely will become even more acute. Second, although the Gulf War and its accompanying world order rhetoric was thought by some to open the way for a resumption of U.S. hegemony, the most likely outcome is, in the words of Samir Amin, an Empire of Chaos, or, as Immanuel Wallerstein puts it, a new world disorder.

At the level of security policy and the resolution of conflict, such a (dis)order would be unipolar in its military structure, with a U.S. policing function financed by Japan and Germany. World politics in the post-cold War period will depart from the security arrangements characterizing the past 40 years, and for that reason we begin with Amin's analysis of the military doctrine we can expect to prevail. This departure, however, is far from radical so far, judging by the Pentagon's draft defense strategy paper, which, although later revised under protest, continued to portray Russia as a military rival (along with Germany and Japan) and cast the U.S. in the role of unilateral Globocop at a cost of $1.5 trillion over the next five years (Gelb, 1990). With respect to the South, U.S. military activity in Africa has intensified despite the absence of any arguable U.S. strategic interests, with the Bush administration dispatching elite Army training teams to sub-Saharan Africa to establish a modest, low-cost U.S. military presence there (Sia, 1992), while in the Asian Pacific, the U.S. is maintaining its Cold War force posture virtually unchanged. Also indicative of the tenor of the Pentagon's regard for the new international order, international law, and the Geneva Conventions was its defense that the burying alive of thousands of Iraqi troops was legal given "a gap in the law of war in defining precisely when surrender takes effect or how it may be accomplished" (Sloyan, 1992).

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