System Equilibrium, Transitions, and Demands of the Excluded

Article excerpt

The international order is crumbling and observers of international affairs cannot help but notice that the old order has lost its dynamism, and nations and their leaders, subnational groups, and the public at large are feverishly looking for their place in a probable new national and/or global order. As Wallerstein has stated, "... we are entering an 'age of transition'"--one that would entail "... enormous political struggle between two large camps: the camp of all those who wish to retain the privileges of the existing inegalitarian system ... and the camp of all those who would like to see the creation of a new historical system that will be significantly more democratic and more egalitarian." (1) The national order in many countries is crumbling as well. The mass public have risen up to challenge state authorities and are demanding openness, accountability, and more say in the affairs of their countries. It is fitting, therefore, that the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Association of Third World Studies (ATWS) was held under the conference theme, Global Change, Shifting Dynamics, and the Third World. Indeed, there is an ongoing change, perhaps rapid change compared to many other past changes, where the global as well as domestic economic, political, and cultural dynamics appear to be shifting in favor of the Third World. Therefore, this conference theme, along with last year's theme, A Confident Third World: Facing the Multi-dimensional Challenges of the 21st Century, call for a more profound reflection on the state of the modern world and what this will mean to the Third World.

A few decades ago, Robert Gilpin, a noted American Political Economist, made the following observation on the political economy of the world in his 1981 book, War and Change in World Politics."

   ... a disequilibrium had developed between the existing
   governance of the international system and the underlying
   distribution of power within the system. Although the U.S.
   continues to be dominant and the most prestigious state in
   the system ... [i]t is decreasingly able to maintain the
   existing distribution of territory, the spheres of influence,
   and the rules of the world economy [because] ... the costs to
   the U.S. of governing the system have increased relative to
   the economic capacity of the U.S. to support the
   international status quo. The classic symptoms of a declining
   power characterize the U.S. in the early 1980s: rampant
   inflation, chronic balance-of-payment difficulties, and higher
   taxation. (2)

At the time Robert Gilpin wrote this, Iran has broken away from U.S influence and established an Islamic Republic;Nicaragua had overthrown longtime dictator and U.S. ally President Somoza; Ethiopia had gone Marxist and switched over to the Soviet camp after the Monarchy was overthrown; Afghanistan, like Ethiopia, had also gone Marxist with close ties to the Soviet Union: and the newly independent states of Mozambique and Angola had chosen the socialist path of development and became Soviet allies. All these signified an apparent success for the Soviet Union, the challenger to the U.S. hegemony, and loss of U.S. influence in some countries.

What else was there besides the rampant inflation, high taxation, and chronic balance of payment deficits, which Gilpin had talked about? Well, that was also the time when developing nations had called for the establishment of a New International Economic Order to right what they perceived were inherently unfair rules of the international economic game made by and for the major capitalist powers in the aftermath of the Second World War. Not unexpectedly, the major Western powers saw this demand as a budding threat to their dominance--a threat Prime Minister Thatcher and President Reagan saw as something to be dealt with. And they succeeded in their endeavor because the Third World had no power to unilaterally effect change or an alternative to fall back onto. …


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