US-EU : An International Double Standard
M D Nalapat
If Asia is rising once again, much of the credit goes to the body of knowledge that originated in Western societies. This columnist is himself a beneficiary of the education provided in India by Christian missionaries who set up schools and colleges across the country more than 150 years ago, at a time when almost none within the many echelons of the British colonial administration believed the subject population to be either deserving of such education or competent enough to absorb it. The foundation laid in India by Jesuit, Anglican and other Christian educationists is what the present system rests on, and which turns out millions of brainworkers for industries across the globe, especially in Information Technology, Medicine, Engineering and increasingly, in Services. A reasonable fluency in the English language (though fortunately not in the accent) has meant the exposure of almost 300 million people in India to western modes of thought. Across other countries in Asia, Africa and South America as well, an influential and increasing middle class is internalizing and accepting as axiomatic concepts learnt from western textbooks such as universal human rights and values, which place the giving and getting of freedom and dignity at the core of a civilised society. Even within societies with an unbroken tradition of authoritarianism, the democratic spirit is gaining strength against despots It is this very section of local society, one respectful of and familiar with western standards of societal behaviour, that is bewildered at the perceived international double standard practiced by the US and the EU, which posits an "Us and Them" division of the international community into western ( now expanded to include the former Soviet east bloc) and non-western components, with a handful of countries such as Japan treated (as was the case in apartheid-era South Africa) as "honorary westerners". In opposition to a proclaimed fidelity to universal human rights, there appear to be very different markers for non-western countries than are applied to the favoured other. Unfortunately for those within the US and the EU who seek to enforce such a division upon the globe, these days, non-western countries (principally India and China) are moving up the value chain in both economic and technological development, and it is no longer as feasible to simply impose the will of the west on the rest as it was during years past, before huge swathes of non-western society gained access to western thinking
India's caste system could continue for millenia because an individual from a lower caste was put to death whenever she or he showed the temerity to access information reserved for the upper castes. Eventually, the resulting social calcification led to the repeated defeats of Hindu dynasties at the hands of more egalitarian Muslim invaders. However, the firewalls between different Hindu groups continued, and in some places still do, more than a thousand years after the first defeats at Muslim hands, and sixty years after independence from British rule. Thanks to the British and to a lesser extent the French refusing to follow the example of Spanish, Portuguese, German and other European conquerors in denying education to all except a few, the barriers to knowledge evaporated by the start of the last century, creating the momentum that led to successful independence movements in first India and subsequently in other colonies. Today, the shrinking of the globe caused by cable television, the internet and air travel has dissolved most of the obstacles towards the mingling of cultures and peoples that is a requirement not only of a modern lifestyle but of the global economy as well, where a trained professional ought to be as much at home in Shanghai as in Stockholm. It is no accident that those countries that have welcomed such diversity are precisely those at the forefront of progress,including the UK, the US, India and China, in each of which there are growing pools of expatriates. Hong Kong is still an international city, as are London and New York and - these days - Bangalore. The Germany-led effort of the EU to create a Euro-obsessive environment through curbs on migration and even using ethnic criteria to purchase IT and other technologies in key programmes such as at Airbus will result in a weakening of competitive ability against more flexible rivals. Sadly for international cooperation, these are days when Lou Dobbs ( the US equivalent of the Europeans-only Germans) seems to be driving much of migration and trade policy in the US, hitherto a much more open country than those within the EU. Even the UK - normally less ethnocentric than the rest of the bloc - is lately placing curbs on immigration that are plainly ethnic in nature. While Europeans deride the Arabs and the Communist Chinese for their "intolerance and authoritarianism" and praise themselves for having virtue of tolerance and acceptance of the tenet that all humanity is one, the reality is that it is far easier for Europeans to get work in the "fanatical" Middle East or in "authoritarian" Hong Kong and Shanghai than it is for Arabs or Chinese ( or others from societies with an ethnic origin different from Europe) to find a job - any job - in "civilised" Europe. The obvious biases in immigration policy in the EU and now increasingly in North America and Australia as well as the hostility faced by non-European origin residents there are at variance with the stated image of the west as having put the colonialist past behind it. That may be the case between France and Germany, or with Britain and Ireland, but it is not so in Africa,where Paris sends troops with casual abandon, or in South America, where local ethno-based elites fighting to preserve their numerous privileges get vociferous support from the "civilised' world. Such an obvious double standard is what is giving traction to the Hugo Chavezes in their efforts at replacing one form of racism with another
The self-described "civilised" world ( the US, the EU, Australia and New Zealand) is hyper-sensitive to the use of military force by other countries in the resolution of disputes, yet they themselves use the NATO sledgehammer to pound recalcitrants into submission, including in Serbia. Today, NATO forces led by the US have become the most interventionist of any military, inserting themselves into locations where local populations have yet to overcome the complexes created by earlier occupations by European states. If the Chinese were to show a similar propensity to use military muscle in their own neighbourhood, or if India were to do likewise against - for example - Bangladesh, a country that is cheerfully hosting thousands of insurgents and terrorists that have New Delhi in their collective sights, the reaction from western chancelleries would be hostile. Yet this would be only a mirror image of what NATO itself is doing, which is to give primacy to the stick rather than tuck it away. The danger is that countries now moving up the development ladder will in time begin to adopt these Europeanist attitudes to the settling of differences, and plunge the world into even greater turmoil than the present. A case can be made that rather than preserve the security of its members, the cavalier way in which the military might of NATO is being either flaunted or used can result in hostility towards the west that could erupt in conflict in a generation, when the scales will become more even between the contenders. Rather than behave in a manner that suggests that the use of military action is a privilege reserved for itself, the US-EU alliance needs to set in stone a system of international dispute resolution that avoids the threat or use of force. This can only be by working on developing "soft" power and by engagement with those countries seen as potential risks, such as Iran. Evidently, no lesson has been learnt by either Washington or London ( the principal actors,for the present) in Iraq. The imposition of a basket of sanctions that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands each year (even as the Saddamites continued to enjoy a billionaire lifestyle ) created much of the anger towards the west that is today expressing itself in hostility towards the NATO occupation of the country. Despite the obvious lessons of such a failed experiment, these days, key policymakers in the "civilised" world are seeking to replicate the same Iraq model in Iran, sealing off the country and its people and choking economic and other interaction that could give oxygen to those opposed to the stagnation that the mullahcracy has brought upon a vibrant people. The fact that it is the US - a country that has 83% of the offensive capacity of nuclear warheads worldwide - which is leading the cry for Iran to completely surrender its nuclear technology, and that it is countries heavily reliant on nuclear energy such as Sweden that are foaming at the mouth when non-western societies seek to emulate their example, contains a double standard that once again divides the world into "civilised" and by implication, less-civilised or uncivilised components. It is not, however, the latter that are flattening houses across Iraq and Afghanistan, that are preventing any form of organised life in the West Bank and Gaza, and which is intervening energetically to protect the privileges of local elites across the world. Until at least a few policymakers from the interventionist countries are made to stand trial for human rights violations such as the killing of thousands of women and children by " civilised" fire in Iraq, the entire process will lack credibility,and generate resentments that can once again tip the globe towards a generalised conflict. The EU can give effect to ethno-based curbs on migration and the US and the UK occupy a foreign country. Nuclear energy can get converted into the exclusive property of a few courtesy the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership invented by George W Bush, and even India be sought to be denied the right to develop its own technologies for this essential energy source, despite being the world's largest democracy. Today, where once there was an Iron Curtain, there exists an International Double Standard that divides the western world and its satellites from the rest of the globe, and within a generation, this new mental curtain can have a much more destabilizing effect on international security than Stalin's clumsy construct ever did.