Friday, December 02, 2005

Soft Power and the Fatal Conceit

The "Barcelona Process"

This year marks the 10th for the European - Islam "Barcelona Process", an EU initiative to prompt democratic and economic reform with Europe's southern neighbors. First off, the big question to ask is why is should EU taxpayer money be thrown towards "reform" of their neighbors, at a state-to-state level? Yes it is good that government leaders have a forum to get together to talk out their problems and share visions of the future. But who is to say that the European nation-state, and its political system as it has developed over time, is any better than than the Islam state and the way it has developed over time?

Well, one reason might be is that the (most of) the European nation-states are combined city-states that combined organically over time through, or is that they were formed through wars of agression? Many of the Islam states too were formed through post-imperalist land divisions. So why should the EU have a moral ground to tell someone what type of government they should have, dont people get the government they deserve? Asian (and Middle Eastern or African or "the South" in the vernacular) culture is different than the "West". Asia has had historically stronger leaders, and age and wisdom might be respected more than political ideology.

People used to call 'soft power' (one of the latest poli-sci buzzwords) the bully pulpit, where elected officials would get on their soapbox and speak their moral position and try to "reform" through rhetoric those that would listen. When you throw aid money to those listening, it just becomes a means for subsidized moralizing, the "arrogance" which has gotten us in trouble in the first place.

The ironic truth is that, 1) economic reform - in this case free trade and rule of law - will indeed happen on its own and government have the incentives to do so. If a government stiffles its people the people will ignore (or overthrow) the government anyway. And unilateral free trade is what is economically best for a people , and people have been doing this with their own rules way before the nation-state was created. Trade is between peoples not between governments. And 2) the enforcement of political reform is counter-productive. Not only is it arrogant, but who likes to be told what to do?

Throwing money at some ideology is just disrespectful of both the giver and the receiver and enforces and prolongs a "process" which would occur in a more sustainable and natural way on its own. So many things are just self-justifying political tinkering around the margins in the short run to the detriment of freely-formed and natural occurences in the long run, and this is just another example.