Friday, 28 January 2011

Timothy Garton Ash gets it wrong

There was a time when I thought that Timothy Garton Ash was a man with interesting views. But that was long ago. His article, published in the Los Angeles Times, shows that we are here talking about a man without strong moral values. Garton Ash is clearly much too impressed by the (temporary) success of China and now thinks that the we in the West should "cut our coat to suit our cloth":

But Yan Xuetong, a bracing Chinese analyst of international relations, argues that emerging powers naturally bring to the table their own norms and attempt to spread them as best they can. He has a point. Are China and Russia, or even India and Brazil, more or less ready to adopt Western norms than they were 10 years ago? Less. Are countries in the global south more or less torn between Western and Chinese norms than they were 10 years ago? More.

We should still try to work toward those "shared norms." But let's start by acknowledging that one of the defining features of the new reality is, in fact, that there are divergent norms. China's rulers, for example, would probably be quite happy with a world in which the Americans, the Chinese and the Europeans each conducted their affairs after their own fashion within their own borders, and to some extent — here is where things get fuzzy and dangerous — within their spheres of influence.

The shared norms would then be limited to a fairly minimal set of rules for international order, trade, air traffic and so forth, with a strong presumption of respect for national sovereignty. So one of the fundamental divergences of our time is precisely about how many or how few shared norms we need.

What follows from this for people in countries that do have more-or-less liberal, more-or-less democratic versions of capitalism? Two things above all.

First, we in the West must put our own houses in order. Physician, heal thyself. The most important steps we can take for our influence abroad are those we take at home. We have lived for decades with a paradigm of progress, in which each generation would be better off than the last. Now we'll be hard put to ensure that our children are not less prosperous, less secure and less free than we were.
Second, we probably have to scale down — at least for now — our expectations for those shared norms. This means making hard choices. Do we put the preservation of peace, in the minimal sense of the absence of major war, before all else? Or reversing global warming? Or keeping open the pathways of international trade and finance? Or speaking up for basic human rights? Of course we want all these good things. But we have to cut our coat to suit our cloth.
Read the entire article here.

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