By Tom Arms.
Economists love globalisation. It allows them to achieve what their fellow bean counters the accountants call economies of scale.
This has substantial knock-on benefits. It increases profits so it is good for shareholders and share prices . It reduces the prices at the till and so it is good for customers. It keeps down inflation which is fantastic news for old decrepit types on fixed incomes.
It creates job opportunities in the developing world which means the developed world does not need to dig so deeply into its aid pockets.
International understanding is improved by the exponential growth in global business, political, social and cultural links required to grease the wheels of globalisation.
Politicians are happy because the increased savings and profits mean more tax revenues for them to spend on their pet projects and ships, planes and soldiers.
But there are some dark clouds in this blue skies picture. First there is what I regard as a bit of a canard—job exports. I am unimpressed by this Trumpian argument because it can be rectified with economic growth and retraining.
Blowing away the next cloud – identity loss–is more problematic. As the world melds into one interdependent homogenous blob who are we as individuals? I ask the question because who we are is determined to a large degree by the language we speak, the religion we practice, our national history, culture and laws.
Globalisation is creating an identity crisis and that in turn has created a political backlash from people who fear that the essence of who they are is under threat. Furthermore, the nationalist backlash created by this perception threatens to undermine all the benefits of globalisation and regionalisation that have accrued since the end of World War Two and many years before.
There are many examples of this but two recent ones are independence referenda in Kurdistan and Catalonia.
The Kurds have been an ethnic group with their own language for centuries, but it was not until the 1920 Treaty of Sevres that the idea of a Kurdish state was officially mooted. However, three years later it was scrapped by the Treaty of Lausanne which divided the old Ottoman Empire between Britain, France and Turkey. What the Kurds regard as their homeland was divided between Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey.
Catalonia was actually its own medieval kingdom until 1492 when it joined with Queen Isabella Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon to expel the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula. To a greater or lesser degree they have stayed part of what
evolved the modern Spanish state ever since while still retaining their distinctive language and customs.
Now both Kurdistan and Catalonia think they can do better on their own and want to go independent. But they are facing problems in doing so. During the years that Catalan and Kurdistan have been part of bigger political units the world has moved on. Laws, treaties, and trade agreements have been negotiated and implemented by the parent governments (Iraq and Spain respectively). Are these to be jettisoned? Do Spain and Iraq’s political and trading partners want to deal with an independent Kurdistan and Catalonia? Will Iraq and Spain let them?
In the case of Kurdistan, Iraq, Turkey and Iran have discovered a rare common interest and physically isolated landlocked Iraqi Kurdistan in a bid to strangle the political foetus before it is born. All three have large and discontented Kurdish minorities and they fear that an independent Kurdistan in Iraq in Iraq will act as magnet that will drag away large slices of their respective territories. Turkey has actually sent troopsto the Kurdish-Turkish border and the independence referendum may inject a destabilising element into one of the world’s most strategic and volatile regions.
In Catalonia, Spain has arrested political activists and declared any referendum illegal and the result null and void. It is worried not only about losing its most productive region (more than a fifth of Spanish GDP) but also of breathing new life into independence movements across the Iberian Peninsula.
Spain is far from a homogenous unit. Among its 17 autonomous regions, eight have separatist movements. There are five official languages, three unofficial but recognised languages and four other languages. To discourage Catalan separatists the Madrid government has let it be known that it would block Catalonia from EU membership which it would need to survive.
Catalonia and Kurdistan are just two of the most recent examples of the world’s national identity crises. The election of Donald Trump can be traced back to the issue as can Britain’s Brexit decision. Independence movements are growing in numbers and influence around the world. The Scots, Bretons, Welsh, Walloons, Basques, Andalusians, Tibetans, Chechens, Palestinians, Houthis and many more are agitating either for independence or greater autonomy despite the economic and political consequeences.
The practical politics of globalisation have run into the brick wall of emotional national identity and vice versa. It is up to the political leaders to balance the opposing sides—or face the consequences
Tom Arms is the Editor of Lookaheadnews.com