How Commodities’ Strategic Solidarities shape nation, democracies and dictatorship
Historically, economic patriotism is one of the structuring elements of sovereignist. thinking. It equates to protectionist practices and withdrawal. Its modern formula is more complex because it uses the notion of offensive and defensive economic intelligence as in the globalization of trade it has become necessary to take into account the role-played by actors with different behaviors. These priority strategies for the conquest of foreign markets are those of the United States since 1945, in Asia those of Japan until the end of the USSR, South Korea from the 1960s, China for a quarter of a century and now Russia is back in the Middle East, Africa and in Europe. It must be noted that economic patriotism only covers part of the problem of the survival or development of a people in a given territory.
General interest and solidarity
Progress and market forces have dictated the course of human societies since industrial revolution’s era. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the main problem was development. Industrialized countries were the model to follow. Since Berlin Wall destruction, evolution of force relations between powers has undermined the belief in a world regulated by a globalization of trade that benefits all. At the beginning of the 21st century, there are more obvious limits: a state’s vulnerability is no longer measured only by its difficulties in its development as it was the case during the North/South relations debates. A State may be threatened by the balances of power that exist around energy, access to resources, commodities and water. They are almost permanent subjects of confrontation in some parts of the world. The fragility of today’s world and the multiple threats resulting from confrontation between different forces (powers, the financial world, multinational firms, civil societies) make the economy inseparable from the notion of a people’s resilience on a territory.
Territorial integrity and the protection of populations can no longer be considered as the only two main priorities for the defense of the rule of law. It may be useful to reflect on a new form of priority that reinforces the notion of general interest through strategic solidarity. Let us understand by strategic solidarity, medium/long term decisions for the preservation of the common good. In the past, the state has built itself on its vital interests. In the future, the mere survival of a population in a given territory may become a vital interest. Such an approach goes beyond the restrictive vision of economic defense as defined in the past and highlights the imperfections of the definition of strategic interests validated by the European Commission. It also goes beyond the scope of sovereignist thinking, which focuses on the notion of territorial independence.
At European level, the notion of strategic solidarity refers to the resilience of European Union Member States facing not only crises but also the limits of progress (e.g. the effects of industrial pollution) and the market (e.g. the risks generated by a situation of food or energy dependence).
State construction and power relations management
The principle of solidarity has existed for centuries. Under the absolute monarchy, the rich provinces had to store wheat to help the poor provinces in the event of bad weather, poor harvests and the risk of famine. The challenge was already strategic to avoid jacqueries and popular revolts in the countryside (ruralité of today). To take a current example, the electricity distributed in some French rural departments is partly paid for by the contribution of the Ile de France, i. e. by the citizens who live on its territory. This principle of solidarity by péréquation or equalization, also has a strategic dimension insofar as it contributes to the functioning of territories that do not have the economic dynamics to satisfy the basic needs of their inhabitants.
The political consideration of such a concept is still an innuendo and not a body of open doctrine. Yet the debate exists on the international scene. The province of Alberta in Canada has displayed positions of “disengagement” by enriching itself with oil and gas development. The equalization system applied by the federal structure is a very interesting example of the application of a principle that could be equated to the concept of strategic solidarity. Some provinces such as Ontario and Quebec have been receiving money from Ottawa for decades as part of economic development or as a contribution to help troubled provinces. The federal government is required to arbitrate and develop the system according to economic, financial and fiscal parameters. Our states have been built up as revolts, revolutions or more peaceful developments have taken place, leading to democracies, constitutional monarchies, democrats and dictatorships.
Above each of these forms of state, it is possible to identify strategic solidarities that are very long-term trajectories that the administrations and the various governments that follow one another at the head of the country do not touch because they shape the particular relationship between the population and its concept of nation. They are a prelude to the political construction and economic development of a country, they differentiate States from each other, because they define their dependencies, their independence and their interdependence with regard to security, natural resources and economic development … They were decided at a particular moment in the country’s history and the first of them is undoubtedly the primary inspiration of the State, in its declaration of the droits de l’homme et du citoyen (the rights of man and citizen), in its constitution, or through the ideological matrix of a small red book. In short, the intellectual event that inspired or concluded, as the case may be, the war of liberation or the revolution that generated the first power in place. After this intellectual and founding strategic solidarity, there are now more tangible but still historical strategic solidarities. Since the country’s emergence, they have been decided at key moments, such as the end of a world conflict. They remain few per country and are grouped into three families. Strategic solidarity acquired through a decision-making process based on objectives, accidents and progress. Isn’t this decision-making process different according to the regimes, for example between dictatorship and democracy?
Strategic solidarity and the nature of the schemes
In totalitarian countries there is a single strategic solidarity, it is security. The foreigner is at best a spy and in general an enemy. To achieve this strategic security solidarity, it replaces a total hold on the State and substitutes itself for it; sacrificing everything, it guides all the nation’s forces to preserve itself and achieve its goal. From intelligence services to military forces, it takes the best resources at the expense of the rest of the population’s needs. In the past, the Soviet regime was the image of this because it allowed force systems to be privileged. Nowadays, North Korea symbolizes in this register the aggressiveness of nuclear independence, which is the pinnacle of its declared strategic security solidarity. As a servant to strategic security solidarity, and making it possible to maintain its trajectory, three axes of State development implemented by national societies act in a coordinated manner in the form of plans or in a disorganized manner. The first axis concerns both national agricultural doctrine and food self-sufficiency. Second axis is focusing on national energy doctrine and energy independence. A third axis encompasses mining doctrine and the national industrial approach equipping populations. But these are only utilities, not tangible and lasting principles of strategic solidarity that do not exist in these regimes.
In a democracy, strategic solidarity is less apparent than in a dictatorship, but more numerous. It is here that the strategic solidarity of objective described at the moment in the dictatorship is joined by that of accident and that of progress.
- The objectives resemble the decisions of the totalitarian state, it is the decision of the single man who wants nuclear deterrence in France in the 1960s or the exceptional post-war situation that defines an industrial model for reconstruction.
- Accidents reflect the concerns of the moment: a famine demands an agricultural policy (original PAC in the first European Union), an oil shortage requires nuclear energy, a conflicting colonization in the 19th century requires a large army, then a century later it is succeeded by a professional army when decolonization is over and finally do we have a new change when the army is on the streets to counter the war against terrorism?
- Progress brings unexpected solutions, it’s a pleasant surprise. For example, progress in the treatment of diseases makes it possible to set social and health policy in the context of democratic strategic solidarity.
Democracy will lead the public or private companies in charge of strategic objective solidarity and accidents, but the democratic state will be opportunistic in that of progress by benefiting from the initiatives of private capital and its industrial and service companies.
At this point, let’s use a metaphor. If we need a table, the totalitarian state will teach us to do without it because it is not an element of strategic security solidarity. But it is quite possible that democracy will ask private capital to find ways to make this table; once this objective is achieved, it will place it on the pediment of its strategic solidarity.
How does the whole thing evolve?
In both totalitarian and democratic regimes, once achieved, strategic solidarity is forgotten. As part of the state decor, everyone is almost surprised to realize that they existed when they were challenged without anyone noticing. When it touches on the strategic solidarity of the foundation, this return to self can cause earthquakes. Did we have such events in the West in 1968? Had the Chinese Communist Party reached such a point of rupture before the arrival of Xi Jinping, that it not only engaged in a global race against corruption (although this is one of the characteristics of eternal China) but that the Chinese President undertook an identity flight towards the image of Mao in order to restore the strategic solidarity of founding revolutionary China? What is this situation in front of Brexit once the people will definitely split into two irreconcilable parts?
In terms of strategic security solidarity, reaching it is generally a myth of Sisyphus. It is unattainable in a dictatorship, because it seems that in the race for security and arms, democracy always does better. In democracies, when strategic security solidarity is undermined, for example when a terrorist attack or a jacquerie reveals a state failure, the disaster may weaken and then overthrow power or even cause a profound change in democracy. For the strategic solidarity of accidents and progress, if a tsunami disrupts strategic solidarity devoted to energy, if farmers’ suicides question that of food self-sufficiency, if mass unemployment challenges strategic solidarity of the industrial model or services paradigm, if the management of an epidemic weakens that of health, if a vote causes a Brexit, if global warming propels renewable energies without metals sufficiency…, it is likely that democracy guilty of these failures will undergo profound changes. On the other hand, let us simplify by saying that these same causes will have no effect in a dictatorship because they will not affect in any way strategic solidarity that does not exist there.
Let us go further. Each of us realizes that deciding the nature of strategic solidarity in totalitarian countries, where one man decides alone, should be a more agile process than in democracies. In our countries, the choice of strategic solidarities must be that of expressing the general interest, but crystallizing this expression quickly becomes an illusion when it is impossible to impose that a very long-term trajectory overflies the rapid democratic political changes. In this sense, democracy participative, i.e. the politics of the present moment, is at the extreme opposite of long-term of strategic solidarities.
Let us move forward in the decision-making process. Recently, a new element has been shaking up strategic solidarities. Environmental doctrine aimed at regulating the climate and protecting biodiversity is emerging as a hexogenic strategic solidarity rather than being the result of an endogenous choice. It is imposed on everyone indiscriminately, in democracy and dictatorship; almost by decree with COP 21, in China with the cessation of polluting industries in winter, in France, England and Paris when the sale of petrol and diesel cars will be prohibited even before science and business have cheap alternative electric cars on the shelf. This phenomenon raises an iconoclastic counter-question: since we decide on strategic environmental solidarity in the same way as a dictatorship, are we still a democracy, and vice versa for dictatortship ?
As Saint-Exupéry reminded us, “freedom is choosing your master”. Being independent means freely choosing your dependencies without suffering, and therefore remaining sovereign over your strategic solidarities choices.
Published with Christian Harbulot