The Second Cold War

Article published on Dec. 22, 2002
community published
Article published on Dec. 22, 2002

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

There is a red line that connects the pre-Genova debate on globalisation and the post-11th. of September scenery. Critical thought is menaced by a dérive sécuritaire.

The impact of this war on public opinion is like an incoming tide. The waves level the confused and trampled sand of a beach, just like the flow of information that followed the 11th. of September flattens and submerges the debate on globalisation born in Genova last July. This is because in market terminology, this debate no longer “sells” as it did before and also because it appears more and more dangerous to criticise the western model, that today needs to be defended from the terrorist menace as never before.

The value of Genoa lies not in the quality of a debate often free of ideological depth and exploited by the left wing as well as the Vatican, but in the fact that after fifty years of Manichean ideology and a decade of unique liberal thought, it was again legitimate to criticise the global system.

A mass mobilisation was added to this revival of protest, strange in the internet era, of young generations, mostly Europeans, which gave way to an excellent prospect of political debate for the society of the old continent. A continent that has become old after the regression of cultural politics (national and communitarian), but renewable through the renewed vitality of the new generations.

After the 11th. of September all this seems to have been blown away. The sketch of a transnational debate on the world system is just a faint memory, faced with shaking of uncritical minds that is anthrax. There is the serious threat of a dérive sécuritaire (security defecit): a tidal wave of panic that grasps audiences and surveys and anaesthetises critical consciences. A threat to which our television “surveycracys” risk exposur to.

This tendency is not only turning the media upside down, but is doing the same in the political arena: the success of the anti-global movement has even induced Lionel Jospin, socialist candidate for the French Presidency to produce a critical essay on globalisation. Now it seems that the French electoral duel in 2002 risks becoming a game on national and international security.

We’re going back into a cold war. A war that ices consciences in front of us, iced like the spirit of protest of May ’68. Iced by the nuclear menace of destruction, an intelligent balance and not “MAD”, although atomic, that silences critics.

Then like today, in front of a threatened world order, youth and certain intellectuals must calm down. For the new critical thought “the break is over”: the moment to leave the space to the tyrant of security, to the dictatorship of the status quo appears to have arrived.

The Alternative

But this tendency can be restrained. The paradox is that the “historical” outrage of the 11th. of September has yet to change history, neither has it let out all of its anaesthetic effect. The critics, after the 11th. of September, have indeed been axed, but surely not aborted: the criticism’s potential remains unaltered because it’s theatre –the media- remains disposed to receive it, as soon as those on duty are able to re-present this war in a less conventional manner. The problem is age-old: finding a political and intellectual leadership capable of satisfying the need for change which lies, menaced and intact, within public opinion.

The outrage of September 11th. has apparently made the task harder. The American global strategy, in fact, violates those principles and needs for justice “without boundaries” that were supported at Genoa. It’s important that the European public understands this.

The paradox is that, in fact, it’s actually the humanitarian disgrace that the United States were victims of on September 11th., represents for Washington an extraordinary strategic opportunity. For the first time after the collapse of the USSR, there is a global enemy to fight: international terrorism. An enemy characterised by a brutality that justifies responses without limits, and by an omnipresence that legitimises repressive actions in any part of the planet.

This is the mentality that drove the intervention of the 10th. of November, which George W. Bush painted in front of the UN assembly, a planet about to fall into a new cold war. Even the terminology used (“either with us or with them”, “this is a clash between good and evil” and the demand for a “united action of the free world”) has as its goal international consent against the terrorist “nets”; annihilation of the opposition within international public opinion; terrorism of international relations, allowing a thin curtain of panic to come down onto our souls.

The United States have chosen to exploit the 11th. of September. Their aim seems to be to gain legitimisation for a global strategy in order to bring down the Taliban regime in the short term, Saddam in the medium term, and control of central Asia (and it’s oil resources) in the long term.

If this intention is proved by the facts, it is obvious that the international relations of the twenty first century will be founded on an international ethics of profit, and not on international rights. Always more “illegal” states (that don’t respect human rights) are clientelised by Washington in the name of strategic convenience(first of all, after the recent meeting in Shanghai, Russia and China). Slowly the logic of security will come down on our lives, paralysing the critic. Institutionalising shock, fear and panic. And throwing away the idea (consequently no longer just rhetoric) of justice, peace and freedom.

But as in all contemporary global strategies, the sustenance of public opinion is fundamental. And not only the American and Arab ones, but also that of Europe, with which the republican administration, up to the 11th. of September, had not a few problems (on issues such as the ratification of the Kyoto protocol and the Statute of the International Criminal Court) but with which it cannot dispense. This is for two reasons: firstly because the US leadership is founded on the consent of the west of which Europe is and will remain the historical cradle; secondly because the political support and the collaboration of European secret services remain indispensable for Washington.

Now, this support is not expected: it’s not certain that European public opinion will accept to support Washington on the basis of a war between good and evil as Bush resumes it. Europeans cannot be expected to accept the role of faithful TV spectators of the umpteenth political-military show of Washington –joined by troops of European states- at least not before a real debate on the war.

Above all this debate should become a European one, overcoming media and language boundaries. If, as happened with globalisation, a promising generational debate on the war commences we will avoid this scenario. And if we participate with the keyboard and the screen in cafè babel.