By Mohammad Mazhari

Crisis in NATO showed traditional security states have become unviable: Oxford professor

March 3, 2021 - 16:41

TEHRAN – A professor of history at the University of Oxford says the crisis in NATO countries proved that traditional security states have become unviable, while countries like Iran can play their role in new world order.

 “The unprecedented crises that have hit NATO countries from Turkey to the U.S. provide examples of the way in which such traditional security states have become unviable,” Faisal Devji tells the Tehran Times. 

Devji also says, “One of the first countries to shed its Cold War regime, Iran has yet to find a place for itself in this emerging world.” 

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: Joe Biden pledged in his election campaign to revive the JCPOA. But why doesn’t he take any step in this regard?

A: The Biden administration is also in no hurry to stop deportations or the taking of migrant children into custody, to say nothing of forgiving student debt, all issues the President had promised to address. This is in part to mark a departure from the precedent set by Trump and make decisions on the basis of consultation and agreement within the bureaucracy. 

But it is also to signal the unhurried pace of a great power that can afford to act at its own time. The administration’s recent bombing of assets in Syria after consulting its allies is part of the same logic, dictated by the effort to rebuild America’s damaged image and reputation in the world. 

Addressed to Russia, Turkey, Israel and the (Persian) Gulf monarchies as much as Iran, the airstrikes were ‘balanced’ by the release of a report holding the Saudi crown prince responsible for the Khashoggi assassination and Biden’s refusal to speak with him. The point was to signal America’s neutrality as well as ability to act in the Middle East (West Asia). 

Such attempts to return to the status quo ante are not only unimaginative politically but betray the anxious recognition of America’s slipping power and loss of prestige in the world. They are public relations exercises conducted at the cost of non-American lives and international as much as U.S. domestic law. 

“Trump’s presidency revealed the weakness of America’s governing institutions and the decline of its democratic model for a global arena.”Q:  Biden's team is mostly filled with figures who served in the Obama administration. Do you think Biden would make more achievements in comparison to Obama? 

A: Obama also relied on staff from the Clinton administration, not least Hillary Clinton, his designated successor. In making these choices, Obama betrayed his own promise of change, which, when it did finally come, took on the perverse form of the Trump revolution. 

Relying on those who have had experience of government is important, but not without a vision for the future. Both Obama and Biden seem to want a return to the past, and in this their party is at one with others on the left in Western Europe and North America.

The left and right in the West seem to have changed places after the Cold War. The former has become conservative in its desire to regain a liberal international order, while it is the latter which approaches the future in radically new ways.

Because it is the right that is today defined by ideology rather than the left, it can dispense with the latter’s mindless pluralism, evident in Biden’s invocations of race, gender, sexual and other identities all added together into a constituency with no political meaning. 

This is why it is the right that first puts ethnic and other minorities in positions of power for reasons of ideology not identity. Before the Democrats had Barack Obama and Kamala Harris, the Republicans had Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. 

This is even more true of Britain, where the Conservative government has been the first to appoint so many minority ministers in cabinet. And let us not forget that Trump’s support among non-African American minorities rose between his first election and the second.

Q: What is Trump's legacy for the United States?

A: In some ways Trump merely showed us the truth about America. For he represented the triumph of a certain vision of neoliberalism in which politics, too, was reduced to the economic logic of deal-making, with private profit meant to lead to public gain. 

But Trump also demonstrated the limits of this model, since the economic interests he championed proved to be so unstable. It is because vested interests of this kind no longer define politics in the West that venerable parties like the Republicans can be taken over by adventurers like Trump and be gutted from within. 

We see the same thing happening in Britain with the takeover of the Conservatives by Brexit supporters, and in France where long-established parties were defeated by a newcomer. India and Pakistan exhibit similar features outside the West. All over the world, it seems, the political party is in crisis as an institution meant to represent distinct interests.

It is not that such interests do not exist, but they no longer dominate or define social and political relations. This is why the party of big capital in Britain could push for Brexit in the teeth of capitalist opposition; or why the remnants of the working class there and in the U.S. could vote for the right. 

Financialization and the replacement of manufacturing by services has both globalized and destroyed traditional class identities and politics, whose interests are now being replaced by racial religious and other apparently primordial ones. Trump represented this process.

“Crucial about the present moment and represented by the Trump presidency in particular, is the collapse of the West as a universal model.”


Q: Do you expect the Biden administration would give in to a multi-polar globe in which China, Russia, and other powers would also play a prominent role?

A: The U.S. will acknowledge multipolarity where necessary, say with Russia and China, and ignore it where it can by the attempt to create new zones of influence. Yet the old system of client regimes that characterized Cold War alliances are no longer viable at any large scale.

Since the end of the Cold War, we have seen wave after wave of collapsing regimes moving from the ex-Soviet Union outwards. Beginning in the Balkans, Caucasus and Central Asia, these waves include the so-called colour revolutions in Eastern Europe and the Arab Spring.

While some focus on conspiracies and external causes to account for such events, we can understand them in a structural way as the collapse of Cold War regimes rendered meaningless after it. Today these waves have reached the West, itself a relic of the Cold War.

The unprecedented crises that have hit NATO countries from Turkey to the U.S. provide examples of the way in which such traditional security states have become unviable. One of the first countries to shed its Cold War regime, Iran has yet to find a place for itself in this emerging world.

The post-Cold War state can no longer be defined by old-fashioned sovereignty, itself rendered moot in many ways by globalization. This is why contemporary states are obsessed by the threat of external meddling, something that had once been a mark of dictatorships. Important here is not the external agent so much as the internal citizen given over to global agendas who must be put under surveillance as a potential enemy. 

The crisis of sovereignty has led to its bifurcation. Some want to reclaim traditional forms of sovereign power, of which Brexit Britain and Trump’s America are the best examples. And others to reinvent a civic or civilizational sovereignty premised upon the loss of its old-fashioned predecessor. 

Many countries in the EU belong to this latter group, led by French efforts to defend secularism against immigrant religions and Anglo-Saxon ideas. But there are also regions like Scotland and Catalonia that see the EU enabling their emergence as non-sovereign nations. Both visions of sovereignty, in other words, work to tear apart existing states.

Q:  The U.S. has been the sole hegemon in the world for many years. Don’t not you think the U.S. power will decline in the coming years due to the challenges at home?

A: Trump’s presidency revealed the weakness of America’s governing institutions and the decline of its democratic model for a global arena. The Cold War had already empowered the executive more than a presidential system naturally does, and its unaccountability was only exacerbated by 9/11 and the War on Terror. All of this Trump only inherited and did not improve upon, though he did manage to strip presidential power of its dignity.

The Westminster or British model seems to be more resilient, but it, too, is under strain both in its country of origin and in many of her former colonies. Meanwhile, the EU is a bizarre contraption that is neither empire nor federation and yet far more than a trading bloc. It is an order without any sovereignty of its own, relying on NATO for much of the latter. And its unaccountable bureaucracy famously enjoys a ‘democratic deficit’.

Russia and China do not represent global models either, but then they never have in any serious way. Crucial about the present moment and represented by the Trump presidency in particular, is the collapse of the West as a universal model. It may still offer the vision of relatively free societies marked by great wealth, but this fundamentally social reality is now endangered by the new politics of Western Europe and North America.  

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