quinta-feira, 20 de novembro de 2008

Ethical Conditions to Thinking International Relations

This entry takes a shot at answering a question:

What ethical principle/theory do I see applying in developing countries and in their engagement with developed countries?

My first position will be to set up an epistemological context prior to establishing an ethical grid and the limits thereof. Not only is this necessary to avoid generalization, but more pointedly, it is required to tackle key differences among developing countries that split this designation into various subsets according to dynamic vectors.

The epistemological situation I am describing points to a perspectival model of discursive and cultural interaction in which there is mutual inhibition and mutual independence. Its cognitive framework is that of interpretation. Its logic may be formal, although versatility and knowledge of informal and dialectical logics are a plus. Perspectivism is often associated with a philosophy of truth. But I see it, as does Philip Pettit, as a beam through which to articulate communication, as well as ethical, political and legal commitment. It ought to provide the multifaceted openings regarding the cultural interpretation of discourse at work in the G7 and indeed within the G20 (to limit the scope of the “developing world”).

The so-called developing world is a broad category that has undergone internal subdivisions over the last decade or so. These changes are fundamental to apply prior to examining ethical questions related to international relations. As such, when it becomes a need to apply ethical principles or theories to vast cultures, the prior application of an epistemological model would serve well. For example, as regards individual human decision-making, action and resistance, what debates on ethical consequentialism have shown is how it is rarely adequate to discuss an individual’s sense of acting in his own interest without considering a vast network of criteria and norms which conditions individuals as they seek to accomplish different ends, such as freedom, well-being, wealth, and pleasure. Consequentialism, perhaps more than liberalism, recognizes the intertwined logic and objectives within a moral discourse set in a social context.

A perspectival reading of Brazil’s position regarding the North obliges us to accept the characteristics it shares with a host of other powerful and rich countries, namely as an “emergent” economy -- instead of a merely “developing” one. Brazil’s so-called Central East and South areas, in which the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are located, are comparable in terms of education, business, health care and luxury with first world countries. Brazil’s entrepreneurial and professional classes are fluently bilingual, and are well traveled in both Europe and North America. Therefore, there are grounds for the brand of moral equality a consequentialist ethics requires amongst players.

Yet Brazil, like Argentina and Chile, are countries with a recent history that set their development behind by decades. Without going into the economic details of the disastrous period of right-wing military dictatorship, I could perhaps simply point to the closing moments of that history as far as Brazil is concerned. Despite democracy being achieved in 1988, this moment can be located in 2002, only weeks after Brazil’s fifth FIFA world cup victory with the run up to the Presidential elections. Given by polls to win by a landslide, Luiz Ignacio “Lula” da Silva, faced a serious economic crisis, triggered by comments made about domestic corruption by the American Treasury Secretary. Indeed, in a hitherto unheard of gesture, the Financial Times had earlier petitioned the candidate to immediately name his choice for the heads of the Treasury and Central Bank. The outgoing Fernando Henrique Cardoso government presented all candidates with the option of an IMF bailout to prevent the further collapse of the Brazil currency, the Real. Only four years earlier, it had been pegged at near parity to the US dollar.

The attitude taken by soon-to-be President Lula was to sign on to the bailout package both for the need to cool down the speculation about his economic platform, as well as to prove Brazil’s good will as an international partner in business and political matters.

In this light, ethical commitment did indeed forego immediate political, economic or legal implications. But as far as Brazil’s new PT coalition government was concerned, ethics would have to give up on hopes of a metaethical justification – deeply needed in a political environment tainted by endemic corruption -- and turn to normative ethics. Namely, to be consequentialist, i.e. expressed in a language of retribution with a stern position against economic manipulation, and military and/or direct political intervention from within or without. Any of the latter would set up a situation of domination, thus breeching the slow reconstruction of trust between Brazil and the G7, which had been occurring since the 1980s. A consequentialist position seeks to evaluate action according to the reasons for seeking broader consensus-based possibilities for negotiating.

Indeed, the first decade of the third millennium has seen the re-emergence of South America on the world stage. There has been much press in North America lamenting the absenting of the American Government from South American affairs, especially after the collapse of the Free Trade Area of the Americas accord and the Doha round of WTO talks in Cancun, Mexico. There also arose alarmist, albeit contradictory, talk of a growing “leftwing” front in South America, and thus, we are to assume, the appearance of ways hostile to the North. This economic nationalism, however, is simultaneously perceived in the US Congress to pose a threat to the country’s trade balance due to Brazil’s huge citrus, meat, shoe and, more recently, biodiesel fuel production.

If it can be said that Brazil has an engagement to the North, I believe the North must itself begin by modulating this image. The primary demand financial markets imposed on Brazil in 2002, in the event its new government was to be from the Workers Party (PT), was to respect its foreign contracts and debt servicing. Under successive ministers of finance and the continuity of the Central Bank’s directorship, the PT has strived to do nothing less than that.

Therefore, the framework of a joint perspectivalist discursive model with a consequentialist ethical orientation can establish the conditions of mutual inhibition and mutual independence that, if I were to push Pettit’s ethical theory into his argument in favor of republicanism, underscores how an emergent country might gain the G7’s full trust. Namely, by manifesting an institutional state structure built upon checks and balances. As such, Brazil’s “engagement” to the north is stipulated upon conditions of “non-dominance”, i.e. freedom and a politics of recognition between trade giants. True to a consequentialist position, there is little sense for a country in a weaker position to seek engagement with the rich countries when it is under persistent threat of intervention. Freedom from non-domination is also a political and ethical framework in which reciprocity may be applied to effect, namely regarding the lifting of visa requirements imposed on nationals from countries such as the US and Canada, as well as duty taxes on technological imports from those countries.

The lack of an ethical basis for reconciliation has historically been the norm between the G7 and emergent and/or developing economies on issues of trade and commerce. The collapse of the Doha round is symptomatic of the failed striving of an ethical possibility for consensus, which is a version of consequentialism particularly aimed at a balancing of discursive positions. Here, the question of how these positions balance out, how they are fulfilled – or not –, is what was formally enabled by each partner’s recognition of the legitimacy of their own position as negotiator. But when some countries are perceived by others as imposing a double standard, grounds for an ethical commitment begin to fade.

One of the key threats to defaulted loan servicing is often of an ethical nature. Indeed, Joseph Stieglitz argued in 2003 that the economic isolationism loan defaults usually provoke are sometimes offset by the success stories in emergent nations like Russia, Argentina and South Korea, which did not follow IMF guidelines in the late 1990s regarding economic restructuring. On the other hand, for all the respect Brazilian economists have for the Nobel laureate, the country is a counter-example to Stieglitz’s critique. Its pre-crisis economic boom was built upon solid indicators at home and a devotion to reducing its external public debt.

This spirit of consequentialism, uttered through a Republicanist ideal of statecraft, characterizes the South American continent. Some exceptions (Venezuela and Bolivia) are accountable to a yet unfinished historical sequence, which has not allowed the freedom from non-dominance to emergence with Northern powers. As I argued previously, such freedom ought to be taken as a precondition for an ethical convergence to occur.

The context of war in the Middle East, on the other hand, hardly makes a publicly manifested seeking for trust possible. This should not mean, as in recently held positions by John McCain, that only force can bring rogue or “terrorist” states to the discussion table, but merely that discussion ought to spell out the two specific versions of justice which here lie in opposition, i.e. between the carrot and the stick. Regarding Iran, relations with the country have hardly been expeditious. While it cannot be held that a relation of dominance exists between the G7 and Iran, a struggle for hegemony (geostrategic reasoning) neutralizes the common ground needed for a discursive ethics to prevail.

Nonetheless, even a context of war or conflict can be contextualized to bring out vectors of hope according to which a prompted shift in argumentative context can be achieved. This shift would take antagonists from strategic to communicational reason in a Habermasian vein. But conflict and the lack of a base form of common understand at least regarding structural points is an area that the French post-Nietzschean ethics theorists have brought to a special understanding. Despite the need for such an understanding of conflict, it is evident that litigation often has more positive effects on citizens when a clash is averted.

To recapitulate then: my answer to your question, Dr. Sun, involves a comment on ethics, as it does on epistemological and strategic conditions. With such multiplicity at work in the engagement of developing countries toward the G7, a prior epistemological clarification (perspectivism) is required in order to allow a consequentialist ethical principal to be rooted. The practice of ethics between nations is a promising model to compare with Philip Pettit’s republicanism. The engagement between southern countries and the G7 ought to be exemplified by the economic success of so-called emergent states. With such countries, economic acceleration creates grounds for harmony with G7 nations and opens promising highways for the future, namely the G20. Still, new found oil and/or military industrial wealth, as well as cultural tensions due to near-by wars, serve to keep hopes for consequentialism stagnant in a framework of strategic reasoning.

Final remarks. The current international financial crisis and credit crunch has allowed emergent countries to question the moral and ethical standards of the G7, to say nothing of its legal system regarding financial operations. It is fair to say, I believe, that some emergent countries may authoritatively demand accountability, especially when these countries convincingly argue how they have respected IMF and World Bank guidelines regarding the debt servicing inherited from previous governments and/or regimes. This is the basis upon which President Lula da Silva declared on October 31 that “it is necessary for the economies of rich countries and poor countries to regulate the international financial system. It isn’t possible that all of us are regulated whereas finance has no regulation whatsoever.”The future for the supervenience of ethics over politics largely hinges upon the elimination of these, as well as other, double standards

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