Europe should never have made itself so dependent on Russian gas. It has been said and it has been repeated for almost a year. No, indeed, Russia is not an example of participatory democracy. No indeed, Putin is not our best friend. He invaded a neighbouring country, Ukraine, and keeps part of it occupied. These are all good reasons to say ‘stop’. We do not buy your commodities anymore.
The reasoning is easy and waterproof. The alternatives, however, are not that easy.
Yes, we can buy Liquid Natural Gas, obtained from fracking, in the United States. Apart from the environmental damage caused by the exploitation, the transport is far more complicated, the price is higher and there is not enough infrastructure in Europe to receive it.
We also can buy natural gas in Qatar. OMG! The country where several thousands of workers perished while building the infrastructure for the World Cup! Where basic rights do not apply to women, where Sharia Law is the main source of legislation and people are flogged for alcohol consumption or illicit sexual relationships?
Or take Azerbaijan! It was quite annoying for Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to go and ‘double the import of gas by 2027’ and tell the government a couple of weeks later it stood on the side of Armenia when that country was invaded.
There is gas in Algeria, Egypt, Mozambique, in Western Africa. All African countries would be helped with incomes from their commodities, but the infrastructure is underdeveloped while in many cases their own population has no energy at all.
It is clear now that Western countries are prepared to forget about human rights for some countries, but not for others. Hypocrisy is all around.
Should we buy gas, at all, ask green activists, before, during and after COP 27? Should we not stop using these? Yes indeed, but should we leave people in the cold this winter? What is the alternative? Other solutions certainly exist, but they cannot be made available in the short term.
I remember that when NordStream2 was being built, we did not hear anything about ‘dependency’, but only on the lost income for transit through Ukraine. Apparently, this problem does not exist anymore?
Clearly, the ‘dependency’ problem is a complicated one. I am not saying we should buy gas from Russia. What we have to admit is that it is easy to condemn some countries and regimes, and others not. Gas from Russia was obviously the best solution in terms of price and distance. What happens now is that there most probably will be gas available in Europe for this winter, but people cannot pay for it anymore, it is too expensive.
The post-war global order has ended
However critical we may have been on some aspects of the global order put into place after the Second World War, its multilateralism was admirable. A global institution for promoting peace and development, a world bank for providing finances to countries in need of development, another institution to safeguard financial stability, and even a labour institution to help countries promote good working conditions and social protection.
The first ‘accident’ happened in 1971 when the U.S. stopped the Bretton Woods institutions to function properly. Monetary stability was gone and the US strengthened its hegemony. It was still a bipolar world though, with the Soviet Union showing its equal strength in science and technology and with a lot of influence in parts of what was called ‘the third world’.
A major shock happened in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and shortly afterward the dismemberment of the Soviet Union.
Capitalism had won the ideological war and an era of firm US dominance set in with neoliberal globalisation, ‘free’ trade, the abandonment of ‘development’ in its old meaning, and its replacement by ‘poverty reduction’.
In the meantime, however, other nations did work on their ‘development’, not only with trade but with industrialisation. Growth figures for China were amazing, year after year. Several countries in South and South East Asia used their low degree of social development – low wages - to compete with western countries. The unipolar world was substituted again with a bipolar world while Russia tried anxiously to rebuild its lost power. The war in Ukraine is but one very tragic example of this.
Other countries as well started to reorganise. Faced with the growing influence of the G-8 club of wealthy countries, a G-20 and a BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and later South Africa) came into being with some of the best-developed countries in the world. The so-called ‘Doha Agenda’ for development in the WTO having failed, new trade agreements were concluded all over the world, provoking a real spaghetti bowl that no one is able to disentangle anymore.
Add to this the awareness of climate change and the loss of biodiversity. Today, we all know that the economic model of the past half-century has no future anymore. Fossil fuels, an extremely strong sector – gas and oil – with huge political influence in all countries, have to be banned. Other ways of production and consumption will have to be developed all over the world, as was already stated at the Rio Conference in 1992. Today we not only need a political but also an economic and even social overhaul if we want to survive.
Nevertheless, the war in Ukraine is interpreted by many as another attempt of the US to weaken its competitors, seeing China as a ‘systemic competitor’, threatening its success. In the best hypothesis, it is only a ‘cold war’ in the making, though some do not fear talking of a ‘third world war’.
This is the context in which the current discourse on ‘dependency’ is taking place.
Today, more and more countries are trying to escape their re-capturing in one of the two big ‘camps’. Talks about a new non-alignment movement, with a reference to the Bandung conference of 1955, are taking place, in Asia as well as in Latin America.
Other possibilities are discussed as well in some big countries: more nationalism, often disguised as more patriotism under the influence of extreme right-wing movements. In the opposite direction go reflections on ‘omnilateralism’, diminishing states’ role and promoting more universal cooperation between all the world’s people.
Two ideas I would like to promote in this context are ‘interdependency’ and ‘global commons’. They certainly cannot become reality tomorrow, but they surely can influence our thinking about a common future. Interdependency has been on the political agenda since the start of international cooperation with the UN Charter. Its article 76c speaks about “to encourage recognition of the interdependence of the peoples of the world”.
All territories becoming ‘independent’ in the 1950s and ‘60s were well aware of the effective interdependency of countries, but they also knew their economic dependence stood in the way of real political independence, hence political emancipation.
Consequently, interdependency was on the political agenda of these countries as a demand to put an end to economic dependence. In the 1974 resolution of the General Assembly on the new international economic order is explicitly mentioned that economic dependence should make room for ‘real interdependence’ of all members of the international community. The framework in which newly independent countries had to work was one of national sovereignty coupled with an interdependent international order.
Today, however, interdependence is presented as a fait accompli. There is economic globalisation, even if it is more and more limited. Interdependence is no longer a demand, but all forms of dependency are treated as being equal. Political independence is not contested, but the experienced interdependence means there is no real independence and is the opposite of what was meant in the 1960s. If half a century ago, the interests of countries ‘in the centre’ were seen as opposed to those of the ‘periphery’, now it seems all interests are harmonised, ignoring differences as if we were all in the same boat, with all kinds of problems, from the pandemia to HIV-Aids, organised crime to migration, environmental damage to terrorism and armed conflicts. Reading reports from international institutions, it is as if the unity of the world is made of all common problems and as if there were no differences in the way they are to be tackled.
While the first meaning of ‘interdependence’ today is still closer to reality, the second meaning could bring us closer together and closer to solutions.
It is clear we are not all in the same boat, but in the same storm, certainly for all problems linked to climate change. As for trade, there still is some truth in Montesquieu’s ‘doux commerce’: if we are all really dependent on one another, without hegemonic desires and without monopolies, we certainly would have more possibilities to promote peace and avoid conflicts.
In general, we should not be afraid of ‘dependence’ since no single country has all the resources it needs for its development and for the welfare and well-being of its people. We all depend on others, the matter is to organise it in such a way that no one can abuse a dominant position.
One possible way of promoting this idea is to develop our thinking on ‘global commons’. Most conflicts imply a fight for resources, such as the most recent war in Ukraine is about oil and gas, but also about grain. Is it acceptable in times of globalisation to continue to consider States as the sole owners of the resources hidden in their soils? Can we not reflect more on the concept of global public goods, or global commons? Do natural resources not belong to all of the inhabitants of the Earth?
These are not easy questions but what we should be aware of is that the rules governing our world are of our own making. Goods are not private or public by nature, but by design, as a result of deliberate policy choices.
The war in Ukraine is not about civilisational ‘western values’, but at its heart, we find old issues such as nationalism, sovereignty and the delicate issue of the ‘self-determination of people', apart from the commodities, obviously. The question is whether these ‘values’ still offer enough guarantees for peace at a time of globalisation and an urgent need for commodities to tackle climate change. Do we not have to develop new thinking about the role of States and about new internationalism?
Plurinationalism, omnilateralism, and world federalism might be good examples of concepts to further develop and to couple them to a common ‘management’ of what we really have in common: a fragile planet with much-needed natural resources for all: from clean air and drinking water to lithium and rare earth. We do not know how the war in Ukraine will end, whether negotiations can make an end to it, or whether it escalates into a third-world war or a war against China.
What we do know is that all energy and intellect should now be put into serious research about avoiding conflicts, about preserving the Earth and all its living beings. A lot of good work had been done after the Second World War. We now have to take more steps toward a sustainable future. It will necessarily imply more cooperation and more sharing.
The task today is to rebuild our common world, reshaping ‘international’ cooperation with an awareness that at any rate, we are interdependent. The best solution then is to demonstrate its positive aspects of it, the perfect compatibility of universalism and diversity. In short, to try and realize real globalisation.