The Mix  
comments_image Comments

The "Securitization" of international economic policy

Can the IFIs get worse?
 
 
Share
 

The attacks of September 11th marked the end -- at least for the foreseeable future -- of U.S. foreign policy. See, foreign policy is a big tool box, with a wide variety of handy tools, including diplomacy. This administration chucked that toolbox out the window, and now we have a security policy and a trade policy. The nut-jobs driving U.S. foreign policy at the moment believe that's all we need to play the game of international politics.

I've written before about the "securitization" of all manner of transnational issues -- what used to be about trade or the environment or human rights law are now "national security issues" (and therefore exempt from the democratic process) -- and nowhere has that been more true than in economic policy, where standing against Washington's prevailing economic theories makes you a "populist" (thinly-defined) at best, and a "dangerous anti-democratic force" at worst (see Chavez, Hugo).

That narrowing of what we call "foreign policy" has found its way into dozens of issue areas in the past few years. From Mattthew Rothschild, writing in The Progressive (via CommonDreams), we get the latest iteration:

Tucked away deep in the new "National Security Strategy" that Bush released on March 16 was some bad news for Third World countries: Bush wants the IMF and World Bank to shove the free market even further down their throats.

Chapter VI of that document is entitled "Ignite a New Era of Global Economic Growth Through Free Markets and Free Trade."

It boasts of all the new free trade agreements the Bush Administration has negotiated, and it vows to create a Middle East Free Trade Area by 2013. (It hopes to sign a free trade agreement with the United Arab Emirates, but that one may have been set back by the port controversy.)

The chapter warns of some challenges, including the fact that some countries have the audacity to "restrict the free flow of capital, subverting the vital role that wise investment can play in promoting economic growth." This, even though countries like China, India, and Chile that place some controls on capital flow have had much greater economic success than others and did not suffer the turbulence caused by capital flight that many countries contended with in the late 1990s.

There are two equally flawed assumptions on which the securitization of economic policies rest. The first is a whole series of poorly-tested hypotheses that spring from the "democratic peace" theory -- the idea that democracies don't fight wars (with each other). Somehow democracy and capitalism became intertwined -- essentially as a matter of faith -- in the minds of many thinkers (like Frank Fukayama in The End of History ) and the appealingly simplistic idea that (economically) liberal democracies would be peaceful gained traction.

Without going into a lengthy critique (I buy some of it), let me just say that there haven't been a large number of democracies for long enough to make the empirical "evidence" for these ideas terribly convincing, and, worse yet, they require some definitional acrobatics. For example, democratic peace theory goes out the window if you include-- as commonsense dictates --proxy wars fought by democracies like the one waged between the U.S. and Nicaragua under the Sandinistas.

Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer .