The Autumn issue of Parameters is up, and has several good things in it. It has an article by Ralph Peters, who is always worth reading, for the force of his rhetoric as well as the merits of his ideas, some of which are offbeat, but never less than interesting. Peters makes a bunch of points, in his inimitable fashion, though a little more haphazardly than usual. But, let’s go ahead and hang onto his stirrup-strap as he charges ahead. You can either read my many quotes and pithy commentary below, or just go read the article.
First, Peters tells us, policy-makers give up too easily on Africa and South America, because they are too Eurocentric, even racist, and set in their ways. He then proposes a new Atlantic entity, whose outlines remain blurry even on repeated re-reading:
Nor is this about forging a neo-classical American empire. Rather, it’s about creating strategic partnerships to supercede our waning relations with continental Europe and about structuring alternatives to an over reliance on the states, populations, and markets of East Asia. Although the United States, where all the relevant cultures converge, would be the most powerful member of an Afro-Latin-Anglo-American web of alliances, this would be a new kind of informal, democratic network, based on shared interests, aligning values, cultural fusion, and mutual advantage.
This proposal sounds pretty similar to Jim Bennett’s notion of a “Network Commonwealth”(discussed here):
Far from a centralizing federation, the best form of association is what I call a “network commonwealth”: a linked series of cooperative institutions, evolved from existing structures like trade agreements, defense alliances, and cooperative programs. Rather than despising the variable geometry principle, it would embrace it, forming coalitions of the willing to respond to emerging situations.
That’s Bennett. Notice how he is more concrete, focusing on existing institutions and building on those to create an articulated Anglosphere. Peters’ posited unifying elements for his proposed “community” are a lot more diffuse, maybe even imaginary. Institution-building for such a community is not even started, probably not even contemplated. Not yet, anyway. So Peters’ proposal is all very much a chalkboard exercise at this point.
Anyway, Peters goes on to invoke America’s frontier spirit to buttress his proposed “Southern” policy approach:
America always has done best on frontiers, from our own West through technological frontiers to our pioneering of the society of the future, in which gender, racial, and religious equality increasingly prevail (to the horror of our enemies, foreign and domestic). And the great human frontiers of the 21st century lie to our south.
I find that a bit of a stretch, actually.
Peters goes on to tell us that Old Europe is at odds with America in all kinds of ways, which is manifestly so, and that the Arab/Muslim world is going to be a hopeless basket case effectively forever, so we shouldn’t get our hopes up about anything good happening there:
Especially since 9/11, the deteriorating civilization of the Middle East has demanded our attention. But we must avoid a self-defeating strategic fixation on the Arab Muslim world and self-destructive states nearby. Any signs of progress in the Middle East will be welcome, but the region overall is fated to remain an inexhaustible source of disappointments.
Now that sounds pretty well-grounded in reality.
Peters also says that Asia (for reasons he leaves vague) is not going to be a big pay-off area for us, either. So, the USA, cooperating with Britain, should focus on developing Africa and South America. He makes a muted “Anglospherist” argument:
While the most oppressive and corrupt colonial powers of the 20th century, notably France, watch their influence fade in Africa (President Bush’s visit to Senegal was calculated to show the flag in a developing power vacuum), the British legacy has been profoundly different. The French, Belgians, and others left behind a system of corrupt economies in service to statist governments. The British left behind a belief in the rule of law, democracy, and human betterment. Despite the suffering and tribulations of black Africans in British colonies, the colonized learned to value the colonist’s ideals for his own country even as they despised and fought against the colonist himself. The vile Apartheid regime in South Africa and the white-supremacy policies of Ian Smith’s Rhodesia could not destroy the legacy of the missionary school’s lessons about the Magna Carta, elected parliaments, and fair play. Those colonized by the British kept more than the sport of cricket for themselves. They also kept a belief in constitutions.
But then Peters takes an unexpected turn, and discusses engaging Spain and, surprisingly, Portugal as fellow “Atlantic” powers in the development of these regions. So the Hispanosphere and the Lusosphere will be joining the Anglosphere in this Southern Hemisphere strategy:
… with Spain vibrantly democratic and economically successful (for the first time in four centuries), Madrid has rediscovered its long-lost empire and seeks to engage it in emulation of Britain’s Commonwealth. In Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Spain found a visionary. While his party may suffer because of his unpopular support for the war to depose Saddam Hussein, he did not let opinion polls dictate his actions. Aznar did what he believed to be necessary and right, not only in the sense of ridding the world of a dangerous dictator, but in recognizing that Spain’s greatest potential for market expansion and diplomatic influence lies in working constructively with the United States, its fellow Atlantic power, rather than slavishly following the dictates of continental states with profoundly divergent interests. Spanish investors have sunk billions into Latin America, and they are in for the long haul. They want cooperation, not confrontation, with the United States.
… Portugal’s small size and lack of strategic power paradoxically offer it recuperative advantages. Mozambique and Angola, for example, do not fear creeping recolonization from the Iberian Peninsula—they’re more concerned about South African “economic imperialism.” Portugal has a surprisingly laissez-faire relationship with its former colonies, where its cultural influence is still felt profoundly and welcomed. Should Portugal recognize its future where its past greatness lay, in Africa and South America, it could serve as an essential bridge between its former colonies and other states in the Atlantic strategic network.
(Peters brief comments on Spain are consistent with the very good article Spain’s Military-Strategic Outlook which appeared in Parameters in 1997. Spain appears to be playing its few strategic cards very well in recent years.)
Peters then offers an interesting view that South Africa is in fact in better shape than most people seem to think, and will be able to play a major role in the future development of Africa:
Consider, briefly, the most promising major country on the continent— South Africa. If you only read the statistics from afar—HIV-infection rate, 30 percent or higher; unemployment rate, 40 percent or higher; up to three million AIDS orphans; low levels of literacy; astronomical crime rates—you would conclude that South Africa is on the brink of becoming a failed state. The visitor, on the other hand, sees a coalescing multiracial society that has done an astonishing (if still imperfect) job of overcoming historical hatreds. Much of the infrastructure is world-class. The government is serious about fighting corruption, improving living conditions for the poor, and expanding educational opportunities. South African boardrooms are no longer populated only by white faces, and South African firms invest in the rest of the continent and beyond (earlier this year, for example, South African Breweries bought Miller Breweries in the United States, and SAB-Miller also has extensive investments in China). Elsewhere, some Africans fear South African “economic imperialism.” And the infamous “white flight” of the early days of majority rule has reversed itself, with emigres returning to South Africa from abroad.
Despite many grave challenges, South Africa appears programmed for success on a continental scale. Events still could derail the country’s future, but it now appears that South Africa, not Nigeria, is destined to become the continent’s leader and moral beacon. Indeed, any Africa policy that does not strive for close relations with South Africa as a fundamental objective could achieve only partial, localized successes.
Hmmm. I hope he is right. Maybe South Africa really can play the role of the Anglospheric lead country in reforming and reorganizing Sub-Saharan Africa. (I’d given up on the place, figuring it would eventually go the way of Tanzania and Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe, straight into the crapper.)
The weirdest thing in this piece is Peters has all this nice stuff to say about Fidel Castro, whom he calls a “great visionary”. What? I’ll hold to my view that Castro is a worthless commie piece of shit who (I hope) will one day go the way of Ceausescu — shot like a rat at the dump.
Anyway, this essay is more a bunch of unfinished thoughts from Peters than a coherent proposal or even a linear argument. But it has some good stuff in it, based in part on his recent visits to several of the locales discussed.
The bottom-line is, I suppose, whether there really is enough potential in South America and Africa that America can or should reorient itself to focus on them more. I tend to think not. The money is still in bilateral trade with Europe and East Asia and the security threats are from the Middle East and a few other places, like North Korea. The incentives are not in place for any such major reorientation as Peters seems to be suggesting.
This piece is, truth be told, not in the same league as Peters’ many truly brilliant articles, like Stability, America’s Enemy, Our Soldiers, Their Cities or The New Warrior Class. His two books, Beyond Terror: Strategy in a Changing World and Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph?, which collect his essays, are both worth getting and reading.)