Is the Russian invasion of Ukraine the kiss of death for unbridled globalisation? You would think so, judging by all the analyses of Europe's incredibly naive reliance on Russian gas. Self-sufficiency appears to be the motto from now on - today rather than tomorrow. This is an understandable reflex, but by rushing into this we would again be digging our own graves. Because more global cooperation is in fact even more essential now, to reduce the dangerous dependence as well as for addressing existential threats.
Since the Berlin Wall fell, globalisation has not brought the world what the globalisation evangelists were counting on. It has indeed resulted in less extreme poverty, lower prices and a greater variety of products and services, but it has not exactly made the world more democratic: since 2006 the number of countries where the population really lives in freedom has actually been falling. Furthermore, global income and wealth inequality has increased. And Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted once again that an economically closely interwoven world is no guarantee for lasting world peace. Indeed, economic ties are increasingly used as a means for applying geopolitical leverage.
For the West it therefore does make sense to address the main drawback of the current form of globalisation: dependence on reprehensible regimes. Because as a democratic country you really should no longer want to be dependent on autocratic partners such as Russia for crucial resources such as energy. However, the solution does not lie in complete self-sufficiency or limiting trade to a small number of like-minded partners. Because as the Belgian philosopher Maarten Boudryrightly notesin his otherwise slightly too optimistic plea for globalisation: “History proves that self-sufficiency nearly always equals collective poverty.” The Netherlands being self-sufficient is simplyan illusion. For instance, there is no way that we can generate all the wind and solar power that we need in that small area of the North Sea. And on a larger scale that also applies to the West as a whole, with regard to a number of crucial commodities.
We must therefore aim for a different form of globalisation. One that centres on diversification. So we must look for various alternatives to Russian gas, including solar and wind power, which we should then import froma range of countries. Currently around 10% of world trade is accounted for by difficult-to-replace commodities, for which authoritarian regimes have a significant market share. Finding alternatives that can remove these bottlenecks is the most urgent issue. An important advantage of ongoing globalisation is that we will not become estranged from all those countries that would rather not choose between the West and the Chinese-Russian power block. These countries represent 80% of the world population and it would therefore be very shortsighted to force this group to make a choice and thus partly push them aside.
Furthermore, to address existential threats, we simply cannot look only towards our ‘own group of friends’. Global warming and biodiversity know no limits and global agreements are a bitter necessity. It is to everyone’s advantage to keep talking about a global reduction of CO2 emissions and to fairly share the burden of the measures that need to be taken, so that developing countries can also make the necessary transition to sustainability. We cannot afford the luxury of using our financial and technological aid as geopolitical leverage, because every second counts. Large polluting countries such as India, South Africa, and Pakistan, which abstained during the UN Security Council's vote about condemning Russia's actions, must also rapidly step up their sustainability efforts if global warming is to be contained. Aid, ultimately, is also purely a matter of self-interest, because in case of further global warming there is not a chance that ‘fort Europe’ will be able to stop the flow of climate refugees.
Naivety about the dangers of globalisation therefore works both ways. Withdrawing within the safety of the Western world is at least as naive as our current reliance on Russian gas. What we need is a realistic plan aimed at establishing diverse and extensive partnerships. That will prevent us from giving in to illusions of self-sufficiency and will end our dependence on a single partner or a single source of energy. And for those who do allow themselves a little bit of naivety: who knows, maybe the joint battle against global warming will take some of the sting out of the global tensions.
Also read Joeri's previous column 'Banging heads against fossil walls'