Since Attorney General John Ashcroft recently warned of a possible attack on American soil, the protests taking place outside this week's G-8 summit in Sea Island, Ga., have been overshadowed by the specter of terrorism. This is unfortunate, because like the activists who have converged at previous meetings in Evian, France, and Genoa, Italy, these demonstrators carry an important message.
Instead of accepting the "anti-globalization" label given them by their critics, they have challenged the terms of the debate: It is not a question of whether globalization will occur, they say, but what kind of globalization we will have.
Never has this issue been more significant than in the George W. Bush era.
When President Bush took office, many noted his support for "free trade" agreements and his cozy relationships with CEOs of multinational conglomerates. They argued that he was continuing the economic foreign policy of the Clinton administration -- a brand of "corporate globalization" criticized for suppressing wages, increasing spreading inequality, and weakening global environmental standards.
But Bush is crafting a type of globalization marked by aggressive militarism and staunch unilateralism that differs greatly from the cooperative, "rules-based" model of international order favored his predecessor. Basing his foreign policy on military might and US power projection, he has crafted a form of "imperial globalization."
The G-8 meetings in Georgia highlight some of the important differences between Clinton's corporate globalization and Bush's imperial version. Under Clinton, G-8 meetings typically were celebratory gatherings of the world's most powerful leaders, who coordinated the neo-liberal economic policies of institutions like the IMF and the World Bank.
Today, the G-8 highlights simmering tensions between the White House and our traditional allies in "Old Europe," whose governments object to Bush's hawkish worldview and go-it-alone bravado. These leaders continue to promote the same pro-corporate development policies at the IMF and World Bank. But Bush's brand of corporate favoritism, embodied in no-bid Halliburton contracts, reveals a nationalist economic outlook that only exacerbates tensions.
The Bush administration's America-first attitude has complicated trade negotiations. In the 1990s, the "free trade" agenda made great strides with agreements like NAFTA and with the expansion the World Trade Organization. Under Bush this agenda is falling apart.
The US has never been willing to accept the same "free market" standards for its most sensitive products that it demands for poor countries. In the midst of a worldwide economic slowdown, other countries have pointed out this contradiction, and Bush's refusal to compromise helped create significant impasses at the World Trade Organization's Cancun meetings in September and the November negotiations in Miami for a Free Trade Area of the Americas. Having undermined its own trade priorities, the administration has been left to pursue small, one-on-one agreements with countries like Chile and Singapore.
With broad-based trade negotiations in a state of collapse and the situation in Iraq worsening, President Bush has increasingly been forced to soften his imperial approach and reconsider Clinton-style cooperation. But to cheer his recent multilateralist turn would miss a critical point. We need a globalization that embraces neither the soft hand of neoliberalism nor the punch of preemptive war.
Critics were right to point out that the corporate globalization of the 1990s benefited an international elite at the expense of the world's poor. UN Human Development Report tell us that inequality skyrocketed throughout the booming '90s, so that the top 1% of the world's population now gets as much income as the poorest 57%. Many developing countries continue to experience escalating poverty. In summarizing the most recent Human Development Report, administrator Mark Malloch-Brown said, "The poster children of the 1990s are among those who didn't do terribly well."
A new globalization must be based on internationalized labor standards and human rights. In contrast to corporate globalization, it must measure progress based on rising minimum wages rather than skyrocketing CEO pay. In contrast to imperial globalization, it must reject preemptive war and support the International Criminal Court, controls on the trade in arms and other mechanisms of international law.
As the Bush administration and G-8 leaders debate the terms of the current international order, the voices of critics should not be overlooked. Now more than ever it is vital to recognize that protests in the United States, Europe, and the developing world against corporate globalization have not been rejections of international unity. Rather, they are the most hopeful expressions of a different and urgently needed globalization.
Mark Engler, a writer based in New York City, can be reached via www.DemocracyUprising.com. Research assistance for this article provided by Jason Rowe.