Maastricht and NAFTA

Can't we all play "nice" together? Dr Newcombe lools at the chances of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity among humankind

By Hanna Newcombe

Not all integrations of states into larger units-trading federations-are in harmony with World Federalist goals. World Federalist ideals aim at unified humanity living in peaceful cooperation encompassing the whole Planet Earth, with justice for all and equity for all parts, and practicing a long-range sustainable economy and lifestyle. Not all conglomerations of states contribute to this ideal.

The size of the new unit created is not a criterion of success in itself, without introducing other considerations. "Bigger" is not necessarily more "beautiful." Neither is it necessarily more "ugly," nor is "small" always "beautiful"; it all depends on the particular situation and context.

This is most obvious in militate alliances, where cooperation occurs among members of one part of humanity directed against another part in a situation which the late Kenneth Boulding called "the threat system." This is cooperation within a unit for the purpose of a more "effective" conflict between units.

We tend to think of cooperation as "good," but if it is partial in this sense, it would be better called "collusion," or what Boulding called "sub-optimization."

There are other less obvious examples of sub-optimization, namely tight trading blocs surrounded by high tariff walls. Again, internally the nations within the bloc cooperate, hut they engage in fierce competition with outsiders, or even try to exclude them from trade altogether. This would now be occurring in Boulding's "exchange system," milder than the threat system, to be sure, but still not the ideal third type, the "integrative system."

Even internally in a trading bloc, if the cooperation being practiced is not cooperation among equals, and/or if it is partly or wholly coerced rather than being freely chosen by the people of all participating nations, it does not promote our highest ideals; it may even run counter to them. Integration among unequals is only another name for imperialism.

For the Northern belt of industrialized democratic countries, there are two possible futures. They can be unified on an equal basis under CSCE (Conference of Security and Cooperation in Europe), which includes all of Europe plus all of former Soviet Republics plus all of North America, i.e. from Vancouver to Vladivostok; and under OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), which includes Western Europe, North America, and Japan (the "Trilateral Commission" area). CSCE and OECD overlap geographically, but between them they would form a continuous belt of cooperation through the whole of the Northern latitudes (except North Korea, Northern China, and Mongolia).The other possible future for this Northern belt is to be organized into three competing trading blocs: EC (European Community, or, after the Maastricht Treaty goes into effect, EU or European Union), NAFTA (North American Free Trade Area, i.e. U.S. Canada, and Mexico), and an East Asian bloc including Japan and some prosperous or rising Pacific Rim countries. This three-bloc grouping would leave out the former Soviet Bloc, either abandoning them to Third World level poverty, accepting them as second-class citizen into E.C. and permanently marginalizing them there. What result this would have on international tension staggers the imagination, with tens of thousands of poorly controlled nuclear weapons floating around in the Soviet orbit. The exchange system and the threat system may have their overlaps.

While the first scheme for the Northern future is intrinsically much more desirable than the second, they both have a common defect; they continue to neglect the South, as has been the case all along. With Mexico under NAFTA, the negative health and environmental impacts for the maquiladora region can only worsen. This, too, is unhealthy for the planet's future as partial scheme can be.

The trading blocs could even become superpowers-Fortress West Europe, Fortress North America and Fortress East Asia. (Remember the three superpowers in Orwell's novel 1984-Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia.) Two of them would be nuclear superpowers: Mitterrand has already said that post-Maastricht, European Union would have access to French nuclear weapons. (The British position is probably different.) And why is Japan buying quite so much plutonium, shipped from Cherbourg, where Greenpeace is opposing this for safety reasons? The amount seems excessive if intended for power reactors alone, as is alleged.

Each of the three power blocs would have a dominant centre: united Germany in EC/EU, the U.S. in NAFTA, and Japan in East Asia. Two of them-Germany and Japan-are supposedly the losers of World War II, spectacularly arisen from the ashes and believing that they can build up their originally intended empires by economic rather than military methods (the exchange rather than the threat system). The third one, the U.S., has intervened in wars around the world since 1945. Entrusting world security to these three might be even worse than entrusting it to the "Perm Five" of the U.N. Security Council.

A tripolar world would seem to be no safer or fairer than the bipolar world of the Cold War, which has mercifully departed from the scene. New "spheres of influence," some of them throwbacks to World War II times, like Japan's "Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere" or Germany's expanded Third Reich, inspire fear rather than hope in most of us who remember. And the American "Manifest Destiny" mythology also signals notions of a chosen people or a master race of sorts. All three of the new tripoles have some marks of potential imperialism in their national character and recent history.

But there are revolts. The Maastricht Treaty was initially rejected by Denmark, and accepted so narrowly in France (a "heartland" country for E.C.) that it almost counts as a rejection. NAFTA is becoming highly unpopular in all three member countries. Two-thirds of Canadians oppose it, according to the Pro-Canada Coalition. There has been a joint demonstration against the NAFTA Treaty by participants from U.S., Canada and Mexico. The U.S. Congress may reject the Treaty, under this popular pressure.

Peace people must be choosy about giving their support to larger groupings of nations. It may be that CSCE should be supported and E.U. and NAFTA should be opposed. We must look analytically at each situation.

The criteria should be: (1) Is the proposed grouping open or closed? i.e. Is it directed against outsiders or can anyone join? (2) Is it a grouping among (approximately) equal states, as the original core of Italy, France and West Germany was, or are there signs of attempted domination by stronger powers over weaker states? (3) Is the new grouping being freely chosen by the people in all the participating nations, after receiving full and truthful information? There should be consent, defined as support by the majority plus acquiescence of the rest, i.e. not approval by a razor-sharp 51% majority with passionate opposition by 49%. Consent so defined is far less than consensus or uranium, but it is more than a mere majority. The issue is too important for mere majority decision.

These three criteria amount to the old trio of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" (of all humankind). These arc still good guidelines in our struggle for a solidly-based human universality in a good society.

Hanna Newcombe teaches peace studies at York University.

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1993

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1993, page 10. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Hanna Newcombe here

Peace Magazine homepage