The New Political Geography of Poverty

The Middle East Technical University in Ankara held a second conference from September 11th to September 2002.

This paper follows the 9/11 paper presented at METU in the previous year. It attempted to analyse the fundamental features of the world economy giving rise to the present military phase.  It argued that ‘globalisation’ is a self-limiting process. I later abandoned the term, but the analysis itself remains valid and has been confirmed byevents: the new phase of world capitalism that opened in 2000 is headed for self-destruction.

Fundamental long-term developments, arising out of the present organisation of the world economy, are acting systematically to undermine it. This results in a crisis I call structural. By this I mean that it is neither transitory nor accidental. It is a permanent, ineradicable and ultimately dominant determinant of the way the world is now evolving.

This structural crisis, the paper argues, arises from an unsustainable economic relation between the US economy and the world economy. This expresses itself in a new form, evident in the events that have unfolded since 11th September 2001.

The market is literally tearing the world apart; it is beginning to render large tracts of it ungovernable. As its economic mechanisms become increasingly incapable of resolving the social contradictions that they create, the nations and societies through which it is mediated are being plunged into increasingly in openly political conflict. The endemic crises, armed conflicts and governmental instability of the Middle East, of Central Asia, of the Balkans, of Central and Northern Africa, of Central and Southern America, and of South-East Asia, each has its specificity. But the basic driving force behind all of them is same: the crushing weight of two decades of accelerating economic stagnation, accompanied by universally growing inequality.

The governments of the advanced nations, who have provoked and lived off this phase of world development, now face problems no longer solvable by purely economic means. Confronted with countries and regions in which economic conditions lay no sound basis for stable government external intervention, willing or not, becomes the only remaining option.

Whereas the conflicts of the eighties and nineties centred on the financial and commercial organisations such as the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank, and although these organisations continue to serve as an arena in which increasingly acrimonious and conflictual relations between nations and regions are fought out, open geopolitical intervention – war, the violent overturn of governments, the break-up of nations, annexation, and colonisation, and open trade conflict – is now at the top of the agenda. The state, in a word, is back.

This is the fundamental reason behind an epochal shift in US policy towards direct military and political intervention in the internal affairs of states. Accompanying this is a growing political tension between the advanced countries and a growing inability of the US to impose a political consensus, most clearly demonstrated by the enormous problems it has had in building a coalition for its war on Iraq. This signals a phase of more or less open geopolitical struggle between advanced countries for territorial dominance, driven by the need to dominate and subordinate the labour of the rest of the world to their own capitals.