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The Crisis of Global Governance: Greece, Europe & The US


Standing before an audience at the Brookings Institute on March 8, a day before meeting U.S. President Barak Obama, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou made the case that the current European crisis involves American interests and that today there is a “crisis of global governance.” (PDF) His segue into this point was made nostalgically, appealing to an event in history that began 53 years ago this week.

 

For many this event was an act of U.S. barbarism that would not only thwart Greek autonomy and self-governance to this day, but in hindsight helped maintain the trajectory of U.S. global dominance beyond the Cold War rivalries of last century and into this one.

 

The event that Papandreou spoke of was U.S. President Harry Truman’s address to a special joint session of Congress on March 12th 1947, in which he articulated what became known as “The Truman Doctrine,” a Cold War strategy aimed at affecting the balance of power in favor of the U.S., which was implemented during the Greek Civil War, where the U.S. and British crushed the Greek resistance movement for fear of Left contagion spreading to other surrounding countries.

 

In his address Truman argues, among many things that, under war-torn conditions, “a militant minority, exploiting human want and misery, was able to create political chaos…” and that, “The very existence of the Greek state is today threatened by the terrorist activities of several thousand armed men, led by Communists, who defy the government’s authority at a number of points…”

 

Alluding to post-war reconstruction, Papandreou’s speech ignored the tragic history of his own country, including U.S. backed military dictatorship and repression (Nikos Raptis, U.S. Occupation, ZNet, 1999) and instead praised U.S. intervention that “enabled our two continents to rise above the crisis and build an unprecedented era of shared peace and prosperity.”

 

As U.S. born and educated leader of Greece’s ruling “Pan Hellenic Socialist Party” (PASOK) and also president of the “Socialist International,” Papandreou expressed no irony when praising Truman’s “vision” and “sturdy foundation for policies and institutions, such as the Marshall Plan and the Bretton Woods arrangements.”

 

Addressing his party two weeks ago, Papandreou stated, "We are in a race against time to keep our economy alive … the country is in a state of war."

 

Against this backdrop Papandreou made his visit to Washington. He sought support and spoke about “another crisis in Europe.” The crisis continues as Greece was rocked by its third 24-hr general strike in recent weeks – the last on March 11, included police and coast guard officers rallying against pay cuts.

 

To his Brookings audience, Papandreou said that “a crisis in global governance” exists and has at its core, an “impotent” international community that seems unable to deal with the “complexities of an interdependent market, or the new threats of global warming and competition for energy resources, or the spread of violence, terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons,” or protracted wars.

 

It would seem that Papandreou’s PASOK party, which has 160 seats in the 300-seat parliament, would have little trouble implementing his austerity plans. A recent poll suggested that the majority of Greeks, like the Right-wing opposition New Democratic Party, agreed with Papandreou’s austerity measures. Additionally there is no general election scheduled until late 2013.

 

However, a new poll this week suggests that a large majority of Greeks are opposed to the austerity measures. With a series of general strikes paralyzing the country, internal dissent in his own party, and European Union (EU) oversight, Papandreou’s talk in the U.S. seemed more revealing about his own crisis of governance than those he was speaking to at the center of power in Washington.

 

At home Papandreou is forcing Greeks to submit to combined austerity measures totaling 4.8 billion Euros ($6.5 billion US), comprised of E 2.4 billion ($3.3 billion US) in spending cuts and E 2.4 billion ($3.3 billion US) in new tax revenues.

 

These include an increase in the value-added sales tax (VAT) from 19 to 21 percent, with further increases in the fuel, alcohol (20 percent), and cigarette (6 percent) taxes, and a new tax on luxury goods. Additionally there will be a 12 percent cut in add-ons to civil servant wages, and 30 percent slashed from bonuses given to civil servants as holiday pay.

 

The goal is a reduced public deficit and national debt which translates into protecting the wealth and power of elites across Greece and the European Union as the cost of profit making in the Eurozone is passed onto workers and the people of weaker countries who have less bargaining power than their rulers. In a country like Greece, on the periphery of European power, this means imposing severe austerity measures on the Greek people and making them pay for a crisis they did not create.

 

The imposed austerity measures are not enforced by the EU or International Monetary Fund (IMF), but, as he has made clear, by Papandreou himself, and designed to be consistent with policies that benefit the rulers over the ruled, "We are not asking for a bailout. We are not asking for financial help from anyone. What we are doing is first of all, revamping our own economy. We are taking measures to put our economy on the right track and that has been recognized and hailed by many leaders and as I said earlier also from very important institutions such as the IMF and the European Central Bank.”

 

Abroad Papandreou appealed to U.S. elites stressing that American interests are at stake in the European crisis, “So, for America, a weak euro also means something else. It could mean a rising dollar. That, in turn, means a rising U.S. trade deficit, which will not help America’s economy rebound.”

 

He argued that the U.S. and Europe should work together to tame rampant financial speculation.

 

However, U.S. interests were expressed by U.S. elites themselves in various meetings with Papandreou. For example, during a reception for Greek Independence Day in the East Room, President Obama said, "Whether in good times or in bad times, the people of Greece will always have a friend and a partner in the United States of America….whether it’s the close counterterrorism efforts between our governments or the deep partnerships between our people."

 

When meeting with Papandreou in the Capitol, Rep. Nancy Pelosi expressed her appreciation to Greece for “sending troops to Afghanistan for the reconstruction there and to serve – allowing us to have a base there for soldiers traveling to Iraq. Not really having a base there,” she clarified, but “that we can pass through Greece.”

 

And when meeting Papandreou in the Treaty Room, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked, “Of course, as NATO allies, we work side by side on so many of these matters, and I thank the prime minister for Greece’s contributions to the refocused mission in Afghanistan. Both of our countries know what it is like to be targeted by terrorists and we are committed to confronting violent extremism that threatens peace-loving people everywhere.”

 

Additionally important are the strategic motives operating in the background for U.S. dominance and made more possible through the current Euro-Greek crisis.

 

Like the massive earthquake that struck Chile February 27 that may have affected the entire earth’s rotation, shifting the earth’s axis by approximately 3 inches, and thus shortening the length of each full day on our planet by milliseconds, the Greek financial crisis is unfolding on deep European fault lines tied together by currency and debt that could have sharply-felt socio-political impacts throughout the region, especially if economic instability spreads to other European economies.

 

The European Union is scrambling to resolve the Greek crisis from within in its own family of nations by considering a “European Monetary Fund” and by recently committing to an EU bailout of Greece, rather than asking for help from the IMF or the U.S. Although Papandreou has repeatedly stated he has not ruled out a U.S. or IMF economic bailout, doing so would allow more U.S. influence than the EU would probably like, demonstrating that the EU was not able to manage its own crisis.

 

However, economic destabilization of the Eurozone exacerbates what Defense Secretary Robert Gates perceives to be the “demilitarization of Europe,” where “budget limitations relate to a larger cultural and political trend affecting the [NATO] alliance.”

 

Speaking last month about the new “Strategic Concept” of NATO Gates said, “The demilitarization of Europe – where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it – has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.” (Contrary to what Gates says above, it is hard to believe that he really thought European sentiment for peace could be a blessing in the 20th Century.)

 

While Gates does not explicitly say that the U.S. should “go it alone” without Europe and against public opinion, there is tension between the EU and U.S. around “security cooperation.”

 

The new Strategic Concept involves NATO war planners and managers embracing what they learned since the 1999 bombing of Serbia and 2001 bombing of Afghanistan, to aggressively apply Article 5 of the North Atlantic Charter that formed NATO, which says an attack against one NATO member is regarded as an attack on all members.

 

Retaining this power-projection capability in a post-9-11 world is fundamental to U.S. interests and barbarity – and perhaps even better with a weakened EU.

 

Papandreou is right that there is a “Crisis of Global Governance,” but what he means by this crisis is, not only his own ability to govern Greece when the market and global capital ravage the country, but also when it erodes elite power and wealth throughout the EU, potentially destabilizing the region and with consequences that can cause massive social unrest. It is when this crisis affects elites that the alarm bells are rung.

 

The real crisis, felt every moment of our daily lives, is that, we, the people everywhere, have been robbed of our capacity to govern ourselves.

 

From Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Asia, Africa, and Latin America – everywhere – there is a need for mass social movement building to take collective decision-making power into our own hands to achieve a classless and self-managing alternative.

 

Overcoming this core problem, in the real crisis of governance, is what we need to resolve.

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