An end to U.S. Nation Building, but what does that mean?

A criticism of ‘optimist’ views of globalisation

Along with the withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Afghanistan last week, President Biden also announced an end to ‘Nation Building’ as part of its foreign policy.

This topic should be of interest to anyone studying globalisation and global development, as this policy shift will have global implications.

What does and end to Nation Building Mean?

Broadly speaking and end to nation building means the U.S. will no longer be invading foreign countries and keeping troops and advisers stationed in those countries for the long term with the intention of establishing ‘liberal democratic’ (sceptics might say pro-American )governments.

This is what the U.S. tried to do with Iraq and Afghanistan following the September 11th 2021 bombings, but now it seems that the case of Afghanistan has firmly put paid to the idea that America can successfully intervene and help to engineer ‘regime change’. If can’t do so after 20 years, it seems unlikely staying around any longer would have made any difference, especially when the Taliban took power so swiftly following news of the U.S. withdrawal.

So what does this mean in terms of globalisation?

This is certainly evidence against so called ‘optimist’ views of globalisation – America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan suggests its power globally is in decline, and it has less capacity now than ever to ‘export Western models of democracy abroad’.

However global pessimists might remind us that this won’t necessarily mean an end to U.S. military involvement in the region, or elsewhere in the world – it could just mean a shift to more covert forms of drone strikes on militants, and more chaos abroad, meted out from a distance by the United States.

Just about the only thing that is certain is this makes the world an even more uncertain an unpredictable place than ever!

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America’s War in Yemen

Given the correlation between Peacefulness and economic and social development, I’d say there’s a strong argument that the level of peacefulness in a country is one of the most valid indicators of that country’s level of development; it’s also important for the potential of other countries to develop further, given that violence in one country can so often retard development in other countries.

Unfortunately for America, it doesn’t do well on measures of peacefulness. According to the 2017 Global Peace Index (GPI), it ranks a dismal 114th out of 163 countries, down 8 places from the previous year, and bucking the general trend which is for more wealthier countries to be more peaceful (Scandinavia + Canada are towards the top!)

The Global Peace Index includes several indicators to establish its rankings, and so there are many reasons for America’s low peacefulness (and high violence) ranking – the high homicide rate being linked to the national addiction to guns, and neither does its high military and nuclear expenditure, or its involvement in drone-killings abroad.

One recent event, which won’t have been included in the 2017 GPI data, is America’s enhanced role in Saudi Arabia’s current war in Yemen – Following Donald Trump’s recent state visit to Saudi Arabia, The United States is set to become more complicit in this war. Saudi Arabia ranks 132nd on the GPI, Yemen 4th from bottom at 159th.

Amnesty International calls the conflict in Yemen the ‘forgotten war’ – it’s basically a conflict involving one group of Yemenis known as the Huthis who support the former Yemeni president, and a second group who, along with the Saudis, support the existing president. The conflict has been going on since 2015, with civilians caught in the middle.

Amnesty cites the following human toll of the conflict so far:

  • 4 600 Civilians have been killed, 8000 injured
  • 3 Million people have been displaced
  • 18.8 million people currently rely on humanitarian assistance

According to Time, Donald Trump recently agreed $110 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia:

‘The weapons sale was one of the largest in history, totalling close to $110 billion worth of tanks, artillery, radar systems, armoured personnel carriers, Blackhawk helicopters, ships, …Patriot missiles”

The $110 billion figure is almost certainly exaggerated, as it includes the renewal of some existing deals with are ongoing (so no new money changing hands), and some potential, yet to be agreed, future arms-deals, but whatever the exact figure there is sufficient evidence of closer war-links between America and Saudi Arabia:

According to Al-Jazeera, what we do know is that Trump is ramping up arms-sales to the Saudis:

‘Trump is green-lighting sales of precision-guided, air-to-ground missiles that Obama had withheld because of concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and civilian casualties. In addition, Trump is moving forward to replenish and expand the Saudi supply of battle tanks and armoured vehicles, replacing equipment damaged in the Yemen conflict. Separately, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon both announced major sales in connection with Trump’s trip but this seems more in the nature of a promise than a finished deal.”

Somewhat worryingly, is the rather blase attitude displayed to all this by the American politicians involved:

According to Time:

Policy advisor Jared Kushner high-fived National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster as he entered the room where they held talks with Saudi officials. Aide Gary Cohn told pool reporters the deals represented “a lot of money. Big dollars. Big dollars.”

According to Al Jazeera:

“The Saudis are in a war in Yemen and they need weapons. You want to win, you need weapons,” Senator John McCain, a Republican, told Al Jazeera. “We are in a war.”

More worringly still, according to the Ron Paul Liberty Report, the U.S. military is also directly involved in the Saudi – Yemen conflict through advising the Saudi’s on identifying and picking targets to bomb in Yemen and through fuelling Saudi war planes, (first few minutes in the clip below…)

Of course not everyone in America believes that the United States should be involved in the Saudi’s war against Yemen, so I’d hate to tar all Americans with the same violence-brush, but unfortunately for the rational peace lovers, the neoliberals in power are using the machinery of the America state (ironically for neoliberals) to escalate violence in the Middle East.

SO if  we are to include peacefulness in our assessment of how developed a country is, then on the most recent evidence of the Saudi arms deal, we’d have to conclude that the United States has regressed even further than the Global Peace Index suggests.

 

 

 

 

 

The Global Peace Index – What is it and How Useful Is It?

The Global Peace Index uses 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators to measure the state of peace using three thematic domains:

  • the level of Societal Safety and Security;
  • the extent of Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict;
  • the degree of Militarisation.

The data is collated by the Institute for Economics and Peace – a think tank which develops metrics to analyse peace and to quantify its economic value. It does this by developing global and national indices of ‘peacefulness’, analysing country level risk, and calculating the economic cost of violence, and the positive benefits of peace.

Some of they key findings from the latest 2020 report include:

  • The average level of global peacefulness fell 0.34 per cent on the 2020
    GPI. This is the ninth time in the last 12 years that global peacefulness has fallen.
  • Trends are polarising – around 80 countries got less peaceful, but 80 countries got more peaceful.
  • The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region remained the world’s least peaceful region.
  • Europe remains the most peaceful region in the world, although it recorded a slight deterioration in peacefulness.
    registering any change over the past year.

The Institute for Economics and Peace says its aim is to ‘create a paradigm shift in the way the world thinks about peace. We use data driven research to show that peace is a positive, tangible and achievable measure of human well-being and development.’

You can explore the Global Peace Index and download the full 2017 report for free on the Institute for Economics and Peace’s dedicated website – Vision of Humanity

Selected Key Findings of the 2017 Global Peace Index

Trends in peacefulness in 2020

There has been a divergence in peacefulness in the last decade – with the least peaceful countries getting less peaceful and the most peaceful countries getting more peaceful.

If you look at the breakdown by indicator, it is mainly refugees and internal conflicts driving the drift towards less peacefulness.

The economic costs of violence 

  • The economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2020 was around $14 trillion in purchasing power parity (PPP),
  • This is equivalent to 12 per cent of the world’s economic activity (gross world product), or $2000 for every person.

NB – What’s above is just an overview – I strongly recommend you explore the data further at Vision of Humanity!

How Useful is the Global Peace Index in helping us to understand development?

Strengths

On the plus side, the data seems to be non-partisan, in the sense that there doesn’t seem to be undue influence in the data selection process from developed countries – there is a heavy peace-score penalty which some of the most developed countries pay for high levels of military expenditure – most notably the United States.

Also, if we can trust the data and the number-crunching, then there is a clear correlation between sustained peacefulness in a country and that country’s level of development, and so monitoring levels of peacefulness and violence seems to be one of the most important goals in global development.

The Global Peace Index covers a lot of indicators – and the reports break them down to look at individual indicators, so you get a certain level of insight into the levels of peacefulness and violence.

I do like the focus on ‘positive peace’ and the fact that the report recognizes high levels of military expenditure as retarding investment in more positive aspects of development.

Limitations 

On the downside, I’m not convinced that all of the data is 100% valid – there has to be a lot of differences in the way data is recorded from country to country, especially in war-zones, so lots of missing conflict-deaths no doubt. This means making comparisons is difficult.

Also, I’m not sure they’ve included a broad enough range of indicators – the fact that Qatar creeps in at number 30 makes me suspicious, also – is violence against women included?

Also, I’m not clear about how the data is weighted – there’s lots of talk in the report about ‘multiplying factors’, and I don’t know enough about the maths behind the indices to evaluate how valid these calculations are.