It really is the greatest moral challenge of our time – and it’s not climate change. It is nationality versus internationality. This is the real agenda behind so many of the world’s major problems, involving a potential worldwide crisis now emerging from the fundamental incompatibility of corporate/political internationalism with the sovereignty of the nation state. Are we separate nations with our own distinctive characteristics and interests or are we all one universal brotherhood lumped together under one international structure? President Trump’s trade war, Britain’s desire to restore, via Brexit, the sovereignty lost to the EU, pro-nationalist political successes in Europe and even Australia’s recent electoral confirmation of its secure borders policy in the face of UN-backed attempts to impose constraints on that right, all point to a mounting resistance to the dogma of internationalism. Via the UN and its agencies, this brought us the intrusive supranational conventions that can take precedence over our own laws (such as in the recent NSW court judgement against a proposed coal mine on the grounds that it would add to coal production when the Paris Agreement limits CO2 emissions or the requirement for UN approval of flight paths over the Blue Mountains from Sydney’s planned new airport).
Corporations don’t like the borders that define nations – or many of their tax regimes. Assisted, ironically, by the Marxist Left and the bureaucratic one-world internationalists of the UN, international corporations had been winning the war against the secure borders and trade barriers of nation states. And the more successful the campaign for free international trade (from which Australia has benefitted), the more politically difficult to sustain becomes the proposition that borders should be open for trade but not for people. However the nation state is fighting back. Not only are multinationals, such as the internet giants, facing increasing legal action from national governments, but the greatest questioning of free trade along with pressure for building walls to keep out illegal immigrants comes from the leader of the nation that hosts the most aggressive of the multinationals; the USA.
An unsustainable one-sided US-China trade relationship prompted Trump’s high-risk option of threatening trade chaos. Whether it will turn out to be no more than a return to crazy insular protectionism or a justifiable attempt to get a much-needed better deal, only time will tell. In any event, the dynamics of the US-China relationship have changed with the US energy revolution; US oil/gas self-sufficiency (it is now an exporter) means the US no longer has the same imperative to secure its Middle East oil sources. This is at a time when China is seeking to forge greater links in that troubled region, potentially replacing the US as its client; the Middle East is the centre of China’s expansionist Belt and Road rebalancing of economic relationships, using international trade to further its national interests.
Growing nationalistic reaction against internationalism is evidenced by popular (populist?) support for the primacy of national sovereignty, even given the concessions required in the multiplicity of regional and bilateral free trade agreements that have become a substitute for the continued failure of multilateral ambitions. Border protection and other expressions of sovereignty represent the first serious rebuff after three-quarters of a century of the UN as a voluntary body promoting supranational intervention and the EU as a prescriptive one. Brexit is not the only threat to the desires for an even more formally united Europe. On top of the lack of unity on currency, with nine of the EU’s 28 members remaining outside the Euro (and a few members at risk) there are separatist pressures within the EU; Belgium is formally split in two, Flemings and Walloons, Spain is struggling with Basque separatism, Poland and Hungary are in the EU’s naughty corner along with Italy, while Greece remains in the fiscal emergency ward and Bulgaria and Romania remain mendicants. Even France and Germany face political instability. Any proposal that we should seriously rethink those international treaty obligations that diminish our sovereignty would attract the inevitable politically correct smear of xenophobia. But it needs to be done.