Chile and the End of the Liberal World Order

By Christian Scheinpflug

This post appeared elsewhere in a slightly different version on January 7, 2017.

The old, liberal world order is over, says Foreign Affairs, the organ of the US foreign-policy establishment. In the bygone days, Liberalism supposedly guided the ways of the world with an emphasis on cooperation, facilitated within global institutions like the World Bank, and everyone adhered to the supremacy of international law. Thus could develop an ‘open economy’ driven by ‘free trade,’ which benefited every country that cherished this ‘rules-based order.’ Another pillar of this order was force because rules count nothing if their violation doesn’t face punishment. This task was taken up by Uncle Sam, who watched the brats to keep the house in order.

Yet, order is a two-edged sword. Geopolitically, if one gets their will, someone else has to step back. Once it’s established who’s boss, capitalist logic can set in, where ones gain is not necessarily another ones loss. Basically every country in Latin America had to learn this lesson. Establishing the liberal world order in the region received a boost from Uncle Sam’s little helpers, mainly educated in the torture academy called the School of the Americas. Chile became significant because here liberal ideology fused with class and geopolitical power and created a key battleground for world history.

Western Europe’s, and especially Germany’s, close geographic proximity to the Soviet Union, meanwhile, was reason for Uncle Sam to spoil Western Europe and create liberal democracies in its own image. Soviet Communism saved Europe.

In Chile, Salvador Allende’s government was far from experimenting with Soviet-style communism, as US intelligence confirmed. Moreover, “economically, the country was also in its best shape ever,” Ambassador Korry informed Washington. Yet, the ever-acid Henry Kissinger noticed that Allende would “eliminate US influence from Chile,” which may result in “US investments…lost” and perhaps even a “default on debts [Chile] owed the US Government and…banks.” The problem was that Mr. Allende “was elected legally” and “has legitimacy in the eyes of Chileans and most of the world,” which should have been a cause for celebration in a liberal context. But then, threatening US influence and investments couldn’t be tolerated and so the Nixon-Kissinger gang wielded the weapons liberal ideology supplied to deal with — Mr Kissinger’s words — “the irresponsibility of [Chile’s] people.” As result, the country was “condemn[ed] to utmost deprivation and poverty,” following Mr Korry’s recommendation.

So from a Latin American perspective, the end of US world order is not necessarily bad. But before celebrating, US opponents should be aware that neither China nor Russia will bring democracy. None of them isn’t interested to uphold even the illusion of freedom of speech and human rights. Therefore, the human rights discourse will weaken, which will be felt especially by minorities.

While the new kids on the block aren’t likely to help installing a plain dictatorship, they nonetheless are aware of their own and Chile’s position within the post-US order. Propaganda will be the weapon of choice for them because its more subtle and cheaper. China, for example, agreed to exchange programmes with Chilean students of journalism. Yet, as the recent episode around the New York Times iPhone app showed, the Politburo isn’t interested in journalism. They want to teach people where best not to look and how to spin China’s hotspots like Tibet and Xinjiang province.

Likewise, Russia built with ‘Russia Today’ the probably most impressive state-run propaganda machine that labels itself news source. In the emerging order, propaganda just becomes more powerful through the technological advancement digital mudslingers — social media in hipster parlance — push.

The logical step to face a world order in which three powerful players vie for influence by economic and propagandistic means would be to reconfigure foreign policy. This is also essential to clarify Chile’s behaviour within the UN, which in turn becomes important when confronting the Bolivian problem in the Atacama. Worryingly, Chile’s chief diplomat, Heraldo Muñoz, still doesn’t seem to have realised that changes are coming. He still believes in liberal pillars like ‘free trade’ whereas its latest installment, the TPP, is more concerned with property rights than trade. Mr Muñoz also still seems to think trade functions both ways, but doesn’t notice that China already stepped into the void the future US president left on the matter. Pursuing the phantom of free trade, especially with the US, will cost the Chilean administration resources that were better directed at more promising diplomacy, in the cultural field for example.

It’s hard to predict which kind of order the coming one will be. So far it has at least been clear that if a government doesn’t fool around, the country will be relatively save from US meddling. In the future the interests of three powers will have to be balanced; it’s going to be messy.

Christian is a columnist at Chile Today. He’s also director at the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI) and co-editor of E-IR’s book on International Relations Theory. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrScheinpflug

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