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Our Friday News Analysis | What the World Reads Now!
Into ‘the Looking Glass’: Do People Prefer Make-Believe?
The Hague, 15 September 2023 | If you know of any story that is decisive, tell the world. We're still searching.
Truth and Belonging in Divisive Times –
Soul-stirring, uproariously funny, deadly serious, and brilliantly colorful.
Peter McIndoe isn't a fan of birds. He has a theory about them that might shock you. Listen to this eye-opening talk as it takes a turn and makes a more significant point about conspiracies, truth, and belonging in divisive times. (Read transcript)
Peter McIndoe is the brains behind "Birds Aren't Real," the [media-‘verified’ conspiracy] theory that birds are drones created by the US government to spy on Americans.
Why you should listen
Home-schooled in a profoundly conservative religious community in rural Arkansas, Peter McIndoe wants to explore the "us-versus-them" mentality implicit in conspiracy theories (currently pervasive in a global society). His work has been featured everywhere, from The Guardian to 60 Minutes. He has been profiled in Vice and on 60 Minutes. Peter is currently working on a book, due out in 2024.
Hi, I'm Peter. And six years ago, I received information that changed the course of my life.
From 1969 through 2001, the US government murdered over 12 billion birds in the American skies. They did this using poisonous toxins dropped from airplanes that were contagious and murdered all of the birds for about 40 years. I know this is not the public understanding and may sound absurd, but bear with me, keep an open mind, and be respectful, please, as I share this information with you.
Many of you may wonder why the government would kill 12 billion birds. It seems like an awful lot of trouble for a government to go through. The reason is as devastating as it is simple. For each bird the government killed, they replaced it with a surveillance drone replica in disguise designed to spy on the American people.
Now ... Some may say, if you're the government, at least, that this is a worthy sacrifice, these 12 billion lives, for the safety of the people, right? I don't know about that. It seems like a severe limit on our freedom, wouldn't you agree?
If you start looking, the proof that birds are robots is everywhere. For starters, birds charge their batteries on power lines --
So they can refuel up high and watch the civilians, you know. They also track civilians using a liquid tracking device.
Do you ever wonder why birds poop on your car? Do you need more evidence? I can go all day up here. Who here has seen a baby pigeon? You haven't, have you? It's weird. There are all these adult pigeons. Where are all the babies? They come out of the factory as adults, so ...
There's no organic growth, you know. It's a smoking gun.
Over the years, as I began putting this information together, I started realizing the extent of all this. And there were times I wished I never even learned this. My life would be so much easier. I remember that before I knew this information, I was happier. My steps were lighter, you know. But I always come back to this. As one of the few privileged enough to know this, I must share it with you, the blind sheep.
And that's what I've been doing for years now. I'm a part of a movement called Birds Aren't Real. And in 2021, I was promoted to public information officer for the movement. It's the honor of my life. I had one job. Oh, thank you, thank you.
My one job was to deprogram the public from the bird lie. And deprogram is a particular word because you all are programmed. You know that, right? We live in a pro-bird civilization drenched in propaganda. For instance, every state has a state bird. The national mascot is a bald eagle. Presidents don't talk. They tweet, and then the tweets are covered on the bird-logo media. Once I knew this, my first order of business was to get the information out to the American people and get off the internet into the real world. So that's what I did. I bought a van and covered it in decals with facts. I wanted to turn the highway into an information highway and awaken the people. I went from city to city, holding rallies meeting up with our thousands of supporters, growing by the day. And I was putting up billboards wherever we went, sharing our simple but powerful message. Look how beautiful it is. Now, the government,
The government did take note of what we were doing, and they sent some intimidators to try and deter us from our mission. You can see them right there.
But we did not fold. We kept on going. We started holding rallies at some of the most evil pro-bird corporations in the world, starting with Twitter, where we brought hundreds out to protest their pro-bird logo. Months later, we brought 500 people to CNN headquarters to demand fairer coverage for bird truthers on air. Then, just last year, we got 2,000 people to Washington Square in New York City to request that the mayor shut down every pigeon in the city.
Here's what that looked like.
(Crowd shouting) Birds aren't real! Birds aren't real! Birds aren't real! Birds aren't real!
I can't even tell you how that felt. I took that video standing on the top of the van, megaphone in hand, knowing we were awakening a country that needs it so badly. I can't think of anything more beautiful.
OK, let me start this talk over. I do not believe that birds are robots. And everyone else in this picture is also in on the bit. This is a character that I played for four years. The leader of a fake movement with fake evidence and a fake history. Our goal was to convince the public that our satirical campaign was real. And see if the media would believe what we were saying. To do this, I played this character that I just showed you. We held rallies and put up billboards. We even sent the media a lot of fake evidence. We hired an old actor to pose as an ex-CIA agent confessing to his crimes. We sent them a historic email leak called "Poultry Gate" that came out of the Pentagon,
where we forged hundreds of fake emails exposing elites and government officials in the bird drone surveillance plot. It didn't take much to convince the media. After just one summer of holding rallies like this, it became nationally syndicated news on tons of local news stations that we were a natural movement that had been around for 50 years. And there was a resurgence happening where it was coming back, and there was a radical new leader, myself, bringing the movement back as the rise of conspiracy theories swept the nation.
At this point, I'm sitting on my couch, watching the media report on my fake movement as a real one, and I figure it is probably time to come out of character. One, because we'd accomplished what we came there to do. But I also didn't want this to snowball into anything that was never supposed to. So, in 2021, I broke character and revealed the movement was a farce on the front page of The New York Times. And I was very proud, as you can see.
Allow me to reintroduce myself one more time. Hi, I'm Peter. Can you say, "Hi, Peter?"
(Audience) Hi, Peter.
Hey. I'd like to tell you a little bit about myself. I grew up in Arkansas in Little Rock, where I was home-schooled on the outskirts of town. The community I grew up in was hyper-conservative and religious, and almost everyone I knew believed in some form of conspiracy theory, whether it was that Obama was the Antichrist or that there were microchips in the vaccines. During my entire life, I always felt like I was on the fringes of normal society. So, as you can imagine, when it became time for me to play a character, the conspiracy theorist was a pretty easy one for me to tap into.
What is the Side of the Story that is Not Yet Decisive? Edited by Abraham A. van Kempen.
EDITORIAL | Though Hypnotic, Narcotic, and Neurotic, the News Does Not Need to Be the Tyrant of the Mind!
Don’t fear! It isn’t the end of the world. Twenty-six million years ago, an extra-terrestrial meteor struck Planet Earth with a centrifugal force equaling 40,000 nuclear bombs, each 100,000 times more powerful than those dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Our planet continued to spin on its axis.
Are you worried about enemies? Don’t! Do you want to destroy your enemies? Become friends! If you still can’t figure out how to “love your enemies?” Have none!
Critically question, scrutinize, review, and evaluate to trust and verify.
Don’t become another mindless sheep.
To paraphrase Descartes: “I think, therefore I am, (a uniquely created human being?)”
“I think NOT. Therefore, I’m WHAT, a uniquely created robot?”
Be wise! Try! Expand your horizons!
In an impressive new low, the White House sends impeachment coverage guidelines up a flagpole and the press salutes
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy
By Matt Taibbi
14 September 2023
Biden White House spokesperson Ian Sams sent a letter to news organizations Tuesday, giving instructions on how they should cover (or non-cover, as it were) the Republican impeachment inquiry announced that day by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. News organizations then reported on administration instructions as they followed them, a display of craven supplication that would have impressed Erich Honecker.
Walter Kirn and I will be musing/retching over this on tomorrow’s America This Week— Walter’s take is this is a coming-out party for state media — but in brief, this episode produced prostrations so grotesque, it’ll be a shock if they don’t end up on an NFL Films-style reporter blooper reel some day.
In one instance, Sams could quote himself in a tweet less than 24 hours after the Washington Post obligingly used, in a headline, language from his letter about GOP efforts to “muddy waters.” Once, this kind of thing would have been considered embarrassing, but this crew just nuzzles and begs for more. They’ve been helping blanket a quote assiduously kept out of headlines all summer: “Five million to pay one Biden and five million to another Biden.”
The phrase is the crucial line in an FBI document about a Confidential Human Source (CHS) who attended a meeting at the offices of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma in “2015/2016.” Released on July 20th by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the form describes statements by Burisma chief Mykola Zlochevsky. “It costs 5 (million) to pay one Biden, and 5 (million) to another Biden,” Zlochevsky reportedly said. The source was unsure “whether these payments had been made”:
It can’t have been fun for Biden officials to see this public, especially given how neatly it lines up with son Hunter’s infamous “unlike Pop, I won’t make you give me half your salary” quote. Next to IRS whistleblower testimony about Hunter Biden’s shell companies, Devon Archer’s testimony about Joe Biden’s presence during his son’s business calls, Joe dining with Burisma exec Vadym Pozharsky at Cafe Milano, and other matters, this is a non-ignorable story now, and the pucker factor chez Biden must be accurate. Sams sent a two-page introduction and a 14-page appendix addressing seven GOP claims the White House insists have been “debunked” and “refuted.” The CHS form story was first:
THE FACTS SHOW: FBI FD-1023 forms simply memorialize tips to the FBI. They are not documented proof, and allegations need not be corroborated to be included on the form. They are merely unverified claims.
Sams then linked to a series of press stories containing passages underscoring the “unverified claims” theme. Among others, he cited Axios (the FBI form “simply documents an interview with a source, and does not in itself indicate any suspicions of wrongdoing”), NBC (“The bribery allegation… wasn’t substantiated”), and CNN (“The FBI and prosecutors who previously reviewed the information couldn’t corroborate the claims”).
What did those stories have in common? They all contained quotes from Ian Sams! White House official sends instructions to reporters, citing media reports from the same White House official. If this merry-go-round doesn’t convince you the lines between media and politicians have been irrevocably blurred, go back and look. You’ll find this same cycle of press figures packing bodies of articles with official denials, then augmenting their text with the official’s terminology: “refuted,” “debunked,” “no evidence of wrongdoing,” etc. You can’t tell who wrote the original line of defense. Despite this, Sams, without irony, referred to White House assertions being confirmed by “independent press” five times.
Reporters since July have been rushing to outdo one another in the use of “unverified claims” language:
These stories were wrapped in desperate disclaimers, phrased more or less identically to this week’s Sam's letter. ABC described a claim that “the Biden family ‘pushed’ a Ukrainian oligarch to pay them $10 million” in their lede. Their one-sentence second paragraph contained not one, not two, but three disclaimers:
The exceedingly rare step by Grassley, R-Iowa, further promulgates an allegation that Democratic critics warned against accepting at face value, which the White House continues to deny, saying it was investigated under the Trump administration and “debunked.”
ABC said the FBI report was information “the president and his aides have repeatedly said he didn’t do,” prepared by a Senator “highlighting uncorroborated information.” They noted that Biden never spoke to his son about business and added, "The White House…reaffirmed that statement.” They included heated denials by Sams (“been debunked for years,” “regardless of the truth,” “shameless, dishonest politics”) and Maryland’s Jamie Raskin (“no actual evidence of wrongdoing”). Depending on how you count, 8-10 versions of the same White House denial were woven into one ABC story. That’s all the piece was: one item about the $10 million, followed by a list of denials. This is de rigeur now.
When news outlets don’t put “unverified,” “unverified claims,” or the humorously redundant “unverified allegations” in headlines, they sometimes use an inverse template. Instead of being crammed with maximum information, headlines say as little as possible, referring to a “document” with perfect obliqueness as if it were blank paper. GOP SOMETHING SOMETHING DOCUMENT is a typical anti-headline formula, as in this PBS take on a “Biden-related” memo:
Alternatively, in an angle favored by the likes of NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, whose take is that “its [sic] newsworthy that the Republicans would attempt it on such thin grounds,” some outlets have gone with versions of GOP CRITICIZED FOR RELEASING SOMETHING:
When added to the pile of headlines from outlets like the AP sticking terms like “without evidence” in headlines when they’re not appropriate — this evidence may not convince you, but it’s undoubtedly evidence — most legacy companies have become de facto arms of the White House press office, growling nonsense phrases on command, like mutts guarding a tow truck. It’s a terrible look.
Impeachments are supposed to be rare, and the media should look at Republican claims with skepticism. This new paradigm, though, rockets past “skeptical,” past “dismissive,” and even past “disdainful” into a realm closer to “obliterating” or “Praetorian.” Not only getting instructions but following them isn’t coverage. It’s bullet-taking by the same papers that last time embraced the publication of “unverified” raw intelligence (with the Steele dossier) and cheered plans to impeach the executive as he was sworn in.
Some journalists came of age when Fox was ridiculed for the same practices. When Executive VP James Moody urged Fox staff to watch for “statements from the Iraqi insurgents who must be thrilled at the prospect of a Dem-controlled Congress,” or senior VP Bill Shine described the Obama administration as “the opposition,” reporters dismissed the network as a GOP outpost. The watchdog FAIR.org correctly noted that if Fox “ceased to treat Democrats as an internal enemy, they would cease to exist.” This Biden-era parade not only isn’t different, it’s dumber, but who has enough shame to care now?
What goes wrong when politics suppresses the truth
By Seymour Hersh
13 September 2023
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba enjoyed a happy meal last week in Kyiv. / Photo by Brendan Smialowski / POOL / AFP.
On Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Jonathan Karl of ABC’s This Week that he remained “very confident in Ukraine’s ultimate success” in the ongoing war with Russia. He depicted Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decision to escalate its attacks inside Russia as “their decision, not ours.”
Blinken’s wrong-headed confidence and acceptance of a significant escalation in the Ukraine war defies belief, given the reality today. But it also could be based on insanely optimistic assessments supplied by the Defense Intelligence Agency. As I have reported, the DIA's assessments are now the intelligence of choice inside the White House.
As a journalist who has written about national security matters for many decades, how can I explain a process that is contrary to the best interests of the people of the United States and its leadership?
One answer is that it is now an accepted reality that presidents in the post-9/11 era do not hesitate to manipulate and lie about even the most competent intelligence reports if they do not fit into their political agenda. What began in the Bush/Cheney years—remember the lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—continued during the presidency of the much beloved, much misunderstood Barack Obama. Ten years ago, amid calls for the US to intervene in the Syrian civil war against the reviled Bashar al-Assad, the White House did not receive crucial intelligence because it was politically inconvenient. The case involved a five-page all-source report prepared for the Defense Intelligence Agency about a strategic weapon—the nerve gas sarin—that was known to be in the hands of the Islamist opposition to the Syrian government led by Assad. The detailed report, which included vital information gleaned from intercepts by the National Security Agency, did not reach the White House because—so I came to understand—it revealed the kind of truth that presidents then and now viewed as political poison. Passing such information would also raise questions about the political savvy and dependability of those running the agency involved. In these days of quick fixes and double talk, intelligence to please always trumps intelligence that raises difficult questions.
I cited a few lines from the DIA study in a report I wrote for the London Review of Books about the 2013 sarin attack in Syria. Still, I chose to limit my reporting to protect the ability of the NSA to penetrate the most secret doings of America’s Islamist enemies. The document, with my handwritten notes, is posted at the bottom of this report. I am doing this because what happened then is happening today inside the American intelligence community and, if not curtailed, could lead the short-sighted White House into an expanded war with Russia that no one wants.
The issue began in 2013 when there were allegations of Syrian use of chemical weapons in its war against a merged group of Jihadist forces, known as al-Nusra, whose goal was to overthrow the Baathist Assad government and establish an Islamic state in Syria. Al-Nusra had been designated by the State Department late in 2012 as a “foreign terrorist organization” and identified as an affiliate of Al Qaeda.
Some in the Obama administration cynically argued that al-Nusra should be aided in its war against the Assad government and dealt with after Assad’s ouster. The most complete history of the administration’s concern about the Syrian chemical warfare arsenal can be found in The World As It Is, the 2018 memoir by Ben Rhodes, one of Obama’s national security advisers. (The first volume of Obama’s memoirs of his years in the White House, A Promised Land, published in 2020, ended with his first term in office in early 2013.)
In Rhodes’s account, Syria’s possession and potential use of sarin had been an issue in Washington for a year before the Syrian government was accused in late August of 2013 of carrying out a nerve gas attack on Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital, killing as many as 1,500, according to the initial reports. There also was a fear that the Assad government would provide sarin to Hezbollah, the Shiite militia in Lebanon backed by Iran and avowed enemy of Israel. In August 2012, Obama publicly stated, “We have been very clear to the Assad regime . . . that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus.”
While on vacation in August 2013, Rhodes learned there was a “high confidence assessment” that a nerve agent had killed more than a thousand people and that “the Assad regime was responsible.” At this point, Rhodes writes, “One after another, officials advised Obama to order a military strike.”
All of this was being conveyed to the American press and public by the administration. Rhodes writes: “I started to plan a public campaign to ramp up to a military intervention. John Kerry could make a statement . . . making the case for action. The intelligence community would have to make its assessment public. It felt energizing, as though we were finally going to do something to shape events in Syria.”
Rhodes does not report that over the subsequent few weeks, doubts about who did what in Syria were being conveyed directly to Obama. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, who Rhodes says had initially supported an immediate military response, changed his mind and, a senior intelligence official told me, warned the president that the nerve used in the attack did not match that known to exist in the Syrian army arsenal. And as Obama himself told a journalist before leaving office, he was advised by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that the case that the Assad regime carried out the gas attack was not a “slam dunk.” Obama eventually canceled plans for a major strike on military and industrial sites throughout Syria.
Rhodes had not been told anything about the DIA’s two-month-old all-source intelligence assessment, which included some specific data from the National Security Agency, making clear that there were two possible suspects for any nerve gas attack—Syria and al-Nusra. The document emphasizes the threat of al-Nusra’s chemical arsenal. The opening sentences reek of urgency:
“The al-Nusrah Front associated sarin production cell is the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort. Arrests in Iraq and Turkey have disrupted the cell’s operations; however, we assess the intent to produce advanced chemical weapon (CW) remains. Previous IC [intelligence community] focused almost entirely on Syrian CW stockpiles; now we see ANF [al-Nusra Front] attempting to make its own CW. In this brief, we will discuss the network, its capabilities, and future indications of CW-related activity.”
The DIA analysis, captioned as Talking Points, warns that al-Nusra’s “relative freedom of operations within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.” One factor contributing to its freedom of operation was that America and its allies were not targeting it.
The five-page document—I deleted its classified markings—was described as a “Brief to DD Shedd” dated 20 June. It depicted al Nusra's chemical warfare actions up to that date. “Shedd” referred to David Shedd, a longtime CIA official named deputy director of the DIA by Obama in 2010 and served there until 2015, with the last year as acting director.
The copy I obtained of the Talking Points did not originate in the Pentagon or Washington but was considered important enough to have been distributed secretly to highly classified black sites and similar units outside of Washington. There is no evidence that the analysis or the information it contained reached the White House or Ben Rhodes himself, despite the role Obama assigned him to manage the response to the attack in Ghouta.
When I obtained the document, I reported on the attack and the US response for the London Review of Books. I learned then from a senior DIA official that such a document existed. Still, I cited only a few lines of the five-page paper primarily because I worried about compromising the source of what was excellent intelligence work. I wrote at the time that General Dempsey had directly warned Obama that the nerve agent used in the attack did not match equally lethal materials known to be in the Syrian chemical warfare arsenal. The Syrian CW installations—which at one time totaled 26 separate depots—had been closely monitored for two decades by a joint collection program run by US and Israeli intelligence.
So the question remains: why did the DIA intelligence not get to the White House? After sharing the paper with him, I told a senior intelligence official. He answered that it was an apparent hot potato that was ignored “for political expediency”—just as much of the CIA’s current reporting on the failed Ukraine offensive has been ignored by Blinken and other foreign policy officials in the Biden administration.
The intelligence official said the designation of the document as “Talking Points” meant that it was “never intended for the president, but only to alert the DIA that there was hard evidence beginning to appear from a multitude of sources that there was another explanation of sarin use which should balance any accusation of Assad. Like any good summary, it is: ‘Wait and see. It is a complex issue.’”
He said the document was “credible because it is all-source and balanced. It does not conclude—just cautions” that the issue cannot be packaged in a final assessment because many of the known al-Nusra players involved in producing nerve gas were still under surveillance. Thus, he said, only an overview was in order.
My reporting then made the point that there were two possible suspects for the sarin attack but only one publicly cited by the White House. I spent many hours going back and forth with a White House press aide, trying to get a response about the material I had. I was initially told that the Obama White House would not comment on the record about my report. I persisted and provided more specifics to the aide and eventually received a note, unilaterally designated as “Off the Record” (to make comments “off the record” requires both sides to agree to it) that said: “[N]o one is saying the memo is not a physical thing that exists. We are saying that it is not an official memo, and the facts you alleged that it contains are almost 100 percent incorrect—which is probably why almost no one has seen it. It likely did not go forward because it was wrong.” A later note from the spokesperson, also marked “off the record,” added that the memo “is not something that his [Shedd’s] office received. Since neither the WH [White House] nor the DNI [Director of National Intelligence Clapper] have seen the alleged memo…it’s unclear whether it’s a fake or a draft that was never sent forward because it contained incorrect information.”
This kind of hypocrisy did not begin with the Biden Administration.
FYODOR LUKYANOV: WHY THE ‘WORLD MAJORITY’ SEES THE UKRAINE CONFLICT AS AN EXAMPLE OF DECLINING EUROPEAN AND NORTH AMERICAN POWER
Most believe ethnic Europeans are colonialists and hope to end their stranglehold on power
FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a screen displaying flags of G20 countries.
© Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images
HomeRussia & FSU
6 September 2023
Fyodor Lukyanov is the editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs, chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and research director of the Valdai International Discussion Club.
It’s now the fall of 2023, and the Ukraine conflict has become integral to the international political and economic landscape. A cessation of hostilities is not expected. Meanwhile, neither a decisive victory for one side nor a compromise peace agreement seems likely in the foreseeable future.
The situation remains the most critical factor influencing the global balance of power.
When the fighting started, it was immediately apparent that relations between Russia and the West were entering an acute phase. However, the severity and persistence of the conflict have exceeded expectations. In February 2022, few could have imagined the current level of NATO’s military-technical support of Ukraine and such a thorough dismantling of all ties between Russia and the Western countries.
The predictions of the first phase did not work out for anyone. Moscow misjudged the military-political and public mood in Ukraine and the willingness of the United States and its allies to go so far in supporting Kyiv. The West mistakenly assumed that the Russian economic system could not withstand an external blockade but that the global economy could do without Moscow relatively painlessly. Both parties’ perception of their ability to force their adversaries to change course and make concessions did not match reality.
The mistakes made in the early stages resulted from stereotypes formed earlier. If we strip away the nuances, the opponents exaggerated each other’s vulnerability and mistook their rivals as “paper tigers.” This is still partly an element but more like a figure of speech in propaganda. The game has become a protracted process in which each side tries to mobilize its advantages and accumulate decisive superiority to escape the stalemate. The intensity of the confrontation between Russia and the West is increasing, but not its quality.
The most significant changes have taken place in the part of the world that is not involved in the conflict, although it is affected by it. The currently fashionable Russian notion of a “world majority,” which applies to the non-Western part of humanity, is somewhat confusing because it suggests a consolidated community. However, the essence of this majority is its heterogeneity – in contrast to the universal cohesion of values that the West offers. However, the term outlines the contours – a set of countries unwilling to be drawn into processes that follow the tradition of Western politics. The Ukraine crisis is a product of Western political culture, to which all the immediate participants belong. Russia, which has adopted an extremely anti-Western stance, is also acting (or, let’s say, is forced to perform) within the Western military-political paradigm.
There is a growing opinion among the world’s majority that the influence of those who have long dictated the rules in the international arena is waning. In this, it turns out that the West and Russia are much more reliant on each other than they would like. The degree of dependence is different and relative, but the ability to impose anything on third countries is weakening.
That said, the long-awaited multipolar world has proven more complicated than expected. It is not just about isolated interactions of a few centers of power that somehow communicate with each other but the emergence of a network of diverse interconnections between actors of different strengths. The links are not very orderly, horizontal or vertical, and the imbalance of the participants adds to the non-linearity.
The Ukrainian crisis has several practical implications for the majority of the world.
Firstly, power has emerged that openly and unreservedly challenges the West, and the West has been unable to do anything about it despite considerable efforts. This allows the non-Western world to act more and more independently – right in front of our eyes.
The second is that when the Global North states start to conflict, they still don’t care about how it affects the Global South.
Third, the policy of distancing in general but engaging on specific issues can pay dividends, but we just have to use it skillfully.
Fourth, fruitful relations are possible and necessary without grandees who insist on their indispensability but often do not solve the problems of countries and regions. Instead, they drive them to a dead end to pursue their interests.
These are all factors that will help shape a new international framework. It has not yet emerged. But when the current conflict ends, whatever the immediate outcome for the primary participants, most countries will have strengthened their positions the most.
Not only China, which is often talked about as the real winner of the confrontation between Russia and the West (such a conclusion follows only from linear logic), but also several countries that previously played a subordinate role and are now emancipating themselves and coming out of this straitjacket.
We dare to believe that world politics could become more rational because pragmatic interests would be voiced openly and businesslike, and not under the Kool-Aid of various messianisms, which have been popular in the Global North for centuries. In this sense, it can be argued that the Ukrainian crisis does draw a line under colonialism in a broad sense.
The BRICS group's planned enlargement is a missed opportunity. The world does not need more countries to fall under Chinese and Russian influence or to align against the United States; instead, it needs a genuinely independent third grouping to counterweight emerging economies against both camps.
By Daron Acemoglu
Project Syndicate, a George Soros Publication
31 August 2023
BOSTON – At first blush, it may seem like good news that the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) group will expand to include Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Argentina. An 11-strong BRICS+ could represent the world’s emerging economies more, providing a helpful counterweight against American hegemony.
Yet, the announced enlargement represents a significant lost opportunity in many ways. The world does not need more countries to fall under Chinese and Russian influence or to align against the United States; instead, it needs a genuinely independent third grouping to counterweight against both the China-Russia axis and US power.
Because the enlargement includes only countries with friendly relations with China, BRICS+ is poised to be another tool of Chinese diplomacy. Rather than representing the interests of emerging economies, it will allow for greater Chinese involvement in them. Most likely, this will come at the expense of their workers and people because Chinese foreign investors tend to tolerate – or even encourage – corruption, reduced transparency, and wasteful megaprojects financed with loans that cannot be quickly restructured.
Moreover, adding Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, and the UAE will turn the BRICS into even more of an “anti-democratic” club. Yet among the institutions that emerging economies most need to ensure their future economic and social success, democracy is high on the list. My work with Suresh Naidu, Pascual Restrepo, and James Robinson finds that democratization, historically, has equipped countries to achieve faster economic growth within 5-10 years, reflecting increased investments in education, health, and other public services.
By contrast, Chinese engagement tends to hamper democratization and even foment authoritarianism. With many emerging economies facing a “democracy crisis” and many countries experiencing weakening democratic institutions, the new BRICS+ threatens to fuel the fire.
Now that the Sino-American rivalry is intensifying – and potentially reshaping the world order – emerging economies increasingly need their independent voice. After all, their interests are unlikely to be well served by worsening US-China relations and reducing their bilateral trade and financial flows.
Digital subscribers enjoy access to every PS commentary, including those by Daron Acemoglu, plus our entire On Point suite of subscriber-exclusive content, including Longer Reads, Insider Interviews, Big Picture/Big Question, and Say More.
Equally, emerging economies need to be able to influence the future of artificial intelligence and other rapidly evolving digital technologies. Even if the current enthusiasm around generative AI tools (such as ChatGPT) turns out to be mostly hype, rapid advances in AI and other communication technologies are still likely in the near term, and these will affect all countries, remaking the global division of labor.
These technologies could have significant negative implications for workers, especially in the emerging world, where countries like India already export various white-collar services. Ultimately, both white-collar and blue-collar workers everywhere may end up competing not against expensive, highly educated labor in rich countries but against AI-powered advanced software, machinery, and robotics.
The same technologies will likely restructure politics in many countries as AI-powered social media and misinformation (including deep fakes and other manipulative technologies) increasingly influence public opinion and electoral politics. Most developing and emerging economies lack the supporting institutions to regulate and create guardrails against such disruptions.
Moreover, new technologies give governments unprecedentedly powerful tools for surveilling their populations and suppressing dissent. Authoritarian regimes are already sharing technologies and techniques. Recent research shows that Chinese surveillance technologies are rapidly being exported to other non-democratic countries, with Huawei alone exporting such goods to 50 countries.
As matters stand, the future of technology is primarily shaped by Chinese authorities, US tech giants (with a limited degree of regulatory scrutiny), and – increasingly – European Union rules. None of these poles reflects the interests of the emerging world, and neither will BRICS+, which will most likely do China’s bidding.
Fortunately, China’s narrow selection of new members may have created an opening for a promising alternative to BRICS+ to emerge. Other major emerging economies – such as Indonesia, Turkey, Mexico, Colombia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Kenya – could form a genuinely independent bloc, hoping to ultimately attract Argentina, Brazil, India, and South Africa to join them. Though each of these countries has had its problems with democratic processes lately, their experience with democracy, together with their economic size, gives them common ground.
Even more to the point, they could collectively declare independence from China and the US, giving the wider emerging world a sorely needed voice in debates about the future of globalization and technology. Such choices are far too important to be left to today’s geopolitical rivals.
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The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of the Building the Bridge Foundation, The Hague.
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