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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Farewell to Agreement



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At the Group of Eight summit last month in Germany, world leaders were unable to reach much of an agreement on environmental issues. The latest round of World Trade Organization talks ended in failure, and negotiations for a new European constitution also pretty much reached a dead end. Events like this have become pretty common, so no one is much surprised. The media treats these as individual, unrelated events.

At the same time, positions in Washington and Moscow on the question of U.S. anti-missile defense plans are still far apart. The European Union and the United States have been able to find a common language with India and Brazil in WTO negotiations. Poland and Germany were unable to agree on decision-making procedures at the highest levels in the EU.

These problems may be coming up in different forums, but negotiators from all of these counties have suddenly become unable to reach compromises. They have all become incredibly rigid, even aggressive. A few short years ago they were getting along just fine.

The differences among the interests of different states were numerous enough a decade ago. But the governments were prepared to make concessions on questions more vital than those they face today. This was seen at the time as more evidence that individual countries were powerless before the "strength of the global market." As a result, we saw widespread preparedness on the side of developed nations and former communist countries to support just about any initiative put forward by the West, while the Western countries themselves went to great lengths to avoid conflicts among themselves.

The first chink in the armor appeared in 1999 in Seattle, where African nations refused to sign a WTO agreement prepared by Western countries. Then came the second war in Iraq, which triggered major diplomatic disagreements between France and Germany, on one side, and the United States, on the other, as well as a split between "old" and "new" Europe. This was followed by the rise in tensions between Russia and the United States. The alliance between Germany and Russia that many believed would result failed to materialize.

Now it's every man for himself. The system of global alliances and partnerships created at the end of the 1990s no longer works. And states have unexpectedly found a level of confidence in themselves that has been missing in the last 10 years.

This newfound assertiveness comes not so much from a sense of strength as one of desperation. The main reason for the hard line the governments are now taking in negotiations is that any concessions granted in international forums threaten to upset things at home. Twenty years of liberalization of international trade and the development of free markets have only served to aggravate conflicts and disagreements to a maximum. In fact, to such a degree that continued steps in this direction are guaranteed to engender a backlash.

And this is not just a case of social unrest in the countries of Eastern Europe or Asia that don't appear to care much what the average person thinks, but in the developed economies of the West as well. There is an obvious schism among the elites that contributes to this general unhappiness, and this schism is a clear result of keen competition on the free market.

Increasing diplomatic failures are no more than the secondary symptoms of the general crisis of globalization and the self-destruction of the new capitalist order created at the beginning of the 1990s. This order exhausted itself, giving birth to conflicts and contradictions that it can't control. Something of the like took place at the beginning of the 20th century. That crisis led to the outbreak of World War I.

Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.