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Howard's End: We Are Not All The Same

The echo of protests from Seattle to Prague and now Davos over globalisation has prompted some Scoop readers to ask in their recent emails; what is the definition of globalisation, or is there one? John Howard tries to answer.

Many small nations are now saying that colonisation was usage of power by strong nations over weaker ones, while globalisation is the use of power by multinationals and nations against the weaker.

Globalisation can perhaps be characterised as having three main points. (a) market facilitation of unrestricted flows of capital, labour and information around the world (b) the identification of level playing fields or sameness and (c) development meaning increased productivity.

It appears globalisation became a set objective of US foreign policy some eight years ago with the architects of international trade and investment promising growth and development for the world.

Since then, criticism in the international forums has always been that globalisation idealised and promoted Anglo-American-style capitalism. Critics say that style does not suit the vast majority of the nations in the world.

For example, the Western way of thinking seems to be that there is a solution for everything, while many other nations and cultures see dialogue, without preconditions of a conclusion, leading to a solution.

In other words, localisation which recognised cultural obligations of give, receive and give in return on a local basis - identification of diversity or difference and development being seen as an exercise in identity building.

To illustrate, in the Pacific both Nuie and the Cook Islands operate what the West defines as tax havens. Last week the US banking system imposed a ban on sending US dollars to Niue for fear that it was involved in money laundering. The Cook Islands fear the same thing might happen to them.

But there are no similar restrictions placed on many other larger countries also alleged to be involved in money laundering.

What this means is that small nations are vulnerable and appear to be of no consequence when it comes to combating the adverse effects of globalisation.

The same can apply with food prices. Because of globalisation, the price of food in a large country now affects the price paid in, say, Rarotonga. The larger countries also subsidise their producers to the tune of billions of dollars.

Effectively, globalisation is actually preventing small countries from improving the quality of life for their people.

Right now they are lost in a bigger world but they can't sit idly by while the rest of the world moves on. That would only invite disaster. Perhaps we can now understand why many smaller nations don't want Western restrictions relating to the environment and labour laws placed in international agreements which will affect their ability to survive.

Then there's globalised security. Pacific leaders are now saying that if the US moves ahead with its National Missile Defence System which would be able to shoot down incoming balistic missiles as far from the US as possible, then what happens to them?

It's known that if such a system became operational, it would be directed at North Korea. The interception point of the incoming missile, and the nuclear warhead fallout and falling debris, would be over the North Pacific nations.

The fallout would be an unintended consequence but it would be a consequence nevertheless.

The US has not signed the protocols of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone treaty despite indicating several years ago that it would. It has so far side-stepped that worry of Pacific leaders.

The uneven distribution of wealth and power which comes from globalisation points to a potential loss of meaningful decision-making and control over their own economy by the small nations.

Like New Zealand, they are becoming more subject to global forces such as multinational companies and the pressures of the select global brotherhood of the larger nations.

Globalisation and perhaps even the push for exclusive bilateral trade deals between two countries, is good for some but not for others, because we now have value systems between large and small nations that are incompatible with each other.

The original globalisation forums tried to teach businessmen the "new capitalism" of the US and Britain. Now, the forums are trying to persuade people of the merits of values associated with the old European-style social capitalism. Either way, the incompatibility between large and small nations and cultures remains. Clearly, we are not all the same.

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