Oscar van Heerden | Someone needs to hit the reset button on world affairs | News24


In light of various developments worldwide, Oscar van Heerden asks if we are not experiencing the clash of civilisations as posited by Samuel Huntington.

With the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank as well as the Signature Bank, there are legitimate concerns that there will be a run on the banks in the United States as we speak. The consequences if this happens will be catastrophic to say the least.

We could see a repeat of the 2008/09 financial crisis and we would have to see whether the American Federal Reserve will bail out all these banks, if this is even possible.

In the UK, there are concerns about this trend crossing the Atlantic, and many European countries are also experiencing a significant economic decline with high-interest rates and inflation rates. Ordinary people are feeling the effects of all of this. The energy crisis experienced by many in the West might not now be severe because of stockpiles but come the following winter, they are in for a harsh winter. The war in Europe between Russia and the collective West taking place in Ukraine also significantly contributes to this sorry state of affairs.  

Deal broken with US

Saudi Arabia under its new leader, has in effect, broken a standing deal with the US, that all oil purchases globally will be transacted in US dollars. The crown prince simply took a decision that his country will no longer abide by this agreement and decided to accept other currencies as payment for oil. This will lead to the dollar losing its impact globally.

Then we also observe the unprecedented purchases of gold reserves by China, Russia and other major countries in the world. What’s going on here, one might ask? 

The Swift system has been weaponised by the US and hence alternative payments systems are making their appearance in the world led by the BRICS countries.

READ | Oscar van Heerden: A war of attrition – The West is trying to buy its way out of the Ukraine war

China has just managed the unthinkable, and that is to broker a peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, something that was never in the interest of the US, though the State Department did commend the deal.

China’s Belt and Road initiative also has the collective West in a knot because after all the years of having an extractive relationship with particular countries in Africa, the only meaningful infrastructure they ever built was to optimise their profits and get the raw mineral materials to the coast and onwards to European capitals.

With China’s Belt and Road, though there are some challenges, it is rebuilding critical infrastructure in many countries in Africa and elsewhere and connecting them in a meaningful way.

And if all this is not enough, climate change is devastating our world daily. Droughts, floods and severe weather patterns are the order of the day, and all countries disagree on how best to tackle it effectively. Notwithstanding, some countries are being strongly urged to reign in their carbon emissions, but China and India are arguing this is their time to industrialise and develop their respective nations. We simply disagree on everything, it seems. 

Clash of culture

With all of this happening, one is reminded of Samuel Huntington’s thesis, “Clash of civilisations”.

In this thesis, he posits that future wars among nations will have nothing to do with ideology or material gain but everything to do with cultural differences. He goes on to argue that the West thinks that liberal democracy and capitalist free market economy must be embraced by all, but, alas, China, Russia, and so many others do not. For the US, it’s not only about liberal democracy and capitalist free market economies but the global hegemon and no one else must lead it. 

READ | Oscar van Heerden: The war in Ukraine and the changing axes

Let us for a moment, take a look at the differences between China and the US or the UK and Russia. Very different systems of government, very different economic policies and also very different views around what constitutes human rights and how the world should function. Benevolent dictators, it seems, are ok as long as they follow the prescripts of Western doctrine, such as Rwanda and Singapore among others. It seems that BRICS countries want to further the important view that individual countries are sovereign and that they must determine their own futures without fear or favour. This can only happen if we are in a truly multipolar world and not a unipolar world where only one country dominates all others.

A multipolar world will consist of perhaps of four cardinal pillars:

Pillar One: Collective West

Pillar Two: BRICS-plus

Pillar Three: Muslim World

Pillar Four: Collective South 

It will also spell an end to the domination by Western countries in international institutions such as the World Bank, of which only an American can be the president and the IMF, of which only a European can be a president as per the agreed upon rules when these institutions were set up in Bretton Woods. 

The reform of multilateral institutions, such as the UN Security Council, would have to reflect the post-World War 2 realities and not only the victors of that war.

The World Trade Organisation is another such institution that would have to transform.

A fairer trade regime is what is needed globally and not the one-sided trade relations that we observe today. The rise of Africa and Latin America must be allowed to flourish unhindered, whether you agree with “communism with Chinese characteristics” or whether it’s actually capitalism with significant centrist state control of all industries in China. Perhaps a developmental state model where a significant number of enterprises remain in state hands, such as the case in South Africa. Or maybe you would prefer a theocracy where the populace is governed by the divinely guided like Iran. Or perhaps it’s a country governed by orthodoxy. In other words, governed by holy scripture and holy traditions such as Russia. The point is that these are clashes of civilisations, a clash of cultures. 

Is this the war we find ourselves in now? Can it be that we are actually experiencing this war right now? Is there room to hit the reset button so our leaders may all come to their senses? Or are we too far gone down the rabbit hole for it to make any difference? Or can we still dream like Martin Luther King Jr? Where Jews and gentiles, sons of enslaved people and sons of enslavers can sit together at the table of brotherhood? A world where Suni and Shia Muslims can have peace deals without conflicts, where Africans can experience their renaissance and where Latin America may prosper?

We should hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are equal. 

Hit the reset button before it’s too late, leadership of the world.     

– Dr Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of international relations (IR), where he focuses on international political economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular.


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