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Right-wing Populism and the Attack on Cooperative International Security

19 3 0
23.08.2019

The contemporary political environment has seen a paradoxical hijacking of key liberal peace and security concepts which helped to secure the post-Cold War era. With key concepts like human security undermined, what will come next? The following is an initial reflection as my colleague, and I embark on a larger study of how the emergence of right-wing populist nationalism has become a significant global phenomenon and what impact it has had for dominant theories of security in the post-World War II liberal international system. From the challenges to the NATO alliance to questioning the link between poverty and violence, the peace, security and development agenda has been radically transformed in a few short years, with trust between former allies eroding and the moderate level of predictability in the liberal international system being shaken.

The story of global right-wing populist propagation begins by taking aim first at the idea of collective security, a pillar of post WW2 liberal order. Cooperation between states is frequently being framed by the current right-wing nationalist populism in opposition to nations and sovereignty, with relations between key partners being shaken by political leaders challenging key precepts of decent international interactions. This spread of populist nationalism has emerged from the seeds of a defence of welfare state entitlements and, more broadly, hijacking the human security narrative that is the outgrowth of securitization of all essentials of human life, which the state can protect or provide. In this new spread of right-wing populist nationalism, we can see its unique character in how pillar concepts of international relations, such as collective security and human security have been eroded and worse co-opted in many ways, undermining their original goals. Policy-makers must be especially cognizant of how ideas can be perverted by the new brand of social media-driven, angry and populist politics. Through an examination of how the ideas of human and collective security have been redeployed in the service of xenophobic defensive nationalism, we can see the early stages of the radical undermining and perversion of the post-Cold War liberal security order.

Donald Trump reiterates that his responsibility is not the world, but the United States. Many of the Americans who had elected him purportedly wanted an end to “corrupt globalism.” Trump consistently accuses Democratic candidates of wanting to give influence to “corrupt, power-hungry globalists” in some kind of a massive elite conspiracy. At a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Trump clarified: “The forces opposing us in Washington are the same people who squandered trillions of dollars overseas, who sacrificed our sovereignty, who shipped away our jobs, who oversaw the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world. Hey, I’m the president of the United States – I’m not the president of the globe”. At a campaign rally in West Palm Beach, Trump further elaborated the conspiracy: “For those who control the levers of power in Washington, and for the global special interests, they partner with these people that don’t have your good in mind (…) Our campaign represents a true existential threat like they haven’t seen before.”

This brand of populist nationalism reinforces and further foments the continued (rhetorical) attacks on multilateral security networks, alliances and communities. Trump’s aggressive accusations of elite globalist conspiracy garnered many reactions, with many prominent news outlets challenging the assertions and attempting to “set the record straight.” He was speaking to the security needs of Americans who were told their entitlements to wealth and global dominance were being squandered. It seems the American conception of itself as a guarantor of global peace and security is waning, giving way to a more narrow American national security. The two, global peace and American national security, need not be mutually exclusive. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on the other hand, repeatedly called for the fostering of multilateral relations. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has supported calls to redouble multilateralism, supporting Merkel’s efforts to stress mutual interdependence that encompasses economic, military, and socio-cultural relationships.

However, the rest of the world also face massive challenges from those who promote withdrawal from efforts to institutionalize notions of security based on cooperation and multilateralism. Trump and the throngs of social media trolls that have contributed to his political machine........

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