Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, following its ‘no limits’ unity with China, is challenging the global order in ways that highlight why the ANC’s perceptions are as misguided as their policies and practices are defeatist. 

As the Cold War was about to unexpectedly and swiftly wind down, a celebrated, though frequently misinterpreted, hypothesis sought to capture the moment’s broad significance. Its author, Francis Fukuyama, has repeatedly clarified that he was refuting Marx’s notion that human societies would use industrialisation and capitalism to progress from feudal structures to socialism before reaching their ‘end of history’ destination, communism.

Fukuyama was arguing that classic liberal democracies and market-based economies, while strewn with imperfections, were the best organisational structures humans were likely to invent. While aspects of feudalism, socialism, communism and even capitalism have appealed to the ANC, its horrific economic stewardship traces to its hostility toward checks on its power. 

At the beginning of the post-Cold War period it seemed that leaders of resource-endowed nations could, with impunity, game: elections, constitutional protections and free market mechanisms. That European sanctions against Russia’s economy have excluded its energy exports, at first glance seems to confirm that commodity exporters can play by different rules. The larger trends, however, point decisively to the opposite conclusion.

During the post-Cold War period, market-based economics and classic liberal principles became ever more intertwined with support for a rules-based global order and its economic counterpart, global supply chains. The key autocratic country is China, whose communist party enjoys uncontested government control. It has been the top beneficiary of the post-Cold War global order through its accepting capitalistic norms and achieving formidable competitiveness across various manufacturing segments.

Backfiring spectacularly

Xi and Putin did not align to advance their nations’ interests but rather to elevate their individual status to that of major historical figures. This looks to be backfiring spectacularly on Putin, thus Xi’s risks ratchet ever higher.

The bloodshed will end through negotiations which could easily drag on for months. It is expected to take much longer to remove the sanctions against Russia. Western-styled democracies spanning North and South America, Europe, Japan, Australia and beyond will, in effect, be debating what price they should pay to signal their commitment to peace and freedoms.

Ukraine won’t be repaired quickly and evidence of war crimes will be abundant. What will long resonate negatively for Putin, Xi and other autocrats is that this war has made major historical figures out of Zelensky and the Ukrainian people. Their willingness to die for freedom has strongly tilted many countries toward opposing autocrats more resolutely.

Putin has been very effective at controlling what ordinary Russians believe about the invasion. Much contrary evidence is likely to seep into private communications. 

Xi’s control of information flows in China is remarkable. But like Putin, he seems to continually underestimate his risks while overestimating his strengths. He clearly perceives Westerners as weak and ill-disciplined. But that is largely because he perceives being ‘ill-disciplined’ as a weakness. He sees freedoms as weaknesses.

Xi no doubt believes that he would not have made the mistakes various Western leaders have made. It is obvious that they say and do many questionable things to cater to mainstream and more extremist elements of their parties.

Anachronism

Fukuyama wrote his famous thesis asserting that constitutional democracies and market-based economies were the best structures societies would achieve as the Cold War was ending. It now appears that if he was wrong it was only because he underestimated how a rules-based global order, along with profound technological advances, could swiftly make the concept of national economies an anachronism.

The potential for aggressive sanctions is now a much larger threat to ruling elites who challenge the world order. With services and digital possibilities fuelling global growth, resource-endowed nations are under rising pressure to find sustainable growth paths. Perhaps the best measure of a nation’s long-term prospects is the portion of its young adults who add value to exports destined for affluent markets.

Due to sanctions, the prospects of Russia’s young workers could decline to the level of South Africa’s. Our policies prioritising redistribution ahead of growth supported the creation of a huge patronage network while surging youth unemployment. This has the same anti-competitive effects as sanctions, and the more recent ‘localisation’ legislation made matters even worse.

Once the war ends, a great reckoning awaits. Will the West remain steadfast in defence of its core values? Might Xi also underestimate Western unity and commitment leading to some very expensive decoupling between China and the West? Experts have speculated that China’s economy and its global standing could follow Japan’s path. It began the post-Cold War era as the world’s second largest economy and then entered a period of prolonged stagnation.

When the Cold War ended our then ruling regime quickly accepted that concerns in key Western capitals about the ANC’s Marxist fealty would abate and that fundamental shifts were required. Trying to maintain the status quo would have provoked ever more sanctions thus crippling the economy through ever greater isolation. Within 90 days of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the De Klerk government unbanned the ANC and within a week Mandela was released from prison. Later there was a referendum which led to all-race elections followed by a Constitution enshrining rights and protection. 

No inclination

The Cold War’s demise ushered in the world’s most prosperity-inducing thirty year period. The ANC still shows no inclination to reverse the policies which prevent spurring job creation through integrating far more intently within the global economy. 

Rather it eyes high commodity prices as a path to expanding the lowest rung of their morally submerged patronage network. Hoping this might buy their electoral loyalty, it will increase subsistence payments to the vast majority of healthy young adults who are unemployed.

There will be much to learn about South Africa’s prospects by seeing how economics shape Russia’s Ukrainian misadventures.

 [Image: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/ukraine-russia-puzzle-flags-map-7046609/]

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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contributor

Shawn Hagedorn worked in banking, finance and capital markets in New York City and London before emigrating to South Africa. He holds degrees in finance, economics, and international business and his writing has appeared in a number of publications including Business Day, Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian, and Politicsweb, amongst others.