Monday, 12 May 2008

The New Nationalism Revisited

We recently posted about the New Nationalism that is developing as a counterpoise to the process of Globalisation (see post). Since then, Cyclone Nargis has devastated much of the Irrawaddy Delta in Burma (Myanmar) and has given us a glimpse of the New Nationalism in action. Despite an overwhelming need for external aid, the Burmese authorities have been very reluctant to allow into the country much of the international aid that is on offer. The rest of the world cannot understand this. In our Globalised world, in which countries are interconnected with each other, people are finding it hard to understand why this aid is being refused.

Things look differently if we view the situation from the perspective of the Burmese government. Foreign aid is rarely just that - a gift. It is very common for aid to be accompanied with conditions, which can often be quite impossible for the recipient. For example, if aid were tied to democratic reforms, then we can see why the Burmese government might not want that aid. The delivery mechanism for the aid is often through the military infrastructure of the donor countries. We can see why, after being lambasted by the US for years, the Burmese authorities are reluctant to give the US military access to the country. There is also the suspicion of foreign NGOs, who, in the past, have been associated with a political agenda tied to regime change. Again, we can see why the Burmese authorities are reluctant to give foreign NGOs access to the country.

We are left with the position that the Burmese authorities are grateful for the aid delivered, as long as there are no strings attached to the aid, but they will undertake the distribution of the aid. This calculus baffles the west. Western governments cannot understand how the Burmese authorities are prepared to allow tens of thousands of their citizens to die from thirst, hunger, and disease rather than to open up the country to foreign aid. However, in the context of the New Nationalism - of which this is an extreme case - it makes perfect sense.

It is a price worth paying to remain disconnected, or so the Burmese authorities appear to calculate, from the rest of the world.

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