The peace dividend also failed to materialise. The US attempted to compensate for its dwindling economic centrality with military aggression. Wars proliferated, festooned with slogans of ‘human rights’, ‘democracy’ and the ‘responsibility to protect’ citizens of allegedly failed states, and became hybrid. They promoted not democracy but neoliberal capitalism to open poor countries to imperial capital’s overexploitation, up to and including slavery, while violating the most basic of human rights – to life and development. They also punished defiant countries such as Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, the DPRK or Yemen by blockading medicines, oil and food.
These wars also proved interminable. For the financialised and deindustrialised West still home to major arms production industries, wars were industrial policy. Able to destroy but not rebuild, fighting wars as much to test and advertise weapons as to win them, the US-led West, aided by garrison states such as Israel, won no victories. They only left trails of destruction.
Rising militarism, repression, impoverishment and environmental destruction generated waves of migrants further repressed by border controls Western countries enforced and farmed out to neighbouring states. The Berlin Wall may have fallen but hundreds more sprouted in its wake, curtailing freedoms of speech, truth-telling, whistleblowing and protest. Human rights violations became routine, not only in the Third World but also in Western cities such as Minneapolis or Paris.
How can there be human rights without peace and development, social justice and social rights? How can states and peoples attain these without sovereignty, acknowledgement of the world’s pluripolarity, and respect for, rather than stigmatisation of, countries, such as China or Cuba or Nicaragua, which seek to fulfil these most fundamental of human rights.
Capitalism commits its crimes against humanity and against the very possibility of society to the tune of anti-Communist propaganda, trying to prevent people from realising that socialism would better protect their human rights – liberal freedoms of speech, religion or association as much as rights to a decent, well-occupied, healthy and culturally rich life.
This was the parlous state of the West’s economy, society, politics and international influence when the pandemic arrived.