Geopolitics, globalisation

Football has conquered the world. Some of the brightest stars in Portugal this summer will have been born in Africa and Latin America, and top European clubs increasingly sign players from every continent. Martin Jacques talks to players, fans, businessmen and the head of Fifa to discover how globalisation is changing football – for better and worse – and why international competitions may yet save the game from rampant greed

The European Championship was once a lily-white occasion. No longer. The teams of the former great imperial powers, such as England, France and Holland, are today kaleidoscopes of colour, mirrors image of the people who populate their great urban centres. Their sides are ethnically diverse – breathtakingly so in the case of France – a tribute to Africa and the Caribbean as much as Europe itself. When England play France on 13 June, up to half the players on the pitch will be black or brown. The tournament may be called the European Championship, but it is also, at the same time, a global occasion, invigorated and inspired by the rhythms and athleticism of other continents.

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The claims of western values are mocked by Iraq and the rise of Asia 

Underpinning the argument in support of the invasion of Iraq has been the idea of the moral virtue of the west. In contrast to Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship, the “coalition” espouses the values of democracy and human rights. The invasion of Iraq represented the high watermark of western moral virtue. In retrospect, it is clear that the idea had been gaining momentum since two coincidental events in the 1970s: the end of the Vietnam war, which profoundly scarred the reputation of the United States, and the beginning of the modern era of globalisation. With Vietnam out of the way, and globalisation the new bearer of western and, above all, American values, the latter found an ever-expanding global audience, a process enormously boosted by the collapse of communism.

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Iraq shows the west and its new liberal imperialists have forgotten the lessons of history

Two very different innovations have dominated warfare in the past 60 years. The first was the invention of nuclear weapons, which brought to an end 150 years of a military system based on total war. Nuclear weapons have, at least until now, been the preserve of an exclusive minority, headed by the United States. Even today, only eight nations admit to possessing them. The second innovation could not have been more different. It was, as Jonathan Schell points out in his new book, The Unconquerable World, the development of a new kind of people’s war against foreign invaders. Whereas nuclear weapons were an expression of the very latest technology, and therefore the preserve of the rich world, people’s war belonged to the opposite end of the scale. People’s war could not afford the latest technology, or anything like it. Instead, it depended on mobilising popular support.

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Spain confirms the huge impact the Iraq war has had on our world

The US and Britain now find themselves that bit more isolated. Spain’s exit from the ranks of supporters of the Iraq war may have been surprising, but hardly unexpected. Its government, in its support of the invasion, defied not simply half the population, as in the case of Britain, but the overwhelming majority. Clearly there was a price to pay, which has been paid by the Aznar government, though only following a horrific and tragic event. Inevitably, it poses the question as to whether other governments which have defied the will of the people in such a flagrant manner might pay a similar price. There was barely a democratic country in the world where, at the time of the invasion, the majority of the people supported it – barring the obvious exception of the US.

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War in Iraq revealed the likely limits to American imperial power

Saddam Hussein’s arrest provided a long overdue, and desperately needed, morale-booster for the American and British governments. The fact that they had succeeded in finding neither Saddam nor Osama bin Laden had lent an air of ridicule to American military grandiloquence. The failure to capture Saddam spoke eloquently of an occupation that had veered far off course from the confident predictions that had been made at the time of the invasion.

We will have to wait and see what the longer-term effect of Saddam’s arrest proves to be. Combined with Libya’s new contrition, it should, for a period at least, ease some of the domestic pressure on Bush and perhaps even Blair. But it seems unlikely that it will change much, especially where it matters most, on the ground in Iraq.

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As the only racial group that never suffers systemic racism, whites are in denial about its impact

I always found race difficult to understand. It was never intuitive. And the reason was simple. Like every other white person, I had never experienced it myself: the meaning of colour was something I had to learn. The turning point was falling in love with my wife, an Indian-Malaysian, and her coming to live in England. Then, over time, I came to see my own country in a completely different way, through her eyes, her background. Colour is something white people never have to think about because for them it is never a handicap, never a source of prejudice or discrimination, but rather the opposite, a source of privilege. However liberal and enlightened I tried to be, I still had a white outlook on the world. My wife was the beginning of my education.

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Weak nations will succumb to American ambition unless we insist on respecting sovereignty

It has become fashionable to denigrate national sovereignty. The arguments are well versed: sovereignty is no absolute; it should not be used to excuse the abuse of human rights; the needs of justice should override the principle of sovereignty. It is suggested that this represents some profound shift in thinking, a reversal of centuries of history. This would be true if we were talking about the charmed circle of the developed world – Britain, France, the United States and the rest. But of course we are not. The sovereignty at issue is that of countries in the developing world which, until the second half of the 20th century, for the most part did not enjoy national sovereignty anyway. For them, the taste of self-rule, the possibility of not being governed by a race and culture from far away, is, historically speaking, an extremely recent experience. And now it is again under serious assault.

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Not since the 1930s has the threat of racism and fascism been so great in the west

Since 1989 we have been living in a fool’s paradise. The triumphalism about the future that greeted the collapse of communism has proved to be profoundly misplaced. The reason why we should fear the rise of Le Pen is not simply that fascism and an ugly racism are alive, well and in the ascendant in one of the heartlands of Europe, but rather that the world that we now live in is in a corrosive state. Not since the 1930s has the threat of the irrational, of a turn towards barbarism, been so great in the west. It has become an arrogant truism of western life that the evils of the modern world – authoritarianism, ethnic conflict, illiberalism – are coterminous with the developing world. It was telling how some western leaders, including one of our own ministers, in the aftermath of September 11, spoke of the civilised world, and by implication of the uncivilised world, the dark-skinned savages of backward cultures. It is not clear how Le Pen or Berlusconi or Haider fit this world view.

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10/01/90 - The Financial Times

There was a knock on the door.

‘Come in,’ I called. It was the moment for which I had been waiting. He was slightly shorter than I had expected but no less imposing, with long hair, now mainly grey, and a beard. His complexion was rather darker than I imagined. Of course, I thought: ‘The old Moor.’ I offered him a seat, thanking him for making time for the interview. He shrugged his shoulders, looked at the tape recorder with some puzzlement, and waited for me to begin.

‘Mr Marx, you wrote in the Communist Manifesto, on the eve of the 1848 revolution, that: ‘A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of communism.’ The spectre haunting Europe now looks more like capitalism.’

I began to explain what had happened in 1989, but he interrupted with some impatience. ‘I know, I know. I have been following events, I don’t sleep while I am in the Reading Room.’ Of course, I thought, seat G7. As he seemed well up with the news I hastily revised my interview.

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Updated and expanded new Chinese edition just released.


Turkish edition just published!

When China Rules the World is the first book to fully conceive of and explain the upheaval that China’s ascendance will cause and the realigned global power structure it will create.

New edition available now from:

Amazon UK
and all good booksellers.

US second edition is available now via: 

Amazon US