eyes on the U.S.

The United States As Global Monarch, A Different Kind Of Empire

Since the end of World War I, the United States has been methodically establishing a global state, in the same way European kings built power.

The United States As Global Monarch, A Different Kind Of Empire
Philippe Fabry

-OpEd-

PARIS â€" It is often said that we are heading towards a multipolar state, that the American predominant influence is just a parenthesis, like that of the British Empire between the 19th and 20th centuries.

But such a prediction fails to acknowledge that American hegemony established after 1918 and especially after 1945 has been completely different than the leadership of the British Empire. The latter was a colonial empire, the imperial domain of a nation that was conceived as a European power player seeking its own salvation in the strategic depth of a naval empire and the promotion of a continental balance of power.

At no time did the British Empire believe it had exceeded the European national order and these traditional rivalries: England was the greatest power and, from time to time, it would arbitrate between its playmates.

For the "American Empire," things are very different. From the start, the U.S. acted with the intention of creating rules, not just to arbitrate conflicts and manage the world order one day at a time, but also to build a common order. This led to the creation of a series of international institutions: the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and, of course, the United Nations, the embryo of a global parliament, and all its offshoots.

The U.S. has also become the global police force, especially via NATO, and funds the expenses this involves thanks to the status of the dollar as reserve currency.

Unlike its British elder, it's not about being the greatest of powers and staying that way by playing on the divisions of others. It's more about organizing a common government for world affairs by gathering all the powers into one supranational system. But the U.S. uses this supranational system in a relatively nonreciprocal way, as it allows it to impose its authority on other nations by assigning it a collective authority that goes beyond national sovereignty. Yet it refuses to see its own sovereignty contested.

The same method as European kings

It's clear that by doing so, the U.S. not only acts very differently than British imperial politics, but also in exactly the same way European kings built their power and went beyond feudality by building modern states.

To do so, kings didn't just become the most powerful lords of the feudal order, which would have corresponded to what the British Empire did, but they also made sure that they went beyond this feudal order. To do this, they built a legal system to the scale of the kingdom, which imposed itself notably through its guaranteed neutrality and authority, in comparison with the local justice systems that were less experienced, strict and often corrupt. They developed courts capable of judging lords themselves.

But the major step was made by implementing representative authorities for the entire social body: clergy, nobility, middle class, which allowed the monarchy to suddenly cover the entire feudal order. This was done in 1295 with the Model Parliament, in France in 1302 with the Estates General, in Spain in 1476 with the Cortes de Madrigal, in Germany with the 1495 Reichstag, in Russia with the 1549 Zemski Sobor. Each time, the creation of these assemblies enabled the development of a general police armed force, funded by a permanent tax â€" in other words, the implementation of a sovereign power, which meant the beginning of the end of feudality.

After 1945, this is what the U.S. did on a global scale. It created an assembly, the UN, and a whole chain of authorities that make it possible to cover the traditional international order. The Bretton Woods system of monetary management fundamentally established the implementation of a world tax, which privileges the dollar. It has allowed the U.S. to fund its army, which serves as a global police force, to guarantee the security of communication channels, and to regularly to catch dictator-crooks or punish "rogue states."

The way towards the universal state

Right now, the United States is what England never was: the monarch at the head of the global state. For now, it is essentially sovereign, although its missions are growing in number. The IMF serves as a redistribution tool towards the countries that are in the most difficulty, and it is possible that in the decades to come, the WTO will become an increasingly interventionist organization. Currently, this includes the implementation of the much disputed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), or its Trans-Pacific equivalent, the TPP.

And that's where the danger could lie in the future: A state doesn't stop growing after its emergence. On the contrary, it has its own logic and moves towards absolutism. It's what Rome ultimately did, with the influence of the Roman global state becoming more and more important and carrying more weight. Eventually, this is what will happen to us.

In any case, this radical difference in nature with the British Empire makes it impossible to conclude that the American predominance will disappear in the decades to come. In this system, China and Russia aren't rivals, which is a reading of relations that has been out of date for 70 years. They are feudal vassals, recalcitrant to the monarch. Like the major feudal vassals of the monarchies in the past, these will struggle to admit the development of the royal power, and are looking for a step back that will not come but will instead lead to a global civil war.

Some people, those who continuously denounce capitalism, see a conspiracy in this. It's not the case: It's simply the natural progress of power towards the universal state that historian Arnold Toynbee wrote about. Rome was such a universal state. In that case, there is indeed always an ideology behind this natural course of events: Such societies produce such ideas that lead to the creation of such institutions that push towards the mutation into such society, etc. Today, when we talk about "globalization," we say it's good to be a "citizen of the world."

In Antiquity, the Stoics used to say "the wise man's city is the world."

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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