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Interests and values

WATCHING the changing of the guard in the United States of America (USA) from the Donald Trump Administration to the Joe Biden era has been fascinating. On Friday, the secretary of state Antony Blinken stated that the relationship between the Saudi Kingdom and the USA would be reconfigured to take into account both the interests of the United States and its values. If you think about it, has that not always been the struggle in international relations?

Eddie Cross
economist

I can recall when the United Nations — through the most powerful of its agencies, the Security Council, voted to impose mandatory, international sanctions on Rhodesia after its Unilateral Declaration of Independence in November 1965. This was one of the toughest sanctions regimes ever imposed on any country in history. It even involved a naval blockade of the Port of Beira. How on earth did that tiny country, with its even smaller white population survive? No record remains of that era because no one was willing to record it and the physical records were largely destroyed, but in the main, it was interests that tilted the balance in favour of the Rhodesians.

The most powerful State in the world, the USA, broke ranks with the rest of the globe and its allies, to get access to Rhodesian chrome. Switzerland to get its beef, Japan its maize, South Africa to secure its northern border. All acting in their own interests! Values came second.

When Mozambique closed its borders with Rhodesia in 1975, it was the Russians who bought the millions of dollars’ worth of Rhodesian exports caught in Mozambique Ports.

Under the Trump administration, the slogan was “America first”. So they imposed restrictions on US/China trade with massive new tariffs, they threw out the Paris Agreement to allow the continued use of coal and the exploration for gas and oil. They urged American companies to buy American and to stop relocating production abroad.

Self-interest ruled the day. Nothing new about these sentiments — we hear them expressed all the time, all over the world. Often they are popular and even win elections, but the consequences are often not what was planned or expected.

If we go back in history to the era when Britain ruled one third of the world under its Empire mantle, there was no doubt about their interests — they ruled supreme. Partly because they thought they were superior to everyone else and partly because that was how the “real” world worked.

Trade flowed out from Britain and across the globe, bringing raw materials and the wealth created in many countries to the shores of Britain. Britain grew wealthy and powerful on the backs of others. History clearly shows the great looting of India during colonial occupation. Portugal did the same in the Far East and in Africa, Spain in the Americas.

When I met Samora Machel once in Maputo, after he became the President of Mozambique, he remarked to me, “Mr. Cross, if you were to be able to choose to be colonised, you would never have chosen to be colonised by the Portuguese”.

I think he was right. Just look at the example of Belgium in the Congo basin. A good description might be an era of rape and pillage. The interests of those who were colonised seldom took centre stage.

An interesting feature of the Boer War and the Rhodesian UDI was that they represented rebellions against the colonial domination of Britain. In many respects the Boer War was the first liberation struggle in Africa.

Of course all that did was to move the centre of interests to the local occupants of the colonial seat. In their turn the white Rhodesians and the Afrikaners saw themselves as defenders of their own narrow interests. Values always played a secondary role.

So where do the “values” come in?

If you think through this issue very carefully, the first question is where do these “values” come from? In primeval jungles, interests come first. In the cave, the strongest ruled. If mankind is a product of evolution as the world might want us to believe, then are there any “fundamentals” to guide policy? The short answer is no, never has been. So where do these values, come from?

I am a Christian and make no apologies for that. When I read my Bible I discover the “values” that seem to be the basis of what the US administration refers to and which seem to guide humanity as it seeks to govern itself.

In Genesis, there are many revolutionary ideas, which could never have “evolved”.

The idea of mankind ruling the world, of managing all of creation for its own benefit!

The concept of custodianship and being responsible for the welfare of all creation and not just our own interests — are all there.

The idea that men and women share responsibility for government, completely revolutionary and in sharp contradiction to the dominance of the strong over the weak!

The creation of the family, its structure and the roles given to men and women and children, accepted by all societies yet alien to the “natural order of things”.

All Biblical in origin! Then the teachings of Christ — do unto others as you would want others to do for you. The “great commandments” — love God and your neighbours. In the savage kingdom, such sentiments are totally alien, ask Shaka Zulu! Human rights have no basis outside of biblical teaching and principles, if we are animals why ascribe special rights to our species and not others?

I can recall having a conversation with my grandfather who was an associate of Jan Smuts and a prominent South African, where he said to me, after the Afrikaners had taken power in 1949 and launched the policy of Apartheid which was to dominate the next 45 years of South African history; “someday the Afrikaners are going to discover that Apartheid is against their own values as a Christian people and when they do they will put it right”.

That happened much later when the Head of the Reformed Church of South Africa admitted to a meeting of African Christian leaders in Kenya that Apartheid had been wrong.

In the end it was not sanctions or force that cowed the Afrikaner people, it was principle and when that happened, change and reform was the result, without violence.

When Christian revivals swept through Britain, it was the new Christians who led the struggle against slavery and exploitation. It was the Christian Church who reached out to the World and brought education and health services to the millions who lived in dark places without hope. Often finding themselves pitted against the colonial authorities who governed the people they had come to serve.

It was persecuted European Christians who migrated to the USA and crafted the Constitution they so fiercely defend today and which limited the power of Government and imposed the separation of powers on those in authority. It was the Christians who led the struggle for equal rights and an end to racist policies imposed by the whites “in their interests”.

These things do not come naturally to mankind; they are ideas to be adopted because in some mysterious way they are fundamental truths handed down to us.

It will be interesting to see how US values are interpreted into a new dispensation in the USA. US commitment to free trade and private enterprise and market-driven economics has in many respects changed the world we live in. In the process, these policies have enabled many countries, including China, to lift their people out of poverty and hunger.

Have the American people suffered as a result, I would argue no, a rising tide lifts all boats! What a difference it would make if we all sought to govern under God and work only for the welfare of others.

Cross is an economist and former legislator.

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