The Burmese uprising is one of a series of internet-fueled democracy movements that is linked to a whole series of progressive NGOs. Software filtering and removing access to communications networks, as the Burmese government has done using American software from a California company called Fortinet, ties directly into net neutrality. Internet freedom really is freedom, and open networks really are the lifeblood of democracy and a check on tyranny. I'll have more on this soon, but the significant element to understand is that the positive feedback loops, of the type Chris Bowers outlined last week, are developing around a progressive vision of foreign policy. The net neutrality/Burma link is just one of them. These are 'fusion' moments, where disparate groups of progressives come together and unite around an underlying ideological core. Coalition politics is typically done with a co-signed letter, a meaningless gesture; fusion politics is about generating a real shared fight. The Burmese-net neutrality fusion possibility is real, if it can be exploited.
Another fusion possibility is what Scott Paul is up to over at the 'radical centrist' Washington Note, pushing what's called the Law of the Sea treaty. Paul was a key architect of the Stop Bolton campaign, which helped create the first Bush era genuine pushback against the whole Jesse Helms-ian nationalistic model of American militarism. The Law of the Sea isn't a particularly sexy treaty. All it does is set traffic rules for international water, securing fishing, navigational, national security, and mining rights. Because it's so pedestrian, it's supported by the White House, oil companies, peace groups, and environmentalists. Only the black helicopter crowd opposes it, which makes it an important fight, as Paul explains.
The opposition to the Bolton nomination... was a battle well chosen. It was very important on its merits: it successfully weakened and then partially removed an extremely negative element from the administration. But just as important was its execution. Thanks to some smart group decisions on strategy and message, the Bolton campaign is making current battles against pugnacious nationalism more winnable than before.
The effort to ratify the Law of the Sea convention is a campaign that matters for similar reasons. Yes, the Law of the Sea is compelling on its face. The armed forces rightly wants its navigational and overflight rights protected. Environmentalists rightly want the U.S. to join and add to global ocean stewardship efforts. And U.S. companies should have a chance to compete with foreign firms for offshore resources. For some background info on the convention, click here.
All of these are good reasons for the U.S. to accede to the Law of the Sea, but none of them alone or even in combination would necessarily make it important for the progressive agenda.
So why is the Law of the Sea significant? Simple: our absence from the Law of the Sea is the outer wall of Fortress America. Winning the ratification battle would seriously de-fang the same pugnacious nationalists who are on the opposite side of almost every important foreign policy issue facing the U.S.
The opposition to the Law of the Sea is based entirely on a visceral hatred for multilateral cooperation. Its champions detest all forms of international organization and believe the purpose of international law is to constrain U.S. behavior. They believe the U.S. should rely on the threat of force to advance its goals and should not be constrained by any rules, even if they rules that tilt the playing field in our favor.
Without being able to pass the very basic Law of the Sea treaty, there is no way we will ever get a treaty through on global warming, create the space to internationalize the Iraq mess, or work with allies abroad in any coherent manner. Fortunately, this is extremely winnable. All it will take is some floor time from Reid, and we'll win, embarrass, and marginalize the hyper-nationalists. If that happens, we'll set the stage for the kind of global governance models we'll need to actually deal with global warming, nuclear terrorism, international telecom and energy policy, and/or pandemic flu. Moreover, the military and corporate elites will begin to realize that they can and should do business with progressives, and that cutting out the lunatic fringe of the right makes sense for their strategic purposes.
This is the right fight, and it's very winnable.