ONE: AN INTRODUCTION TO BLOC POLITICS
College students who have grown up in our modern, bloc-dominated political environment spend a great deal of time studying history that relates to nation-states as dominant. Then, in shifting to current events, it may often seem to them as if that older political world instantaneously—and effortlessly—transformed itself into the world we know today. Much of what underlies this impression is the short-shrift given to the political forces which prompted the amalgamation of separate states into blocs in the first place—largely because that evolution was slow, irregular, and often frustratingly subtle.
By the end of the 20th Century, it had become quite obvious that any nation striving to achieve a preeminent hegemony was embarking upon a course certain to arouse the ire of its global peers. In short, the long-standing, and internationally shared, desire to achieve imperial dominance was beginning to work its way out of the collective political consciousness. This was not due to an upsurge in altruism or enlightened reconsideration of the dead-ends of the real politik that had driven statesmen as diverse as Metternick and Bismark. Rather, it was a practical and overdue acknowledgement of the limits of national power and influence in a world that was increasingly transnational in its commerce, communications, and consciousness. Not surprisingly, the two last nation-states large enough to entertain visions of becoming unipower hegemonies did so for a longer period of time than others. This underscores that the change to bloc politics did not arise out of a finer moral sense, but from sobering assessments of the sheer unattainability of empire in the modern world. It comes as no surprise, then, that the last two nations to move away from such aspirations were the last two which could still reasonably entertain hopes of achieving them: the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China.
For the most part, the United States’ movement toward true imperial ambitions was so short-lived and occasioned by such singular causal variables that, in hindsight, many have labeled it an aberration. Articulating its brief dalliance with a one-superpower or “unipolar” world in documents such as PNAC,the U.S. actively demonstrated these ambitions by engaging in wars ostensibly validated by the need to effect “regime change” in hostile states. However, the underlying imperial impulse did reflect the true, abiding will of the people, but was rather enabled by the harnessing of their distressed reactions to a variety of terrorist attacks and other aversive events.
Although nominally still an isolationist culture as it entered the 21st Century, it must also be remembered that the United States had shown fitful and irregular impulses toward imperial ambitions in the past: The Monroe Doctrine; the Spanish-American War; the Baruch Proposal. Consequently, although its last dalliance with the notion of global hegemony is not properly a wholly unique aberration, it was ultimately atypical of the nation’s traditions and self-image, and as such, might best be considered a spasm of uncertainty as it confronted an extraordinary historical crossroads.
In the case of China, however, a more fixed hegemonic reflex persisted well into the 21st Century, and has not entirely been extinguished even now in the 22nd. The variables that explain this enduring imperial impulse are diverse, but two emerge as predominant.
Firstly, it must be acknowledged that, while China is the world’s oldest polity, it was arguably the youngest superpower of the 20th Century. Eclipsed by Russian and American might, further overshadowed by the even greater accumulation of power and influence those centers of political gravity gathered around themselves in the contending organizations known as NATO and the Warsaw Pact, China remained an unwieldy, imbalanced giant until the last decade of the 20th Century. Wracked by internal difficulties that ran the gamut from famine to family sizes to ferocious cultural upheavals, the People’s Republic of China did not come into its own until the Cold War polarization disintegrated. With the bidirectional global power monopoly was finally broken after half a century, newly industrialized China began to accrue some of that power for itself.
The reason for this late entry into the first ranks of the global powers is also the second factor which has arguably continued to fuel its visions of hegemony: its status as a victim of sustained and often brutal Western imperialism. Spending centuries unable to present—let alone maintain—a unified political identity in its relations with the rest of the world, China was a prime exploitation zone for the West. Shamed in its political and military impotence, China’s embarrassment and bitterness must be understood in the context of its culture, which was still intact and had been preserved across four (or some would argue five) millennia. From the perspective of Chinese nationalists, her own leaders and merchants had repeatedly prostituted the world’s most august civilization for the coin and favor of recently-civilized barbarians.
It must certainly be acknowledged that if many Western imperialists were racially dismissive of the Chinese, many Chinese secretly (and sometimes overtly) returned the dubious favor of pronounced bigotry. And it cannot be denied that China’s self-portrayal as a much-wronged country handily overlooked its own analogous sins. A quick survey of the nations that are China’s neighbors will reveal that they do not associate the Emperors of the Middle Kingdom with anything less than hegemonic acquisitiveness and colonial rapine.
However, the axiom has it that perception is reality. Accordingly, the architects of the People’s Republic of China stoked this two-stroke reciprocating engine of cultural resentment and national fear to generate enough power for rapid industrialization and expansion. As the gulf of time widened between its present and the last epoch in which it had known true national shame, the ardor with which the Chinese themselves embraced the rhetoric and values of hegemony diminished. However, the dividing line between the nation’s protectionist Conservatives and transglobal Liberals can still be traced to this fundamental quandary: whether China can safely embrace the rest of the world or whether it needs to defend its cultural identity behind high, separatist walls.
Alliance or Bloc?
As suggested in the preceding section, the national instinct for amassing power did not diminish, let alone disappear. It simply reconfigured itself into the concept of joint expression, projection, and cost-sharing.
How this differs from simple alliance is a point of enduring contention among scholars, but this much may be asserted: there is no crisp boundary separating the two. The difference between highly-cooperative alliances and loosely-integrated blocs is one of degree, not absolute distinction.
Similarly, there is no one moment in history where one can definitively assert that the need for collectives larger than the nation state first arose, but several factors can be cited as increasing global trends that prompted a corresponding increase toward bloc politics:
- a strong decline in the profitability and desirability of overt imperialism;
- the need to share the increased expense of “paradigm-shifting” strategic technology initiatives;
- transglobal interconnection as an increasing component of the dominant youth culture.
The decrease in the profitability of direct imperialistic control was fundamentally recognized and embraced at the end of the First World War. It is a matter of some interest that the European powers—winners and losers both—all took steps to disentangle themselves from direct colonial involvement at that time. Much control passed to nationally-select corporations; much more went to semi-autonomous indigenous governments. The 19th century formula known as the New Imperialism (colonies as sources of raw materials, cheap labor, and also, exclusive markets) was clearly non-functional, now representing a net loss to the once-proud colonizers.
However, the endeavor for Empire became not only undesirable but completely insupportable in the aftermath of World War II. The new trend toward transnationalism was not merely an artifact of expedited information exchange between continents. It reflected a growing appreciation of the growing costs of what might be called “transformative technological endeavors.” As all the superpowers experienced in the latter half of the 20th century—particularly in their races to build nuclear weapons and to get to the moon—epic achievements entailed epic costs. And as the Russians learned in trying to “keep up” with America’s high-tech Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), those epics could actually end in economic self-destruction.
Significantly, joint projects—in defense, in space, in high-energy physics—began to point toward the only reasonable way forward: shared costs, shared tasks, shared gains. In many ways, these partnerships paved the way for the economic coordination that made possible the fiscal integration that is the touchstone of today’s blocs.
Undergirding these highly quantifiable phenomena is a more nebulous, but arguably supremely powerful variable for which there can be no finite metric: the changed outlook of each successive generation. From world-wide cinemas to today’s global chic of virtual dating across continental lines from the comfort of one’s own simstation, the last century and a half has seen the qualitative significance of distance shrink, even though its physical quantities have remained unaltered. A thousand miles is still a thousand miles—but how much does that matter when you can go on a virtual date with someone from the other side of the world?
In short, one of the most powerful drivers behind the maintenance of national boundaries was the coherence of national identity. But the coherence of such an identity was largely reinforced—even dictated—by immutable physical barriers that impeded or prevented contact with persons from other nations and cultures. As electronic interconnection eroded those barriers, the coherence, or at least the implicit militance, of national identity began weakening.
There were, of course, many who proclaimed that this was the end of the nation-state in toto: that we were soon to live in a post-historical, post-political, post-racial, even post-cultural age. But this prediction, like so many others uttered while caught up in the ebullient throes of a rising phenomenon, overreached considerably. As almost three decades have shown us, language shapes not only thought, but also expectations and concept of self—all of which play powerful roles in determining long-term compatibility. So although there is increasing marriage across cultural lines, the majority of lasting unions are still forged within the boundaries of extant cultural affinities.
A similar “affinity function” is evident in bloc politics, as well. Four of today’s five blocs shared similar cultural roots, and more than one critic has observed that the degree of understanding—or lack thereof—observed between individuals of any two blocs often microcosmically reprises the degree of (mis)understanding between the blocs’ own leaders.
TWO: PRECURSORS OF BLOC POLITICS
As mentioned before, the blocs did not emerge, wholly formed and independent, from the earlier, wide expanses of nation-state politics. However, it could be reasonably maintained that they rose as quickly and surely as they did (comparatively speaking) because of precursor dragon’s-teeth sown by the superpowers themselves.
The United States provides one of the most interesting examples of this evolution since it was both one of the first nations to explore a forward-looking reliance upon bloc politics, and yet, was one of the last to entertain old-fashioned ambitions of being the dominative force in a unipolar world.
From World War One onward, the United States, although consistently demonstrating strong isolationist tendencies, also showed keen interest in establishing a global forum for the resolution of differences and for the regulation of interests between nations. Although many of the proponents of such an organization were unity-minded idealists, at least as many of its (often less vocal) supporters were isolation-focused realists. They understood that such an organization was the best means of defusing any conflicts that might threaten to embroil the United States, and thus, had a vested interest in promoting the evolution of this species of global council as a buffer against “foreign entanglements.”
Ultimately, although the League of Nations was a stillborn failure, and the United Nations an impossibly crippled and hamstrung attempt to improve upon and expand it, the United States almost single-handedly enacted what many consider to be the first, true “proto-bloc” formation: the Marshall Plan. The strange, underlying mix of American pragmatism and compassion was certainly a noteworthy feature of the superpower’s resolve to “rebuild Europe.” While accelerating the restoration of safe and comfortable living conditions for untold millions of Europeans (but particularly Germans), the United States was also creating a ready market for its own products and media, a foundation of Americentric infrastructural and educational reconstruction, and a rapidly strengthening bulwark against the encroachment of Soviet Russia and its allies.
However, it is the evolution of the relationships forged through the Marshall Plan that truly distinguish it as the first of the ‘bloc-building’ initiatives of the post-Imperial era. The most productive contrast is evident in the respective political and social interconnections between the member-states of its outgrowth alliance—NATO—and those of its eastern rival, the Warsaw Pact.
Clearly, in both cases, the superpower locus of each collective had a vastly disproportional balance of power within its own organization. But the methodology of maintaining and strengthening the relevant international ties could not have been more different.
Russia followed the well-known imperial model: a high degree of centralized control, non-consensual arrangement of economies and militaries, and sharp exclusivity concerning such strategic elements as space programs, nuclear arsenals, and technological diffusion. In contrast, NATO was noteworthy for its decentralized and consensual political and economic bases, cooperative programs in developing both military and domestic technologies, and freedom to evolve other organizations that often complicated the relationships among the members, and drew non-members into the mix (e.g., The European Common Market). Member-states entered or left NATO at will—often to the great consternation and discomfiture of the others (e.g., France’s infamous departure) while the Soviet Union’s Eastern European satellite states were kept in line by guns and tanks where necessary (e.g., Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland).
The purpose of this comparison is not to praise NATO. It had many irremediable flaws and proved a difficult organization to validate once its historical counterpoise—the Warsaw Pact—fell apart. However, its evolution out of the groundwork laid by the Marshall Plan, and the various transatlantic ententes and organizations that rose up to perform similar coordinating functions, were the harbingers of today’s bloc politics.
The European Union—as the first of the true blocs—was the next, obvious step in the evolution toward bloc-politics. However, with the nation-state impulse still predominant in most of the older gate-keepers of political power, the maturation of this first bloc was a difficult and often painful process that foreshadowed the ongoing challenges of all bloc formations: common military, monetary, educational, medical, and linguistic forms. The constant tension between maintaining sovereign control over one’s own directions in these urgent matters vied mightily with the impetus toward combining them so as to move quickly to higher levels of uniformity of service across the bloc.
The Dominant Paradigm Of Bloc Evolution: The EC-EU Progression
By 2040, with the Megadeath looming as an inevitable resource-storm on the horizon and protectionism rampant in most markets, an increasing number of analysts and advisors were asserting that humanity’s next great endeavors were too expensive to be borne by the ever-more fiscally strapped nations on an individual basis. Citing various joint aerospace and defense technology programs, they made increasingly compelling arguments for a more systematized integration of economies if various strategic goals were to be achieved. High among these were stalled efforts at revising the energy ecology of the world, which despite overcoming most of the technological impediments to a thorough reworking of energy production and delivery, remained unexecutable due to entrenched corporate and national interests.
The arrival of the Megadeath era and the sharp, decade-long market retraction, prompted the first wave of trade pacts that ultimately evolved into modest agreements to integrate certain elements of each country’s economy to serve a greater, combined objective.
Not surprisingly, the first, small shifts toward greater integration were achieved in the EU. Spain and Portugal formed the Iberian Union in 2034 to consolidate debt and increase their political influence in both EC and EU affairs. The Scandinavian nations formed the Nordic League in 2041, thereby indirectly bringing its non-EU member-states into greater alignment with that bloc’s interests and influence through their strong relations with their neighbors and cultural cousins. Benelux unified in 2043 Preunification movements such as become more common from 2050-2075, as the EU membership moved toward more centralized control, albeit very slowly.
However, this process had one notable casualty: England grew increasingly distant from the opinions and motivations of the Continent as the pressure toward a common currency intensified, along with pressure to establish uniform banking, health, and military practices and administration. A particularly sharp blow to integrating the UK into the EU occurred when Germany assumed defensive responsibilities for Austria in 2072. English responses were decidedly negative when both nations touted this as the “wave of the future” and the “signifier of a new age of trust and mutuality.” England was not alone is its reservations: France and Italy began more joint incorporations as a counterbalance to Germany’s expanding military leadership with the EU. But of course, in the long run, the increasing ties between France and Italy only accelerated the process toward broad amalgamation.
Eastern Europe and the Balkans were a different story. Poland and the Czech Republic ultimately became fully-integrated EU countries and the Baltic Republics (Latvia/Estonia/Lithuania) progressed to that same endpoint through a variety of more closely-coordinated “mutual growth and defense” pacts. The remaining Balkan and Eastern European states slowly evolved through a series of pacts similar to those binding together the Baltic nations, but with far more fits, starts, disruptions, and angry defections. Hungary maintained dual membership, its sympathies and affinities divided between the EU and the Eastern European collective. These rather tempestuous revisions were particularly common in the territories of the former nation of Yugoslavia, where regional disputes persisted. The core of “steady” member states of the Eastern European collective (regardless of its changes in conformation and nomenclature) included Slovakia, Moldava, Bulgaria, and Rumania.
Ultimately, much of the churn in the East European collective was the result of strong pan-Slavic impulses from (and for) Russia. Which, despite differences and bickering, generally found enough common ground to maintain relations with the Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in a loose federation. The combination of population, resources, and industries assisted this combines’ reemergence back into the world market, first as a major energy and raw materials exporter, and later, as a manufacturer of median and high tech goods. This mostly impacted China’s attempt to continue expanding its share of those markets, reigniting old rivalries. At the same time, equally old European fears of Russian expansionism loomed larger as the giant’s recovery accelerated in the 2060-2070 period. Oddly, given intermittent trepidation (and historical resentment) for the US in certain EU circles, and the US support of Russia in its bricolage with Beijing, these events combined to push the US and Russia into closer relations. It was also an illustration of bloc stability based on functional congruencies between the two polities. It has long been (accurately) observed that, structurally, the US- and Russian-led blocs are the most similar, insofar as they have smaller populations with markedly higher cultural uniformity, spread across large, productive landmasses that provide them with a baseline sufficiency in all natural resources.
Russia’s continuing challenges along its southern peripheries changed character in this period—becoming both less sporadic and more fixed—as many of its former fringe republics known collectively as “The Stans” drifted into increasing exchange and trade agreements with the Pan-Arab League, which then underwent a welter of conflicting and often brief name changes: the Pan-Asian League, the Pan-Islamic League, and more. However, as the re-aligned nations of the post-Arab Spring decades found their footing, their influence came to stretch like a belt across the north of Africa and midriff of Asia. Strong tensions between traditional and secular visions, and intermittent coups prevented steady progress toward political integration. However, this League’s desire for joint action was clear and unequivocal, rising above the chaos generated by its repeated attempts to create durable transnational bonds.
Indeed, the solitary stabilizing influence in the evolution of what ultimately came to be known as the Pan-Islamic League was its relationship with (some would say mentorship by) China. China, larger than most blocs all by itself, had limited needs for coordination with foreign states, and arguably, had no desire for bilateral relations at all. Sinosupremacy and cultural protection evolved as linked tenets among Beijing’s political elite up through, and beyond, the Megadeath. After the economic shocks and restructuring occasioned by that sustained disaster, a great deal of political emphasis shifted south to Shanghai, largely due to its superior handling of international relations and fiscal negotiations in those trying years. Beijing, although cautious when relinquishing any control, did so carefully—but did so. A notable exception is to be found in its direct recruitment of the Pan-Islamic League (and many of the mutually-aligned states of South America) to aid it in the High Ground and Belt Wars with the Russian-led Slavic nations (and then, nominally and briefly, against the pro-Russian US “intervention force”).
However, after the Belt War, the PRC leadership underwent its first truly democratic change, resulting in a more decentralized government and new overtures to both traditional and new trading partners in an attempt to find an exit from its monetary woes (attempts to valuate the Yuan as a traded currency had foundered no less than six times in the prior six decades). Strong traditional power brokers in Beijing maintained close relations with the equally (if differently) traditionally-minded leaders of the faltering Pan-Islamic League (whose petrodollars were finally evaporating as new energy ecologies in the Developed World sharply reduced its reliance upon foreign oil).
Beyond China, Japan’s attempts to compete with the evolving bloc structures on an equal footing meet with frustration from a number of directions. Firstly, it lacked the cultural collectivism that was clearly functioning as political glue in Europe, the Slavic nations, and the former British Colonies, just as it lacked the unilateral scope and potentialities of China. Thrown back upon the need to build agreements and consolidate without assistance from either of those natural precursors, the Japanese further discovered that their unwillingness to fully apologize for the violent excesses of their troops in World War II had not been overlooked or forgotten. As they attempted to evolve a Pacific Rim organization, they found themselves not only undermined at every step by Chinese interests, but also discovered that they were still not overly welcome in many of nations which they had occupied during that century-past global conflict.
Compelled to focus upon purely economic linkages, Japan shifted its search for an initial partner to Brazil, in which a large Japanese émigré community had gained increasing social and political influence. This was welcomed by the Brazilians, whose experience in the Belt War made them eager to leave the PRC’s domain of control, largely due to the veiled but very real autocratic prerogatives which Beijing exerted in its relations with the members of its incongruously-named Developing World Coalition (DWC).
With the commitment of this first partner, the Japanese proved highly adept at leveraging themselves into sequentially greater relationships. Although the organization was at first weak and diffuse, Japan’s efforts to secure new members for inclusion in its loose commercial consortium highlighted the nation’s strong ability at advantageous deal-making. Slowly bringing the majority of Brazil’s aligned South American states into their transglobal trade council, the Japanese then made common cause with other states that were, in one regard or another, problematic “fits” with any of the other emerging blocs. South Africa—possessing a strong technological sector but a persistent image as a troubled nation—responded readily enough to Tokyo’s overtures. Other, select African nations responded similarly. With this membership in place, and the constant (if elusive) expressions of interest from Mexico a matter of global record, Japan approached India and Indonesia—with whom final negotiations persist today, as each nation strives to glean maximum benefit from the relationship.
Critics have called this formation a ‘non-bloc’ but that dismissive label pales beside the fact that, left without a ready pathway to political and international parity, the Japanese ‘built” a bloc from common interests, the promise of mutual benefit, and have thus created the largest of all the blocs, when measured by population and general resources.
South America’s move toward bloc politics was one of disappointment, change, and uncertainty. After the Megadeath madness gutted so many of its cities, and its disastrous (and in many ways, hapless) peripheral involvement in the High Ground War, Brazil and the rest of South and Central America parted company from China’s Developing World Coalition and resolved to chart their own course. Increasingly successful modernization initiatives and responsible resource allocation from 2070-2085 onward began to prove that this continent was not destined to become another Africa, and attracted the aforementioned interest, and wooing, of Tokyo’s global commerce initiative. While South America’s collective pride quickly rose to an all-time high, Central America and Mexico found themselves vexed by conflicting desires. On the one hand, they had strong impulses to join their larger and culturally-akin southern cousins; on the other, strong countervailing forces of extant agreements and traditional partnerships pulled them more in the direction of the United States.
The United States had, in many regards, both the easiest and hardest time moving into the era of bloc politics. Already well-associated with many of the mechanisms and methodologies that might be pursued to establish a bloc, and furnished with relationships that had the potential of readily moving in that direction, it also contended with its own reluctance to share the smallest iota of sovereignty with another state, and found the same attitude in its potential partners. Indeed, the wary circumspection that was evinced by any state entertaining the notion of moving into closer alignment with the United States was most pronounced in the nations that were its strongest and oldest allies. The cultural phenomena underlying this, being unique, want special explication.
Firstly, the fierce independence of Americans is at least as present (albeit often expressed differently) in its other New World cousins: Canada and Australia. America’s “special relationship” and intimate military and intelligence coordination with the United Kingdom similarly did not translate into ready acceptance of shared sovereignty there, either.
This situation was exacerbated by America’s peculiar combination of striving for dominance in world affairs, yet having the most vocal criticisms of those tendencies often coming from its own population. In short, criticism of America—from both inside and outside its borders—led to an understandable (and arguably prudent) awareness of the large, powerful country’s appetite for control. By the same token, the very openness of that criticism, and its freedom from any worry of retaliation—whether the source was indigenous or exogenous—was a constant testimony to America’s demonstrated commitment to liberty, free expression, and plurality, both within its own population and among the nations of the world. More than one analyst of America’s world image in the 20th and 21st Centuries has touched upon the its “tendency toward an almost schizophrenic expression of both genuine goodwill and overbearing presumption.”
Nowhere is this conundrum better illustrated than the episode which occasioned its closer integration with Canada. Prompted by the need to redraw NAFTA along lines that made success far less dependent upon Mexico’s ability to meet projected goals and fiscal benchmarks, Washington and Ottawa began the delicate process of crafting additional economic coordination between the two states without raising (mostly Canadian, and particularly French-Canadian) hackles over the long-feared “legal usurpation” of the maple leaf by the bald eagle.
As news of these talks began to leak out, the name of the agreement, the Unified Commerce Agreement, was being floated and rigidly scrutinized for any potential to occasion fear on the part of Canadians, or triumphalism on the part of a sizable minority of ultra-nationalist Americans. Unfortunately, one of the first reporters entrusted with the title of the agreement disclosed it to a blogger friend, who promptly turned around and “scooped” the imminence of the new UCA agreement. Unfortunately, the blogger did not clearly indicate what each word in the acronym stood for.
Possibly, it would not have made any difference. Suffice it to say that when the negotiators from Canada and America convened the next day, they were horrified to arrive at their sessions only to be surrounded by reporters from newspapers that had already announced the formation of the UCA: the Union of Canada and America. By the end of the day, a web-pundit had dubbed this wholly phantasmagorical polity “Americanada.”
The damage done by that innocent set of events and the groundless fabulations of hypervigilant watchdogs was a lesson to both the US and all its allies: fear of American erasure of their sovereignty and cultures was immense and almost impossible to ameliorate. In consequence, the coordination and integration of England’s three largest Anglophone colonies—the US, Canada, and Australia—proceeded more slowly than any other. And while many in the UK have long urged consideration of the benefits of joining their New World offspring, the same fears and reservations are present there—only magnified a hundredfold.
The Impulse Toward Greater Bloc Cohesion
Three factors accelerated the closer integration of these five emergent blocs in the last years of the 21st Century, all of which underscored the need for pooled resources and cooperative action.
The first was the Belt War, which drew the international differences in space technology and presence into sharp relief. The inability of China’s aligned states to provide meaningful assistance when its fortunes faltered, and the decisive intervention effected by a comparatively small high-tech New World contingent, engendered two powerful realizations: power parity on Earth required power parity in space; and the expense of purchasing and maintaining that parity was best achieved (arguably, could only be achieved) by integrated and cooperative efforts. This accelerated the movement toward genuine blocs.
The second incident was fundamentally both a coda and an exclamation point adorning the first: the detection of the Earth-approaching asteroid labeled the “Doomsday Rock” in 2080 and its destruction by an ambitious American-Canadian mission in 2083. Optimistic estimates identified the Rock as killing at least four billion and pushing Earth back to the technological level of the American Civil War. Pessimistic (many say “realistic”) estimates prognosticated between 95-97 % destruction of the human race, and a return to the Bronze Age.
The third, but clearly greatest, impulse toward true bloc power structures was generated by the electrifying announcement that, in 2105, the New World nations, acting in concert with the UK, had actually succeeded in their attempt to create a Faster-Than-Light craft and had already visited the Alpha Centauri system as the crowning achievement of their ambitious Prometheus Project. Global outcries to share the technology were no doubt made more shrill by the fact that analogous programs in each bloc had lagged well behind Prometheus. The New World delay in sharing the technology of the Wasserman Drive—a reluctance seen as needless by most, and ill-understood to this day—was not essential for the European Union and Russlavic Federation, which either cleared the final hurdles on their own or after receiving one or two useful hints from colleagues within the Prometheus Project itself.
However, by withholding the information for almost half a year, America’s strategic silence arguably achieved what loud and impassioned rhetoric never had: a rapid integration of the nascent blocs into powerful, dominant organizations. The intense resentment and competitive spirit which America’s silence stimulated pushed aside all remaining national impediments so that maximum energy could be brought to bear upon the quest to match the New World nations’ feat of interstellar travel.
THREE: THE BLOCS TODAY
This brings us to an overview of the blocs as they are today, and then, the ongoing challenges that they face, either individually, or collectively.
The New World Commonwealth is overwhelmingly comprised of the Anglophone states—Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States—that took a powerful and enduring imprint from their initial and decisive English roots. Although there was considerable outcry in the UK over the formation of Prime Minister Hadley-Singh’s blue-ribbon commission to critically assess and critique the costs of renouncing the Great Britain’s titular membership in the EU and formally joining the Commonwealth, it seem likely that, despite much reluctance and caution, England is in fact poised to make this shift. However, all indications are that it will also strive to retain equal ties to Europe for as long as possible, retaining its status as the most “pivotal” nation in the ongoing efforts to maximize common purposes and goals between the New World Commonwealth and the European Union.
Of all the blocs, the Commonwealth remains the most self-sufficient, both in terms of resources and development. While its political integration is in many ways more loose than any other bloc except TOCIO, its near absolute linguistic uniformity and shared legal, political, and cultural traditions enable surprisingly close cooperation (comparatively) across a wide range of complicated activities. Although its preeminence in military and space technology is frequently cited as being its most noteworthy advantage, it should be remembered that it is, by a small margin, the largest gross producer of foodstuffs among the five blocs, and is, by an immense margin, its largest net producer and exporter of the same. Being the breadbasket of planet Earth, the New World Commonwealth has profound potential leverage over the global market.
The European Union has recently expanded modestly, due to new extra-Continental memberships awarded to nations which retained very strong affinities to one or another of the European cultures and have no better alternative for membership in any other bloc. The most noteworthy of these new members is Argentina.
The Union enjoys very high levels of education, employment, and social care, as well as excellently run and supported high-tech industry and service sectors. Although very diverse in national customs and language, it has very strong commonalities regarding political culture and foundational values, allowing disputes within the bloc to be settled without undue rancor. This amplifies the Union’s already high levels of internal efficiency.
However, the Union remains power-dependent and food-dependent, largely due to its population density and unfavorable location for any solar-based power augmentation. Imbalance of political power also still persists, with German fiscal dominance prompting intermittent episodes of French resentment, resulting in the only significant political logjams within the Union’s political apparatus. Continuing problems with economically weaker states—such as Portugal, Greece, and a number of newer members—perturb the otherwise smoothly running economy. Ongoing challenges include the refusal of various states to contribute to space or other large programs, citing the incompatibility of even token participation with their attempts to stabilize their internal economies. Also, due to sour memories of—and often, harsh experience with—the processes of foreign settlement and colonization, the EU tends toward extremely gradual, careful expansion, which has made it a less dynamic factor in interstellar colonization than it might otherwise have been. This is reflected in its comparatively modest investment in shift carriers and establishing communities on green worlds.
The Russlavic Federation is comprised of those states that share the linguistic, as well as the uniquely-synthesized Eurasian cultural, roots that predominate where Europe abuts Asia. This so-called “Russian” bloc has achieved good results in terms of promoting a relatively high standard of education, healthcare, and industry. With the shift away from a petrochemical energy economy, it has become somewhat deficient in terms of power production, but its southern extents—including the broad, unused expanses of Kazakhstan—furnishes it with some more auspicious regions for increasing its use of solar-power options. A dramatic movement toward fusion plants, while phasing out fission generators, is ongoing.
Although the Federation lacks a booming high-technology consumer production sector, it makes up for that weakness with excellent heavy industry, aerospace manufacturing and design, and vast reserves of high value, untapped natural resources, including rare earths, metals, and petroleum-based products of all kinds.
A highly dynamic equilibrium between nationalist drives and free market tendencies became comparatively quiescent during the second half of the 21st century. This was undoubtedly due, in no small measure, to the bloc’s emergence from its own integrational political crises and variations. As the bloc settled into a reasonable and durable modus vivendi, it also engaged in less of the posturing and “spoiler politics” which drew attention to it during decades when the once white-hot spotlight of its Cold War importance had lost intensity.
While this helped create steady, and generally improving, relations with the Union and Commonwealth blocs, it did nothing to ameliorate the stressors in its relationship with China and thus, the DWC bloc. With most of the southern-fringe “Stans” finding membership in the Developing World Coalition, the traditional border tensions between Russia and China did not abate. Indeed, Kazakhstan became a tense area as more traditional (and less economically modern) populations desired membership in the DWC, while the more modern, and Soviet-era Byelorussian populations were firm in the commitment to the Russlavic Federation. For reasons too complicated to recount here, the space-faring ambitions of the two superpower nations came into conflict on two occasions in the second half of the 21st Century, first as a brief conflict dubbed the Highground War, and later, as a slightly longer and far-ranging contest known as the Belt War. Although conditions between the powers have improved, theirs is still the most “fraught” relationship between any two blocs.
China’s bloc (although it resists that labeling) is, more than any other, dominated by a core national power. China’s attempts to legitimate itself as leading a bloc rather than as a superpower with a collection of largely steerable satrapies is founded on its genuine and ongoing attempts to reach out on an economic basis to disparate nations and groups that are not within its (or, usually, any other predominant) cultural sphere. However, while Beijing is, in theory, just another member of this bloc, the population and economic weighting of political representation and determination within the bloc gives it what amounts to a monopoly on political power, which translates into an administration and bureaucracy of Chinese nationals. The establishment of Chinese as the only official language of the bloc intensifies this effect. Although there was originally slightly greater parity between China itself and the Pan-Islamic League that joined the bloc en masse upon its founding, this faded along with the passing of the oil-based global economy and the concurrent shifts in the dominant energy-generation paradigm.
Having also accepted many of the most troubled African states as members, the DWC continues to have all the problems one would expect (except in the Chinese littoral and urban regions, where conditions approach those of the Developed World): significantly lower life expectancy, significantly higher infant mortality rates, significantly more rudimentary education and health care delivery systems. While Chinese technicians are busy throughout the Coalition seeing to the upgrading (or maintenance) of infrastructure (from power and plumbing to IT and telecom systems), most member states have not become self-sufficient in any of these areas, prompting persistent debates in Beijing regarding the wisdom of maintaining so many other member states largely at China’s own expense. Moderates and realists argue that the form of a genuine bloc must be maintained in order to ensure global legitimacy and equal consideration from the other blocs. Skeptics argue that such values are both intangible and dubious, and that the interests of China would be better served by a bloc balance sheet that had fewer non-contributing member states listed on it.
Although Beijing tries to suppress or downplay these debates, they are well enough known, and have had significant repercussions. Of all the blocs, the DWC is the one evincing the highest tendency toward “membership churn.” In short, various DWC member-states are making subtle overtures to other blocs, or even megacorporate entities for a better deal. Between the lack of independence within the bloc, the second-class citizen status of most non-Chinese, and the leadership’s obvious ruminations upon the wisdom of jettisoning some of the current bloc members, this tendency toward comparison shopping is unavoidable.
The Trans Oceanic Commercial and Industrial Organization’s acronym (TOCIO) indicates its Japanese center of commercial gravity. This bloc has been called the “default bloc,” since it is largely comprised of nations that are not culturally, politically, or commercially satisfied with the four other alternatives. Nations such as India, Brazil, and Indonesia found themselves “undervalued” in the other “superpower-dominated” blocs, as well as being peripheral to the dominant social and political ecologies of them. This led most of them to conclude that they would fare better in union with each other, rather than subordinating themselves to one of the other four blocs, each of which is characterized by strong, core cultural affinities.
This led to TOCIO being by far the most diverse bloc, being the only one without a strong cultural touchstone. It is variably represented as the “junkyard bloc” and the “bloc of the future.” The pejorative term “junkyard bloc” is easily understood: it is indeed a haven for those nations that could not cut a good deal elsewhere, or whose cultural particulars fell too far outside the limits of the other four. It is labeled the bloc of the future because, among those who foresee bloc politics as an evolutionary step toward a true one-world government, it has blazed a variety of innovations in establishing compromises between the three primary axes of representational power sharing: voting based on population, on economic output, and on equal representation (i.e. one polity, one vote). Any exclusive adoption of any one of these pluralistic paradigms would create a bloc without any hope of durability, given the disproportionate sharing of power and influence. So a blending of these models was required.
This “blended” approach was necessitated by two factors: the vast differences among the member states, and the lack of a strong central power. Although the EU is the most similar to TOCIO in its lack of a “preponderant” or “central” power around which the bloc coheres (although Germany comes much closer to this than Japan), the Union enjoys a very high degree of cultural commonality, and the longest history of bloc-wide consensual political process. In contrast, Japan had to build its bloc out of nations as diverse as Brazil, India, Indonesia, and South Africa.
However, the Japanese shrewdly maximized the freedom of action for each member state, and did not attempt to (i.e., realistically could not) impose its culture upon those states. In consequence, there is more general buy-in, and while there is some churn among the member states, this is generally a matter of exploring superior options, rather than escaping an oppressive or constrained political environment, as pertains in China. Because of this, the Japanese were able to be selective and “cherry pick” the most attractive member nations for their bloc, attracting the most stable and resource-rich African, Asian, and South American countries. This has left it with fewer problems to manage than the Coalition, and consequently, further reduces its needs for the creation of centralized relief and/or interventional agencies.
The only uncomfortable, but unchanging, reality of the TOCIO bloc is that it grows at the expense of the DWC bloc, since they both specialize in producing mass consumer goods. China has the advantage of being a command economy, able to refocus a huge workforce at will (or whim). Japan, however, enjoys the advantages of a considerable number of large workforces around the world, each with different areas of specialization, and a robust currency. In the two decades since the first beginnings of TOCIO, it has generally beaten the DWC in almost every measure of trade and production except high-volume heavy industry production, such as ships, trains, construction equipment, etc.
FOUR: CHALLENGES WITHIN AND AMONG THE BLOCS
The United Nations and a Conflict of Interest
One of the ongoing difficulties posed by the emergence of bloc politics is the reduced primacy, efficacy, and legitimacy of the United Nations.
The reduction in primacy is obvious: as bloc politics matures, it has been far more successful at achieving the mandates of the UN than the UN ever was. It has certainly created a more stable and balanced world order, in large part because the UN was arguably flawed in the unwarranted idealisms which undergirded its conceptual origins. The UN was an attempt to “leap ahead” to a global concordiate comprised of nations equalized in and by their common interests. This was certainly a consummation devoutly to be wished—but far, far away from becoming a reality in the power ecology of nation-state politics, particularly in the wake of World War II and at the very dawning of the Cold War. The logical intermediate step was, and is, a more gradual and natural amalgamation of nation-states along enduring cultural lines into stable structures of shared transnational interests that were constant enough to promote a “habit” of political consensus and conjoint action. From exchanges among these larger, fewer, and stable political entities—which we call ‘blocs’—a more manageable world oversight council might realistically arise.
Ironically, what made the UN so wonderful as an ideal—a concordiate in which all nations had direct representation—also made it too unwieldy to ever be effective. But, until the emergence of political, social, and fiscal forces which also prompted the emergence of the blocs, there was also no interest among the major powers to revamp the UN—or to scrap it, either. Belonging to the UN symbolized an commitment to global discourse, regardless of whether this symbol actually bespoke such a commitment, or was simply an necessary, obeisant bow in its general direction.
Consequently, while the UN began with a great deal of moral cachet, it lacked practical power. And in short order, the cachet began to erode, largely when it became quite evident that too many powers (perhaps most of them) were more interested in “gaming the systems” of the UN, rather than embracing its stated objectives. The big powers used their Security Council vetoes to obstruct anything to which they were strongly opposed. The little powers passed hundreds of resolutions in the General Assembly; however, lacking any actual control over the world’s primary economic, political, or military resources, this was essentially empty legislation. As one commentator put it, “the UN had more bark, and less bite, than any other dog in the ongoing fight for global control.”
The UN was, in the final analysis, largely unable to effect any significant change, other than a few markedly successful inoculation and disease-eradication campaigns overseen by the World Health Organization. Consequently, although the UN still reports on the ills abroad in the world, it rarely seems to recognize that the one common thread running through its recitation of those unremitting woes is the evidence of its own one-hundred-andfiftyyear failure to ameliorate or eliminate those same woes. Consequently, statements such as the one in the wire copy below have become a body of evidence that constitutes a sad, but largely inarguable indictment regarding the UN’s own institutional inability to meet the mandates that were its vitiating and validating objectives.
“UNESCO announced today that despite steady rates of growth in productivity and capital accumulation, the disparity of average per capita incomes in the Developed nations and those of the Developing and Undeveloped Worlds is at an all-time high. Developing World Coalition Vice Commissioner Mei-Dong Bin congratulated UNESCO on the accuracy and impartiality of its ten-year survey, asserting that the profound inequities in income and quality of living are direct products of power-bloc politics over the last two decades, which he claims serve to consolidate and maintain the privileged position of the First World nations.”
At the very worst, the “fair play” rules of the UN have occasionally been exploited to legitimate intrusions and frictions that might not have otherwise arisen, or at least might not have escalated to the point of brutal, sustained conflict. A particularly disturbing example of this can be found in post-Megadeath Africa, where the restoration of order was often resisted by indigenous groups that stood to lose the most from foreign intervention, whether UN-moderated or not. Operating under numerous layers of plausible deniability, Beijing provided aid and advice to these traditional insurgents, which in turn led to increased aid to the more modern governments, particularly from the former colonial “parent-countries.” When frictions erupted into a low-level guerilla conflict that straddled half a dozen borders, a largely Moldavian and Romanian UN peace-keeping contingent was called in. The rapid upswing in serious, focused attacks concentrated on that force led to inquiries that ostensibly pointed (albeit by very questionable evidence) to Chinese involvement. As the UN attempted (ineffectually) to mediate and establish a cease-fire, an independent Russian force was sent into the region under the aegis of providing security for Russian locals and Romanian military support contractors who, although attached to the peace-keeping unit, were not military personnel per se. In consequence, a “secret” war brewed up in the region, exacerbating Sino-Russian frictions that spilled over into mercantile rivalries within the Pacific Rim and ultimately created the conflictual environment that led to the Highground War. In conclusion, analysts suggest that, in part, the UN’s methods of intervention and mediation not only aggravated and perhaps caused a war in Africa, but set the stage for a broader conflict between the superpowers.
Another issue that continues to dog bloc politics and has become, in some cases, an object of considerable contention, is the matter of establishing a common or “official” language in a bloc.
There are strong arguments both for and against the establishment of a common language. The advantages are obvious: when all the member states can communicate in the same language, coordination of everything from arts to industries is vastly facilitated. This is particularly true in the case of transnational organizations, such as militaries, space programs, intelligence agencies, etc. In addition to being far more efficient and inexpensive, a common language has the intangible but immense value of reinforcing and strengthening a sense of shared community, origins, and purpose.
The disadvantage is equally obvious: establishing a common language where none naturally exists is regarded by some as the single largest imposition of dominance in a political organization, even more than overt political or economic primacy. As one philosopher put it, “If you kill my language, you kill my culture—and right behind it, my country.” This issue was one of several that the EU could never resolve with England, since London always insisted that English at least be given equal consideration as the common language of the European Union (even if it was one of two). However, the continental powers excluded it from consideration. The reasons for this were numerous and subtle, but at the risk of gross oversimplification, the Union was concerned that if the official language of America and all its closest and culturally-related allies also became the official language of Europe, the process of Americanization—also dubbed Coca-Colonization—would overwrite the cultures of Europe.
One can hardly blame the non-Anglophone nations of the Continent for their concern. They had seen plentiful evidence of this phenomenon at work, first through the post-World War influences and marketing that rode in on the tail of the Marshall Plan, and later through the electronic internationalization of English as the lingua franca of the information age. Their decision to draw a strong, prohibitive line against the adoption of English as the, or even one of the, primary language(s) of the Union is impossible to fault from this perspective.
However, from the perspective of the English, it constituted an a priori compromise regarding the primacy of their language—which to London was just one more irreconcilable difference with its continental neighbors. This linguistic exclusion dated from the very earliest days of the formation of the Union. As French political philosopher Etienne Balibar declared during an address in 2000 (and which was later published in 2004 as part of his We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship), “English, in fact, is not and will not be the ‘language of Europe.'”
Although Balibar went on to propose “translation” as the language of Europe, this answer demonstrated its profound weaknesses almost immediately when the political leaders of the Union put it into operation (in a much more simplistic fashion than Balibar was suggesting). It became, as one analyst observed, like working with old-time telephone exchanges: “your lines within an exchange always worked, but it was hit-and-miss when you tried to make connections between the exchanges.” And in a variety of urgent situations—military, emergency, political crises, fast-moving markets, real-time intelligence operations—this ever-present threat of a communication break-down became an impediment against functional integration of these services, which remained almost exclusively national in organization, financing, and training. The unspoken acceptance of this problem ultimately gave way to an assumed, and in some cases, required competence in either German or French, and preferably both. Although there was some resistance to this model, it was ultimately employed simply because it had little day-to-day impact upon the national populations of the EU; it was only required for certain, national level functions of high urgency.
However, the simple truth that few people were wont to admit was that the Union’s unofficial third language was, of course, English. Given the ubiquity of it in media, on the internet, and in pop culture, it was and is still freely used when there are lapses in communication during crises where either party speaks only German or only French. As time goes on, the extended and rather unplanned preeminence of English continues to grow—in large part, perhaps, because it is not premeditated: like blue jeans and coca-cola, those other symbols of Americanization, use of the English language is not part of a political agenda and so attracts new users by passive seduction, rather than active coercion. This fact rankles the various Continental agencies and organizations charged with cultural protection and preservation, but the reality of the matter is that the phenomenon is taking place in venues and for reasons that lie well beyond the power of juridical pronouncements and guidelines on “official language use.”
The same situation is present in the TOCIO bloc, where English is more openly embraced as an important language because it is the only one that is in everyday use in all its various member-states. As one Indian official put it, “If it wasn’t for the constant exposure to, and rehearsal of, English in the global youth culture, I do not think TOCIO could function. This utterly foreign tongue has also, paradoxically, become our common tongue.”
There is much to support this casual observation: Brazil, Indonesia, India, Japan have virtually no cultural connections among them, and certainly no linguistic similarities. There were some initial attempts to resist Anglophone dominance also, but they were abandoned much sooner, and more overtly, than occurred in the European Union. The most infamous example concerns the bloc’s efforts in space.
When the TOCIO bloc was first established, Japan had the only strong, manned space program amongst the member-states. Japan, therefore, provided most of the crews initially. As the other nations begin to provide crewmembers, the rule was promulgated that all TOCIO space personnel had to be fluent in, Japanese.
To no one’s surprise outside of the handful of Japanese cultural hegemonists who had formulated and passed that requirement, the best potential crewpersons from the other nations discovered that they had better things to do than, and no other reason to, learn Japanese. However, it was equally obvious that they all knew English. And so the restriction was rescinded within mere months of its having been enacted. Since then, the dirty little not-so-secret of the TOCIO bloc is that although it has no official language, its unofficial language is a kind of stripped-down English with a great deal of local variation.
Inside the bloc where one would most likely expect English to be the definitive official language—the Commonwealth—it actually shares that billing with Spanish. This is partly an inheritance from similar legislation enacted long before by its central power, the United States, but also a practical step, since Mexico, much of Central America, and the Philippines have all either entered the Commonwealth bloc or are considering such a move. The immigrant communities liberally scattered throughout the New World Commonwealths have also provided points of political integration for other, even more linguistically-distinct states such as Taiwan and South Korea.
In the Russlavic Federation, there is no one official language, but anyone who wishes to hold a job or earn a degree in education, healthcare, emergency service, the military, aviation, etc., must speak one of three separate languages—all of which have enough common Slavic roots that a speaker in one will quickly be able to understand the speaker of another. This unusually “gentle” multicultural initiative by the Russian-dominated bloc has reaped considerable rewards: unharried by resistance to stringent “official requirements,” Russian is quickly evolving as the language everyone studies in school and thus, is the imminent “common tongue” of the bloc.
China’s approach is, as one would expect, the exact opposite: there is no discussion of the topic, because the official language is Chinese. There is no strong political push from China to encourage its acquisition in other areas, because the populations there are expected to see to their own affairs and to have limited influence upon (or even sustained contact with) Beijing and the bloc itself.
The only overarching problem with language among all the blocs is a new, expanded reprise of the linguistic concerns that the Union had regarding English in its early days: as the blocs mature, and possibly move toward greater integration, and possibly unification, would English become the de facto and undisputed lingua franca of the human race? Wouldn’t that translate into political dominance for the Commonwealth bloc? How do the many peoples of the Earth protect themselves from eventual evolution into Anglophone societies, thereby losing their cultural identity?
Xenophobia, Xenophilia, and the Practical Absence of a Middle Ground
An ongoing tension among (and sometimes, within) the blocs is the question of where each group falls on the wide spectrum of reactions toward change, toward the new. Consequently, problems such as cultural protectionism and common language are not so much independent conditions as they are diagnostic symptoms of the deeper underlying disparities in attitudes towards social evolution.
One early Twentieth-First Century analyst proposed the following (dangerously generalized and simplified) paradigm as a means of framing discussions on such topics: in short, he proposed that all states/cultures can be regarded as fundamentally xenophobic, xenophilic, or neutral. However, a culture which is neutral toward “the different” naturally leans in the direction of xenophilism, simply because it does not exert energy to erect barriers in a world that is steadily evolving into a unitary infosphere. Consequently, he proposed that the foreseeable global trend is overwhelmingly xenophilic: only states/cultures that consciously and determinedly dedicate resources to wall themselves off can hope to resist this powerful tide.
Considering the contemporary state of bloc politics, this model provides an illuminating, but also potentially alarming, paradigm for understanding why, or how, a considerable majority of the world’s most xenophobic states and societies have become members of Beijing’s Developing World Coalition. This perspective provides potential insight into the one shared social value that may be working as the cohering glue of the DWC: its member states reject, and have taken protective steps against, the electronic infestation of youth-culture influence of what one fundamentalist imam labeled “colonization by the insidious Eurogenic infosphere.” This perspective posits global culture trends as an invasive force with both malign intents and effects upon the often parochial and insular attitudes of the societies in question.
From the exterior perspective, it suggests that these are repressive societies, which have elected to reject (or express active hostility towards) the progressive evolution toward cultural exchange and intermingling, which is very strong among the three so-called “Eurogenic blocs” (the Union, Commonwealth, and Federation) and is prevalent in the TOCIO bloc. Concerned analysts have pointed to the links, therefore, between cultures evincing insularity, the propensity to dehumanize or demonize foreigners/others, parochial social attitudes and protectionism, and how they have cohered around the skirts of Beijing. Which, itself has a long history of cultural protectionism and Sino-supremacism. The same analysts have highlighted how, historically, most of these societies are also arranged as rigid hierarchies, and do not have a place in their ontological/cosmological view for peoples of other societies/origins/faiths. They also observe that this perpetuates the need for command economies and often highly draconian methods of ensuring social order, since, despite the leadership’s best efforts, a significant portion of school-aged persons identify more with the global youth culture, and a majority find themselves torn between the xenophobic dicta of their own culture and the xenophilic siren-song of the Eurogenic infosphere. The long-term possibility for unrest and revolt is thus deemed highest within and among the member-states of the DWC.
Factionalism versus Functionalism
One of the most legitimate criticisms levied against the rise of bloc politics is that there is no guarantee that every nation will be allowed to join a bloc. Apologists rightly point out that a nation can elect to be a bloc unto itself; no one can or would stop them from doing so. But critics rebut (also rightly) that this would be akin to a pygmy styling himself to be a king in a land populated by giants.
Neither side in the debate has much to say about how to ensure truly equitable and fair representation for smaller nations. Critics of the blocs point to the many nations (particularly those of Africa) which have been left out in the cold. Since they represent a net deficit to the linked national budgets of any given bloc, they remain outside the bloc structure, and are utterly without powerful advocates or allies. Realists soberly rebut that if the UN was functional, it would still be able to protect their interests—especially since all bloc-affiliated states have retained their membership in the UN. However, even the UN itself did not offer truly equal representation. The larger countries could always make their influence felt, and the permanent members of the Security Council wielded disproportionate power.
Beyond the problem of “orphan states,” there is also the linked issue of “shopping states”: those which are engaged in comparison shopping for a better deal in a new bloc. On the one hand, there is no way to practically constrain a state from entertaining rival offers of membership, but the reality is that the actual, or even rumored, consideration of “changing flags” can have a profound market effect, and makes long-term budgetary planning—one of the raisons d’être for bloc politics in the first place—quite difficult.
Add to this the phenomenon of how bloc membership issues can, in many cases, actually destabilize a nation. For instance, the Philippines remain deeply divided between a rural/Muslim/traditional faction militating for Coalition membership and PacRim solidarity, versus the urban/Christian/progressive segment of the population that brokered and maintains the nation’s membership in the Commonwealth.
The Quebec situation has grown even more serious. As Canada moved more steadily toward entering the Commonwealth, Quebec province moved further away from Ottawan authority. Commentators are uncertain how the situation will resolve, with many hypothesizing Quebec’s split from Canada, and entry into the European Union. Naturally, this would vastly diminish Canada’s contributions to the Commonwealth and therefore its stature and power within that bloc.
Similar situations exist in at least a dozen nations, and do not promise to be either easily or swiftly resolved.
The Sixth bloc—Megacorporations
The so-called Sixth Bloc—that comprised by a loose consortium of the world’s megacorporations—has presented increasingly troublesome challenges to the evolution and coherence of bloc politics over the past fifteen years. The frictions grew sharply as the nations made it very clear that interstellar development policy and control was to be strictly and solely determined by the blocs. With megacorporations already flouting their disregard of UN laws and regulations by acquiring territories in perpetuity from small nonaligned governments, and thereby founding “non-national corporate cantonments,” they swiftly set about creating their own small fleet of interstellar shift-carriers to exploit opportunities bypassed by the colonization efforts of the blocs. This meant foreswearing settlement on green worlds, and instead, focusing on resource extraction from the “grey worlds”: planets that were barren rock or inhospitable, yet offered strong advantages in terms of location, mineral deposits, or both.
Predictably, in their incessant quest for political validation, the megacorporations—usually operating under the aegis of their loose affiliation, the Colonial Development Combine (or CoDevCo, for short)—have begun mounting a campaign to “scoop up” the orphan states and offer profitable membership deals with the shopping states to fuse the national/political legitimizing properties of those states to its own fiscal and material assets and thereby create a functional “Sixth Bloc.”
Whether these attempts will ultimately succeed—and whether the representation of the members of such a bloc would be as citizens with uniform rights, or as an extremely class-distinct collection of shareholders and corporate thralls—is impossible to foresee.