Sunday, October 21, 2007

What It's All About

Forget the 'international community' and other mythical entities. Beneath the euphemisms and fairy stories cooked up for popular consumption, international politics is brutal, ugly and decidedly non touchy feely. It's about the bottom line. It's about capital accumulation - safeguarding what you've got and attempting to create opportunities for expanded accumulation in the future. All states endlessly jostle for power - political, military and economic (the former two as means to economic ends). The capitalist imperative is accumulate or die. States must look after their relative economic (and, therefore, political and military) standing or they will suffer dire consequences. You don't want to fall behind in global competition. Look at Africa. The (grotesquely perverted) discourse of freedom, democracy and human rights in the realm of international politics provides the contemporary ideological terrain upon which competing states now manoeuvre - it provides the ideological raw resources upon which they draw in order to fashion superficially convincing narratives with which to justify and legitimise brutal, unsentimental power politics. It provides, that is, ideological cover. It also provides, of course, something for liberal intellectuals to do.

One of the strange things about the US ruling elite is that they are quite open about what they're doing - if you know where to look. The liberal ideological discourse that serves as both distraction and legitimation is so hegemonic and so faithfully reproduced in the mainstream media (especially in the US it should be pointed out) that US policy intellectuals - the high priests of imperial realpolitik - can write with extreme frankness about the aims and methods of US grand strategy in the full knowledge that little of this will find its way into the popular consciousness.

Zbigniew Brzezinski's The Grand Chessboard is well worth a look. Although written in 1997 it pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq and the currrent confrontation with Iran. Brzezinski was of course National Security Advisor to Jimmy Carter and is still extremely well connected (sorry did that make the US elite sound like mafiosi hoodlums?). He's also a cold blooded murdering bastard. But still, it was all for freedom, democracy and etc. And he's a Democrat so that's all right. Brzezinski explains, quite matter of factly, that the key to continued US imperial dominance is control over the 'Eurasian' land-mass (Central Europe, through the 'Middle East' to the pacific coast of Russia and China). "how America 'manages' Eurasia is critical", Brzezinski argues:

Eurasia is the globe's largest continent and is geopolitically axial. A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world's three most advanced and economically productive regions. A mere glance at the map also suggests that control over Eurasia would almost automatically entail Africa's subordination, rendering the Western Hemisphere and Oceania geopolitically peripheral to the world's central continent. About 75 per cent of the world's people live in Eurasia, and most of the world's physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil. Eurasia accounts for 60 per cent of the world's GNP and about three-fourths of the world's known energy resources.

... Two basic steps are thus required: first, to identify the geostrategically dynamic Eurasian states that have the power to cause a potentially important shift in the international distribution of power and to decipher the central external goals of their respective political elites and the likely consequences of their seeking to attain them;... second, to formulate specific U.S. policies to offset, co-opt, and/or control the above...

...To put it in a terminology that harkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.

The interesting thing about US Empire is that, unlike previous empires, American imperialism is, for the most part, non-territorial. Empires in the past physically occupied their imperial territories. The US need not do this. It rules by means of 'protectorate' military alliances, military intimidation, and, importantly, through control of the international financial institutional architecture. It also rules, interestingly enough, by turning its capital account deficit to its own advantage (along the lines of that old adage about massive debtors having blackmail-type power over their creditors).

None of this, of course, is to reject those principles of 'freedom', 'democracy' and 'human rights' that contemporary nation states claim to uphold. It's just to say that when those nation states claim to be upholding them in their international diplomacy they are usually lying out of their arses. Giving those ideals substantive content means going beyond liberal platitudes and the phoney discourse of ruling elites. Making them real means confronting the logic of contemporary capital accumulation.


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