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Peter Gowan Introduction
This paper relates to the session of the school devoted to War, the Crisis of Hegemony and Unequal Development. This session’s title captures rather well the two main drivers of contemporary war: the first is the effort by the American state to establish a new imperial zone covering the main centres of capitalism; the second is the effort by the American state, aided by some European powers, notably Britain, to manage the Global South coercively in the context of the evolution of the micro-economic ‘globalisation’ of the South since the 1980s and of its failure as a development project in Africa and Latin America. These two dimensions, the US effort to reorganise the centres of capitalism and the US-led effort to manage the Global South intersect in complex ways and they also intersect with other, distinct, contemporary trends: 1. the global Neo-Liberal social power movement and the political disorganisation of the Left and Labour resulting which have been closely linked to the collapse of Communism; 2. the turn of China and Russia to capitalism, outside the American security sphere; 3. the rise of China as an economic and political centre. Only by tracing the intersections of all these elements can we adequately grasp the politicalmilitary tendencies in the current period. The current political conjuncture is marked by the fact that we are midstream in relation to all these central elements: none is complete. Thus the conjuncture is marked by fluidity and uncertainty and rapid changes. This type of context is itself one that can generate military conflicts as unintended consequences of complexity. But in order to have a compass for exploring the main elements in this fluid conjuncture and their relationship to contemporary issues of war and peace, we will first try to step back to explore certain deeper realities of the whole modern historical era. One of these deeper issues is the problem of international order and conflict in modern capitalist international society. By exploring that problem we will be able to situate the current tendencies within a deeper historical perspective. The mainstream tradition of thinking about war and strategy in the Atlantic world – the tradition which includes such figures as Clausewitz and Liddell Hart – has always stressed the internal link between war and politics. But if political drives and goals lie behind war, we may also ask what lies behind these political drives themselves. And the answer given in the classical tradition of strategic thought is usually simply more politics: American neo-realists and many Neo-Weberians view inter-state politics and war as realms whose basic logic is autonomous from other dimensions of social life – purely political consequences of the existence of armed states in an anarchic inter-state system or else a consequence of a ‘will to power’ among states. 1 Idealist theorists of international conflict may give greater weight to the roles of ideas, beliefsystems and values in shaping the nature and causes of conflict and war. But their stress on the ideational side of politics is itself typically also bereft of deeper social determinations of ideational movements.2
Others disconnect war from social structures through linking it with human nature. See, for example, Hans Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations(7th ed. McGraw-Hill, London, 2006) 2 See, for example, the work of constructivist theorists like Ruggie and Spryut on the rise of the so-called Westphalian state and the critique of their work in Benno Teschke’s The Myth of 1648 (Verso)
Without wishing to deny the dimensions of both power politics and clashes of beliefs in the generation of conflict and war, we want to argue that both these dimensions need to be situated in the social systems within which they occur.3 The aims for which force is projected and deployed are, we shall argue, deeply connected to the characteristics of social systems. Different social systems have different class and wealthextraction structures and these profoundly affect the aims for which they project and use force. The dominant social forces in feudal systems have gained from power expansion to acquire land and serfs – classically in Medieval Europe. Mercantile slave systems like those organised by Atlantic states from the 16th to 19th centuries projected power to gain slaves, secure plantation lands in the tropics and secure trade routes. And mature capitalist social systems have projected power to protect and strengthen all and any of the moments in their circuit of capital – finance, labour, raw materials, product markets – and to secure the necessary political and market regimes for maintaining their reproductive circuits. At the same time these differing social systems have generated very different kinds of political actors wielding military power. Capitalist states, encasing capitalist class structures and fostering capitalist international accumulation strategies have exhibited very different kinds of political strategies from precapitalist political formations, embodying distinctive relations between social classes and distinctive forms of class (political) control as well as wealth extraction: thus capitalism is as much a distinctive state and inter-state order as it is a purely productive and extractive order. An obvious and striking historical characteristic of capitalist social systems has been their readiness to use coercive violence against non-capitalist political systems. The 19 th and 20th centuries are littered with examples of capitalist states using force and war against pre-capitalist polities, often with a view to completely destroying them, as in Africa, or with a view to transforming them into agencies of capitalist penetration and extraction. And in the second half of the 20th century capitalist states were also heavily engaged in force and war against sociopolitical movements and regimes embarking on non-capitalist modernisation projects, notably communist and socialist movements but also statist-nationalist regimes more or less delinked from the international circuits of core capitalism. But at the start of the 2ist century we have a world in which pre-capitalist regimes have become a small residue and the Communist modernisation movement has been marginalized. Thus the question we face is an historically novel one: are there dynamics within an overwhelmingly capitalist international social systems towards political projects that can generate war and the use of coercive force by capitalist centres against others? PART ONE: Capitalist World Order Dynamics and International Conflict We wish to highlight five aspects of the social dynamics of international capitalism which have had a strong bearing on international conflict within capitalist international relations. First, the strongly expansionist drive embedded in the capitalist mode of accumulation. Secondly the tendency of leading capitalist centres to generate hegemonic spheres of influence and their inability, so far, at , least, to construct norm-based and thus juridical world orders for regulating relations amongst themselves, despite liberal claims to the contrary: the tendency, in other words towards hegemonic rather than norm-based world political orders. Thirdly, the strong bias towards uneven development within international capitalism, or in order words social power polarisation within international capitalism between rich powerful centres and weak, poor peripheries. Fourthly and partially contradicting this bias towards uneven development, we have seen trends towards the emergence of new growth centres in international capitalism. And finally, the tendencies within international capitalism towards sudden shocks, crises and turns, a tendency whose war-inducing tendencies are exacerbated by the intensification of social
For a critique of the mainstream tradition of strategic studies from this social system perspective see Alexander Atkinson, Social Order and the General Theory of Strategy (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981)
interactions within the international inter-state system in the contemporary period and from the resulting complexity of causal chains. We will argue that all these four tendencies lie at the basis of the distinctively capitalist context in which wars are generated. 1. Capitalism’s expansionist dynamic Within capitalism, wealth extraction and property take, first and foremost, a monetary form as capitalists constantly strive to expand their monetary returns on their investments. But these expanding monetary returns must then be re-invested in new projects for further expansion of capital. Behind this expansionism lies the basic extractive relationship within the capital-labour class system. This logic gives capitalism a dynamic, expansive character, as well as threatening the social system with overproduction crises. Liberals like Hobson and Keynes offered ways of absorbing this expansionist dynamic in social projects within advanced capitalist states and American Fordist industrial capitalism, which turned workers into mass consumers as well as producers, also offered a path towards what might be called the domestic absorption of the expansive dynamic. The post-Second World War revival and expansion of capitalism in Western Europe was in large part achieved through such domestic absorption and the deepening of market demand within what we may call the domestic arena. But as Hobson himself was aware, and as both Conant before him and Kalecki after him pointed out, this domestic path to surplus absorption will have social power consequences: it not only lifts the mass of the population out of grinding poverty, but it also tends to strengthen the domestic social power of labour.4 As the state commits itself to social programmes for the mass of the population it raises the spectre amongst the business class of what Hayek dramatically called ‘the road to Serfdom’, a condition in which capital’s freedom and rights are constrained by the ‘social state’.5 Thus, as David Harvey has stressed there are strong incentives within capitalist systems for what he calls a ‘spatio-temporal fix’ for capitalism’s expansionist dynamic. 6 Capitalist classes, supported by their states turn to expansion abroad for the profitable expansion of accumulation, penetrating the markets of other states for this purpose. This geo-economic expansionist drive gradually replaced the earlier mercantile slave form of expansionism in the 19th century.7 Thus in the 19th and early 20th century European empires were built and Europe’s business classes and states sought to penetrate societies across the globe in search of profits and power, conducting, at the same time, war after war in pursuit of this general project. Such wars and coercive thrusts into the South were easy to pursue because industrial capitalism gave Atlantic states military capacities greatly superior to political formations in the South. This reality is still with us, despite the changes of the 20th century in North-South military relations and we will return to it below.
J.A.Hobson, Imperialism. A Study (Unwin Hyman, London, 1988); Charles Conant ‘The Economic Basis of Imperialism’ North American Review, 1898. 5 It is worth pointing out that there is yet another school of thought about how capitalism can cope with the contradictions of its own expansionist dynamic: the argument by Barran and Sweezy that the military sector is another way of absorbing the surplus capital, a way that avoids the, for capital, negative social power consequences of welfare project absorption. We find this argument persuasive and will return to it below. 6 David Harvey, The New Imperialism (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005). 7 As Robin Blackburn has demonstrated, the mercantile slave system was a central mechanism in the primitive accumulation of capital that made Britain’s domestic industrial capitalist revolution possible. But its expansionist logic was not the same as that of modern industrial capitalism. See Robin Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800 (Verso, London, 1997).
2. The Tendencies to Hegemonic Spheres of Influence and the Absence of any Universalist Normative Principles for Regulating Capitalist World Orders. Mainstream orthodoxy in the Atlantic world’s academic International Relations theory imposes itself as an endless debate between realists and neo-Weberians on one side and liberal idealists on the other on how order is established in international capitalism. Yet neither school manages to capture an answer to this question. The realist image of the main capitalist powers fighting each other for state survival overlooks the fact that the victorious capitalist states in the two world wars did not destroy their rival states: they allowed, or even encouraged their revival, for the simple reason that the flourishing on one capitalist centre requires the presence of others. More, the very rise of new power centres within international capitalism is the result of inter-capitalist co-operation. What was at stake for the major centres of capitalism was not state survival but the organisation of the terms of international co-operation between capitalist centres – the organisation of world order. Given the inter-penetrating, inter-dependent characteristics of international capitalism, the terms of international political and economic inter-change between centres assume very great importance for the wealth and power of each centre. These terms of inter-change include both the international political and economic regimes and the domestic political and economic regimes of the main centres: in capitalism the internal and external are always closely linked. The winners of the 2 world wars imposed entirely new political and economic regimes on the vanquished – with fleeting success in the inter-war period, with a great deal of success for the US after 1945. On the other side of the coin of orthodoxy, liberals have argued that capitalist centres can build co-operative orders provided that they subscribe to liberal values and norms in international politics and economics. This argument rests on the notion that liberal values and norms fit with the inner logics of contemporary international economics and politics. Critical to this liberal case are two claims: first, that international economics is a depoliticised sphere in the double sense that power relations don’t operate in markets and that state power has no relevance for optimal economic outcomes in markets; and second, that within liberal democratic centres there are the political resources to resist friend-enemy conflicts between liberal democracies. Neither of these claims seems persuasive. 1.Power Struggles in Economics
1. The liberal claim that market power does not exist – or is not economically optimal
within capitalism – rests on Neo-classical assumptions about empirical realities in industrial economics, namely that industrial activity is marked by constant or decreasing returns to scale. This assumption is then used to suggest that firms face technical limits to their expansion, markets are always pluralistic and competitive and new players from weaker centres can easily enter the race. It also means that attempts by firms to gain control over markets through expansion collapse as returns diminish. But in empirical reality modern industry is mainly marked by economies of scale – increasing returns to scale – and thus by an efficiency logic pointing towards monopoly with a few capitals exercising enormous market power in the given sector. Thus as Chandler point out in his history of industrial capitalism in the Atlantic world, first movers in a given sector enjoy enormous advantages, enabling them to sustain their market dominance and block new challengers.8 2. Schumpeterian competition: while Neo-Classical economists focus on competition between firms within given market sectors, Schumpeter rightly stressed that the main
Alfred Chandler, Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism (Harvard University Press,Cambridge, 1990)
significant forms of capitalist competition are battles over the entire sectoral structure of capitalism, in which formerly leading sectors are displaced by entirely new growth sectors, with those leading the way in new growth sectors generating great swathes of ‘creative destruction’ and grasping the lion’s share of new sources of profit. And such new growth sectors tend to be generated either by market-based economies of scope on the part of existing leading companies, or by state initiated or buttressed sectoral innovations. These two tendencies politicise economic competition within international capitalism. They also lead to strong tendencies towards the construction of regional ‘grossraums’ of the main geoeconomic centres of capitalism, reflecting the drive to give security to the main markets of the given centre and to the appropriate regimes for these markets. Major capitalist centres tend to draw other capitalisms under their sway and to merge their accumulation strategies with matching and re-enforcing projections of justifying ideologies and supportive power projections. Major capitalist centres thus tend spontaneously to generate ‘grossraums’ – or ‘spheres of influence’ -- with both a geo-economic and geopolitical dimension. 2.Power Struggles over Economics The main centres share an interest in opening each others’ markets and in organising genuinely world markets (as well as an interest in opening the markets of 3rd countries). But these bargaining games over market opening are always politicised and the full range of political instruments of leverage can be used or threatened in such bargaining. Thus the political leverage of a state matters greatly in international economic diplomacy. The political battles over market access, market design, monetary arrangements etc. are not, in principle, different in kind from any other kinds of international political conflict. They can thus escalate to higher and more intense forms of conflict, tending to become transformed into clashes over political values and even into friend-enemy conflicts. This tendency was evident in the American public sphere in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the battle over industrial leadership with Japan. Recourse to Neo-classical principles as a way of depoliticising economic diplomacy cuts no ice because these principles lack empirical foundations. And the premiums of hegemony -- the capacity to shape the domestic and international regimes of capital accumulation, in other words the structure of markets – are very large and indeed increasingly large. Seemingly small shifts in legal rules governing market structure increasingly decide the outcomes in international competition between capitals. 3. Markets as superstructures based on class political relations While liberal thought about economics naturalises markets as having their own autonomous logic and strongly tends towards economistic determinism, actual market organisations are created and enforced by political forces in conflict with other political forces. This is true for labour markets, capital markets, product markets and foreign exchange markets. The main political forces with the authority and coercive capacity to shape markets are states and international institutions led by state executives. The concrete conditions of capital accumulation are thus always politicised and never the spontaneous result of the operation of autonomous supply-demand conditions. This has two corollaries: capital links itself closely to the political centres that shape its markets; and market organisation always takes the form of positive law, not rules grounded in liberal norms. Here we have the source of the close link between economics and politics in the international dynamics of capitalism and the source of the endemic tendency towards the creation of ‘spheres of influence’ or ‘grossraums’ in the international relations of capitalism. Liberalism cannot recognise, leave alone explain this phenomenon. And it therefore also fails to recognise the very great premiums gained by a capitalist political centre able to achieve its political hegemony
over a sphere of influence or ‘grossraum’, the premiums from being able to shape the market structures of a whole geo-economic zone of accumulation. Liberals and constructivists are right to insist on the importance of political values and norms and of the discursive dimension of political integration within capitalism. Grossraums must be suffused with meanings which also establish correct and incorrect (acceptable and unacceptable) patterns of behaviour within the grossraum. But what they miss is the fact that even when these norms appear to be liberal because they use the language of liberalism they are actually the ideology of power-based hegemonic orders, underpinned by coercive capacities. Before the First World War international capitalism was structured as a set of separate grossraums of individual capitalist centres: the rising American and Japanese grossraums and the peculiar European pattern combining separate empires and also mechanisms of West European co-ordination of the collective European centre. The first world war irretrievably weakened and disorganised the European centre while greatly strengthening the Japanese and American outlying centres. The second world war destroyed both the European and Japanese centres and turned the entire capitalist core into a single American grossraum or ‘empire’. This was then politically homogenised through being turned into an American centred security zone in militarised confrontation with the Soviet Bloc. The collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the turn of China towards capitalism then produced a political disorganisation of the American Empire, challenging the US either to reconstruct its grossraum on a literally global level or to accept the possibility of a new plurality of grossraums. 3. The Bias towards Cumulative Uneven Development within Capitalism. A third and dramatic characteristic of modern capitalism has been its tendency towards cumulatively uneven development in a geographical sense. The richest capitalist centres at the beginning of the 20th century are the richest centres at the start of the 21st century and the gap between them and the rest of the world in terms of wealth has grown massively during the 20 th century. This seems to be a structural feature of the social dynamics of capitalism. It is all the more remarkable given that both the first and second world wars entailed enormous destruction within the richest centres in Eurasia – Western Europe and, in the Second World war, Japan. The tendencies we have already noted in modern economics – increasing returns to scale, economies of scope and Schumpeterian competition have all played a central part in this tendency. But so too have learning economies and the non-market sources of growth: one of the very odd features of Neo-Classical economies was that until the late 1980s, it lacked a convincing theory of economic growth. But when it did finally develop a neo-classical theory of ‘endogenous growth’ it acknowledged that a central source of growth derives from phenomena outside the market: learning economies and the development of ‘human capital’. This implies that the wealthiest economies with large state budgets for education, research and development and other infrastructures facilitating the enhancement of ‘human capital’ – advantages outside the market -- enjoy enormous advantages within the market . This then becomes a means by which the richest capitalist centres with the largest state budgets have great cumulative advantages ensuring their continued ascendancy within the market. (And this ascendancy can be re-enforced by international regimes ensuring monopolies on intellectual property). Against this background, catch up or the reduction of geo-economic inequalities becomes very difficult and strongly dependent upon the political capacities of social formations outside the capitalist core countries: their ability to mobilise their populations for independent development and to use their state resources to break into industrial competition effectively. But given the nature of this capitalist competition, the powerful centres have no incentive allow such a breakthrough except that of their own capitals having access to the developing country’s own internal market. And they have every incentive, then to restructure that internal market for the benefit of their own capitals. Thus the path to catch-up has been both narrow and fraught with risks.
Against this background, the richest capitalist centres have also been the centres with the most powerful political resources both for shaping the structure of international markets and competition and also for imposing their political will on weaker states, lower down the international division of labour. The post-war period, marked by the end of the European Empires and the emergence of about 150 new, independent states in the South, saw a great movement for reshaping international economics to foster the independent development of the political economies of the South, a movement centred on the Non-Aligned Movement and de facto allied to some extent with the Soviet Bloc in, for example, UN bodies, which culminated in the drive for a New International Economic Order in the late 1960s and 1970s. But this movement failed as the United States, in alliance with the main West European states used macro-economic crises in the South in the 1980s to reorganise the political economies of the South as passive support regions for the accumulation of capital in the core. 4. Tendencies Towards the formation of New Growth Centres The expansionist dynamic within capitalism, makes it extremely sensitive to both the rise of new growth sectors and to new growth centres – zones whose rapid economic growth make them powerful magnets for investment from other centres. In the late 19th century, the United States was a dynamic new growth centre, attracting very high levels of investment from Europe (and particularly from Britain), as were ‘white Dominions within the British Empire like Canada and Australia and also Argentina. In the immediate post-1945 period, Western Europe became the new growth centre during its recovery phase after the Second World War. Since the 1980s East and South East Asia have become a new growth centre, now increasingly focused on the Chinese market. But such new growth centres can also become the target for efforts by core states to transform their internal regimes into passive fields for exploitation rather than new entrants into the core. Such efforts by European powers vis-à-vis the United States were impossible in the 19th and early 20th century for geopolitical reasons. In the case of Western Europe and Japan in the postwar period, the United States leadership was sufficiently confident of its capacity to maintain its hegemony over them that it allowed them wide leverage to shape their own accumulation strategies (within the American security zone, excluding them from strategies for penetrating the Soviet Bloc and China). Today, the East Asian New growth centre centred on China stands at a cross-roads of this sort: either incorporation into the core, or the restructuring of its internal regimes to transform them into passive support zones for capital accumulation in the Triad – the US, Japan and Western Europe. Russia also stands at a similar cross-roads. 5.The tendencies towards shocks and crises in international capitalism and the craving for security Another historically obvious feature of international capitalism is its turbulent and unpredictable character, marked by sudden economic shocks and political upheavals. At the same time, a specific characteristic of capitalism as a socio-economic system is the extraordinarily high level of socio-political and economic security which capitalists crave for their investment activity. The source of this lies in the temporal characteristics of capitalism: for capitalists to protect and expand their property they have to constantly throw it forward into an uncertain future in the hope of future profits. The resulting craving for security concerns not only social and economic threats but also political threats. Against this uncertain background, capitalists and their political leaders make judgements as to which political and financial centres will come to their rescue in the event of a sudden economic
breakdown or political upheaval on a system-wide scale. During the inter-war period, the European centre failed to deliver when such a crisis struck. In the crisis of the 1970s, the United States managed to maintain the unity of its grossraum, despite the great strains to which it was subjected. In the 1980s, when American capitalism was itself in a serious crisis, the Japanese financial centre came to its rescue. Yet when Japan itself and other capitalisms in East Asia plunged into serious financial crises in the late 1990s, the United States adopted a more predatory than supportive response. And there are now worries as to the capacity of an American-led capitalist core to generate the financial and political resources to maintain its own coherence and cohesion in the face of new systemic shocks and crises. In times of major crises, these international commitments on the part of major states may be withdrawn or breakdown, plunging international capitalism into major international crises. PART 2: The American Post-War Solution to the World Order Problem Against this background, order in international capitalism has not be based upon normative principles of the sort that liberalism proclaims. It has been based upon various kinds of social power relationships between capitalist centres, ensuring a strongly co-operative and stable core. The pre-First World War Eurocentric world order rested on four pillars: 1. Geopolitically and to a large extent geo-economically, the European core was a coordination of separate European Empire grossraums. 2. Economically, it was open with free movement of production factors (including labour) and, to a great extent, goods. 3. Domestically it was built on integrating the domestic population through nationalist and imperialist militarism, as an alternative to integrating labour via democratic systems. 4. New growth centres outside the order (USA, Japan) did not decisively threaten it. Once item 1 broke down into war, item three kicked in and the European powers’ elites could not extricate themselves from mass slaughter without threatening their own domestic rule and item 2 collapsed. The inter-war Eurocentric order was a ruin from the start and disintegrated through an attempt by the German state to rally, with some success, the continental ruling classes around a German hegemonic project centred on: 1. Geopolitically, German leadership to crush the Soviet Union, while allowing the various individual European empires to continue. 2. Economically, European integration under German leadership. 3. Domestically, authoritarian rule to crush labour and the left. 4. Globally, a link with Japan despite its threat to the eastern empires of France, Britain and the Netherlands. When that effort was broken by Soviet victories at Stalingrad and Kursk, the Eurocentric world order project was destroyed as the USSR and the United States became the masters of the continent. The American state then turned the whole of Western Europe into part of its own new global, moncentric grossraum, embracing all the main capitalist centres. It’s key features: 1. Geopolitically, Western Europe became an American security protectorate. By making security alliances with the USA, the West European states found that the US took over
direct management of their national security (in the German case) or indirect control over their geopolitical operations (in the British and French cases). Washington decided which parts of their empires could stagger on and which parts should be destroyed. At the same time, by militarising confrontation with the USSR it ensured that the whole of Western Europe was dependent upon decisions taken in Washington on US-Soviet relations. 2. Economically, the US opened the West European economies to American capital (mainly through FDI using the 1954 German American Economic Agreement as the first gateway then using the EEC Treaty to provide a second gateway for American companies based in Germany to sell freely across the EEC). At the same time it took vigorous measures to ensure West European and especially German economic revival took place in ways that integrated the region into the Grossraum – restricting economic links with the Soviet Bloc. 3. Within the West European states, the US restructured mass politics along anti-Soviet and Anti-Communist lines and in support of both capitalism and the American alliance. It paid particular attention to ensuring a pro-American Social Democratic movement and sought to isolate the Anti-American European Right, replacing its nationalist ideologies with a pro-American version of Europeanism. Only in France did this American effort fail, in the case of Gaullism. This American protectorate system was legitimated as a negative reactive response to a Soviet threat. But as Paul Nitze, one of the key architects of the new Grossraum explained, the American project was a positive effort at world order construction in politics, economics and culture. He criticised John Foster Dulles for sometimes not seeming to grasp this. He insisted instead on a ‘positive and not merely negative and defensive’ strategy, one that involved ‘the creation and maintenance of some form of world order compatible with our continued development as the kind of nation we are and believe ourselves capable of becoming.’ And ‘a unique role in this system had continuously to be borne by the United States because we alone had the resources and the will to tackle the job.’ 9 The Nature of Capitalism and the Novelty of the American World Order Solution Many authors have called the American Cold War world order an American Empire. This is a potentially fruitful concept but it is also a potentially misleading one. It’s great virtues lie in the following connotations of the term: 1. the idea of Empire embraces economics, politics and culture in a single system; 2. it brings out the idea of hierarchy and of a state centre; 3. it implies a transformation not only of the external relations of other states, but of their internal relations as well. All these elements of Empire apply to the American Cold War order. But this American Empire was quite different from the earlier European empires. It’s only precedent was the German hegemonic ‘empire’ in Europe between 1940 and 1944: 1.The European and Japanese Empires stretched over pre-capitalist social systems, while the American Empire embraced above all the other advanced capitalist countries.
Paul H. Nitze, ‘Coalition Policy and the Concept of World Order’ in Arnold Wolfers, Alliance Policy in the Cold War (The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1959) pp.24-25.
2. did not end the juridical sovereignty and institutional autonomy of the states within the Empire zone. Instead it transformed the external and internal political relationships of its protectorates and simultaneously transformed their patterns of capital accumulation. And in achieving these transformations, it gained the support of the wealthiest and most powerful social groups within these protectorates. 3.It required the other centres to abandon efforts to build their own autonomous grossraums – geo-economic and geopolitical security zones -- and to transfer these previously central state functions to the US. At the same time it required them to accept and integrate their populations into a normative order legitimating the American empire project.10 4. Within this framework they could operate as autonomous capitalist centres. Thus the American post-war Empire was a distinctive kind of empire for an advanced capitalist zone. It’s creation was made possible by the very special circumstances of the 1940s: 1. the crushing military defeat of the two main capitalist industrial centres outside the United States -- Germany and Japan. The ruling classes of these two states had little option but to grasp at the American effort to revive their states, albeit as security protectorates. 2. the Soviet Union’s victory over Germany and its coalition partners produced a huge rise of a transnational Communist and pro-Soviet social movement, across the globe, and not least in West European countries like France and Italy. This challenge again gave the ruling classes of France and Italy powerful incentives to turn to the United States for protection. 3. Thirdly, the capitalist classes of Western Europe and above all the British, were deeply convinced in 1945 that their continued prosperity and centrality in the world economy depended upon their ability to maintain and rebuild their empires. Thus when the Roosevelt administration, and even more the Truman administration indicated their readiness to contemplate the continuation of these Empires (with various qualifications) this was seized upon, especially by the British, as a basis for accepting American leadership in the long-term. 4. And last but not least, the American Fordist industrial model of capitalism, combined with the West European turn towards the welfare state in the face of the Communist challenge, proved to be a path towards genuine social development for very large parts of the populations of Western Europe during the post-war period. But another feature of this robust system is worth stressing: Washington privileged a handful of advanced capitalist states over all other capitalisms, namely those in the South, in what World System Theorists call the periphery and semi-periphery gained far less support from the United States, except in the case of a small number of key energy producers like Saudi Arabia and Iran under the Shah. Indeed the interests of the Global South were frequently sacrificed in favour of those of the Atlantic states, particularly once the economic crisis of the Atlantic world set in during the 1970s. PART 3: Contemporary Sources of Coercive Force and War
De Gaulle sought to reject this aspect of the regime, but was able to do so only in words, by and large, not in practice.
The main sources of military intervention in the present period can be listed as follows: 1. The US drive to preserve its core-wide ‘empire’ by enlarging it to cover the whole of Eurasia and by reconstructing the environments of the main centres to make them want what Washington wants: a new Empire with new norms. 2. The US efforts to pursue ‘Enter-tainment’ vis-à-vis Russia and China to ensure these new growth centres become passive markets. 3. The Atlantic efforts to maintain order in those zones in the South where the Atlanticcentred GPE has generated regression and/or revolt. 4. Risks of disintegration of the American political-economy project of ‘Economic Globalisation’. 5. We will briefly look at each of these sources in turn. 1. Rebuilding the Core-Wide Empire The collapse of the Soviet Bloc and turn by Russia and China towards capitalism threatened the withering away of the geopolitical and geo-economic boundaries of the US grossraum as well as destroying the political culture and norms of the post-war American grossraum. Japan and South Korea in the East and Germany and Western Europe in the West could, in principle, build semi-autonomous spheres of accumulation in Russia and China while simultaneously making new geopolitical arrangements with these powers. This could threaten the unravelling of the US grossraum. The risk of this dynamic unfolding was particularly strong in Western Eurasia, given the possibilities of a new peace order across Europe and including Russia, thanks to the way the Cold War ended with Soviet/Russian acceptance of the new regional order – German unification, arms control treaties (CFE, etc) and EU expansion. There were also signs of the main West European states wishing to gain greater autonomy from the US within the European region and to generate an international diplomacy devaluing militarised power politics and thus devaluing America’s main political asset, its huge military power. In East Asia, geopolitical risks to the Empire were much weaker but geo-economic risks were higher because of the rise of China as a new growth centre, threatening to act as a magnet for the capital accumulation patterns of the region with the ultaimate effect pof hollowing out the US centred geopolitical arrangements. The risk that the core allies of the US at each end of Eurasia would embark on independent geopolitical and geo-economic paths was highlighted in the Defence Policy Guidelines of 1992 and treated there as the main strategic threat to US vital interests. During the 1990s, the Bush and Clinton administrations dealt with that threat by concentrating on restoring its militarypolitical ascendancy over Western Europe, ensuring a division between Russia and Germany and building a geopolitical wall of states, centred on Poland, between Western Europe (especially Germany) and Russia allied to Washington. The Bosnian war marked a key step in this Washington strategy as did the NATO attack on Yugoslavia in 1999. A further landmark was Washington’s successful pressure for a big bang enlargement of the EU before the latter had acquired a cohesive decision-making system. Equally fundamental was Washington’s successful drive to expand NATO Eastwards against Russia and its gaining the alignments of Poland and the Czech Republic with the US, a drive now culminating in the decision to deploy an anti-missile system in these states, thus ensuring that Washington can be the geopolitical gate-keeper between Germany an d Russia. The Bush administration has also successfully
blocked any autonomous spread of West European influence across the Mediterranean and into the Arab world, deeply splitting the EU on geopolitical lines through drawing a number of states, notably Britain, into its aggression in the Middle East. This has demonstrated that the EU’s political unity depends upon American approval. Similar divide and rule policies have been pursued by Washington in East Asia, with a view to blocking the emergence of a co-operative regional political system between China and its main neighbours and ensuring that relations between Japan, South Korea and China depend upon American decisions. Here too the development of missile defence systems offers Washington the prospect of polarising the region in confrontations with North Korea and China. At the same time, the Bush thrust into the Middle East and the Gulf has been articulated in such a way as to push forward a renorming of its protectorate along anti-Islamist lines of a ‘war on terror’. By baiting the Islamic world with its aggression in the region and by its strong backing for an aggressive Zionist policy on Israel’s part, the US has gone some way towards establishing a polarising dynamic between significant forces in the Middle East and the societies of Western Europe. Finally, the Bush strategy has focused upon gaining geopolitical control over the main centres of world oil production outside Russia and thereby making all the main centres of capitalism dependent on US power for their oil supplies. But the consequences of the US strategy for binding its allies into an enlarged global protectorate system have been to produce a series of new wars in Eurasia and to threaten others: the Bosnian war, the Yugoslav war, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the second Intifada and continuing barbaric military occupation in Palestine, the Israel-Lebanon war of 2006. At the same time there have been the threats of other wars: with North Korea, with Iran, Turkish invasion of Northern Iraq, the possibilities of renewed conflict in and around Kosovo, dangerous confrontations in Ukraine and with Russia over the Baltic states and confrontation with Belarus. The conflict in Moldova is also fed by US strategy and Russia’s response. 2. The Enter-Tainment Projects towards Russia and China. The American world order project implies ending the capacity of other major capitalist centres to build their own autonomous grossraums. This has been achieved in the case of US allies through the US directly taking over management of their geopolitical orientations. But that is impossible to achieve in the case of China and Russia. Thus, the US project implies that these two powers must be geopolitically contained: in other words, the US must police their perimeters, drawing their neighbouring states into security alliances with the US. At the same time, the US must seek to ensure that the internal regimes of Russian and Chinese capitalism are structured for the benefit of the US and its core allies in Western Europe and East Asia so that these rising capitalisms do not become autonomous new growth centres and magnets restructuring the economic and political patterns of US allies. From this angle, Washington has sought to build alliances with social groups within these two states likely to support types of capitalism favoured by Washington. In this sense, Washington seeks to enter and internally restructure social power relations within these states. Hence the term ‘entertainment’ to capture Washington’s strategic problematic in relation to both these states. In the Russian case, the entry project was extraordinarily successful under the Clinton administration during the Yeltsin period, with a network of oligarchs led by the Chubais Clan acquiring the bulk of the key economic assets in the country and being closely tied to Washington and Wall Street. But this victory rested on a devastating economic collapse in Russia and it unravelled with the rouble collapse of 1998 and the NATO attack on Yugoslavia in 1999, which was swiftly followed by the retirement of Yeltsin and the rise of Putin. The Putin
team has destroyed the US entry project and seeks to build a nationally integrated Russian capitalism, using its mineral resources to rebuild Russia as a modern industrial economy. The US has responded to its internal defeat within Russia with a more aggressive effort to pull Russia’s near abroad into the US geopolitical sphere while simultaneously mounting a campaign against Putin’s alleged destruction of democracy and human rights internally. The geopolitical push has combined colour ‘revolutions’ with the spread of US military bases around Russia’s borders: attempts at colour revolutions in Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgizstan, attempts at alliances with authoritarian regimes in Azerbaijdan and Kazakstan as well as in Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan. But the results of this US drive have not been impressive. Only in the case of Georgia can the US be said to have achieved a breakthrough. Otherwise it has faced many set-backs and it has provoked an embryonic Russian-Chinese sphere of influence through the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation in Central Asia. In the case of China, US geopolitical pressure around its borders was already widely established during the Cold War. But it is a militarily unstable system which could generate unintended war with China, as was shown in the case of North Korea in 1994 and in the Taiwan case in 1996. An arms race with China is now underway on military build-up around the Straits of Taiwan. On the front of ‘Entry’, the US has failed to make decisive inroads into the Chinese social formation. There is no sign of a strong capitalist social group in China pushing for an opening of the Chinese political economy along American lines: the Chinese state retains key levers of control for steering China’s economic development in the direction of national integration. Loss of those levers of control could come only through a major macro-economic crisis, especially a financial crisis. At the same time, the Chinese state has so far failed to use those steering mechanisms for a decisive breakthrough into the interior of the country and into domestic, demand-led growth, centred on raising working class incomes. And although China is acting as an immensely powerful magnet for the capitalisms of the region, it is doing so still largely as an labour market for cheap labour processing and assembly – a system which does not offer China a sustainable growth path. There is every reason to expect that these various dynamics in and around China presage great turbulence and volatility in the political field in coming years. If China can sustain itself as an autonomous and integrated New Growth Centre, it will tend to hollow-out the American alliance systems in the region. At the same time American efforts to use military-political pressure on China may not work. The traditional American approach in these matters is to demonstrate overwhelming military superiority as a means of avoiding war while gaining concessions. But this depends upon the other side believing that the US may be prepared for all out war: something that probably lacks credibility in the case of Taiwan, particularly after the Bush administration lost its nerve over its threat to attack North Korea and, it seems, to attack Iran. 3.Atlantic efforts to maintain order in those zones in the South where the Atlantic-centred GPE has generated regression and/or revolt. With the onset of a deep economic crisis in the Atlantic world in the 1970s, The Reagan administration led a major strategic shift on the part of the Atlantic states towards the South. It ended any tolerance for Southern efforts to build nationally integrated industrial economies geared towards catch-up and opted instead for opening the economies of the South to the fullest possible penetration by Atlantic capitals. This turn was first expressed with the shift by the IFIs towards the so-called Structural Adjustment Programmes at their Seoul Conference of 1985. It was further radicalised by the reorganisation of the UN apparatus in the economic field from 1992 onwards, then by the WTO’s launch and by the OECD’s turn towards ending capital controls, etc. This general project is typically termed ‘economic globalisation’.
While the East and South East Asian economies have largely survived this turn, the economies of both Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa have faced widespread regression or stagnation. And in the case of the Arab world, while most of the countries have not been economically globalised their geopolitical conditions and authoritarian regimes have blocked dynamic growth. The one Arab country that has embraced economic globalisation, Tunisia, has suffered substantial industrial decline. As a consequence, much of Sub-Saharan Africa is not viably inserted in the world economy and has faced political disintegration and war over the last 15 years. In the Latin American case, there has been a widespread delegitimation of the IFIs and a significant ideological and political revolt against the economic programme of Washington, a revolt symbolised in the widespread acceptance of initiatives by the Chavez government in Venezuela. Against this background, there has been a strong acceptance in the Atlantic world of the need for a new kind of imperial power projection into Africa in which West European states as well as the UN apparatus and the US participate. There is every reason to suppose that wars will continue in Africa along with the use of force there by the Atlantic states or their proxies. In the Latin American case, the traditional US method would involve US intelligence agencies staging coups with local allies to remove regimes like that of Chavez. Yet the US has been unable, so far, to build an effective coalition in the region for such projects. 4.Risks of disintegration of the American political-economy project of ‘Economic Globalisation’ The United States capitalist class and the US state have gained extraordinary ideological and political leverage from the collapse of Communism. That collapse was followed by a great transnational neo-liberal social power movement in the 1990s to decisively shift wealth and power into the hands of the capitalist classes and away from labour. The US exploited this social movement to great effect, managing to closely associate it with the distinctive American ‘globalisation’ project for the IPE, a project which overlaps strongly with the neo-liberal social movement and which feeds off it but which is not identical with it. This is the project which I have called elsewhere that of the Dollar-Wall Street Regime, and the free flow of hot money, the turn towards a new Anglo-American finance capitalism and the dominance of rentier interests, ensured through altering capitalist social relations in the direction of shareholder capitalism, etc. Both the neo-liberal movement and the American economic globalisation project are vulnerable to shocks and upheavals and are already causing significant tensions. In both Germany and Japan we have seen resistance to aspects of the American drive as powerful groups in both centres seek to protect the integrity of their industrial structures. As we have seen resistance to American economic globalisation has also been strong in Russia under Putin and in China, which has continued to retain effective control over its financial sector and over the strategically important sectors of its industrial economy. This amounts to a fundamental challenge to the American globalisation project. An unravelling of the American economic globalisation project through a major economic crisis is far from ruled out and if it occurred it would tend to generate strong dynamics towards a new regionalisation of the regimes of the world economy. Such a project would mark a great strategic challenge for the United States. If it accepted such a regionalisation, it would be abandoning its entire grand strategy since the end of the Cold War. More than that, it would mark the end of the whole historical period since 1945 during which the United States presided over a novel kind of Empire covering the entire capitalist core. It would imply that geostrategically independent states – Russia and China – could develop their
own independent relations with other capitalist powers in Eurasia, uncontrolled by the United States through its hegemonic alliances. The implications of this shift for the international political economy would also be great. China and Russia could expect to be fully integrated into the management of the world economy and strong regionalised patterns of capital accumulation would emerge at each end of Eurasia, probably including regional monetary systems involving the Euro at one end and, if the Renminbi became a key currency, a China-centred monetary system in East Asia. If these two monetary systems were to co-ordinate their policies, the dollar could rapidly decline as the world’s dominant currency. This alternative option therefore seems to be one which the United States would resist strongly. We could expect instead a tactical retreat following its debacle in the Greater Middle East, but a continued strategic drive to combine the strengthening of its existing hegemonic alliances with continuing efforts at ‘enter-tainment’ vis-à-vis both Russia and China. We can therefore conclude that world politics will be marked by continued fluidity and turbulence in conditions where the successful consolidation of the American globalisation project seems remote while at the same time the United States seems unlikely to opt for a more co-operative, regionalised world order.
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