frontline issue 4
Globalisation and War
The attacks on New York and Washington on September 11 stunned the world. For the population of the United States, horror at the massive loss of life in the bombing of the World Trade Centre was mixed with the shock of the realisation that America was not invulnerable to this kind of attack. Bush and other representatives of American imperialism, echoed by the Western media, rushed to proclaim that September 11 marked the start of an entirely new era, a turning-point in history, and that nothing would ever be the same again.
In fact what the American administration meant was that it would like September 11 to be the start of an entirely new era in which they would be more able, free from the previous constraints of public opinion, to conduct military operations abroad under the banner of the 'war against terrorism' that was being announced. The support of the majority of the American people for military action in retaliation for the bombings was seen as a godsend for the US military-industrial complex, which would have a freer hand to increase military spending and intervene across the world.
That the September 11 attacks represent a major event in international politics is not in doubt. It is also clear that we have yet to see all the ramifications of it. But it is far from clear that September 11 represents a turning point in history and that nothing will ever be the same again. We have to look at what has changed since September 11 and what has not, at how these events hav impacted on the existing tendencies in economics and politics.
Ten years ago the world was told by Bush senior that the end of the Cold War was going to herald a New World Order that would be characterised by peace, prosperity and democracy under the benevolent hegemony of the US superpower. The Gulf War was meant as a demonstration of what could happen to those who sinned against the Pax Americana. But it became increasingly obvious throughout the 90s that there was no new world order, unless increasing disorder and instability can be taken to be a form of order. There was a new phase in the development of imperialism in the form of globalisation, which systematically acted to increase poverty and inequality in and between countries and hence violence and instability. At the same time the collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia led to conflict and instability, particularly in the Balkans and the Caucasus.
One result of this growing instability has been an increasing militarisation of imperialism. American armed forces conducted 60 interventions abroad in the single decade of the 90s, as against 50 for the whole period 1945-90. Military spending has actually increased since the end of the Cold War and the NATO alliance, originally formed as a shield against supposed Soviet expansion, has been strengthened and expanded eastwards and saw action for the first time in the Balkans. The USA currently accounts for 36 per cent of world military spending and its NATO allies account for another 30 per cent.
September 11 has certainly triggered a sharp escalation of the military dimension of imperialism. It does does not however mark a transition from a peaceful phase of globalisation to one dominated by military aggression, but rather an acceleration of a process that was already well under way.
The second half of the 90s began to see growing opposition to the capitalist offensive. This has been expressed in many ways. There has been a change in the intellectual climate, a questioning of globalisation and neoliberalism and a change of public attitides towards such policies as privatisation. There has been a rising wave of both working-class and peasant struggles in many countries. Most spectacularly there have been the mass anti-globalisation demonstrations from Seattle to Genoa, providing a focus for a growing youth radicalisation. The immediate effect of September 11 in the imperialist countries has been to push the movvement against capitalist globalisation into the background. But it is unlikely that this will last for long.
The coming months will be marked by war in Afghanistan and possibly elsewhere, and by attacks on civil rights in the name of national security. It will also be marked by attempts to tar all opposition to capitalism, in particular the anti-globalisation movement, with the brush of terrorism or complicity with terrorism. This wave of militarism will coincide with a global recession that the events of September 11 have certainly accelerated but of which they are not the cause. The onset of recession is leading the capitalists to junk some of their own propaganda about the virtues of the free market and call for state intervention to bail them out. But it will intensify the offensive against the working class, as capitalism seeks as always to make working people pay for its crisis.
Faced with the aggression against Afghanistan and the prospect of further episodes in the 'war against terrorism', there is an obvious need to build an antiwar movement. But at the same time we have to continue to build the anti-globalisation movement internationally, while rooting it in the fight against poverty, exploitation and injustice here in Scotland and in other countries. As the great French socialist Jean Jaur's said, 'capitalism bears war as the cloud bears rain'. The fight against war is indissociable from the fight aginst the system that breeds it, as it breeds all forms of violence. Concretely, in the coming months, mobilisations such as the demonstrations at the European Union summit in Brusels in December must be directed against both capitalist globalisation and war.