frontline issue 3


The following article by Claude Serfati originally appeared in the Marxist journal Carré Rouge, published in Paris. Claude Serfati has just published a book, La mondialisation armée: le déséquilibre de la terreur (Armed globalisation, The imbalance of terror)(1). In it and in this article, he analyses how the United States uses and intends to use its military might in the defence of capitalist globalisation, of which it is the principal beneficiary.

The US Congress has made the following observation: in the course of the 1990s, the armed forces have intervened outside of their own territory more frequently (60 interventions) than in the course of the entire period 1945-90 (a little over 50 interventions). To only mention the very recent period, the Administration has organised military operations without any mandate from the UN, for example the bombing of Iraq in December 1998, with the United Kingdom. Or again, after the bomb attack on the embassy in Nairobi (Kenya) in August 1998, Clinton ordered the bombing of Afghanistan and of a factory producing medicines in Khartoum (Sudan) on the grounds that this factory was making chemical weapons. A year later, to general indifference, the Administration recognised that it had been mistaken about this factory in Khartoum (see the International Herald Tribune, 28 October 1999).

During the same very recent period, the United States got out of respecting international treaties, whether it had signed them or not. We can quote the decision of the US Congress not to ratify the 1997 convention that banned the use of anti-personnel mines, the Complete Test Ban Treaty, the decision to reinforce the National Missile Defence (NMD) programme, a programme which takes into account and brings up to date the Strategic Defence Initiative programme. The pursuit of this programme is in open violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missiles accord agreement of 1972. This treaty, which constitutes one of the major pillars of the system of control of nuclear weapons, forbids signatories to build systems of defence against strategic attack and strongly limits the development and the deployment of defensive missiles.

All that has not been done without there being a framework of strategic theory. Quite on the contrary: at the end of the 1990s, several commissions got down to the job of redefining national security in the era of globalisation. The Commission on American national interests published a report in June 2000 (2). It included influential members of congress, renowned economists (Paul Krugman) and Condoleeza Rice, who has since been appointed National Security Adviser in George W Bushs administration.

To establish a doctrine in the matter of military interventions which is adapted to the era of globalisation necessitates defining what American interests are, what are the stakes in terms of security. How can we define security? In the framework of capitalism, insecurity never means the insecurity that workers and their families suffer faced with the social plans of the enterprises and with the violence of unemployment. Internal security means nothing other than the protection of private property, and external security means the protection of the territory against a foreign invasion.

The report insists on the fact that it is necessary to establish a hierarchy of American national interests, in distinguishing those which are vital, very important and less important or secondary. Indeed it underlines that it is necessary to finish with the illusion that the United States, because it is the only super-power, can intervene everywhere in the world. Thus, conscious of the controversies that that can lead to, the Commission nevertheless declares that the prevention of genocides (such as that in Rwanda in 1994) should not constitute a vital objective for the United States. This is not only a declaration for the future, but a justification of what has happened: the Administration had been alerted by the Africa specialists of the State Department and the National Security Council of the genocide which was in fact planned months if not years in advance.


The report drew up a restricted list of vital objectives. It of course listed the actual military threats, nuclear, chemical and bacteriological, against the United States and its forces stationed in the world. It continued by stating that because it is the biggest economy in the world and because it is the main beneficiary of it, the defence of globalisation must figure among the vital interests of the United States, those in defence of which American forces should intervene in priority. This is what Thomas Friedman. one of the most influential journalists, editorialist on the New York Times, bluntly explained: the most powerful agent for forcing other countries to open their markets to free trade is Uncle Sam, and in the era of globalisation the armed forces stationed all over the world maintain these markets and the maritime communication routes open, just as the British Navy did in the era of globalisation in the 19th century () In reality, McDonalds cannot prosper without McDonnell Douglas, the enterprise which designed the F-15 fighter for the Air Force, because the market only functions and prospers on condition that the rights of property are guaranteed and protected, which demands a political framework itself backed up by military force. (3)

By defence of globalisation, the report to Congress means the maintenance of the stability and the viability of the major global systems - the commercial, financial, transport and energy networks and the environment. In other reports, top-ranking members of the American military machine explain that the globalisation of many systems (resources, energy, capital, technology, information and knowledge, but also the infrastructures that allow their diffusion, as well as the institutions that regulate them) are more and more decisive for countries, and in the first place for the North Atlantic democracies (sic). Globalisation is therefore radically modifying the traditional approaches to security. As a result, whereas for centuries a nations security meant the inviolability of its territory, it now means the viability (the proper functioning) of these global systems (4). All in all, these experts propose generalising, including to the protection of financial markets, the right of military intervention that the United States has always exercised whenever it considered that the protection of its energy networks (oil) was at stake. That is also the programme that they have defined for NATO.


We indicated above the low priority of Africa for the US Congress. The experts that we have just quoted are very clear. They are not paid to deal in ideology, to proclaim the good news of the neo-liberal Utopia, but to think about the defence of private property and the monopoly of wealth. They therefore have no difficulty in recognising the unequal and incomplete [character] of globalisation (5). Their immediate priorities are in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking America, where NAFTA and perhaps soon the Pan-American Free Trade Zone are bringing this unequal and incomplete process, with the threats it carries with it, to the very doorstep of the United States. Elsewhere, it is necessary to relieve the burden. This is particularly the case for Africa where the fiasco of the intervention in Sudan has left very bad memories.

The African states are no longer colonies, but their independence is no obstacle for either the former colonising powers or for private capital in search of investments or financial investments. The existence of fragile state machines, which are either structured around the Army or more ramified between leading factions, more or less rivals but backed up by armed groups, is not a handicap for the former colonial powers. Placed under the control of international economic organisations, these countries guarantee to the companies which exploit their mining resources, and to creditor institutions which hold securities on these super-indebted states, the protection of their property and the respect of contracts. It is only because of this international recognition that the ruling classes of what some people call the quasi-states of Africa can maintain their political authority and their control over economic resources and take their share of the spoils along the way. Even the countries promoted to the status of regional powers by some analyses are undermined by internal conflicts.

The formal independence of the former colonies exempts the dominant countries from the costs of running them which fell to the colonisers, without them losing their profits. It exempts the governments of the developed capitalist countries from taking responsibility for the expenditure necessary for the reproduction and the maintenance of life, for the education of young people. As for the multinational groups, their only aim is to take advantage of the natural resources, and the creditors are exclusively preoccupied by the maintenance of a regular flow of payments of the debt. If we consider globalisation as a whole, functioning on a world scale, the mode of reproduction of capital has now only very selective demands in relation to Africa. For the developed countries, faced with slow economic growth, and which are recording new gains in productivity based on the extension of new production technologies which contribute to the maintenance of high levels of unemployment in their own countries, Africa no longer even offers the attraction of a source of cheap labour. In this framework, the sovereignty of African states and the legitimacy conferred on governments under the domination of foreign capital allow capital to take full advantage of the advantages offered by these countries without having to be responsible for either the economic costs or the social inconveniences. The genocide organised in Rwanda, of which the American and European governments were perfectly well informed, has in no way prevented the pursuit of the mining and oil-producing activities of the multinational groups.

The social scourges, above all the food shortages, the famines and the epidemics (of which AIDS is only the most recent and most exacerbated version) which are exterminating populations are not the product of internal causes. In the framework of the movement of de-colonisation, these scourges could be the reflection of the bad start which was well underlined by Rene Dumont at the beginning of the 1960s. Four decades later, we have to consider that they have become an irreversible component in the framework of present economic and social relations. This population is now too numerous. Claude Meillassoux observes that the control of the demography of the exploited peoples by demographic means (birth control, sterilisation, etc.) has failed. A form of control by hunger, disease and death, more effective and more cruel, is being established under the pretext of economic rationality and structural adjustment: the lesson of Malthus has been well understood. The law of Malthus, writes Meillassoux, is that the working population must be permanently kept on the verge of starvation in order to avoid an excessive demographic growth (6). The new wars serve also the tragic function of enabling Malthuss law to be applied.


In the United States, if the debate does not take the form of a division between isolationists and interventionists, it does on the other hand deal with the question of the hierarchy of national security interests, and in particular the vital interests whose calling into question would lead the United States without delay to react militarily. Because in spite of its status, there is no question of American troops starting to intervene everywhere in the world to manage the problems linked to the respect of the rights of property. First of all because the objective of zero deaths remains (for the moment) the priority, and then because the threats are more and more diffuse and many-sided. It is therefore incumbent on the United States, while continuing to prevent the emergence of peer competitors, to determine the order of priority of its strategic and tactical objectives. It is furthermore in the framework of this debate that some of those responsible for American policy are proposing to dump on the European armies the management of a certain number of conflicts (not only in Europe but also in Africa).

Now, the ambitions of the big European countries, especially France and Britain, to continue to play a world role thanks to their military power are entirely compatible with the doctrine of the United States, and thus of NATO. The European governments have the same vision of the stakes and the risks posed by the economic and geopolitical transformations of the 1990s. The system of European defence which is in the process of emerging is clearly conceived of as a component of the transatlantic alliance. In the course of the year 2000, Javier Solana, former general secretary of NATO, was appointed High Commissioner for Foreign Policy and Joint Security of the European Union. Some months afterwards, the creation of a rapid reaction force was decided on at the Nice summit (December 2000). The constitution of a European defence will furthermore push the European countries to increase their defence budget, as is already the case with a majority of the NATO countries.

The subordination of the European defence system to NATO is accompanied by a growing transatlantic integration on the economic level. Integration has been strengthened since the crisis of 1997 that broke out in South-East Asia, before spreading to Russia then Latin America. The economic crisis widened a little more the gap between the economic situation of the United States and Europe on the one hand, and on the other hand the immense majority of countries, including the emerging countries. Transatlantic integration, dominated by the United States, is reflected in the multiplication of financial and commercial links between big American and European multinational groups (7), in the adoption of the same rules of enterprise management, entirely oriented towards the demands of the shareholders (corporate governance), as well as in the convergence between the macro-economic policies conducted on both sides of the Atlantic. It does not suppress inter-imperialist rivalries, but it circumscribes them within the framework of fundamentally common interests and of the domination of they United States, which no European state can challenge. Transatlantic integration is still more marked in the armaments industry. The level of the American military budget, the technological advance largely demonstrated during the wars conducted against Iraq and Serbia, together with the necessity to harmonise national military equipment with the operational requirements of NATO are going to lead on the industrial level to an increase in the programmes of research and development and in the production of transatlantic arms, of which the American groups will by definition assume the leadership.

The leaders of the United States also wish Japan to be much more involved in the defence structures that the Pentagon has established in South-East Asia. Robert Zoellick, some months before being appointed representative for Trade in the Administration of George W Bush, was conscious that what was involved was a historic change. He hoped that Japan, the United States, South Korea and Australia would strengthen their military relations as a step towards a greater integration of the Japanese defence forces within the American armies in Asia" (9)


There exists a vital interest for the United States which is mentioned in the experts report: it consists of preventing the emergence of important hostile powers or failed states on the borders of the United States (10). In the language of American strategists, the notion of failed state appeared officially in 1991 to designate the decomposition of states under the effect of civil (or infra-state) wars.

Because the discourse on happy globalisation and the (economic and social) convergence between nations as a result of globalisation only commits those who believe in it. The American administration and its strategists are perfectly well aware of the damage caused by really existing globalisation (as we used to speak of really existing socialism). The writings of experts in strategy and international relations are overflowing with dark scenarios where the disintegration of states combined with globalisation will lead to terrible social consequences. Thats what the top-ranking members of the American military establishment quoted above call the unequal and incomplete [character] of globalisation. For the American leaders, globalisation carries heavy threats to their security.

Among the main dangers that this unequal and incomplete globalisation provokes, we find the constitution of immense megapoles. It is true that the population influx towards the cities presents different traits from that caused by the massive rural exodus that took place in the countries of Europe in the 19th century. Even if the conditions of existence of the peasants and artisans driven from their villages were tragic, this exodus was concomitant with industrialisation and the expansion of capitalism ended up by absorbing these populations. The situation is entirely different today. The situation of the developing countries offers no perspective to the hundreds of millions of people who are coming to live in the cities.

The number of cities with more than ten million inhabitants is constantly increasing. It is estimated that around 2010, 45 per cent of the population of the developing countries will live in towns and cities. It is of course the dangers represented by cities situated near its territory and in countries where it has major economic interests that worry the United States. Mexico City (20 million inhabitants), Sao Paulo (26 million inhabitants), Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro (each more than 10 million inhabitants) represent risks against which it is necessary to prepare. It is a modern version of the working classes = dangerous classes of the 19th century. But today, the danger that the American leaders can see is not that of the proletarianisation of masses of people, since the hope of salaried employment is irreparably closed to them. The danger is that people will be driven by despair to shake the fragile state machines that the United States has helped to establish, in particular on the American continent. The American leaders are also perfectly aware that despair and extreme poverty are forcing people to engage in illicit activities.

Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Venezuela, the Caribbean and Colombia are the countries cited in the report of the Commission on American national interests, but it is Mexico that is the object of sustained attention. The report doesnt mince its words. With the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), this country has become explicitly what it previously was implicitly, a component of the American strategic space, in the same way as Canada is (11). The report mentions the fear that in the case of economic collapse and political crisis, a massive flood of immigrants on its South-West frontier would come to threaten the United States. Vital interests (in the sense defined above of an obligation to intervene militarily) would then be involved. A researcher, adopting more or less the same analysis, points out that American investments in Mexico, a total of 50 billion dollars, would be threatened, as would the bilateral trade of 156 billion dollars, which is for a large part oil exports () In a future [civil] war [in Mexico], millions of Americans who have a family in Mexico could take part, and provoke violence in the United States itself (12).

What the Commissions report obviously doesnt say is that the economic policy imposed on Mexico by the United States bears the main responsibility for the social distress. In a well-documented book on the proceeds of crime Guilhem Fabre points out that the planet-wide expansion of the market economy, the dynamic of financialisation and the anonymity that is guaranteed to those who operate through the numerous off-shore financial centres, and the corruption (of banks and politicians) are closely connected. In this framework, the massive privatisation programmes that have been imposed on Mexico by the international institutions and the United States has provided a real Trojan horse for drug barons, alongside commercial transactions and property investments (13). We will see that it is in the name of the fight against the drug trade that the United States has launched the Plan Colombia which appears as the first stage of the implementation of the defence of its vital interests.


The strategic experts have taken note of the new battlegrounds that the cities can represent. Traditionally, tAmerican military doctrine tried to avoid getting involved in such interventions. But over recent years the American armed forces have multiplied this kind of intervention, whether for peacekeeping operations (Somalia, Liberia, Bosnia, Kosovo, etc.) or for their specific political needs, as in Panama. We can count 250 of this kind of deployments in the last ten years.

It is therefore important to develop and produce weapons adapted to these combats. A report from one of the most important American study groups, the Rand Corporation, which is closely linked to the Air Force, lists the needs. These are miniaturised optic fibre missiles, drones (small pilotless planes) which could fire ammunition of the type that was tested with relative success in the NATO intervention in Serbia, small robots whose mission would be to deploy noise cannons and other non-lethal weapons. Since the end of the Cold War, the American administration has been interested in this kind of weapons, which could be defined (on paper) as weapons intended to put out of action personnel, arms, supplies or installations, in such a way that death or serious or permanent incapacity are improbable. In a word clean weapons, as the so-called surgical strikes in the war against Iraq were supposed to be clean, or the use of depleted uranium weapons in Serbia. A large part of the research programmes is classified, that is kept secret (the credits allocated by the budgetary Congress are not detailed). Nevertheless we know that a programme was launched in 1994, the HFAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Programme) aimed at influencing natural processes by high frequency electro-magnetic rays. Serbia may have served as a testing ground with the graphite bombs that paralysed its electricity system.

The programmes of development of non-lethal weapons are destined to have a great future. They will allow American armies, or armies under their control, to intervene directly in countries, as required, whenever the United States judge that their interests (even non-vital) are threatened. As we have begun to se in various parts of the world, so-called non-lethal weapons programmes weaken during conflicts the distinction between civilian populations and fighters, which was considered as a step forward for civilisation. But it is inevitable that they also reduce the differences between external and internal enemies (of society) which leads Luc Mampey to say that the production of these types of weapons will reinforce the internal arsenal of repression and sooner or later place society under permanent control (14). Which means to say that these are weapons of civil war which could be used in the developed countries which produce them. Because unemployment and poverty, absence of hope of a remotely permanent job for millions of young people are not (are no longer) phenomena peculiar to developing countries. These scourges, which combine with the dismantling of the institutions of social protection under the pressure of neo-liberal policies, create processes of exclusion and marginalisation. Besides, the development of the privatisation of security in the rich countries indicates that the dangerous classes are not the prerogative of the developing countries. It is also to be ready to face this very particular variety of infra-state wars that the non-lethal arms programmes are being developed.


Political attention in the strategic domain is at present centred on the new programme, under preparation, of high space technology, whose aim would be to provide the United States with an anti-nuclear shield. Like Reagans Star Wars, of which it is the continuation, this programme has a double objective. Directed at China, the objective is really strategic. In relation to the allies and partners of the United States, the objective is technological and industrial domination.

But to these visible programmes, others must be added. At the same time, the Pentagon is engaged in large-scale research into biological and chemical weapons. The idea is not new. Chemical weapons using chlorine, mustard gases, were used on a large scale during the First World War. The consequences were so tragic that they were banned by the Geneva Protocol in 1925 and widely used after this ban. A convention on biological and toxic weapons was therefore adopted in 1972. Another convention which banned the development, the fabrication, the storage and the use of chemical weapons, and which decided to abolish them, was adopted in Paris (13 January 1993). The convention came into force in 1997 and at the end of 1999, 129 countries had ratified it, but 21 had refused, among them Egypt, Israel, North Korea, Libya and Syria, as well as many African states.

After lengthy debates, the United States ratified the Convention on chemical weapons. They are more reticent about signing the protocol concerning the measures of verification-control of biological weapons. As the SIPRI point out, the very existence of this protocol is threatened by the reticence of the Western countries, whose industry would be the most threatened if the system of biological and chemical disarmament was really applied. Now, the American pharmaceutical industry is resolutely hostile to any control. Clintons Secretary of State for Commerce supported them. In a letter addressed to Madeleine Allbright, she wrote: I continue to think that we should oppose surprise visits, routine visits, including transparent visits () We have consistently repeated to American industry that we are against surprise and routine visits to their sites (15). To please its industry, the American administration has therefore opposed the practice of surprise visits but also the transparent visits proposed by Britain as a compromise. We can measure the gap between the way the United States acts and the way it imposes on others. The deadly measures that have been imposed on the Iraqi population for ten years, at the same time as Saddam Hussein has been left free to bloodily repress his own people, shows once again that the law of the strongest is also a law and that it is on this law that the new world order of capitalism is based.


New wars resulting from unequal globalisation also have to be prepared on the ground. The war which is unfolding in Colombia is leading to direct involvement of the United States. In the name of the fight against the drug trade, the Clinton administration in 1999 reinforced its plan of action and put into place the Plan Colombia. The operation conducted in Panama, baptised Just Cause, whose aim was to get rid of Noriega, had already used the pretext, largely taken up by the American media, of the fight against the drug trade and the re-establishment of democracy. Indeed, since the disappearance of the USSR, it is no longer possible to invoke the communist danger. The condemnation of this intervention by the United Nations obviously didnt modify American strategy in the slightest.

Colombia, an oil-rich country, has seen its foreign debt go from 14 billion to 33 billion dollars between 1985 and 1998. Crushed by neo-liberal policies, a large part of the population, with an unemployment rate of 30 to 35 per cent (but 60 per cent in Bogota), is in a state of extreme poverty which has got worse over the last few years. Public enterprises have been privatised, sold off cheap to foreign groups, the pension systems have been given over to private pension funds. In this context, the Plan Colombia which amounts to 1.3 billion dollars is however in the main solely concerned with military repression. It is estimated that 250 military advisers are present, but also consultants belonging to a private American security agency.

The European Union has decided to participate in the support to the peace efforts of President Pastrana, at the same time as the paramilitary forces, which emanate directly from the Army, have been for years pursuing a systematic policy of massacring peasant populations (16) but are also involved in assassinations of trade union militants. This social appendix added by the EU to the American military plan is doomed to failure, as was the plan of the same kind adopted by the EU to aid Bolivia. It is a threadbare cover for the aims of the American administration which contributes in its own way to the rapid expansion of new wars. The direct and official involvement of the United States in Colombia can be explained by a whole number of factors which largely spill over the borders of this neighbouring country and concern the perspective of establishing the worlds biggest market on the continent, the American Free Trade Zone (AFTZ), planned for 2005. Such a zone, which would stretch from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, would require the creation of a new security structure guaranteeing its economic prosperity and the free flow of trade. But the fight against drugs also comes just at the right moment to reinforce the Pentagons plans and the demands of the military-industrial complex, above all Lockheed. As the officer formerly responsible for the Southern Command, General Thurman put it, for the moment the war against drugs is the only war weve got left (17).

Finally, the American involvement is a component of the redefinition of their vital interests, because behind the argument of the fight against drugs being waged against Colombian peasants, this Plan heralds the war against the dangerous classes. These dangerous classes are to be found in the countryside but also in the cities, where there have been very strong protest movements on the initiative of trade union organisations, which have not been interrupted by the systematic assassination of trade unionists and other militants by the paramilitary groups. The objective of Plan Colombia is also the consolidation of American domination over the whole of a continent which is faced with the consequences of neo-liberalism and whose future, already a reality in several countries, is the dollarisation of their economies (18). As far as Colombia is concerned, there are those, like Colin Powell, who are worried that the American military intervention could become a new Vietnam, but the Secretary of State for Commerce Zoellick considers that they have to stop making a distinction between the counter-insurrectional struggle (against the guerrillas) and the struggle against the drug trade. (19)

I hope to have given here some material for reflection which will enable readers to counter, in discussions, the evangelical positions in support of interference. Too often, this is only the ideological window-dressing for interventions whose basic aim is the defence of private property and of the predatory channels by which wealth is transferred for the benefit of those who are already the richest.

(1) Collection La Discorde, Editions Textuel.

(2) The Commission on Americas National Interests, July 2000, Washington, D.C.

(3) The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Harper Collins Publishers, 2000, respectively p. 381 and p. 464.

(4) D.C. Gompert, R.L. Kluger, M.C. Lubicki, Mind the Gap, Promoting a Transatlantic Revolution in Military Affairs, National Defense University press, Washington, D.C., 1999.

(5) Gompert et al., op. cit., P. 24.

(6) C. Meillassoux, Leconomie de la vie, Demographie du travail, Cahiers Libres, Editions Page Deux, 1997, pp. 108-109.

(7) 60 percent of the total of cross-border mergers-takeovers between multinational groups in the period 1997-99 took place between American and European industrial groups. (UNCTAD, 2000).

(8) C. Serfati, La domination du capital financier: quelles consequences? in F. Chesnais and D. Pilhon (eds.) Les pieges de la finance internationale, Syros, Paris, 2000.

(9) R.B. Zoellick, A Republican Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, vol.79, no. 1, p. 74.

(10) The Commission, op. cit., P. 6.

(11) The Commission, op. cit., P. 29.

(12) S.R. David Saving America from the Coming Wars, Foreign Affairs, vol. 78, no. 1, 199, p.116.

(13) G. Fabre, Les prosperites du crime, Editions de LAube, 1999, p. 116.

(14) Mampey, L. Les armes non letales. Une nouvelle course aux armaments, Rapports du GRIP, 1/99, p. 8.

(15) Quoted in the SIPRI, op. Cit. P. 525.

(16) See the investigation by Maurice Lemoine, Cultures illicites, narcotrafic et guerre en Colombie, Le Monde Diplomatique, January 2001.

(17) The only war we've got. Quoted by NACLA, Reports on the Americas, New York, November-December, 2000, vol 34, no.3.

(18) See R. Acosta, La lutte sociale dans le difficile contexte colombien, In ATTAC, Les peoples entrent en resistance, CADTM, CETIM, Editions Syllepse, Geneva, 2000.

(19) Quoted in Business Week, Bush Worlds, January 29, 2001.