The Iron Fist of Neo-liberalism

The US agenda of “full-spectrum dominance” is arguably the gravest threat to the economic development, political stability, peace, human rights and democracy in the Third World. This dominance encompasses the economic, political and military arenas. US militarism is the iron fist which is increasingly being employed to extend American political hegemony and free market fundamentalism across the globe.

 It would be instructive to explore the interface between US military adventures, the oil transnational corporations (TNCs) and the military-industrial corporation agendas in Central Asia and the Middle East, since Bush’s election campaign was bankrolled by oil industry and it’s now pay-back time, and because oil is viewed by the US and its corporations as a supremely strategic commodity to which they must have unfettered access and absolute control over.

This triple agenda is patently obvious in the bombing of Afghanistan: Landlocked Turkmenistan, which is Afghanistan’s northern neighbor, has the third largest gas reserves in the world and enough oil to satisfy American needs for 30 years. Its geographical situation is also ideal for supplying the voracious markets of the East, especially Japan and South Asia. The oil transnational which ensconces itself first will rake in billions of dollars. There has been intense competition between Unocal (a US-based corporation) and Bridas (an Argentinian multinational) for rights to lay an oil pipeline to the Arabian Sea, either across eastern Iran or western Afghanistan. Iran is a distinctly unattractive option for the American administration and military. The route through Afghanistan is the shortest to the sea and the terrain is relatively favourable, so they have been forced to negotiate with the Taliban who have been playing them off against each other to earn maximum revenue. In addition a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, across Afghanistan, to Pakistan is proposed. Unocal won the multi-billion dollar contract in 1997 because of intense lobbying by Saudi and US go-betweens and probably handsome bribes to boot, but withdrew the following year because of the political instability. They were not prepared to take such an enormous financial risk unless there was a stable government in Afghanistan that had the confidence of governments, lenders and the corporation. So the Taliban, who were viewed as a highly unstable and undependable regime, had to be eliminated, not for harboring Osama bin Laden but on the altar of economic and geopolitical expediency. The World Trade Centre attack proved to be the most fortuitous pretext for the bombing.

And hanging around discretely in the wings one can discern the lobbyists of the military-industrial corporations goading cowboy Bush into a more ferocious bombing campaign followed no doubt by shifting the theatre of war to Iraq with substantial escalation of their profits but further devastation of this tragic country.

Similar scenarios are unfolding in the oil-rich Caspian Sea basin and the Caucasus region. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union the newly-independent southern republics of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Georgia have become economically and militarily dependent client-states of the US. The ruling elites have acquiesced to the demands of their imperialist masters and consequently ensured that more than half of the oil investments in the region are controlled by Western oil TNCs, prominent amongst which are the giants Texaco, Chevron, BP-Amoco, Exxon-Mobil and Pennzoil. Several of these states have welcomed the establishment of permanent US military bases in their territories and have swelled their military arsenals.

The economic interests of the oil TNCs and military-industrial TNCs dovetail very neatly with US geopolitical designs in the region. Now American military might, political power and economic interests are ingeniously positioned in this strategically important Central Asian region where they would be able to counter burgeoning Russian, Chinese and Iranian interests and thereby extend Western imperial power. But there is grave danger of further destabilizing a region which includes several highly unstable totalitarian regimes and to the east two belligerent states with recently acquired nuclear capability.

Iraq is another example of diabolical US militarism: more bombs were dropped here during the six weeks of the Gulf War than the entire tonnage of World War 2, slaughtering 200,000 Iraqis (mainly civilians). One of the best kept secrets of that war was the use of radioactive depleted uranium as a cheap coating for armour-piercing shells (a substitute for titanium). The Military Toxics Program estimates that there may be “900 tonnes remaining, traveling where the wind blows”, accounting for the phenomenal increase in incidence of grotesque birth deformities, cancer and leukaemia (mainly in children who are most susceptible to radiation) within two years of the war. Within the first six years, as a direct result of the draconian sanctions, over 500,000 children under the age of five had died from malnutrition, lack of medicines, vaccines, etc. (Madeleine Albright felt that it was “a price worth paying”), and hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed by the incessant bombing which continues to this day – a humanitarian crisis of gargantuan proportions.

This litany of atrocities, which are crimes against humanity and tantamount to genocide, has been perpetrated ostensibly to target Saddam Hussein. It is shrugged off callously by the US as mere “collateral damage”, with the implication that the means is justified by the ends. But the grotesque fingerprints of the oil agenda are found all over this historical record. Because of the perceived threat to the oil-producing states by Saddam, the US has been able to engineer a permanent military presence in the Persian Gulf to defend and extend its oil and geopolitical interests. US officials have stated that sanctions would remain even if Iraq complied with United Nations inspectors, giving the Iraqi regime virtually no incentive to comply. This will ensure that the US can remain ensconced in the region indefinitely.

This pattern of militarism in support of oil TNC and American economic interests can be extrapolated and viewed across most sectors and varieties of US corporations. It is a cancer which grows exponentially with every successive victory in the relentless drive for corporate super-profits. William Cohen, the US Defense Secretary, said quite candidly at Microsoft Corporation in Seattle that “the prosperity that companies like Microsoft now enjoy could not occur without the strong military that we have”.

Let us now focus on the military-industrial arm of the triple agenda: With the advent of globalization the “military-industrial complex” described by Eisenhower has, according to Steven Staples, been transformed into the “military-corporate complex” where gigantic military corporations, which were previously regulated and funded by their governments, now surpass their sovereign states in wealth and power. The resulting power imbalance between governments and the TNCs is exacerbated by international free trade agreements in favour of the latter, which governments are forced to comply with. Since the military has become relatively autonomous from government, a rather strained symbiotic relationship has developed between the corporations, the military and government. These TNCs now “roam the world in search of higher government subsidies and favourable tax incentives, lower wages and weak labour standards, and mergers with other corporations to create even more powerful transnational corporations” and subject humanity to the dictatorship of capital.

Fiscal austerity resulting from unbridled military spending and neo-liberal constraints on the functions of government limits the state’s ability to provide for its citizens. And with the inevitable social breakdown government is “reduced to simply funding the police, prisons and the military”. Maude Barlow’s incisive observation is that corporations have spent the last fifty years fighting communism, but now they are fighting democracy itself.

This profiteering in human misery has been developed to a fine art by the global corporations. In addition to handsome corporate profits they are able to raid the national fiscus with consummate ease. The top 3 US weapons manufacturers – Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon – have acquired $30 billion worth of Pentagon contracts annually and have manoeuvred themselves into positions where they can influence and shape US foreign and military policies, thus ensuring their prosperity. The steady appreciation of their stock prices even during periods of economic downturn speaks volumes. In the global arena their success in lobbying for expanding and extending the role of NATO is rewarded with lucrative contracts in Eastern Europe where these nations are enticed to spend billions to upgrade their military forces since the demise of the Soviet Union. 

And since September 11, as a corollary to the TNC/military intervention agenda, Bush’s puerile philosophy of “you’re either with us or with the terrorists” indicates that this brazen colossus will with impunity threaten any country, which has the temerity not abide by its economic dictates or refuses to allow its wealth or labour to be plundered by the TNCs, with sanctions or military attacks on the pretext of wanting to eliminate the terrorists allegedly harboured by the recalcitrant state. This is especially so since the US is now the sole superpower and there are no checks and balances.

This cult of militarism makes the world an exceedingly more dangerous place, but is a welcome boon for the macroeconomics of the world’s elites with the consequent fast-tracking of capitalist globalization. The economies of the G8 have been grinding into recession of late – Japan into serious deflation.  What a boost the military-corporate complex in full flight will give these ailing economies: the spin-offs would be tremendous for free market fundamentalism.

The global alliance against terrorism will merely exacerbate the problem and spawn thousands more suicide bombers who will target innocent Western civilians, but the economic and political elites will mercifully escape the calamity.  This will be a convenient excuse for the Administration to severely curtail civil liberties and attempt to annihilate the growing anti-globalization movement and all progressive civil society programmes because of their “anti-American” agendas in this stultifying atmosphere of neo-McCarthyism.  And with the phenomenally creative spin-doctoring of the Rendon Group and the servile mainstream media establishment, corporate globalization appears to be invincible.

But, as a consequence of the valiant actions and progressively escalating victories of the anti-globalization movement and innumerable progressive organizations networking and coordinating the global resistance movement, the world is moving slowly but inexorably towards a truly just social and economic order which will eventually triumph over corporate avarice and narrow nationalistic arrogance. The paradox is that, despite the formidable forces confronting it, global civil society has at last the distinct possibility of defeating this faceless monster which has been devouring our humanity with impunity.

What is called for now is that every citizen of the world redouble his or her efforts, in universal solidarity and interdependence, to achieve this noble goal.