Britain/US split?

Michael Keaney Michael.Keaney at
Wed Sep 26 08:33:57 MDT 2001

Mark Jones wrote:

US hegemony was built in the 20th century on
European fragmentation and weakness and on the garrisoning of Europe
with American troops. The Atlantic Alliance is the keystone in the
structure of US hegemony. If that falls, the US will be reduced at once
to the status of a regional power.


With all the talk of imperial overstretch that has emanated from
conservative sources during the tenure of the Clinton administration,
and the undoubted suspension (if not actual ditching) of the "new
economy" and attendant hype long before 11 September, there was already
a strong intellectual basis for the partial withdrawal of US power. In
part this was driven by a desire among some that allies should now start
pulling their weight (especially financially), thus the edging up the
agenda of reforming Japan's constitution (following the pressure put
upon it to pay for the Gulf War 10 years ago), and the encouragement of
greater EU involvement in NATO operations. This, of course, has been
seized upon by elements within these allied countries, as Koizumi
appeals to the right in Japan and strikes a more nationalistic pose (one
more truly reflective of the more anonymous bureaucracy -- see Bertell
Ollman's recent fine NLR article), while Britain and France try to rein
in German assertiveness by kick-starting the idea of a European rapid
reaction force. The Germans, meanwhile, in the person of Joschka
Fischer, are busily projecting themselves into the front line of
whatever is going, whether in the Balkans (a leading role in Macedonia)
or in the Middle East (Putin and Mubarak in Berlin). The US response to
this has been contradictory. Much as unilateralists (not isolationists)
like Rumsfeld and Cheney may wish their EU allies to pay, they are not
psychologically prepared for the parallel increase of independent
thought that fellow NATO members may now exercise, indeed do exercise.
Thus Rumsfeld, having forewarned of US troop withdrawals from Europe and
admonishing the Europeans to take more responsibility because they can
afford it now, rushes to caution the EU not to get too far ahead of
itself as the rapid reaction force takes shape. He is mollified when
this RRF is sold as being an integral part of NATO, and, just to make
sure he understands, Turkey is brought into the equation.

Meanwhile Bush has struck a very different tone from the globalism of
Summers et al, in prioritising the reactivation of his daddy's Free
Trade Area of the Americas, a new variation on the Monroe Doctrine, and
a consolidation of US power, rather than an extension. Via the
incorporation of Latin America into the NAFTA ambit, whether through the
employment of legal machinery (trade deals) or monetary policy
(IMF-facilitated dollarisation), Latin America will be brought to heel
as a priority. Of course, as Mark said now and I suggested to Jim D. a
while back, there is only so much capital that these countries can
export to the US, or anywhere else. Argentina is a classic example. It
needs ever stronger doses of IMF-prescribed medicine to get over the
shocks induced by the last ministrations, etc. And so on. But the
process is subject to diminishing returns, hence O'Neill's thinking out
loud about the suitability of Stanley Fischer-type IMF "solutions". The
trouble is that there is, as yet, no alternative, other than to pull the
plug and open global markets to absolute chaos and risk everything,
including the credibility of the much-vaunted American dream that is
being sold to the underdeveloped as the justification for their
suffering. So the status quo will prevail, only without anything near
the conviction that characterised Bush's predecessors. This reluctant
"internationalism" is an open door for US allies to start asserting
themselves, as with Germany's "modernisation" under Schröder (Kohler at
IMF, German troops here and there, high level diplomacy, etc.).
Meanwhile Britain and France, as third rate imperialist powers with
pretensions to rise again, will be looking to project their "expertise"
in certain areas of former (and hopefully future) influence, as, in
fact, France has tried to do in Africa throughout the neo- and
post-colonial periods. Britain still has the Commonwealth. In the
context of Europe, however, Britain and Germany share a common agenda of
containing France, while each competes to "lead" the development of the
EU. Britain will probably win in certain respects (language, foreign
policy) while Germany will take the spoils in others (federal
constitution, economy). France is in something approaching disarray
concerning Europe, as its Cold War framework has shattered and it
struggles to manage a resurgent Germany and a more constructively
assertive Britain. The US might, under other circumstances, take
advantage of this lack of unity and exploit it to hegemonic advantage.
Italy's position is interesting in this regard. But most of the Bush
administration's lack of appreciation for foreign and international
security policy (Powell is a notable exception, as is Zoellick) leaves
the door open to Blair and Schröder to show the rest Die Neue Mitte.

Perhaps the unfolding crisis will precipitate the return of the
"liberals" of the Wall Street-Treasury complex to the policy arena, as
happened under Bush I after the proclamation of a new world order. But
until that time, those responsible may not themselves fully realise it,
but they have effectively given notice that US power is not as global as
once was. China's entry into the WTO has the potential to be as
profoundly important as 11 September, if not more, assuming that the WTO
as an organisation can pick itself up after recent debacles. But if
China is to continue to grow, its dependence upon oil will make its
Central Asian policies all the more important a consideration. How long
before Chinese aircraft carriers patrol the Persian Gulf? This, perhaps,
explains the Clintonian stuff about "strategic partnership" -- an effort
to "turn" the Chinese into allies, consistent with Strobe Talbott's
emphasis on "turning" Russia by giving Yeltsin and his clique successive
blank cheques (see Zoellick in the National Interest, Autumn 2000 on
this). Bush's hostility to China, in that light alone, looks extremely
ill-judged and allows wilier leaders in the Middle East to capitalise on
tensions between the receding but still dominant hegemon and the newly
emergent would-be hegemon. No wonder Britain and its EU allies are
desperately trying to project a "Third Way" and extricate themselves
from US folly.

Michael K.

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