USA, the predatory hegemon. From Monthly Review (Part II)

Nestor Miguel Gorojovsky gorojovsky at arnet.com.ar
Sat Sep 29 09:47:16 MDT 2001


[ Part II ]

As a result of these considerations, European leaders began to emphasize
that the WEU was intended to complement and not compete with NATO. The new
strategy was formalized at the January 1994 NATO summit, where NATO and the WEU
were to be integrated through Combined Joint Task Forces. The following year,
the French agreed in principle to resume participation in NATO's military
directorate. The Eurocorps was activated as planned in 1995 and had a full
strength of 50,000 troops, but the Europeans agreed to an accord "which provides
for the Eurocorps' subordination to SACEUR"-the Supreme Allied Commander,
Europe, a U.S. general.26 In an interview, the first commander of the Eurocorps,
Germany's Lt. Gen. Helmut Willmann, went out of his way to link the Eurocorps to
NATO: The Eurocorps would "complement U.S. assets and this will benefit NATO.
Any idea of competition would be wrong and has to be excluded."27 At the same
time, the United States continued to jealously guard its dominance within NATO,
and firmly refused French suggestions that a European should be appointed as
chief of NATO's southern command.

Thus, early plans for a foreign and military policy that was substantially
independent of NATO were undermined. Efforts by the United States to
domesticate the WEU and the Eurocorps were initially successful. We will see
that the more basic trans-Atlantic rift, which had undergirded the specific
dispute regarding EU military posture, was far from settled. But for the moment
at least, the United States had succeeded in its efforts to undermine European
military independence.

Eastward Expansion

Until now I have been examining the "reactive" side of U.S. hegemony, aimed at
protecting NATO against actions that might have weakened it. Another strategy
has been to find new, additional functions for NATO. The most important of these
efforts has been to expand NATO eastward and to incorporate portions of Eastern
Europe under the U.S. military umbrella. The concept of eastward expansion was
formally proposed in December 1994; in 1999, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech
Republic joined NATO as full members.

In testimony before Congress, Madeleine Albright implied that eastward
expansion reflected shared cultural and political values, as well as
enlightened self-interest. However, there is no doubt that an element of
realpolitik was also present. Eastward expansion served four purposes:
First, expansion gave NATO a new function-preserving order in eastern
Europe-which could serve as a partial replacement for the now obsolete
objective of preventing a Soviet invasion. Expansion also alienated
post-Soviet Russia, thus generating a new threat to the stability of central
Europe. It may seem paradoxical that U.S. policy actually has created new
threats, but then again, finding threats and enemies has been a basic theme for
post-Cold War foreign policy. And finding enemies in Europe is salutary for the
purpose of preserving NATO and establishing a plausible function for the
alliance-especially since NATO's very existence was being called into question.
In 1992, Senator William Roth warned that if a plausible function were not
found, "then it is our duty as U.S. legislators to point out that this emperor
has no clothes, that, tragically, NATO has degenerated into an alliance in name
only and, sadly it is therefore no longer deserving of our support or
membership."28 The initial lack of any obvious function was becoming an
embarrassment; eastward expansion seemed a plausible new function.

A second purpose of NATO expansion has been to reinforce and augment the
U.S. role as the dominant power on the European continent. Expansion
reinforced U.S. hegemony, and precluded the dreaded prospect of an
independent Europe. According to Air Force Magazine. "It is this
prospect-the specter of Europe without NATO-that deeply troubles U.S.
leaders.. For Washington, an important if unstated goal is to ensure
continued U.S. influence in the affairs of Europe and to have a major say in
Eastern European security developments.... For half a century NATO has served as
a mechanism for exerting that influence, providing Washington's all important
bridge to the continent. Eastward expansion would ensure that the United States
would be able to play a similar role in the nations emerging from the old Soviet
empire."29 NATO expansion helped to reinforce NATO's central mission: to serve
as an instrument for subordinating Europe to U.S. interests.

Third, NATO expansion was strongly supported by U.S. business interests.
According to a 1998 article in the New York Times, "American arms
manufacturers who stand to gain billions of dollars in sales of weapons,
communications equipment, and other military equipment if the Senate
approves NATO expansion, have made enormous investments in lobbyists and
campaign contributions to promote their cause in Washington."30 Military
contractors such as Boeing, Motorola, TRW, and United Technologies each paid
$250,000 for the privilege of participating in NATO's fiftieth anniversary in
1999, as official corporate hosts. In addition, nonmilitary investors, including
Eastman-Kodak, Ford, and General Motors also supported NATO, presumably because
of the entree that NATO provides for U.S. corporations in both eastern and
western Europe.

Fourth, expansion consolidated the U.S. position in a new sphere of
influence and checked the influence of competitor states. There was
apprehension that the Europeans, especially the Germans, would become
dominant in the east. In early 1992, the Washington Post offered this
assessment:

German influence in the region-especially in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and
Poland-has become pervasive..."It is our natural market," said Otto Wolff
von Amerongen, for years the chairman of the Eastern Committee, an
industrial group that helps German businesses make deals in Eastern
Europe.... "Germany is positioning itself to dominate not only eastern
Germany and not only Eastern Europe but also the Soviet markets once they
become viable," said Christian von Thun-Hohenstein, an investment
banker.....They'll have an automatic 'in' in the old Soviet Union and
Eastern Europe because they will be the suppliers of the capital goods."31

The expansion of NATO ensured that this German influence would be diluted to
some extent.

And so, NATO had a new function. To be sure, the defense of Eastern Europe
against a series of hypothetical and ill-defined threats may lack the
legitimacy and instant public support that "defense against the Communist
threat" conferred upon U.S. hegemony in an earlier era-but at least it was
something.

Nevertheless, the view of NATO as an instrument of U.S. domination in Europe
remains widespread among European analysts. And the conflicts between Europe and
the United States were never really resolved during the 1990s. On the contrary,
U.S.-European discord in the area of military affairs continued through the end
of the decade. The French never rejoined NATO's military component, and they
continued to criticize perceived U.S. arrogance. As recently as November 1999,
the Economist noted: "Many French politicians and businessmen... want to create
not just a defense identity for the European Union but also a common front
against the English-speaking world. It is in that context that they-and quite a
few Germans-see such events as the recent merging of their defense--
manufacturing giants."32 An elevated level of tension between Europe and the
United States has become a basic feature of international relations during the
post-Cold War era.

The Threat of Trade Blocs

In this section, I will broaden the scope of analysis to consider how
politically driven disputes between the United States and Europe interact
with the international economy.33 The basic problem may be summarized as
follows: Contemporary international economic relations are characterized by a
high level of multilateral trade and investment, mediated by a series of
institutions that are global in scope. Contrary to popular belief, the process
of globalization has not always been associated with improved macroeconomic
performance; indeed average rates of GDP growth worldwide have declined during
the past thirty years, even as globalization has deepened. However, there is no
doubt that globalization has benefited certain elite business groups, especially
in the United States, and these groups are promoters of globalization. U.S.
domination of international economic institutions also has provided asymmetrical
benefits to U.S. investors, a point that is well understood by the investors
themselves. As one U.S. banker noted in testimony to Congress in 1991: "I think
that one of the tremendous advantages of the IMF to the United States is the
appearance [emphasis added] of a somewhat arm's length relationship that has
helped us to get a lot of things done because it is not the United States
imposing standards.. .That has worked to our advantage, and I just would like to
emphasize that we at least attempt to project that arm's length relationship,
because it serves our purposes quite well."34

In addition, the U.S. government benefits from globalization, especially the
liberalization of international finance, since this frees up capital and aids in
financing chronic international accounts deficits. U.S. Treasury bonds and other
dollar-denominated debt service instruments are more attractive to foreign
purchasers due to the unique function of the dollar in the international
economy. Thus, a wide range of interest groups within both the public and
private sectors of the United States favor globalization. However, there is fear
that tensions among the advanced industrialized countries could cause a
breakdown of multilateral trade, and produce a more protectionist system.
Renascent isolationist tendencies within the United States, especially from the
political right, are an additional concern.

There is a direct connection between these economic issues and the more
"political" disputes discussed above: NATO is widely viewed as assurance
that the commercial ties that have bound Europe and the United States in the
past will continue, and that the prospect of protectionism can be forestalled.
The U.S.Japan security treaty serves a similar function in the Far East. Before
examining these issues in depth, however, I will emphasize that there is indeed
apprehension that the globalized economic relationships that have so
painstakingly been built up over a period of decades will gradually break down.
One possible scenario is that a new system will emerge, comprising three
mercantilist, semi-enclosed trading and currency blocs: Western Europe, with
Germany and France as its core, and based on the Euro; North America, with the
United States as its core and based on the dollar; and East Asia, with Japan as
its core and based on the yen. In this scenario, trade and investment would
proceed relatively freely within each of these three economic zones, but would
be subject to significant barriers among the three zones.

The possibility of trading blocs is anathema to internationalists. A
particular point of concern has been the growth of regional free trade
areas, the most famous of which are the European Union and the North
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). These agreements are usually
presented as advances for free trade and investment; the problem is that
such agreements include, as a concomitant of integration, clauses that
reduce trade and investment flows between regions. These regional trade
organizations could become the institutional cores of future trading blocs.
Indeed, one study of NAFTA concludes that many of its U.S. backers were
industries seeking integration with Mexico and Canada as a way to increase
barriers against imports from competitor industries emanating from Europe and
Asia.35 Fearing their more protectionist features, many liberal economists have
turned critical: Jagdish Bhagwati condemned regional trade agreements, which
"have become a pox on the world trading system."36 The EU has been singled out
for criticism, and Michael Aho noted the "growing danger that the EU could turn
inward and isolate itself."37

In addition, there are signs that Japan is considering a yen-based bloc for East
Asia. In 1994, Chalmers Johnson, president of the Japan Policy Research
Institute, observed: "I believe Japanese officials and the mass media are
preparing the public for disengagement from the United States in favor of the
United Nations and Asia.. Japan's beginning to find its place in Asia and its
talk of Greater East Asian Coprosperity Sphere-not built at the point of bayonet
but on true prosperity-is as idealistic as the European Union."38 Anger over
perceived U.S. domination and arrogance, especially its handling of the 1997-98
economic crisis in East Asia, increased interest in a Japanese-- dominated
economic zone in East Asia. Strong U.S. support for IMF austerity programs has
been a point of contention. The fact that U.S. companies backed these IMF
programs and then purchased Asian assets at very low prices as a result of the
collapse in local currency values augmented suspicions. These developments led
to criticism of U.S. "imperialism" in Asia, possibly leading to a new
receptiveness to augmented Japanese influence in the region. In 1999, Eisuke
Sakakibara, Japan's Vice Minister of Finance-who had led criticism of U.S.
conduct during the Asia crisis-foresaw the prospect of a "genuine yen bloc
emerging in about 10 years."39 The impediments to implementing such a bloc would
be formidable, but it is noteworthy that the idea is being considered in Tokyo,
and would gain further support in the event of new shocks.

The growing economic tensions have led to political competition between
Europe, the United States, and Japan for privileged access to prospective
markets in underdeveloped countries, with each seeking to "steal" spheres of
influence from the other. The United States sought to gain access to German
spheres of influence in Eastern Europe and French spheres of influence in
Algeria and sub-Saharan Africa. U.S. oil companies actively compete with their
French and Italian counterparts for access to the lucrative oil fields of
Central Asia. Economic influence in South America has been a particular point of
contention: The United States has been assiduously promoting an expansion of
NAFTA to encompass all of North and South America. The possibility that several
Latin countries will adopt the U.S. dollar as their official currency may
accelerate their incorporation into a U.S.led sphere of influence. The Europeans
have responded with economic initiatives of their own: In 1997, Business Week
lamented that "while the Congress and the Clinton Administration dither over
moves to create a free trade bloc covering the hemisphere by 2005, the European
Union is barging in and bolstering its economic links with the region."40 Amidst
Japanese efforts to deepen ties with East Asian neighbors, both the United
States and Europe have sought privileged access to Asia.

There is thus a fairly widespread perception that the institutions of
globalization are fragile and could be replaced in the future by
protectionist blocs. In 1999, the Economist observed: "First bananas, now
beef, soon genetically modified foods..Trade relations between America and
Europe have rarely been so bad..The mood in both Washington and Brussels is
resentful and uncompromising. Events could easily get out of hand."41

In order to contain these tensions and to ensure that they stay within
certain bounds, U.S. foreign policy turned, once again, to the North
Atlantic Treaty Association. The reinvigoration of NATO has become the
panacea for virtually all types of tensions between the United States and
Europe. Robert Hutchings, a former member of the U.S. National Security
Council staff during the Bush (senior) presidency, states that a permanent
military presence in Europe "had an economic as well as a security dimension and
indeed was acquiring an increasingly economic logic and rationale." With the end
of the Cold War, "trade issues loomed larger-and now would be played out without
the galvanizing element of the Soviet threat. It was as Bush put it in a speech
in the Netherlands just before the Maastricht summit, `the dangers that old Cold
War allies will become new economic adversaries-cold warriors turned to trade
warriors."42 Similarly, Michael Lind implies that the Clinton presidency was
seeking to prevent "Euro-American rivalries by preserving U.S. hegemony in
Europe through the refurbishment of NATO."43

In addition, NATO enables the United States to exert influence over European
economic policy, and serves as a conduit for U.S. commercial power. This source
of influence is highly prized by U.S. officials. According to one analyst:

[T]he presence of U.S. forces on the [European] continent, endows the United
States with considerable leverage. Indeed, the influence provided by its NATO
involvement may even extend to other bilateral and multilateral issues,
including those in the economic field. One American diplomat reportedly stated
that by exerting its military weight in Europe through NATO, the United States
is able to "tell the Europeans what we want on a whole lot of issues-trade,
agriculture, the gulf, you name it."44

U.S. policymakers object that they have no ex officio voice in European
economic affairs of any consequence. According to Jonathan Clarke, "a
multilateral NATO-like institution between the United States and Europe has
never existed. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade [now the WTO] with its
global membership is a pale shadow of NATO."45 In the absence of a direct
trans-Atlantic economic link, NATO must by default serve this function.

It is often suggested that contemporary U.S. foreign policy lacks any
economic rationale, and that purely political or prestige factors must
account for interventions after the end of the Cold War. This is in essence is a
restatement of the familiar globalization argument, and it asserts the
following: As business interests now have virtually unfettered access to world
markets, old-fashioned military power is an anachronism. The continued U.S.
interest in military force has thus become separated from of any economic logic.
Clearly, this argument is mistaken. As we have seen, U.S. foreign policy
continues to have a economic logic, which is to preserve an open trade system
against threats of regionalization, through the institutional structure of
military alliances.

Continued U.S. military power provides other advantages as well. The
military-industrial complex remains a significant economic actor, and it
favors continued U.S. hegemony in Europe and elsewhere. A wide variety of
economic interest groups thus favor an aggressive U.S. military posture,
despite the advent of globalization-or indeed because of it. As U.S.
investments become more globalized over time, they depend to a greater
extent than before on military power to protect these investments,
especially in unstable regions such as Africa or the Middle East. New York
Times columnist, Thomas Friedman noted: "The hidden hand of the market will
never work without a hidden fist-McDonald's cannot flourish without
McDonnell-Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the
world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the United States Army,
Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps."46 In short, globalization is not at all
antagonistic toward the idea of military intervention. On the contrary, military
adventures and globalization are closely intertwined.

Conclusion: Hegemonic Interests and Humanitarian Intervention

We have seen that preserving the Cold War alliance structure, especially
NATO, has been one of the central objectives of U.S. policy during the past
decade. Yet there remains the problem of justification. The considerable
expenditure of resources that NATO requires must be justified to legislatures
and voting publics in both the United States and Europe, while other treaty
obligations (such as the U.S.Japan treaty) also must be justified. To achieve
these objectives quite simply requires enemies. Yet, the search for enemies has
failed to yield any "threat" that even remotely resembles Communism, either in
terms of its ideological potency or overarching plausibility. There is thus a
large void in contemporary international relations. On the one hand, little has
changed: NATO and other key U.S. alliances remain virtually intact; the U.S.
military that undergirds these alliances has almost the same level funding that
it had during the height of the Cold War. Few of the major weapons procurement
programs begun during the Cold War have been cancelled. On the other hand, the
purported threat that had justified the creation of these structures in the
first place-Communism-has virtually disappeared. The need for threats and
enemies-the note on which I began this discussion-has been a central theme of
U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. The idea of preserving
stability in Eastern Europe is surely helpful, but by itself is insufficient as
a general justification. Efforts to generate new military strategies, based on
new threats have suffered from inherent implausibility, often to the point of
being plainly ridiculous.

The role of humanitarian intervention in this context is clear: It provides a
rationale for U.S. hegemony and the Cold War institutions on which this hegemony
is based. Indeed, it has given these institutions a new lease on life.
Humanitarian operations serve to draw the capitalist democracies together-in a
"glorious" moral crusade that is rhetorically similar to the Cold War-and helps
surmount the various issues that divide these states and strain their unity. And
the moral crusade is led by a seemingly benign United States, which must furnish
the military support that these operations require.

Humanitarian intervention offers additional advantages: It appeals to
influential segments of the U.S. public, especially political liberals, thus
forging new constituencies for intervention. To be sure, this strategy also has
its shortcomings: The U.S. military itself has been cool to the idea and has
gone along with some measure of reluctance. From the standpoint of the
professional soldier, humanitarian operations do not offer the technical
challenges of traditional warfare. The lack of clear-cut military objectives or
exit strategies-conditions that typify humanitarian intervention-have been
objects of concern for military elites, who seek to avoid any repetition of the
debacle suffered in Vietnam. The continuing effect of the "Vietnam Syndrome" on
the U.S. military has been a significant limitation. Even the civilian elements
of the foreign policy bureaucracy, which have been more supportive, hold
ambivalent views about making humanitarian intervention the basic justification
of U.S. hegemony. But then again, no strategy is perfect, and the lack of
adequate alternatives has moved humanitarian missions, by default to some
extent, into center stage. Humanitarian interventions serve to justify continued
U.S. hegemony over its allies, with attendant political and economic benefits to
the United States. Post-Cold War U.S. intervention thus has a clear rationale,
supported by concrete interests.

[ end Part II ]

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