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Invasion of the third world fanatics

The Pentagon has projected seven possible scenarios which could require an American military response. Almost all are in the third world. Frank Richards examines why the USA wants to emphasise a hypothetical threat from the weakest nations on Earth

Are you scared of REGT? No? Never heard of it? Then you cannot have read the Pentagon's 70-page long-range guide as to who will constitute the enemy in future war scenarios. REGT or Resurgent/Emergent Global Threat projects seven possible wars into the future, in order to justify a new round of increased military expenditure.

The Pentagon's war scenarios say as much about America's role in global politics as anything else. Most of the scenarios target third world countries. They consist of hypothetical situations such as a North Korean attack on South Korea, a civil war in the Philippines which threatens 5000 US citizens there, and a coup inspired by drug barons in Panama, which could threaten the Panama Canal.

In this Pentagon report and in other American foreign policy documents, there seems to be an inverse correlation between the perception of military danger and the powerlessness of the aggressor. The weaker the enemy, the more of a threat they apparently pose to the USA.

Unpredictable as they might be, Latin American drug barons and Philippine guerrillas are hardly the stuff of which dangers to world peace are made. But then the USA has for some time tended to exercise its force against nations with negligible military weight. The eighties invasions of Grenada and Panama and the air-strike against Libya illustrate the trend. Despite the attempts of Western propagandists to inflate the threat posed by the Iraqi military, the reality of last year's Gulf War quickly made clear that Saddam Hussein posed no danger to the Allied forces.

The Pentagon report indicates that for some time to come small and middle-range third world powers are likely to be vilified as rogue states threatening the civilised world. Despite the implausibility of such a threat to the technologically advanced West, there is a solid consensus of opinion behind this perspective. It is worth looking at the political background to the Pentagon report, in order to understand the strength of anti-third world sentiments in the USA and the West today.

Low intensity warfare

Throughout the Cold War, the West regarded the third world as a problem. It was seen as a region of turbulence, of unpredictable anti-imperialist passions that were liable to explode against Western interests at any time. During the Reagan era of the eighties, this standpoint was turned into a doctrine which advocated low-intensity warfare. The Reagan administration designated nations like Libya and North Korea as terrorist states. By definition, these were states which invited a Western military response.

With the end of the Cold War and the visible collapse of the Soviet Union, it became increasingly difficult for the West to justify major arms expenditures and the maintenance of organisations like Nato. From the middle of 1989 and into 1990, there emerged a perceptible tendency for Western governments and experts to convert their existing third world problem into the premier danger facing the world. It was as if the third world took on the role hitherto played by the 'evil Soviet empire'. The Western media became obsessed with the new menace of third world nationalism.

Pathological hatred

The post-Cold War condemnations of the third world have expressed a hatred verging on the pathological. For example, in an article ominously headed 'Dark spectre chills a bright spring', leading Sunday Times columnist Norman Macrae observed that 'as Bolshevism dies 50 years later, it would be horrid if any nationalism (including African ones) sprang from its graves' (11 March 1990). Macrae's dark warning rests on the irrational assumption that the end of one monster acts as a prelude to the next. A sense of fantasy means that there need be no logical connection between the demise of Bolshevism and the rise of African nationalism. And why is African nationalism - in brackets - singled out for special treatment? Africa, a continent on the verge of an economic and environmental catastrophe, the victim of global power relations, is with a sleight of hand recast as the potential villain.

Next please

While many anti-third world intellectuals have tended to get carried away by their rhetoric, others have been more calculating and circumspect. Deprived of the all-purpose Soviet threat, they have searched for credible new candidates to play this role. Edward Mortimer noted that 'many even felt the need to discover a new threat to replace the Soviet one' and for this purpose Islam 'lay ready to hand' ('Christianity and Islam', International Affairs, January 1991). Many Western commentators decided that Islam provided all of the right ingredients to give a tangible expression to anti-third world sentiments.

The emphasis on Islam was consolidated through the experience of the Gulf War. The US-led war against Iraq affirmed the relevance of anti-third world politics to the West. For some this war represented a new crusade. 'An ugly, evil spirit is abroad in the third world and it cannot be condoned: only crushed, as Carthage was crushed by the Romans', wrote the editor of the Sunday Telegraph (3 February 1991). The Daily Mail concurred, warning that 'Saddam is not activating his most potent weapon - the fanaticism which lies like a time-bomb beneath the surface of Islamic society' (18 January 1991). So the 'ugly' and 'evil' force is fanaticism, especially of the Islamic variety.

Out of control

The use of the term 'fanaticism', with all of the images it involves, conjures up the kind of threat that anti-third world sentiment can feed upon. Fanaticism is a concept that portrays the actions of others as beyond reason and out of control. A fanatic by definition is dangerous. And a fanatic need not be rich or powerful to constitute a threat. Hence societies that are essentially rural and even pastoral can still be a danger to the industrialised West because they are populated by fanatics.

The war against Iraq helped give shape to the image of a threatening third world nationalism. More importantly, it also helped to morally rearm Western imperialism. Until the Gulf War, the Western powers had to contend with their sordid record of gunboat diplomacy and unpopular interventions in third world countries. The Gulf War helped the West to overcome some of this legacy. In particular, by successfully posing as champion of the Kurds, the West was able to win a degree of moral authority for its interference in the affairs of the Middle East. The pleas of the Kurds for Western intervention affirmed the credibility of imperialism.

Moral boost

Western politicians were exhilarated by the way in which the Gulf War and its aftermath boosted the moral rearmament of imperialism. Lynda Chalker, British minister for overseas development, boasted of the success:

'For 20 years, smart opinion dubbed any criticism by Western countries of the political systems of developing countries as "neo-colonialist". Like much of the conventional wisdom of the period, this was claptrap.' (Sunday Times, 18 August 1991)

For Chalker and her co-thinkers, the Gulf War retrospectively vindicated the West. Forget about Suez, Algeria or Vietnam. Imperialism had been right all along.

President Bush said more or less the same thing earlier this year in his State of the Union address, when he told Congress that 'by the grace of God, America won the Cold War and I think of those who won it in places like Korea and Vietnam' (Daily Telegraph, 30 January 1992). Even the defeat of Vietnam could now be reconverted into a triumph through the moral regeneration of imperialism.

The Islamic Bomb

The only problem with anti-third world propaganda for the West has been its inability to match the impact of the previous anti-Soviet ideology. As threats go, the two are not in the same league. Nevertheless the Western powers cannot be accused of not trying. They have provided the idea of a third world threat with a technological rationale, by inventing the self-serving myth of nuclear proliferation and the Islamic Bomb. According to this myth, even relatively poor nations can become supremely dangerous by acquiring nuclear technology.

The problem of nuclear proliferation has been given a bizarre twist through the collapse of the Soviet Union. American and British commentators have relocated the problems raised by Soviet disintegration to the third world. They now suggest that ex-Soviet nuclear scientists are receiving or are about to receive princely sums from ruthless third world dictators determined to get their hands on this lethal technology.

After Iraq...

The problem of the ex-Soviet nuclear scientist had been widely discussed in international forums. There is a strong possibility that, in the not-too-distant future, some other third world 'terrorist state' will suffer the same fate as Iraq, on the grounds that its former Soviet scientists are on the verge of producing some new weapon of mass destruction. It does not matter that Nato possesses overwhelming technological superiority; the hypothetical prospect of an Islamic Bomb is sufficient to justify a Western military response.

Themes like nuclear proliferation, itinerant Soviet nuclear scientists and Islamic Bombs legitimise a policy of imperialist intervention in the affairs of third world states. Iraq provides the model. Iraq is continually forced to submit to this or that inspection by the United Nations. Western diplomats now frequently argue for the inspection of third world states. Some say that the inspections should go beyond the nuclear issue to consider 'human rights abuses'. At a recent meeting of the United Nations Security Council, both China and India argued against such an interventionist approach.

Many apologists for Western imperialism argue that the United Nations is not suitable for playing an interventionist role because it includes too many third world countries. Francis Fukuyama, whose The End of History and the Last Man is an eloquent argument on behalf of this standpoint, would prefer Nato rather than the UN to be assigned the role of global inspector. Fukuyama suggests that Nato could be transformed into a league of civilised nations, 'capable of forceful action to protect its collective security from threats arising from the non-democratic part of the world'.

Star Wars revisited

The most striking aspect of the discussion is that hardly anyone questions the right of the 'democratic' Western states to inspect or intervene in the domestic affairs of sovereign nations. Even Russian and East European politicians have been dragged into the discussion, with Yeltsin arguing for a joint US-Russian Star Wars initiative. Washington's Star Wars programme, the military centrepiece of the Reagan administration's anti-Soviet strategy in the eighties, has now been repackaged to counter the threat of secret third world weapons programmes. The Cold War may have come to an end, but it seems that the need for Western vigilance and a high level of military preparedness has not diminished. And the Pentagon can carry on inventing new war scenarios.

Despite the best efforts of the scaremongers in the Pentagon and their British equivalents, the anti-third world panic cannot really provide an adequate alternative to the old Cold War hysteria. Anti-Soviet propaganda glued the West together. Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, there is considerable evidence to suggest that the Western Alliance is also disintegrating. The plan to withdraw Canadian troops from Europe is a sign of the times.

Future intent

However, the Pentagon's hypothetical war scenarios should be taken seriously - not as proof of a threat from the third world, but as an indication of Washington's future intent. They demonstrate how the USA is seeking to recreate the conditions of the Cold War by turning Western militarism against third world targets. Exposing the hypocrisy of the West's anti-third world ideology will not stop the drive towards further Gulf-style wars. But at least it can help to discredit the moral pretensions of the newly confident imperialism.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 42, April 1992

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