Where will the West strike next?
Iraq? Iran? North Korea? Cuba? Barely a week seems to go by without
Western governments levelling damning accusations against another small
state, or threatening to intervene forcefully in another part of the East
or the third world.
Since early spring, a remarkable series of international crises has made
headlines in the West.
Eddie Veale identifies the dangerous way the wind is blowing in global affairs
Amid growing calls for firmer Western action against the Serbs in the former
Yugoslavia, the air forces of America, France and the Netherlands began
policing a no-fly zone over Bosnia in April. Other Western powers, including
Britain and Germany, committed planes to support the operation.
Meanwhile the West, led by the US authorities, was issuing threats to take
action against several third world nations. Most ominously, North Korea
was threatened with United Nations sanctions and international pariah status,
after it dared to deny nuclear weapons inspectors access to some facilities
which they had already searched six times.
The USA, fresh from its renewed assault on Iraq, announced that Iran too
was now 'an international outlaw', and objected to a World Bank loan to
the Tehran regime. Various agencies claimed to have discovered some sort
of 'Iranian connection' in everything from the bombing of the World Trade
Centre in New York to the unrest in Egypt. Some also accused Sudan of being
an Iranian stooge in the sponsorship of 'Islamic terrorism'.
At the same time, US officials suddenly demanded an international oil embargo
on Libya, in order to force Colonel Gadaffi to hand over two men accused
of the Lockerbie bombing - a demand which came as a surprise to observers
who had noted that Gadaffi was now more willing to toe the Western line.
The Clinton administration also considered a draft indictment that would
implicate the Cuban government in a cocaine smuggling conspiracy, branding
the Castro regime as a 'criminal racketeering enterprise' and accusing the
president's brother Raúl of being in league with Colombian cocaine
barons. Similar charges were used to justify the US invasion of Panama,
and the abduction of General Manuel Noriega, in 1989.
As if all of that were not enough, the Western media has also been full
of stories about state terrorism and alleged threats to global peace everywhere
from Liberia and Zaire to Pakistan.
Why have the Western powers, and particularly the USA, become such keen
advocates of foreign intervention? They always claim that they are motivated
by humanitarian and peace-keeping principles. Yet their principles seem
Everybody recalls how the Americans went into Somalia a few months back
to save it from starvation and warlords. Yet soon after the US marines had
stormed up the beaches under the bright lights of the major television networks,
Somalia slipped out of the news. It has since slipped into worse chaos,
while the Americans prepare to leave.
Not on prime time
Remember Panama? Since the high-profile US invasion force arrived to save
them from General Noriega and the drug barons, and destroyed their city
in the process, the people of Panama have suffered more than ever. But not
on primetime television.
The real reasons why the Western powers are driven to intervene more and
more today have nothing to do with alleviating the suffering of downtrodden
people in the third world. Instead, they have to do primarily with resolving
the crisis facing the ruling elites in the West itself.
The combined impact of economic slump and political crisis has seriously
undermined the legitimacy of governments and institutions in every Western
nation. From the American Republicans to the French Socialists, ruling parties
have collapsed in disarray. There is no longer public enthusiasm for any
political movement in the West. Italian ministers are widely regarded as
Mafiosi, members of the British royal family are seen as deadbeats, and the
high and mighty of every other nation are held in similarly low esteem.
Against this fraught background, the ruling classes of the Western nations
are desperately seeking new ways in which to rebuild their authority and
so reassert their control over society. Increasingly, they are focusing
on foreign affairs as the arena in which they believe they can make most
impact. After all, it must seem far easier to send a few planes overseas,
or despatch a threatening letter to a third world president, than to tackle
the deep problems at the roots of the economic slump at home. In this way,
the domestic crisis of Western capitalism is relocated on to the international
The USA, as the leading player in global affairs, provides the clearest
example of the process. Bill Clinton spent his presidential election campaign
calling on America to 'come home', contrasting his own concern with the
domestic economy to George Bush's dalliance in foreign affairs. Since Clinton
came to office, however, what have been the major concerns of his administration?
Somalia, Bosnia, and Russia. Clinton has more chance of asserting his leadership
and authority over there than he has by attempting to solve industrial stagnation
and social decay in the USA itself.
Once America or any other power gets involved overseas, it unleashes another
dynamic towards further intervention - the increasing rivalries among the
Western nations themselves. With the end of the Cold War having removed
the anti-Soviet cement from the Western alliance, differences among the
Western nations over everything from trade to diplomacy have come to the
surface. None of them can afford to stand idly by while their 'allies' impose
their authority on the global stage. When the USA intervenes in a foreign
issue, the rest of the Western powers are unlikely to be far behind, and
the crisis becomes internationalised.
The 'humanitarian' Western powers do not really care too much about the
local issues involved in the various countries where they interfere. They
are simply looking for convenient pretexts on which to launch interventions
which are motivated by wider concerns - primarily the need to demonstrate
Western authority and control.
So America's shortlived concern about hunger in Somalia does not appear
to stretch to the millions starving in the rest of Africa. And the recent
campaign against North Korea on the nuclear issue ignores the massive proliferation
of arms among other, pro-Western states in the East Asian region. It is
worth recalling that Iraq has already been flattened by the USA, Britain
and their allies, on the pretext of taking out nuclear weapons facilities
which nobody had ever seen.
Seen in this context, it becomes clear why the question 'Where will the
West strike next?' is so hard to answer. The Western powers themselves do
not know where it will be. One coup or food shortage somewhere may be seen
as a suitable pretext for intervention, another somewhere else may not be.
The justification and the location of intervention changes all the time.
What remains constant is the accelerating dynamic towards more self-serving
Western interference in the affairs of peoples in the East and the third
Only one thing seems to appear in the media more often than reports of Western
intervention today. And that is demands from liberal commentators for the
Western powers to interfere even more, and even more forcefully. Naively
mistaking the humanitarian rhetoric for reality, these people call upon
the Western powers to solve the world's problems.
Then, when Western governments reveal their cynical motives by quietly dropping
one intervention and moving on to the next, leaving a disastrous mess behind,
the liberal critics can only call upon them to try harder next time. Those
who are concerned about ending war and suffering should be trying to ensure
that there is no next time so far as Western intervention is concerned
National demonstration and festival against militarism and western intervention
Saturday 7 August 1993, London
Called by the Campaign Against Militarism and the Irish Freedom Movement
Telephone (071) 278 9908
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 55, May 1993