Ten Years on from Feb 15th Anti-war Demo: the Trend to Endless War

by Jenny Clegg 10 years on from the February 15 anti-war demo: looking ahead to endless war or adapting to the multipolar trend?

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the unprecedented world wide mobilisation against war on Iraq: the US and UK were poised to strike, the neocons driving them on to ‘seize the unipolar moment’; the UN Security Council was split; and at London’s biggest demonstration ever, the crowds heard Tony Benn’s call: ‘Another world is possible”.

10 years on we face yet another scenario of Western intervention in Mali, yet again in the name of fighting terrorism. Now like the US-UK in Iraq in 2003, and NATO in Libya in 2011, France has overstepped a UN resolution which called specifically for an African stabilisation force under African (ECOWAS) leadership.

The attack on Iraq was as much a direct attack on the UN and its founding principles. President Bush’s preemptive strike doctrine aimed to overturn the global consensus on non-intervention. For the neocons, this was necessary in order to ‘prevent the rise of any potential challenger’ to US leadership. President Obama returned to the multilateralist fold only to whittle away at the boundaries on intervention from within to keep power in the hands of the militarily strongest. Now France, by inserting itself into the driving seat to intervene in a civil war situation arising out of the marginalisation of Mali’s north, is extending further the precedent of ‘humanitarian’ intervention which is now in great danger of becoming accepted as the rule.

The anti-war predictions of 10 years ago that the attack on Iraq was the path to endless war seem to have been proved correct. Nevertheless, the world is not what it was in 2003. The balance of power has been shifting and the multipolar trend has become more pronounced. Advanced countries’ share in world economic output has fallen from 80 per cent in 2002 to 62 per cent by 2012. An equivalent fall over the next 10 years would leave them making up less than half of the world economy. 10 years from now, China will be on the verge of overtaking the US as the world’s biggest economic power, and today’s emerging economies will have all but edged the Europeans out of top 10 list of world economies.

Back in 2002, the US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice warned unequivocally against multipolarity as a ‘theory of rivalry’ which had led to the Great War; Tony Blair echoed this claiming: ‘There is no more dangerous theory in international relations today’. But they got it wrong: the multipolar world that is emerging is one of greater interdependence and widening opportunities, driven by economic growth in the developing world. African resources have been fuelling China’s rise which in turn has contributed considerably to alleviating the global effects of the recession caused by the financial crash in the US.

Africa too has been rising with a growth rate averaging around of 5 per cent over the last 10 years, whilst undergoing a qualitative shift in its relations with the outside world. China’s role is not reducible to that of ‘resource exploiter’: China is developing broad economic relationships with both resource- and non-resource producing nations in the continent. It provides assistance for infrastructure, developing trans-regional programmes which are helping in the formation of regional blocs, augmenting the Africans’ capacity to negotiate with the West. With Brazilians, Indians, Russians, Middle Eastern powers and more besides joining the Chinese in queuing up to invest, African nations are growing in confidence and finding the space to act more independently.

No longer commercially dominant in Africa, Western powers see themselves as the losers in all this. Using terrorism as an excuse to militarise the region, they attempt to turn the situation to their favour. With China viewed not merely as a competitor but as a rival, Africa is to be transformed in to a new theatre for a strategic ‘Great game’. Following the formation of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation at an historic summit in Beijing in 2006, attended by nearly 50 African heads of state and ministers, the US brought its African Command – AFRICOM – into operation in 2008. Its brief is ‘to protect the flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market’, that is, to beat China through control of resources.

This year the Pentagon is to further its plans for the total militarization of the continent with the deployment of 3,000 soldiers in 35 African states. At the same time, with its new ‘Asian pivot’, the US looks to Britain and France to take the lead in military challenges that it regards as being in their ‘backyard’. Both France and Britain are willing partners here, seeing Africa as a vital base in shoring up their status as world powers.

It has been evident since the Mali coup in March 2012 that confusion there might provide the opening for a new Western intervention into a key strategic region. Chaos in Mali has the potential to throw the whole of the Sahel region into turmoil, and, knowing that Western interventions often achieve the opposite of their declared purpose, at the same time very conscious of the country’s political and humanitarian crisis, Mali’s own leaders as well as its neighbours have been divided on issue of intervention.

What the Malian government and eventually the army, the regional countries, including Algeria, and the wider international community did agree to was a UN resolution calling for an African stabilisation force This was just part of a comprehensive package addressing not only the immediate security and humanitarian crises but also Mali’s longer term needs for political stability and economic development. Whist possibility not perfectly balanced between all concerned parties, it potentially offered a real practical opportunity to find a solution to the crisis through an inclusive political process.

The French action had no UN mandate; it has put the emphasis on the role of the military but militarist responses cannot solve Mali’s problems, rooted as they are in the marginalisation of the North.

The British response has exposed how far our foreign policy is degenerating into incoherence, with Cameron committing Britain to a new ‘generational struggle’ to counter terrorism and at the same time announcing cuts to the armed forces. In parallel with our outdated instinct to assume the role of world leader in military-political affairs is a distorted economic engagement with the wider world which has seen Britain exporting more to Ireland than to China.

Our own economic future now clearly lies in diversifying our markets beyond Europe and the US, and this demands that we shift our foreign policy from narrowly defined short-term geo-political goals to look to the long term.

Instead of trying to resist the shifting world balance of power through miitarisation, Western countries should be working with the multipolar trend, cooperating with both emerging and resource-rich economies in the design of new mechanisms for resource development and sharing which are mutually beneficial for the poor but resource rich countries like Mali and for the whole of the international community.

Tony Benn’s insight was to see the need to formulate positive alternatives. Now, in the rising economic confidence within the developing world, it is possible to glimpse a new world of global multilateralism pursuing norms of shared prosperity emerging from the ruins of global financial crisis.

But for this is to possible and for us to benefit from the new economic opportunities provided by rapid economic expansion of the Southern continents, we have to give up our UN trickery, we have to abandon our neo-colonial paternalism with its assumption of the global right to rule and we need to treat developing countries on an equitable basis.

Jenny Clegg is the Author of ‘China’s Global Strategy: towards a multipolar world’, Pluto Press, 2009

19 comments on “Ten Years on from Feb 15th Anti-war Demo: the Trend to Endless War

  1. uncle albert on said:

    Interesting stuff. The scenario described by Ms Clegg, characterised by “greater interdependence and widening opportunities”, seems to knock much of the left’s traditional analysis into the corner of a cocked hat.

    While it would be too much to expect the paper sellers to consider such a perspective, anchored as it is in concrete present day events, what is most disconcerting is the that the Labour Party appears to be prioritising the cause of militarisation with some enthusiasm. A major speech, is to be delivered tomorrow (for neo-con think-tank Henry Jackson Society), by Labour Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy*, on the importance of intervention.

    It all seems so wrong-headed, particularly if Ms Clegg’s perspective is joined with the increasingly influential analysis of U.S. patriot Chalmers Johnson**.

    * Here’s Murphy’s last speech for them:
    http://www.jimmurphymp.com/news-room/Speeches/news.aspx?p=1041364

    ** http://www.democracynow.org/2007/2/27/chalmers_johnson_nemesis_the_last_days

  2. Mike Martin on said:

    “Tony Benn’s insight was to see the need to formulate positive alternatives. Now, in the rising economic confidence within the developing world, it is possible to glimpse a new world of global multilateralism pursuing norms of shared prosperity emerging from the ruins of global financial crisis.”

    Global financial crisis over already? It might take a few decades of crushing debt burden before the shared prosperity reaches some places. Meanwhile, why not revive the liberal illusion of a peacefully regulated competition between rival powers?

    Mike Martin

  3. Mike Martin: Meanwhile, why not revive the liberal illusion of a peacefully regulated competition between rival powers?

    There is nothing liberal about it. I think you miss the point, eg, about China;s push for multi-polatrity. Worth quoting JOhn Hayletts review of her book for the Morning Star

    Clegg defends Beijing’s non-confrontational attitude to US imperialism, quoting Deng’s view that China should “keep a low profile” and “bide its time while building up strength.”

    China has no intention of allowing itself to be lured into an arms race with the US, as the Soviet Union did, bleeding itself dry and failing to offer an attractive economic alternative to developed capitalism.

    Nor will it accept division of the world into capitalist and non-capitalist spheres of influence, preferring an inclusive, multipolar or multilateral global model.

    Rather than confronting imperialism head on, Beijing prefers to engage with it constructively, co-operating in trade and investment bodies, while also defending its national independence and outflanking it by developing South-South links with Africa and Latin America and setting up new regional security bodies such as the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation.

  4. Mike Martin on said:

    *4 Even more illusions! China’s non-confrontational outflanking of imperialism!

    How does Obama’s pivot to Asia and the lining up of Japan etc to confront China over the islands and trade routes fit in with that scenario?

  5. Mike Martin: How does Obama’s pivot to Asia and the lining up of Japan etc to confront China over the islands and trade routes fit in with that scenario?

    The USA has signally failed over recent years to isolate China; and China’s soft power strategy has been very succesful in the AsiaPac region.

    the sun rises in the East

  6. Chinais relying laregly on the concept of “soft power” or ruen quanli which has been enthusiastically taken up in China, particularly associated with retired rear admiral Yang Yi.

    Soft power is not about projecting economic power as an adjunct to military power; but rather using moral and cultural influence so that people want to identify with you.

    Similarly there has been considrable discussion in China about the USA’s overreliance upon military power, which is a weakness for the Americans.

    China seeks to consolidate the system of alliances and interdependences which guarantee its national security.

    The increaslingly bellicose stand off with Japan is indeeda problem, but is very unlikely to lead to war

  7. Mike Martin on said:

    *7 Soft power is not about projecting economic power as an adjunct to military power; but rather using moral and cultural influence so that people want to identify with you.

    Obviously working

  8. Mike Martin on said:

    **7 & 8

    The stand off is not just with Japan over the islands. Vietnam and the Philipines are in it as well with US encouragement. Australia as well with a US base being opened near Darwin. This follows Gillard as US favourite ousting Rudd who favoured a more balanced policy toward China.

    US is declining economically etc but still has massive superiority in military terms and could be tempted to use that to offset its decline while China is still weak. It only takes one of the many players to misjudge another’s response to pressure.

    China is using “soft power” because it so far behind in other respects. The only people induced to identify with China are Andy and M Star.

  9. Mike Martin: US is declining economically etc but still has massive superiority in military terms and could be tempted to use that to offset its decline while China is still weak.

    Nonsense, the PLA is significant enough to make the threshold cost for war much too high.

    Mike Martin: The only people induced to identify with China are Andy and M Star.

    Oh dear,

    we can measure this by the success of the One China policy – only a few countries have diplomatic relations with Taiwan China, because they don’t want to offend Beijing.

    China is a rising power that many developing countries identify with, and the Shangahai Cooperation Organisation has indeed declined some nations membership who want to join it.

  10. Kieran Latty on said:

    ’10 years from now, China will be on the verge of overtaking the US as the world’s biggest economic power’

    Actually, in ten years time China will, barring some major disaster, have a significantly larger economy than the U.S.(especially in $PPP) in 2023.

    In $PPP China will more likey be ~1.4 times bigger than the U.S. economy.

  11. Jellytot on said:

    @11The only people induced to identify with China are Andy and M Star.

    and over a billion Chinese.

    @12Many nation states have an interest in pursuing the chinese preferred “walled world” model. Respecting state sovereignty.

    One of the great paradoxes of the last 30 years is how the PRC used the Globalist economic model to build itself up into a power capable of enacting and promoting a “Walled World” model that could well develop into a progressive counterweight to neo-liberalism.

    I think that deserves a round of applause.

  12. Philosophy Football could do a T-shirt showing the Shanghai skyline with the caption: “‘Economic accounting is unthinkable without market relations.’ – Leon Trotsky”. Or as an alternative: “‘Seek truth from facts.’ – Deng Xiaoping.”

    It doesn’t matter what colour the T-shirt is, so long as it catches mice.

  13. brokenwindow on said:

    The interesting point to Clegg’s main idea is the central metaphor used; China is emerging not as a replacement superpower but,more subtly and effectively,as a pluralistic force, a regional power,not in direct confrontation with the USA but operating in a number of different,regional strategic ways. It remains to be seen how long this tentative phase can last when one considers the engine for both the USA and Chinese economies are in part raw materials based in conflict-torn countries or the the emerging Ice-belts,melting and exposed to disputes about national entitlement.

  14. Nick Fredman on said:

    Ken MacLeod: Philosophy Football could do a T-shirt showing the Shanghai skyline with the caption: “‘Economic accounting is unthinkable without market relations.’ – Leon Trotsky”.

    Maybe the t-shirt should feature striking Chinese workers and a more representative quote from Trotsky’s 1932 article, ‘The soviet economy in danger’ e.g:

    “Only through the inter-reaction of these three elements, state planning, the market and Soviet democracy, can the correct direction of the economy of the transitional epoch be attained”.