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New Imperialism: Future lies in the past

by Shastri Ramachandran

Times of India, 16 July   2002.
Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG),  globalresearch.ca ,   18 July  2002

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For those wondering why a Colin Powell or a Jack Straw, followed and preceded by lesser eminences from Washington and London, have emerged as ‘frequent fliers’ to India and Pakistan, the simple answer is: New Imperialism. The war against terror — and the exertions of the ‘international community’ to ensure restraint on the part of Islamabad and New Delhi — are but preparatory drills towards a new form of colonialism.

So what if George Bush did not know that Atal Behari Vajpayee was India’s prime minister and that Pervez Musharraf was Pakistan’s military dictator. Such details would be of little relevance when Washington’s new doctrine of “justifiable intervention” makes nonsense of sovereignty in the process of “colonising wayward nations”. When Tony Blair’s foreign policy advisor, Robert Cooper, called for a “new imperialism” that allows “well-governed” western nations to impose order and stability on the world, it was seen as a prescription to re-order the post-9/11 world, although the essay had been written earlier.

Stating the “need for colonisation”, Mr Cooper argues that active intervention is sometimes necessary. “Among ourselves we operate on the basis of laws” but when dealing “with more old-fashioned kinds of states outside the post-modern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era — force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the 19th-century world...”. Although a Labour MP’s reaction that the “Tsarina of Russia was better advised by Rasputin than the prime minister by this man”, suggests outrage, the fact is that new imperialism is not really so new.

In the making for a long time, new imperialism is already operational in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor; and Afghanistan, if and when the war ends in favour of the ‘global alliance against terror’, is certain to meet a similar fate. These ‘protectorates’ have voluntarily opted for a reduction in their sovereignty in what appears to be a self-invited imposition.

However, the development conceals the fact that this political equivalent of economic globalisation leaves ‘ungovernable’ territories very little choice in the matter.

Afghanistan, for instance, can hardly be allowed to decide its own political future.

There is also a view that the new imperialism became a ‘Blair necessity’ for re-imaging Britain when its boys had to go in to Afghanistan to fight the dirty parts of a US-initiated war. Confronted with opposition at home to Britain being dragged into avoidable military adventures overseas, Mr Blair was seen to be waving the flag of new imperialism to justify his aggressive stance on Iraq. While this might have had the temporary benefit of boosting the morale of British troops, the theory was not invented for that purpose.

Such a view ignores the righteous moral fervour that Mr Blair brings to George Bush’s aggressive pursuit of Washington’s right to military intervention anywhere in the world. Besides, it looks at the standard-bearer of an ideology without paying heed to the coercive apparatus that can give form to the objective of redefining sovereignty.

Colin Powell’s director of policy planning, Richard Haas, articulated a Cooper-like proposition in an interview about US policy against global terrorism.

“Sovereignty entails obligations”, said Mr Haas. “One is not to massacre your own people. Another is not to support terrorism in any way. If a government fails to meet these obligations, then it forfeits some of the normal advantages of sovereignty, including the right to be left alone inside your own territory”. This is fraught with startling implications for national sovereignty of countries like India and Pakistan, especially with the US as our new neighbour.

Some in India might welcome new imperialism if only because the West would not like to lose control of Pakistan and it would, for that reason, go to any extent to justify this “failed state” being stripped of its sovereignty. More insightful observers may point to the fact that the US is already an imperial presence dictating military and diplomatic policy to both New Delhi and Islamabad, be it making the two pull back from the brink recently or in mediating an end to the Kargil conflict.

But every threat, even if it is to national sovereignty, is also an opportunity. This may provide the opening India needs to rid itself of the burden of maintaining its massive military machine and nuclear arsenal. Being a “natural ally” of the US and assured of its protective armour, this may well be the chance to divert those stupendous resources from defence and nuclear deterrence to food, shelter, health, education and infrastructure for survival in a competitive world.

In perverse contrast to the economic advantages the new imperialism offers is the ‘new strategic thinking’ that India can afford to keep its forces mobilised on the borders for the next 40 years. This was what NATO did to the Soviet Bloc during the four decades of the Cold War, India could opt for a similar, intimidatory course to bleed Pakistan white. While this is based on the logic that the losses inflicted on Pakistan would be heavier than on India, the fact is that neither economy can afford such extravagance.


Copyright © Times of India 2002. For fair use only

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