by Ignacio Ramonet
Le Monde diplomatique, Paris,
France, October 2002
[World Press Review, December
An empire does not have allies-it has
only vassals. This is a fact of history that most governments
in the European Union seem to have forgotten. As they come under
pressure from Washington to sign up for war against Iraq, we see
nominally sovereign countries allowing themselves to be reduced
to the demeaning status of satellites.
People have been asking what changed in
international politics after the terrorist attacks of September
2001. With the publication this September of the Bush administration's
document defining the new "national security strategy of
the United States," we have the answer.
The world's geopolitical architecture
now has at its apex a single hyperpower, the United States, which
"possesses unprecedented and unequaled strength and influence
in the world" and which "will not hesitate to act alone,
if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting
preemptively." Once a threat has been identified, "America
will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed."
This doctrine re-establishes the right
to preventive war that Hitler used in 1941 against the Soviet
Union and Japan used in the same year against the United States
at Pearl Harbor. It also summarily abolishes one of the basic
principles of international law, established with the Treaty of
Westphalia in 1648, that one sovereign state does not intervene,
and especially not militarily, in the internal affairs of another
(a principle already discarded in the 1999 NATO intervention in
This means that the international order
laid down in 1945 at the end of the Second World War and overseen
by the United Nations has come to an end. In a break with what
we have known since the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989),Washington
is now assuming a position as leader of the world. And it does
so with a mixture of contempt and arrogance.
To speak of empire would until recently
have been seen as antiAmericanism, but now the word is on the
lips of the many hawks in the Bush administration. _
The U.N., barely mentioned in the September
_ document, is marginalized or reduced to a role in which it is
expected to bow to Washington's decisions, since an empire bends
to no law but those it made itself.
The law of that empire becomes the universal
law. And its imperial mission is to ensure that everyone respects
that law, by force if necessary. And so we come full circle.
Apparently unaware of the structural change,
many European leaders (in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, the
Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark, and Sweden) are reacting to U.S.
imperial pretensions with a servility befitting feudal vassals.
In the process they are abandoning national
independence, sovereignty, and democracy. They have crossed the
line that separates the ally from the feudal subject, the partner
from the puppet.
What they are evidently hoping for, in
the event of a U.S. victory, is a drop of Iraqi oil, because,
behind the official justifications being offered, everyone knows
that oil is a main objective of the war against Iraq.
If George W. Bush had access to the second-biggest
oil reserves in the world, he could transform the world oil market
completely. Under an American protectorate, Iraq could quickly
double its output of crude, which would immediately bring down
the price of oil and perhaps revive the U.S. economy.
This would clear the way for other strategic
possibilities. First, it would strike a blow against an organization
that Washington loves to hate, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting
Countries, and against its members, notably Libya, Iran, and Venezuela
(not that friendly countries such as Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria,
and Algeria would be spared).
Second, control of Iraqi oil would enable
the United States to distance itself from Saudi Arabia, seen as
a haven of radical Islam. In an (admittedly unlikely) scenario
of a redrawn map of the Middle East, as announced by Vice President
Dick Cheney, Saudi Arabia might be broken up and an independent
emirate established as a U.S. protectorate in the rich oil region
of Hassa, where the main Saudi deposits are located and where
the population is mainly Shiite.
In that perspective, the war against Iraq
would be a precursor to war with Iran, which President Bush has
already identified as part of the "axis of evil." Iran's
oil reserves would add to the fabulous booty that the United States
is reckoning on from this first war of the new imperial era.
Can Europe oppose this perilous venture?
Yes. How? First by using its double right to veto (that of France
and Great Britain) in the Security Council. Then by blocking the
military instrument (NATO) that Washington is counting on using
for its imperial expansion: The use of NATO is subject to vote
by European governments. In both cases, Europe's governments would
have to start behaving as partners, not vassals.