from the book
Intervention and Revolution
The United States in the Third World
by Richard J. Barnet
World Publishing, 1968, paperback edition
Unlike the leaders of developed nations, the enemies which revolutionary
leaders see are not at the gate but already inside. Their country
is occupied either by a foreign colonial power or by local landlords,
generals, or self-serving politicians. As they see it, the issue
is liberation. The goal is a radical redistribution of political
and economic power to overcome centuries of political oppression
and crushing poverty. The means is seizure of political power.
... the revolutionary idea-that radical change is necessary,
that it is inevitable, and that it can come only by seizing the
machinery of the state-has steadily grown.
Revolutionary movements grow in the soil of exploitation and injustice.
The historic aim of revolution, as Hannah Arendt has pointed out,
is freedom, the opportunity to participate in the political process.
Counterinsurgency is now the major preoccupation of U.S. military
planners. They have mounted large programs to train local armies
in counterguerrilla tactics, but these have been unequal to the
task. Consequently, during the postwar period, on the average
of once every eighteen months, U.S. military forces or covert
paramilitary forces have intervened in strength in Asia, Africa,
and Latin America to prevent an insurgent group from seizing power
or to subvert a revolutionary government.
America, like Britain before her ... is now the great defender
of the Status Quo. She has committed herself against revolution
and radical change in the underdeveloped world because independent
governments would destroy the world economic and political system,
which assures the United States its disproportionate share of
economic and political power ... America's preeminent wealth depends
upon keeping things in the underdeveloped world much as they are,
allowing change and modernization to proceed only in a controlled,
orderly, and nonthreatening way.
The United States supports right-wing dictatorships in Latin America,
Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, they argue, not because it
is confused but because these are the rulers who have tied their
personal political destiny to the fortunes of the American corporations
in their countries. The Batistas, Castelo Brancos, Tsaldareses,
Samozas, Kys, and a parade of other reactionary potentates who
have been feted at the White House permit or encourage American
corporations to exploit their countries under highly favorable
terms. The Castros, Mossadeqs, Arbenzes, Tarucs, Bosches, and
other revolutionary or nationalist leaders have radically different
political constituencies and interests. For them creating "a
good investment climate" for the United States and developing
their own country are fundamentally conflicting goals. Therefore,
the United States has a strong economic interest in keeping such
men from coming to power or arranging for their removal if they
... the national-security bureaucracy ... in the United States
has taken on a life and movement of its own. It has the money
and power at its disposal to develop within very broad limits
its own conception of the national interest. To a great extent
interventionist policy is the result of the development of the
technology of intervention. Thus, for example, once counterinsurgency
forces or spy ships are available the bureaucracy quickly finds
that their use is essential. The principal justification is the
drive for security which is so open-ended a concept that it permits
the accumulation and projection of military power and political
influence to become ends in themselves. The urge to achieve stability
and control over the world environment by taming and cooling independent
political forces in other countries is probably inherent n the
hierarchical character of the foreign-policy bureaucracy.
The continuing [U.S. government] conflict with revolutionary movements
arises from a fundamental clash of perspective on modern political
history between those officials in the State Department, Pentagon,
CIA and the White House who manage U.S. foreign relations-the
National-Security Managers-and the Revolutionaries, who guide
Since 1945 this country, not content with being primus inter pares
among the nations, has sought not the delicate balance of power
but a position of commanding superiority in weapons technology,
in the regulation of the international economy, and in the manipulation
of the internal politics of other countries.
Since the dawn of the sixties the National-Security Managers have
taken it as an article of faith that the Third World is both the
locus and the prize of the Cold War. "Today's struggle does
not lie here," President Kennedy told Paul-Henri Spaak on
a visit to Europe in the last year of his life, "but rather
in Asia, Latin America and Africa." The less-developed lands,
John J. McCloy wrote in 1960, "promise to be the principal
battleground in which the forces of freedom and communism compete-a
battleground in which the future shape of society may finally
be tested and determined."
The National-Security Manager ... : America is exceptional. The
nation which sprang from a unique political philosophy at a unique
historical moment, singularly blessed by geography, climate, and
the inventive energy of her people, never needed to fall prey
to the temptations of the European empires, and never did.
To the National-Security Manager, peering out from the seventh
floor of the State Department, the Pentagon War Room, or the Situation
Room in the White House, the world looks something like a seething
caldron. The eruption of violence makes him acutely uncomfortable,
for it threatens a status quo which, if left undisturbed, promises
to bring a steady appreciation of America's preeminent wealth
... the National-Security Manager feels that unless the forces
of radical change unleashed by two world wars and the breakup
of old empires is held in check, the United States cannot maintain
its present preeminent economic and political position.
The National-Security Manager assumes that U.S. interests and
those of the rest of humanity coincide. Governments and political
movements which contest this idea have ulterior and illegitimate
motives. Far from a simple cynic who mouths idealistic rhetoric
to mask economic plundering, the Manager sincerely believes that
in opposing Third World revolutions the United States is both
pursuing its self-interest and promoting the ultimate welfare
of the world community. The fight against insurgent movements
is rationalized into a continuing crusade for a decent world,
the latest episode in the battle to make the world safe for democracy.
Like everyone else, the National-Security Manager looks at the
issue of violence from a highly personal perspective. He is selective
in the violence he notices and inconsistent in the moral judgments
he makes about it. On November 23, 1946, for example, at the very
moment when the State Department was preparing a major U.S. intervention
against Greek "terrorists," a French naval squadron
turned its guns on the civilian population of Haiphong and killed
more than six thousand in an afternoon. The United States did
not protest, much less intervene. Violence in behalf of the established
order is judged by one set of criteria, insurgent violence by
another. When established institutions kill through their police
or their armies, it is regrettable but, by hypothesis, necessary.
When the weak rise up and kill, their violence threatens order
One reason why the National-Security Manager has ... difficulty
in coming to grips with the problem of political violence abroad
is that, like most Americans, he has not confronted the issue
in his own country. Until the wave of Negro riots struck American
cities in the mid-sixties, he pictured his country as a tranquil
island in a sea of violence. Because of its tradition of law and
order, the United States was uniquely successful in avoiding the
coups, rebellions assassinations, and executions that plagued
the rest of the world.
The National-Security Manager does not grasp or will not admit
that there are societies-some, it now appears, even in our own
country-where the channels of "peaceful change" have
totally broken down or never existed. He professes to understand
the causal connection between misery and violence but he cannot
accept the legitimacy of the guerrilla, no matter how just his
grievance. For the sake of world order he must be suppressed until
safer paths to economic development and political justice can
According to his vision of social change in America, the United
States has escaped class conflict because of its economic system,
which makes it possible for each man to contribute to the general
welfare by looking after his own. The government, he knows, plays
a larger role than we care to advertise. But its function is to
prime the pump and to stimulate the general growth of the economy,
not to make a radical redistribution of political and economic
power. The economy continues to grow because the system has learned
how to harness technology.
Looking at the underdeveloped world, the National-Security
Manager assumes that what W. W. Rostow calls a "high-mass-consumption"
society is the real ultimate goal of newly decolonized societies
and a proper one. The best way to achieve the "takeofl"
that can bring a modest version of the affluent society to poor
nations is through technological innovation and the education
of an entrepreneurial class that can supply the energy for change.
The economic system that stimulates entrepreneurship is private
The National-Security Manager takes some comfort from the thought
that the military of the Third World, the class that has most
directly and handsomely benefited from U.S. aid around the world,
are also the most promising entrepreneurs. In Latin America and
parts of the Middle East the military have been "modernizing"
influences. Furnished with U.S. training and equipment, they are
the first in their societies to apply technology to public problems.
They are now equipped for "civic action." The Department
of Defense explains it this way: "As the interdependence
of civil and military matters is increasingly recognized, the
social and economic welfare of the people can no longer be considered
a non-military concern."
The Revolutionary who becomes a guerrilla is a man who believes
that all other avenues of political change are closed or the process
of change is so controlled and slow as to be meaningless. Luis
Taruc, the Philippine Huk leader, began a full-scale challenge
of the government after he and other communists were denied the
seats to parliament to which they had been legally elected. The
Greek communists and members of the South Vietnamese National
Liberation Front began terrorist activities when the constituted
governments declared them ineligible to participate in the political
process and hunted them down as outlaws. This is not to say that
a revolutionary movement will not pursue a legal political struggle
and a guerrilla war at the same time, if it can; but that violence,
for the weak, is a weapon of last resort.
The United States has based its opposition to revolutions in the
postwar world on the character and allegiance of their leadership.
Most of the coups, rebellions, and civil wars that have erupted
in the last twenty years have concerned tribal, religious, or
sectional rivalries and have not elicited an American response.
Where, however, an insurgent group or a revolutionary regime has
attempted radical social change, even suggesting a communist influence,
the United States has sooner or later intervened against it on
the grounds that the revolutionaries were acting for a foreign
Allen Dulles, formerly director of the Central Intelligence Agency,
candidly stated the unilateral criteria by which the United States
decides whether or not to intervene in a civil war:
... we cannot safely limit our response to the Communist
strategy of take-over solely to those cases where we are invited
in by a government still in power, or even to instances where
t a threatened country has first exhausted its own, possibly meager,
resources in the "good fight" against Communism. We
ourselves must determine when and how to act, hopefully with the
support of other leading Free World countries who may be in a
position to help, keeping in mind the requirements of our own
... the architects of U.S. foreign policy have developed a rationale
to justify global intervention which frankly recognizes that the
American responsibility to police the world is inconsistent with
the multilateralism of the United Nations Charter and the dictates
of traditional international law.
The very nature of the nation-state, their oath of office, and
their primary allegiance as well as the pressures of Congress
and their superiors all require the National-Security Manager
to serve the national interest, as the military, the corporations,
the farmers, and the labor unions see it, rather than an abstract
"world community" or so altruistic a goal as removing
the grossest inequalities among the developed and undeveloped
nations. He is quite free to think about a world-security system
as long as he does not compromise the power of the joint chiefs
of staff to decide where the forces should be deployed, what weapons
should be used, and when. He is encouraged to develop an aid program,
provided U.S. business benefits adequately and he can convince
Congress that the United States has received sound value in influence,
business concessions, or political support.
Unilateralism is a more polite and perhaps less image-rich term
than imperialism, which not only evokes memories of Lord Clive,
Cecil Rhodes, and the French Foreign Legion but also has become
saddled with Lenin's particular theories of economic causation.
But they mean essentially the same thing-"the extension of
control" by a single nation. Unilateralism is so much taken
for granted within the national-security bureaucracy that when
critics point out the discrepancy between our professed political
and legaI ideals as embodied in the United Nations Charter and
our actual behavior as a nation, it makes very little impression.
What's wrong with imperialism or unilateralism? Is there anything
The assertion of a police responsibility to prevent violent revolution
and insurgency inevitably requires a militarization of a nation's
foreign policy. Webster's International Dictionary uses the terms
"militarism" and "imperialism" interchangeably,
and this makes good political as well as linguistic sense, since
no nation, no matter how great its economic and political resources,
can hope to maintain control of events in distant lands without
eventually relying chiefly on force.
... hatred of the United States. American foreign policy is providing
what Marxism-Leninism has failed to offer revolutionary movements
-an ideological bond to tie together nationalist revolutionary
movements spread across three continents.
One consequence of a massive military intervention by a great
country in a small one is that it destroys the people it is claiming
to liberate. The lethal technology of the United States is so
advanced and the welfare of the client population so secondary
a consideration compared with winning the war that the "defense
of freedom" actually requires making a desert of a primitive
society. Since many of the societies facing insurgencies are living
just above the subsistence level anyway, the scorched-earth strategy
for dealing with the problem-destroying villages, wholesale removal
of populations, destruction of crops-is particularly cruel, for
it pushes poor countries further down into the depths of misery.
"It must be said aloud, that our present policy prefers the
absence of development to the chance for Communism -which is to
say that we prefer hunger and want and the existing inadequate
assaults against the causes of hunger and want to any regime that
declares its hostility to capitalism."
In 1918 Joseph Shumpeter painted a haunting picture of imperial
Rome caught up in the terrors of an aging civilization:
Here is the classic example of that kind of insincerity in
both foreign and domestic affairs which permeates not only avowed
motives but also probably the conscious motives of the actors
themselves-of that policy which pretends to aspire to peace but
unerringly generates war, the policy of continual preparation
for war, the policy of meddlesome interventionism. There was no
corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged
to be in danger or under actual attack. If the interests were
not Roman, they were those of Rome's allies; and if Rome had no
allies, then allies would be invented. When it was utterly impossible
to contrive such an interest-why, then it was the national honor
that had been insulted. The fight was always invested with an
aura of legality. Rome was always / being attacked by evil-minded
neighbors, always fighting for a '> breathing space. The whole
world was pervaded by a host of enemies, and it was manifestly
Rome's duty to guard against their indubitably aggressive designs.
They were enemies who only waited to fall on the Roman people....
The second imperative for the ... United States is to attempt
the creation of a world environment in which revolution will be
unnecessary. Revolution is a wasteful, destructive, and inhuman
engine of political change. It must be allowed to happen if there
is nothing better, but the great challenge to human ingenuity
is to find alternative paths to economic and political reconstruction,
which can bring basic changes without the massive use of violence.
The societies of the- Third World can ill afford the economic
and human costs of prolonged civil war. But virtually all of the
thinking to date about revolutionizing underdeveloped societies
through technology rather than through violence has been designed
to serve the political interests of the donor country. The avoidance
of revolution has been an end in itself, and very little commitment
has been made to the achievement of radical political change through
nonviolent means in societies needing revolution. A great nation
has an inherent problem, and possibly an insoluble one, in devising
a strategy for helping another society to remake its political
life without injecting its own interests and values and without
coming to dominate the weak.
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