Servile States

by Ignacio Ramonet

Le Monde diplomatique, Paris, France, October 2002

[World Press Review, December 2002]


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 Kosovo).

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.

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