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 do.

... 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 insurgent movements.

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 and power.

... 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 everywhere.

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 be found.


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 enterprise.


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 power.

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 national security.

... 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 better?

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.

Robert Heilbronner
"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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