Policing the Brave New World Order

excerpted from the book

Brave New World Order

by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer

Orbis Books, 1992, paper


President George Bush State of the Union Address, January 29, 1991

"The end of the Cold War has been a victory for all humanity."


Michael Klare Director of Peace and World Security Studies Hampshire College, October 8,1990

It seemed to many Americans that the end of the Cold War was a God-send for the United States, an opportunity to gather our energies and prepare for the new challenges of the twenty-first century. While this would appear to be the preferred outcome of the Cold War I fear that the actual outcome will be rather different and far less attractive.... The Cold War system that has dominated our lives for so long will be replaced, not with a new system of international peace and stability, but with a new war system of interminable conflict between the industrialized countries of the North and the underdeveloped forces and nations of the South.... While such conflicts may not appear to have the connected, coherent character of the struggle between East and West they nevertheless add up to an ongoing systemic and global struggle for wealth and power. . . . Unless things change radically in the months and years ahead I believe that this struggle between North and South will come to dominate American life and society every bit as powerfully and pervasively as did the global struggle between East and West. It will also erase all the benefits that might have come at the end of the Cold War.


... The "Soviet threat" was the glue that held U.S. society together. It fed a national mythology of the United States as a "benevolent superpower" up against the "evil empire"; it justified the maintenance of more than 375 U.S. foreign military bases and the deployment of more than half a million U.S. troops (before the Gulf War) on foreign soil; it provided ideological cover for the use of these troops and bases to support more than 200 U.S. military interventions in the Third World; it led to enormous wealth and power for the military-industrial complex and the managers of the U.S. National Security Establishment; and, it diffused internal tensions in a society divided between rich and poor by focusing attention on a "common enemy." For all of these reasons the end of the Cold War led to a national identity crisis reflected in an unprecedented internal power struggle over the future of the nation.


The "Threat of Peace"

Some U.S. Ieaders understood that economic power would ultimately determine leadership and status in the emerging world order and that U.S. economic well-being required a shift away from military priorities. However, Michael Klare notes, the idea of a shift from military to economic competition was "a terrifying prospect for ... those leaders who for so long have directed the National Security Establishment.... For these leaders whose identity is so closely tied up with being number one, the loss of our paramount status as a superpower is an unacceptable prospect."

For years the power and privilege of the U.S. military and National Security Establishment were directly linked to the Soviet threat. It was the Cold War that fed institutional interests and personal ambition and prestige. The prospect, or inflated prospect, of a conventional or nuclear confrontation in Europe was used to justify huge military expenditures and expensive weapons systems. Approximately $150 billion of each year's military budget was directly or indirectly related to the defense of Western Europe.

In 1987, when U.S. and Soviet negotiators came to an agreement on details of the INF (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces) treaty, the Spokane Chronicle's headline read, "Peace may not be best for Boeing; upcoming (INF) treaty may lead to cuts in defense budget." The Defense News warned at the same time that "defense related stock-trading values have fallen so precipitously *n the past two weeks that one Wall Street analyst says investors appear to be reacting to the 'fear of an outbreak of world peace.'

The end of the Cold War was a far more serious threat to the military industrial complex than the INF treaty. The December 1989 issue of National Defense: Journal of the American Defense Preparedness Association warned that cuts in military spending would result *n cancellations of major weapons systems. The industry, however, was going to fight to "hold the line" on such cutbacks, especially on weapons systems already in development. The news was not all bad, the journal reported, because "the coming Decade of Uncertainty will be a time of unprecedented opportunity for Special Operations Forces (SOF) and Low-Intensity Warfare (LIW)."

Defense industry journals and military service reports in the aftermath of the Cold War reflected a palpable sense of anxiety, even panic. The Cold War thaw offered the possibility that many billions of dollars could be shifted from the military to other purposes. A substantial peace dividend seemed likely in light of U.S. poverty and economic decline. As a result, there was a desperate search among the various military branches and weapons producers for institutional legitimacy and for an ongoing role in a world order that had unexpectedly changed. A section of the May 1990 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette entitled "On the Corps' Continuing Role" illustrates these dynamics. It says in part:

The world is "in the midst of historic and promising transformations in the global security environment," experiencing changes more sweeping than any since the outbreak of World War II.... That the Cold War is over and the threat of global conflict has greatly diminished are widely held perceptions. Hopes for a "peace dividend" continue to be voiced, and major cutbacks in defense expenditures are regarded as virtual certainties.

Changes of this magnitude bring periods of "agonizing reappraisal." Clearly, the United States is entering a new era of reexamination of its defense needs. Policy, strategy, Service roles and functions, force structure, weapons systems, and budget levels all come under serious review.... The purpose of this section is to help put this challenging period in perspective and to encourage thinking about the Corps' future ... [to] detail the specific capabilities that Marine Corps forces possess across the spectrum of warfare . . . [and to consider different] approaches the Corps might consider as it comes to grips with harsh budget realities.

The mood of this and other publications and reports was somber but realistic. "Widely held perceptions" of reduced global conflict made a peace dividend almost inevitable. This prompted among the branches of the military a strategy of damage control. First, the size of the "peace dividend" could be limited by finding new enemies and inflating the dangers of old enemies, such as drugs and terrorism, to replace the Soviet threat. Second, the focus of the conflict could be shifted from East/West to North/South, emphasizing the instability of the third-world nations as a threat to our national security. Third, despite earlier reluctance the strategy of low-intensity conflict could be exploited. Each branch of the military and each company, for that matter, hoped to demonstrate that it had unique capabilities for dealing with these new issues of "national security," thus shifting the cost of any peace dividend to others while maintaining its piece of the budget pie.

The Search for Enemies

The post-Cold War search for enemies began immediately. U.S. military branches that had expressed reluctance about U.S. military involvement in "drug wars" suddenly began citing "narco-terrorism" as a serious threat to U.S. national security. General A. M. Gray, Commandant of the Marine Corps, in March, 1990, warned Congress about "narco-terrorism" and stated that "drug use and trafficking will continue to undermine both international and domestic stability.'' The next month the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Carl E. Vuono, highlighted "the scourge of drugs" as a threat to U.S. national security.

The "war on drugs" is particularly suspect as a stand-in for the Soviet threat. "The only thing we know with certainty," according to Michael Levine, a former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) undercover agent, "is that the Drug War is not for real. The drug economy in the United States is as much as $200 billion a year, and it is being used to finance political operations." U.S. foreign policy uses the so-called drug war as a over to expand greatly its military presence in Latin America and ... there are friendly ties between U.S. covert operations and international drug traffickers.

It also is futile, as past efforts have shown, to use military force to attempt to stop the drug flow at the source without addressing the economic realities of hundreds of thousands of poor campesinos who depend on such production for survival. The use of force on the consumer end is equally problematic. A police and prison approach to drugs within the United States takes funds away from much-needed treatment centers, targets the poor rather than a much larger group of affluent users, ignores the social conditions that make drug trafficking attractive to many youth suffocating in inner cities, leaves the bankers and other elite economic sectors that garner most of the drug profits largely untouched, puts police in constant danger, leads to greater violence in neighborhoods, and threatens to erode civil liberties.

In short, the drug war is a failure in terms of stated objectives. However, it serves two important functions for the military and broader National Security Establishment. It is a convenient cover for a greatly expanded U.S. military presence in Latin America, and it helps hold off the threat of a peace dividend.

Drug-related threats to national security are not the only enemies called on to replace the Soviet threat. There is also the ongoing specter of terrorism. General Gray warned that "nationalism and terrorism are on the rise." Terrorism, he said, "will continue to be the preferred means for radical nations and groups to achieve their ends since it is an inexpensive means of warfare."

Shift of Focus to the Third World

Newfound enemies which focused on drugs and terrorism were part of a broader effort in the post-Cold War environment to transfer national security concerns from Europe to the Third World. "Our national interests no longer are focused primarily on east to west," General Gray told Congress, "but have evolved to include north and south.'' General Carl E. Vuono, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, also stressed the preoccupation with third world enemies:

Because the United States is a global power with vital interests that must be protected throughout an increasingly turbulent world, we must look beyond the European continent and consider other threats to our security. The proliferation of military power in what is called the "Third World" presents a troubling picture.... The growing challenge of insurgencies, subversion, international terrorism, and the scourge of drugs-often grouped under the term "low-intensity conflict"-constitutes yet another serious threat to our interests.... As a global power with economic, political, and security interests spanning the world, the United States cannot ignore those political threats to those interests.

The geographic and ideological shift in enemies from the Soviet Union to the Third World and from an East-West to a North-South conflict is justified by the military on economic grounds. Poverty-induced social turmoil, according to General Gray, threatens U.S. access to vital raw materials and resources located throughout the Third World:

The underdeveloped world's growing dissatisfaction over the gap between rich and poor nations will create a fertile breeding ground for insurgencies. These insurgencies have the potential to jeopardize regional stability and our access to vital economic and military resources. This situation will become critical as our Nation and allies and potential adversaries become more and more dependent on these strategic resources. If we are to have stability in these regions, maintain access to their resources, protect our citizens abroad, defend our vital installations, and deter conflict, we must maintain within our active force structure a credible military power projection capability with the flexibility to respond to conflict across the spectrum of violence throughout the globe.

General Maxwell Taylor had warned years before that "as the leading 'have' power" the United States "may expect to fight to protect our national valuables against envious 'have nots." The U.S. war against the poor, according to General Gray and other U.S. military leaders, would take on greater urgency in the post-Cold War period where inequalities would be more pronounced:

In many regions, poverty has become institutionalized with little hope of relief. Within the next 20 years, the earth's population will be approximately 150 percent of today's level. Eighty percent of this population will reside in the developing nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.... Competition for limited resources, such as food, water, and housing, will continue to make these regions breeding grounds of discontent. Already, insurgencies are ongoing in the Pacific, Latin America, and Africa. Their numbers will increase, perhaps dramatically, in the short term.

Thus U.S. military leaders were taking aim at the peace dividend by challenging critics who believed that there was a conflict between superpower military and superpower economic status. A shift away from U.S. military priorities, according to General Gray, would not lead to economic revitalization but to economic vulnerability, because U.S. military power guarantees U.S. businesses access to raw materials and markets:

Our superpower political and military status is dependent ' upon our ability to maintain the economic base derived from our ability to compete in established and developing economic markets throughout the world. If we are to maintain this status, we must have unimpeded access to these markets and to the resources needed to support our manufacturing requirements. In addition, our ability to operate successfully and confidently within these markets and to protect our citizens abroad is dependent on the stability of the regions in which they are located.

That is, in the post-Cold War world U.S. economic well-being will depend on the effectiveness of the U.S. military. General Gray countered the economic revitalization issue in another way as well. In contrast to those who emphasized the folly of trying to compete with Western Europe and Japan while gearing research and development to the military sector he stressed the importance of the military sector and emphasized its utility to the civilian economy:

Many of the technologies that will be applied to the battlefield of the next century have already been identified. Directed energy and laser weaponry, improved sensors, robotics, stealth, and superior space systems are already being developed. Genetic engineering and other biotechnologies will lead to capabilities in chemical and biological weaponry never before envisioned.... If our Nation is to maintain military credibility in the next century, we must continue to exploit affordable new technology. Fiscal restraints and responsibility will require that the development and exploitation of technology have both civilian and military applicability.

The military's constant theme in these documents is that although the Cold War has reduced U.S.-Soviet tensions the United States is a nation under attack in a turbulent and hostile world. A peace dividend is not only shortsighted, but it may be fatal to the nation's security. "Economic and political instability threatens nations in all regions of the world," General Gray told Congress. "Conflict of some type in each of these regions is ongoing and likely to continue. If we are to maintain our position as a world leader and protect our interests, we must be capable of and willing to protect our global interests. This requires that we maintain our capability to respond to likely regions of conflict."

The arguments advanced by the military and defense establishment are flawed and self-serving to say the least. Social turmoil and instability are consequences of poverty and social inequality within and among nations. However, to seek to resolve these conflicts through military power, and without a measure of economic justice, is both fruitless and dangerous. If the United States chooses a path of economic justice it can reduce social tensions and gain access to necessary resources by purchasing them. If it forsakes economic justice social turmoil will undoubtedly increase. However, third-world countries need to sell their resources and the policing function of the IMF ensures that they do so.

New Support for Low-Intensity Conflict

Along with the search for new enemies to replace the Soviet threat after the Cold War, the U.S. military suddenly reversed itself and became an enthusiastic supporter of low-intensity conflict (LIC), a Pentagon term which describes threats to U.S. interests in third-world countries that are less violent than conventional or nuclear wars. LIC also refers to the U.S. strategy of protecting perceived interests in light of such threats. According to one definition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, LIC is a "limited politico-military struggle to achieve political, social, economic, or psychological objectives. It is often protracted and ranges from diplomatic, economic, and psychosocial pressures through terrorism and insurgency."

A detailed analysis of low-intensity conflict is available elsewhere. The key point to be made here is that until after the Cold War the U. S. military was a reluctant partner in LIC. LIC required the military to develop nontraditional weapons and strategies that were seen as a threat to high-technology systems on which their huge budgets and prestige depends. Pentagon consultant Noel Koch argued that the U.S. military needed significant reorientation in the aftermath of the Vietnam war. However according to Koch, such "a development has been strenuously resisted, and this resistance has been centered in the U.S. military." The military's resistance was a practical one: it associated low-intensity conflict with low budgets.

Although LIC played an important role in U.S. interventions throughout the 1980s, U.S. military leaders clearly considered it a sideshow in which the main attraction was the Soviet threat. The Cold War was their ticket to huge budgets and high-tech weapons systems. The U.S. military in the post-Cold War period suddenly shifted its rhetoric from a reluctant partner to an enthusiastic supporter of low-intensity conflict. This was true because LIC, like drugs and terrorism, was one of the few games left in town.

Present day low-intensity-conflict strategy is a response to military and political failures that led to the defeat of the United States in Indochina, a setting where the highly technological conventional and nuclear weapons preferred by the U.S. military were inappropriate. The U.S. military, which profited handsomely from sophisticated weapons systems, believed that sufficient conventional firepower combined with the threat of nuclear bombs would win wars. Not only did the United States lack quick strike, highly mobile, special operations forces (SOFs) capable of fighting guerrilla wars, it also lacked a comprehensive strategy to control both territory and "hearts and minds."

As stated above, U.S. foreign policy in the 1980s, despite resistance from important sectors of the U.S. military, assigned a significant role to LIC as a means to better intervene in third world countries. The United States greatly improved its special operations forces and developed a sophisticated strategy for third-world interventionism that integrated political-diplomatic, military, economic, and psychological aspects of warfare. It was a deadly means of warfare against the organized poor in Central America and other third-world countries where perceived U.S. interests were threatened.

U.S. Iow-intensity-conflict strategy has also been shaped by political considerations. The death of more than fifty thousand U.S. soldiers in a protracted ground war in a far-off country had serious political fallout. It resulted in what came to be called the Vietnam Syndrome, the reluctance of U.S. citizens in the post-Vietnam era to support the defense of "vital" interests overseas through the projection of U.S. power, including deployment of U.S. troops. This syndrome, lamentable from the point of view of the U.S. economic and military elites, was one target of the Gulf War.

The Vietnam Syndrome shapes U.S. Iow-intensity-conflict strategy in a variety of ways. LIC emphasizes U.S. training and support for surrogate forces, such as the Nicaraguan Contras or Salvadoran military. These groups are a throwback to an earlier time in U.S. history when the wealthy could hire replacement soldiers for their sons. In its present form surrogate forces are funded and trained to do the dying on behalf of U.S. national security interests. This racist strategy allows many thousands of third-world people to die with minimal U.S. public protest because it reduces the number of U.S. casualties. LIC also limits public awareness, concern, and debate through its use of disinformation campaigns and covert operations.

U.S. conduct in the Gulf War reflects key features of LIC even though the war with Iraq could not be considered a low-intensity conflict. Common elements in U.S. LIC strategy in Central America and U.S. strategy in the Gulf include the following:

* U.S. warfare strategy in both regions was shaped by the Vietnam Syndrome. In Central America surrogate troops replaced U.S. casualties in defense of "vital security interests." In Iraq the same result was achieved through the largest aerial bombings in human history. U.S. policy makers in both regions acted with confidence, unfortunately borne out by events, that the U.S. people would tolerate the mass slaughter of others as long as U.S. casualties were light. According to Bob Woodward's book The Commanders, General Colin Powell, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was more reluctant than President Bush to seek a military solution to the Gulf crisis because of fears of the negative political fallout for the U.S. military if U.S. casualties were unacceptably high.

* The U.S. government, in order to garner support for highly questionable policies in Central America and the Gulf, targeted the U.S. people with disinformation and propaganda.

* A major purpose of U.S.-sponsored wars in both regions was intimidation through mass destruction. CIA director William Casey boasted that U.S. sponsorship of the Contras in Nicaragua was intended to "waste" the country. Richard John Neuhaus, a supporter of the U.S. war against Nicaragua, stated, "Washington believes that Nicaragua must serve as a warning to the rest of Central America to never again challenge U.S. hegemony because of the enormous economic and political costs. It's too bad that the poor have to suffer, but historically the poor have always suffered. Nicaragua must be a lesson to the others." Iraq provided a similar lesson in the aftermath of the Cold War. The U.S. demonstrated that it was the lone military superpower, willing to flex its military muscles, and unwilling to tolerate disobedience.

* The Central American and Gulf Wars were fought to maintain control over governments in areas considered strategic to the United States.

* U.S. policies in both regions stressed military "solutions" over diplomacy.

Finally, U.S. backing for the rich against the poor was a significant factor in both the Central American and Gulf Wars.

Clearly the principles of low-intensity conflict have taken hold, providing the National Security Establishment with partial "solutions" to the problems posed by the peace dividend and the Vietnam Syndrome. The military, while not limiting itself to low-intensity conflicts, is eager to exploit the possibilities of LIC in the post-Cold War period. General Carl E. Vuono, in a 1990 report entitled Trained and Ready in an Era of Change, indicated that "LIC is the security challenge most likely to confront the Army in the 1990s." General Gray of the Marine Corps also jumped on the low-intensity conflict bandwagon. He stated that the majority of the conflicts confronting the United States in the future "would be at the low- to mid-intensity level of conflict." Michael Klare has pointed out that in the post-Cold War, pre-Gulf War period, despite their earlier reservations, "all four of the military services have asserted recently that they are uniquely suited to perform the LIC function.''


In the post-Cold War period the United States faced a hidden struggle that would determine the viability of its democracy. A peace dividend and new world order based on nonmilitary forms of conflict resolution threatened powerful interests. The military was seeking to create a world in its own image. It placed at the center of this world its own institutional privileges and those of the broader National Security State Establishment. If the National Security Establishment had its way, economic revitalization would give way to militarism. What it needed was a crisis to make all this talk of post-Cold War enemies plausible.

General Gray warned that due to the "proliferation of sophisticated weapons" there were areas where low-intensity conflict might not succeed and greater violence would be needed:

Throughout the world, the proliferation of arms is increasing at a dangerous pace. The variety of weapons systems available and their lethality has dramatically increased. The range of weapons technology encompasses nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, ballistic missile technology, sophisticated aircraft, submarines, armor, armored vehicles, and precision guided munitions.

The advanced weapons systems designed to "defend" Europe could in the post-Cold War period be used against well-armed third-world enemies. Of particular concern was the Middle East where "social dissatisfaction with Western secular ideas continues to provide a breeding ground for terrorism and instability." "In the Middle East," General Gray stated, "it will remain in our interest to maintain stability for both economic and political reasons since many of our allies depend on the region for the majority of their oil supply."

If the end of the Cold War was, in the words of Michael Klare, a "God-send" to a nation in economic crisis and in desperate need of a peace dividend, then the Gulf crisis demonstrated that there is another more powerful god in charge: the god of the National Security State.

Brave New World Order

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