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Blair’s morals – not ours

At this year’s New Labour conference Tony Blair delivered a speech, reported as a passionate call for a new moral world order. Tory mouthpiece, the Daily Telegraph, called it ‘Blair’s finest hour’. The Mirror’s Paul Routledge, however, disagreed: ‘I have just heard the Sermon on the Mount from Tony Blair and I do not know whether to laugh or cry’. PER OLSSON examines what lies behind the rhetoric.

ACCORDING TO BLAIR – ‘the most powerful person in the country’, in his own words – after defeating the ‘evil’ some ‘lasting good’ will come from the 11 September terror attacks on the US. Blair promised that a new unified world "of justice and prosperity for the poor and the dispossessed" will be formed when the US alliance has finished off its war against "the machinery of terrorism wherever it is found". Blair obviously hopes that the present crisis is going to narrow the rift between the major imperialist blocs and give Britain a chance to re-emerge as an influential power on the world arena, particularly in Europe. There is also another domestic reason behind Blair’s new ‘vision’. As the author John le Carré pointed out, Britain under New Labour is a country "of obscene private wealth and unnecessary public poverty. At the time of the election Blair acknowledged these ills and humbly admitted that he was in office to put it them right… As he leads us to war… he may also be warning you that his mission to mankind is so important that you will have to wait another year for your urgent medical operation and lot longer before you can ride in a safe and punctual train". (Sunday Times, 14 October)

Nevertheless, Blair promises a ‘New World Order’ Mark II, a recognition that not much is left of the promises of a ‘new era, in which the nations of the world, east and west, north and south can prosper and live in harmony’, made by George Bush senior more than ten years ago.

Blair’s favourite biblical theme is that the world is divided into two main camps. On the one hand, the ‘evil’ and, on the other, the ‘good’ forces of the international community, which is another term for Western imperialism.

What is defined as ‘evil’ depends on the situation and the agenda set by the dominant powers in the world. Today’s ‘evil’ is the Taliban in Afghanistan, a monster created by Western imperialism, the ruling clique in Saudi Arabia and the corrupt elite that rules Pakistan. In 1999 it was Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia and in 1991 it was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. All those regimes have at one stage been regarded as regimes that the West could ‘do business with’.

It has taken Blair years to realise that the reactionary Taliban in Afghanistan are undemocratic, oppressive and that Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest nations. But the Taliban came to power in 1996 without any objections from the big imperialist countries.

However, it was the rottenness and corrupt rule of the old regime – what is now the Northern Alliance – which paved the way for the Taliban. Fergal Keane wrote: "I was in Kabul when they [Northern Alliance] were last in power and it was not a happy or a safe place. Drug-running and public executions and appalling abuses of human rights were just part of the daily regime. The main justification for supporting the Northern Alliance seems to be that nothing could be worse than the Taliban. Wrong. It would be another kind of terror. The Taliban happened because the Alliance was such a brutal and corrupt disaster. A return of the Alliance… could easily create a new monster, or more likely, a whole panoply of monsters carving Afghanistan to pieces". (The Independent, 13 October)

In Blair’s world the Northern Alliance is suddenly in the camp of the ‘good’. That is why neither Blair nor any other spokesperson of imperialism has commented on the fact that the Northern Alliance is heavily involved in the drugs trade. Almost half of all heroin flowing out from Afghanistan comes from areas controlled by the Northern Alliance but the Alliance is now regarded as Blair and Bush’s foot soldiers in the war against ‘evil’.

The Balkans imbroglio

IN HIS SPEECH Blair took hypocrisy and the art of empty rhetoric to a new level. He claims that the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo/Kosova in 1999 shows the way to a new world: "We won, the refugees went home, the politics of ethnic cleansing were reversed and one of the greatest dictators of the last century will see justice". But it was the uprising of workers and young people in Serbia in 2000 that toppled Milosevic, not NATO’s 73 days of bombings the year before. In the war against Milosevic’s Serbia, the West used depleted uranium and NATO deliberately attacked civilians in Serbia, according to a report issued by Amnesty International in June 2000.

In the Balkans war on Serbia the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA/UÇK – an organisation the West regarded as ‘terrorist’ until 1998) was used as NATO’s ground force. After the war, the KLA orchestrated revenge killings on the Serb and Roma population in Kosovo/Kosova and forced 200,000 to flee into neighbouring Serbia. Ethnic cleansing certainly did not stop.

Earlier this year The Economist magazines described the results of the "two-year-old international protectorate in Kosovo, where a 40,000 strong NATO-led force and large UN bureaucracy are proving incapable of stamping out crime or re-establishing any kind of inter communal harmony… The creation of a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo, which was supposed to be one of the purposes of NATO’s intervention, still looks like an impossible dream". (7 April 2000) The situation has not changed since then and Macedonia has become the next flashpoint in the wake of NATO’s intervention in Kosovo/Kosova. Macedonia is heading towards partition under the supervision of Western forces.

Western imperialism promised to invest and rebuild the region. But the European Union’s ‘Marshall Plan for the Balkans’, supposedly to cover the period of 2000-15, remains a dead letter. Bosnia has been a Western military protectorate for six years. The local elites amongst the Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs are comfortable with the arrangement as it guarantees their hold of power within their own communities.

Compared with 1991, Bosnia’s industrial production is a little over one-third while national per-capita income is below half of that year’s level. "How can you expect a worker to support a family on one-and-a-half German marks (about 30 pence) a day?" asked a metalworker interviewed by the War & Peace Reporting magazine. (September 2000) In 2000, 85% of all displaced persons (950,000) within Bosnia were still displaced, and 75% (600,000) of refugees were still abroad - five years after the West took over the running of Bosnia. The Balkans stand out as an example of the inability of imperialism to address, let alone change, the social, economic and political conditions which give rise to poverty, exclusion, ethnic and national oppression.

‘Healing Africa’

IF WESTERN IMPERIALISM sees no other solution than to accept the partition and division of the Balkans as long as the borders are not changed, how then is the ‘international community’, another of Blair’s favourite phrases, going to ‘heal Africa’? "The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world. But if the world, as a community focused on it, we could heal it", stated Blair in his speech. Blair even promised that genocide as happened in Rwanda would never happen again because the West has a "moral duty to intervene", as Britain did in Sierra Leone.

Blair believes his dream of a new Africa can be realised if Western powers "provide more aid, untied to trade; write off debt; help with good governance and infrastructure; training the soldiers, with UN blessing, in conflict resolution; encouraging investment; and access to our market". Troops to police peace agreements would also be provided. But what is new? The same words and promises can be found in every communiqué the representatives of the main capitalist countries have issued at summits. "Peace, stability and the eradication of poverty in Africa are among the most important challenges we face in the new millennium", said the G8 countries after the Genoa summit in July. Yet in 1980 the average westerner was 15 times richer than the average African. Twenty years later the ratio has climbed to a staggering 50 to one.

In Genoa, the West (including the Russian president, Vladimir Putin) once again declared its commitment to debt relief. But at the G8 summit in Cologne in 1999, the imperialist powers promised the cancellation of $110 billion of debt and so far only $13.2 billion has been written off, leaving many of the poorest nations in the world spending more on repayments than on health and education. The West also announced a new global fund to fight HIV/Aids at Genoa. But no new money was allocated. Britain, for example, promised to contribute $200 million (£140m) but the cash was diverted from other parts of the government’s development budget and spread over five years. It was like robbing Peter to pay Paul. The global fund, moreover, offered only $1 billion, one-tenth of the sum the UN has asked for.

The World Bank reckons that if the US, Europe and Japan were to eliminate all barriers to imports from sub-Saharan Africa, the region’s exports would rise by 14%, an increase of about $2.5 billion annually. World trade, however, is controlled by the big multinationals based in the West. The poorest countries are forced to sell their goods (mostly raw materials) cheaply, and buy back expensive goods from the West. While the prices of exports from the industrialised capitalist countries continue to rise, those of Africa’s primary products have, on average, been falling – by 25% in 1997-99. This constant robbery – the poor country’s negative terms of trade – follows the exploitative nature of capitalism, particularly in the present era of globalisation, and is a factor that counteracts the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. So the advanced capitalist countries’ cry for ‘free trade’ is another way of demanding the right to turning the screw on the poorer areas of the world even further.

Kevin Watkins from Oxfam issued a further warning: "The record on aid is even more depressing than on trade. Having been promised more aid, the low income countries have seen development assistance cut by more than $3 billion since 1990, a cut of one-third in real terms". (International Herald Tribune, 16 May)

Western complicity in Rwanda

BLAIR MADE A reference to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the killing of 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus opposed to the massacres carried out by the extremist Hutu militia and murder squads. This genocide started when UN soldiers were still in the country. The West cannot claim that it did not know until it was too late because the massacres were organised and planned beforehand. In the first days of April 1994, Hutu militia radio broadcast the names and the addresses of Tutsi and Hutus on the primary death list. On 23 August this year, the BBC reported that "newly declassified documents show that the United States knew in advance that the 1994 Rwandan genocide was likely to happen but, nevertheless, insisted that United Nations peacekeepers should be withdrawn".

It was also the West (mainly France) which armed the Hutu-controlled Rwandan army, which consisted of only 5,000 soldiers in 1990. Within two years the army had grown to more than 30,000 men. Hand-in-hand came the formation of the ultra-extremist Hutu political parties and their militias linked to the ruling party.

The ‘international community’, in this case France, decided to intervene. But this was when the genocide had been underway for two months and the bulk of the killing had already been done. France also intervened to try to stop the advance of the Tutsi-based Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). This military intervention by France was backed by the UN Security Council.

The French intervened to carve out safe havens in south-west Rwanda for the Hutu army and the militia and prevent the RPF from taking over the areas. This helped the killers to escape. These actions were described by the then French president, François Mitterrand, as ‘humanitarian’. The French troops left Rwanda after two months and were replaced by UN troops. By that time the genocide and civil war were over and RPF had entered the capital, Kigali. The US in particular put pressure on the UN to reduce its commitment to respond to the killings and then blocked the deployment of any other force. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, UN secretary general at the time, wrote in his memoirs: "It was one thing for the United States to place conditions for its own participation in UN peacekeeping. It was something else entirely for the United States to attempt to impose its conditions. Yet that is what Madeleine Albright (the US ambassador to the UN in 1994 and later the US secretary of state) did… The behaviour of the UN Security Council was shocking, it meekly followed the United States’ lead in denying the reality of the genocide". (Me Against My Brother, a relentless account of the bloody civil wars and atrocities in Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan, by Scott Peterson, page 296) These words reveal the true nature of the UN, an organisation which follows the rules stipulated by the major imperialist powers. There is nothing like an ‘international community’.

The different capitalist governments first and foremost protect and act in the interests of their own ruling classes, disguised by expressions of concern for the interests of humanity and the whole world – the international community. War or military actions by capitalist governments are conducted in order to maintain and expand prestige, power and spheres of influence, including the defence of profits and markets. Even Blair confessed in his speech that nations act "in their own self-interest", although with the qualification that, "our self-interest and our mutual interest are today inextricable woven together. This is the politics of globalisation".

Nevertheless, it is the ‘self-interest’ of the major imperialist powers that dictates how a country responds to a crisis abroad. This was clearly shown in Rwanda. "In Washington, as the genocide surged ahead, a dangerous and telling link between Somalia and Rwanda appeared all too obvious. Their equation was simple, UN peacekeepers in Somalia in crisis equalled failure. Therefore, UN peacekeepers to Rwanda in crisis would also equal failure. Then add another political dimension unique to Washington: never mind the ‘We hate genocide’ platitudes, at stake also was losing more face after Somalia, and even how action or not might play in upcoming mid-term elections". (Me Against My Brother, page 293)

In other words, it was the interests of US imperialism that primarily decided the ‘international community’s’ response to the killings in Rwanda. All the other capitalist countries, including Britain, followed suit. US imperialism was not prepared to cross the ‘Mogadishu line’ again after it had been forced to withdraw its troops from Somalia. Blair is trying to cover up these facts. He is not alone. Former US president, Bill Clinton, did the same. Clinton even went to Rwanda in 1998 – although he never left the airport and the engines of Air Force One were kept running. Clinton repeated the old myth: ‘If only we had known the scale of the killings’. But he did know. And so did the rest of the leaders of the ‘international community’.

George Bush senior declared the military intervention by US imperialism in Somalia as ‘God’s work’ in front of television cameras in December 1992. In Somalia, the US took command of UN ‘peacekeepers’ and started a war against one of the clan leaders, warlord Mohammed Farah Aydid, and his armed forces in the capital, Mogadishu. This military adventure ended in disaster. One year after the invasion the US ended up in ‘peace talks’ with Aydid, the man they earlier had called ‘one of the greatest threats to world peace’. At the beginning of 1994, US soldiers left. The military intervention took at least 2,000 Somali lives, while 44 Americans were killed, 30 of them in combat. Moreover, the war launched by the US caused a delay in action against famine which led to the deaths of up to 200,000.

Africa’s first world war

BLAIR SINGLED OUT the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC – formerly Zaire) as a country where the ‘international community’ would probably have to intervene. Congo, a former Belgian colony, is potentially one of the richest areas of the world. There is oil, diamonds, uranium, gold, forests, water and fertile land. But under the yoke of imperialism and its puppet regimes the country never developed. Zaire/Congo is one of the most disgraceful chapters in the history of imperialism. For more than 20 years the country was ruled by one of the 20th century’s most corrupt despots, Sese Seko Mobutu, who staged a CIA-sponsored coup after the murder of Patrice Lumumba. For a long time Mobutu received military and financial support from the West. It is estimated that a quarter of the country’s GDP was siphoned off by his ruling clique. In 1976 a US state department official wrote: "There was a trust in the State Department to bolster Zaire in the hope it could extend its hegemony throughout the continent". (Global Rift, by LS Stavrianos, page 674)

Mobutu’s Zaire was seen as a bulwark against the spread of socialism and revolutionary ideas in Africa. In 1978, Western imperialism jointly intervened to help Mobutu crush a rebel force which had captured one of Zaire’s copper mining towns. In that way, the West created another monster which became an embarrassment when the ‘cold war’ was over. Mobutu’s regime fell to pieces in 1997 and Laurent Kabila came to power with the military support of many of the neighbouring countries and, at least, with the diplomatic backing of the US.

The process of disintegration and decay had already gone so far that Zaire had ceased to exist as a single state. Different armies or military groups were carving up Zaire/Congo while Kabila tried to establish control. In 1998, the situation rapidly degenerated into a war, involving armies from six different nations outside Congo. The conflict, which became known as ‘Africa’s first world war’, was conducted to plunder Congo’s resources. It has not stopped, despite a peace agreement signed in 1999, a ceasefire and the deployment of UN troops. A new round of peace negotiations started in October but broke down after only three days. At least 2.5 million people have been killed over the past three years and an unknown number of people have been forced to flee.

But the war is costly and the countries that invaded Congo are under strong pressure from imperialism to sign a peace deal and begin to withdraw their troops. Western imperialism is looking to exploit DRC’s natural resources and seems to be pleased with the neo-liberal turn that the government has made under the new president, Joseph Kabila, who took over after his father was assassinated in 2000. Blair’s threat of military intervention into Congo should be put in that context. US imperialism has also made it clear that it is no longer prepared to watch other African countries take advantage of the disintegration of Congo. That is why "Colin Powell, is signalling a strong interest in African issues". (Boston Globe, 19 January)

Western imperialism, however, is very reluctant to be militarily involved given the fact that tens of thousands of troops would be necessary to control this huge country. The UN claims that a force of 50,000 would not be sufficient. But war weariness, a weakening of the regimes and groups involved in the war, and pressure from abroad (including the threat of military intervention) could give way to a peace agreement and the deployment of more UN troops. Whether or not it will hold is another question. Such an agreement would be extremely unstable and, on the basis of capitalism, the people of the Congo would still live in poverty and despair while multinationals make profits from the country’s riches.

It is not the Democratic Republic of Congo or other poorer nations that have ‘failed’, but the plunder by imperialism, the marginalisation of these states and super-exploitation in the wake of globalisation which have given rise to ‘failed states’. The process towards disintegration and barbarism is more profound in Africa and parts of Asia – the weakest links in the capitalist chain. But it is also working in other areas of the world, including Europe (the Balkans) and the former USSR. Far from becoming an ‘international community’, the world is becoming more divided. With globalisation crises are accelerating more rapidly than ever before. They will show again and again the hollowness of Blair’s utopian dream of imperialism with a human face.


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