Imperialist Conflicts: The Inexorable Progress of Chaos and Militarism

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As we saw in December 1995 with the maneuver orchestrated against the working class in France and more generally against the European proletariat, the bourgeoisie is always able to unite on an international scale to confront the exploited. It is quite a different matter at the level of inter-imperialist relations, where the law of the jungle claims all its rights. The "great victories for peace" which the media feted so noisily at the end of1995, are nothing but a sinister lie since in reality they are episodes in the deadly struggle between the great imperialist powers, which either goes on openly, or, more often, behind the cover of "intervention forces" such as the "Implementation Force" (I-For) in ex-Yugoslavia. The truth is that this final phase of the decline of the capitalist system, the phase of decomposition, is above all marked at the level of inter-imperialist relations by the war of each against all, a tendency which has been so dominant since the end of the Gulf war that it has for the moment almost completely replaced the other tendency inherent in imperialism in decadence the tendency towards the constitution of new imperialist blocs. Thus we have seen:

- an exacerbation of that typical expression of capitalism's historic crisis: militarism, the systematic resort to brute force in the struggle against one's rivals, bringing the daily of horror of war to ever-growing fractions of the world population, who are the powerless victims of this deadly imperialist free for all. If the US military superpower is in the vanguard when it comes to the use of force, the "great democracies" like Britain, France and - a fact of historic significance - Germany, are no less determined to follow the same course1;

- the leadership of the world's first power being more and more contested by most of its ex-allies and vassals;

- a questioning or weakening of the oldest and most solid imperialist alliances, as witness the historic break between America and Britain and the cooling of relations between France and Germany;

- the inability of the European Union to constitute an alternative pole to the US superpower, as illustrated strikingly by the divisions between the different European states over a conflict on their very doorstep - ie in ex-Yugoslavia.

It is within this framework that we can understand the evolution of an imperialist situation which is infinitely more complex and unstable than in the epoch of the two great imperialist blocs. The main traits of this situation are:

- the success of the American counter-offensive with its epicenter in ex-Yugoslavia

- the limits of this offensive, marked in particular by Britain's persistence in putting its alliance with America into question;

- the rapprochement between France and Britain at the same time as France distances itself from its German ally.

The success of the US counter-offensive

In the resolution on the international situation of the 11th ICC Congress (International Review no.82) we underlined "the defeat for the United States represented by the evolution of the situation in ex-Yugoslavia, where the direct occupation of the terrain by the British and French armies in the uniform of UNPROFOR has greatly contributed to thwarting American attempts to take position solidly in the region, via its Bosnian ally. It is a significant fact that the first world power encounters more and more difficulties in playing its role of world gendarme, a role supported less and less by the other bourgeoisies who are trying to exorcise the past, when the Soviet menace obliged them to submit to orders coming from Washington. There exists today a serious weakening, even a crisis of American leadership, which is conformed throughout the world". explained this major weakening of US leadership by the fact that "the dominant tendency, at the present moment, is not the one towards a new bloc, but towards "every man for himself?".

In the spring of 1995, the situation was indeed dominated by the weakening of the first world power, but it has clearly been altered since then, and since the summer of 1996 has been marked by a vigorous counter-offensive led by Clinton and his team. The formation of the RRF by Britain and France, which reduced the US to the role of a mere challenger on the Yugoslav scene, and, even more fundamentally, the betrayal by their oldest and most faithful lieutenant, Britain, seriously weakened America's position in Europe and made it vital that it respond on a level capable of reversing the decline in its world leadership. This counter-offensive, which has been waged with gusto, has been based on two fundamental assets. First, the USA's status as the only military superpower, capable of rapidly mobilizing its military forces to a degree far beyond the capacities of its rivals. The RRF was completely eclipsed by I-For, with the formidable logistics of the American army at its disposal: transport, sea-air forces, enormous firepower and military observation satellites. It was this demonstration of force which obliged the Europeans to sign the Dayton agreement. Then, solidly supported by this military force, Clinton, on the diplomatic level, played on the rivalries between the European powers most heavily committed in ex-Yugoslavia, in particular making skilful use of the opposition between France and Germany, which has recently been added to the more traditional antagonism between Britain and Germany2.

The direct presence of a strong American contingent in ex-Yugoslavia and in the Mediterranean as a whole has been a rude blow to the two states most involved in contesting American leadership : France and Britain. This is all tile more true in that both of these claim a leading imperialist status in the Mediterranean, and in order to preserve this status, they have done all they could since the beginning of the war in ex-Yugoslavia to prevent an American intervention that could only weaken their position in the Mediterranean.

Since then, the US has clearly shown itself to be master of the game in ex-Yugoslavia. It has had a certain degree of success in pressing Milosevic to loosen his ties with France and Britain, by alternating between the carrot and the stick. It has kept a strong hold over its Bosnian "proteges" by firmly calling them to order whenever they exhibit the least sign of independent behavior, as we saw with a recent coup constructed from start to finish by the USA, in which the latter loudly publicized certain links between Bosnia and Iran. The Americans are also trying to arrange the future by making a definite rapprochement with Zaghreb, since Croatia is the only force able to offer any opposition to Serbia. And, for the moment, they have been able to turn to their advantage the sharp tensions troubling their own creation, the Muslim-Croat Federation in the town of Mostar. All the evidence suggests that they allowed, or even encouraged the Croatian nationalists to seize the German administrator of the town, which led to the hurried departure of the latter and his replacement by an American mediator, a replacement called for by both the Croatian and Muslim factions. By establishing good relations with Croatia, the USA is above all targeting Germany, which is still Croatia's great protector. But even though, in doing this, they are exerting a certain pressure on Germany, they are also acting to accentuate the serious divisions in the Franco-German alliance over ex-Yugoslavia. Moreover, by maintaining a tactical and circumstantial alliance with Bonn in ex-Yugoslavia, they can hope to exert a better control over the activities of Germany, which remains their most dangerous imperialist rival. America's massive military presence severely limits German imperialism's margin of maneuver. Thus, three months after the setting up of I-For, the American bourgeoisie is in solid control of the situation and for the moment has neutralized the "banana skins" thrown down by Britain and France in order to sabotage the machinery of American power. From being the epicenter of the challenge to US world supremacy, ex-Yugoslavia has now become a point of departure for the defense of US leadership in Europe and the Mediterranean, ie in the central battleground of imperialist rivalries. Thus, the American military presence in Hungary can only constitute a threat to the traditional sphere of influence for German imperialism in eastern Europe. It is certainly no accident that significant tensions have arisen recently between Prague and Bonn over the Sudetenland, with tile US clearly supporting the Czechs. Similarly, a traditional ally of France like Rumania is bound to feel the effects of this American installation.

The position of strength acquired by the US in ex-Yugoslavia took a concrete form when tensions mounted in the Aegean between Greece and Turkey. Washington's voice was heard very quickly and almost at once the two antagonists gave way to its injunctions, even if the embers are still smoldering. But apart from the warning to these two countries, the USA above all took advantage of these events to underline the impotence of the European Union in dealing with conflicts in its own back yard, and thus to show who is the real boss in the Mediterranean. All this could hardly fail to be extremely annoying to Her Majesty's foreign minister!

But while Europe still represents the main stake in the preservation of American leadership, the US has to defend this on a more global scale as well. The Middle East in particular is a major field of maneuver for US imperialism. Despite the Barcelona summit initiated by France and the latter's attempts to reintroduce itself on the Middle Eastern scene, despite the success French imperialism has had with the Zeroual's election in Algeria, and the various attempts by Britain and Germany to stir up trouble in this US reserve, Uncle Sam has increased the pressure and has scored important points this last year. By pushing forward the Israel-Palestine agreement, (with the triumphant election of Arafat in the Palestinian regions), and by making the most of the dynamic created by the assassination of Rabin (to accelerate the negotiations between Israel and Syria), the US has tightened its grip on the region, while at the same time leaning more heavily on states like Iran which continue to contest US supremacy in tile Middle East3. We should also note that after an ephemeral and partial stabilization of the situation in Algeria thanks to the election of the sinister Zeroual, the fraction of the Algerian bourgeoisie linked to French imperialism is faced with a series of terrorist attacks behind which, via the "Islamists", lies the hand of the USA.

The world's first power against "every man for himself"

The vigorous counter-offensive of the American bourgeoisie has altered the whole imperialist scene, but it has not changed its essence. The US has clearly managed to demonstrate that it is still the only world superpower and that it will not hesitate to mobilize its formidable military machine to defend its leadership wherever it is under threat. Any imperialist power that seeks to contest American supremacy will find itself exposed to the wrath of the USA. At this level success has been total and the message has been clearly understood. However, despite winning some important battles, the US has not managed to eradicate the phenomenon which has obliged it to deploy such force: the tendency towards every man for himself which predominates on the imperialist arena. Momentarily and partially held back, but in no way eliminated this tendency continues to shake the whole arena, and is fed by the decomposition which affects the entire capitalist system. It remains the dominant tendency, the one which reigns over all imperialist relations, obliging each of the USA's imperialist rivals to challenge it either openly or covertly, even if there is no equality between the contending forces. Decomposition and its monstrous offspring, the war of each against all, has brought to its full flower that typical trait of the decadence of capitalism - the irrationality of war. This is the main obstacle confronting the world's superpower, an obstacle which can only generate more and more problems for the country that aspires to be the "gendarme of the world".

Having seen their margin of maneuver seriously limited in ex-Yugoslavia, France, Britain but also Germany will go elsewhere to continue their efforts to weaken and undermine US leadership. In this respect French imperialism has been particularly active. Almost totally squeezed out of the Middle East, France is using every means at its disposal to reinsert itself into this eminently strategic region. Basing itself on its traditional links with Iraq, it is mediating between the latter and the UN, shedding many a crocodile tear about the terrible consequences for the Iraqi population of the embargo imposed by the US. At the same time it is trying to increase its influence in Yemen and Qatar. It has no hesitation about stepping on Uncle Sam's toes, by claiming a role in the negotiations between Israel and Syria and once again offering its military services in Lebanon. It is still trying to maintain its sphere of influence in the Maghreb and has been very much on the offensive in Morocco and Tunisia, while at the same time defending its traditional spheres of influence in sub-Saharan Africa. And there, now assisted by its new British accomplice - whom it has thanked by allowing the Cameroon to join the Commonwealth, which would have been inconceivable a few years ago - it is maneuvering left, right and center, from the Ivory Coast to Niger (where it recently supported the coup d'etat) and on to Rwanda. Chased out of the latter country by the US, it is now cynically using the Hutu refugees in Zaire to destabilize the pro-American clique running Rwanda.

But the two most significant expressions of the French bourgeoisie's determination to resist the US bulldozer whatever the cost are, first, Chirac's visit to the USA and secondly the decision radically to transform France's armed forces. By going to meet the American godfather, the French president was expressing recognition of the new situation created by the USA's demonstration of force, but he was by no means there to pledge allegiance to Washington. The French president clearly asserted French imperialism's will to be independent by exalting European defense. But recognizing the fact that it is very difficult to openly oppose US military power, he was inaugurating a new strategy, based on the wooden horse trick. This is the whole meaning of the almost total reintegration of France into NATO. From now on, French imperialism will attempt to undermine the USA's "order" from the inside. The decision to transform the French army into a professional army, capable of mobilizing 60,000 men at any moment for external operations, is the other plank of this new strategy, and expresses the French bourgeoisie's determination to defend its imperialist interests, and that includes against those of the US gendarme. Here we should underline an important fact: with this wooden horse tactic, as with the reorganization of its armed forces, France has been studying keenly at the "British school". Britain has a long experience of this strategy. It joined the EEC with the essential aim of sabotaging this structure from within. Similarly, Britain's professional army has amply proved its effectiveness, since, with far fewer troops overall than the French army, during the Gulf war and the war in ex-Yugoslavia, it was able to mobilize numerically superior forces more quickly than the latter. Thus today, behind Chirac's activism on the imperialist scene, we have to recognize the more discrete presence of Britain. The French bourgeoisie's relative ability to defend its rank in the imperialist pecking order no doubt owes a lot to the sage advise of the most experienced bourgeoisie in the world and the close collaboration between these two states over the past year.

But the strength of the tendency of every man for himself, and the limits of the USA's demonstration of force, are shown most patently by the breakdown in the imperialist alliance that has united Britain and the US for nearly a century. Despite the formidable pressure exerted by the US to punish the treachery of "perfidious Albion" and pull it back towards its former bloc leader, the British bourgeoisie has stuck to its policy of distancing itself from Washington, as witness in particular its growing rapprochement with France, even if, through this alliance, Britain is also aiming to counter Germany. This policy is not supported unanimously by the whole British bourgeoisie, but the fraction incarnated by Thatcher, which calls for maintaining the alliance with the US, is for the moment very much in the minority and at this level Major has the total support of the Labor party. This rupture between London and Washington underlines the enormous difference with the situation at the time of the Gulf war when Britain was still Uncle Sam's faithful lieutenant. The defection of its oldest and most reliable ally is a real blow to the world's leading power, which cannot tolerate such an affront to its supremacy. This is why Clinton is using the old question of Ireland as a means to bring the traitor to heel. At the end of 1995, Clinton made a triumphant visit to Ireland during which he treated the world's oldest democracy like a banana republic, openly taking the side of the Irish nationalists and forcing London to put up with an American mediator in the person of Senator Mitchell. The plan concocted by the latter having been turned down by Major, Washington then went onto a higher level, using the weapon of terrorism in the form of the latest bombings by the IRA, which has become the armed wing of US dirty work on British soil. This illustrates the determination of the American bourgeoisie not to shrink from any means to get its former lieutenant to beg for mercy; but more than that, this resort to terrorism is testimony to the depth of the divorce between these two former allies and to the incredible chaos that now characterizes imperialist relations between the former members of the western bloc, despite the facade of "unbreakable friendship" between the two great democratic powers on either side of the Atlantic. For the moment, all this pressure from the former bloc leader only seems to have strengthened British imperialism's will to resist, even if the USA is far from having said the last word and will do everything it can to change the situation.

This development of every man for himself confronting the world's gendarme has recently manifested itself in a spectacular manner in Asia, to the point where we can say that a new front is opening in this region for the US. Thus, Japan is less and less the docile ally, since, freed from the constraints of the blocs, it can aspire to obtain an imperialist rank much more in conformity with its economic power. Hence its demand for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

The demonstrations against the US military presence on the Okinawa archipelago, the nomination of a new Japanese prime minister known for his anti-American diatribes and his intransigent nationalism, are witness to the fact that Japan is increasingly unwilling to put up with the American yoke and wants to assert its own imperialist interests. This can only destabilize a region where there are many latent conflicts over sovereignty, such as the one between South Korea and Japan over the small Tokdo archipelago. But the most revealing sign of the development of imperialist tensions in this part of the world is China's new aggressive attitude towards Taiwan. Looking beyond the internal motives of the Chinese bourgeoisie, which is faced with the delicate question of the succession to Deng Xiao Ping, and beyond even the Taiwan question itself, this warlike stance by Chinese imperialism means above all that it is prepared to challenge its former bloc leader, the USA, in order to defend its own imperialist prerogatives. Thus China has openly rejected Washington's many warnings, which to say the least has strained its ties to the US, with the latter being obliged to flex its muscles and dispatch an armada to the straits of Formosa. In this context of accumulating imperialist tensions and of open or covert challenges to US leadership in Asia. We can see the full significance of the rapprochement between Paris and Peking marked by the visit of H de Charette and Li Pengs invitation to Paris, as well as the holding of the first Euro-Asiatic summit. While there are definite economic motives behind this meeting, it was above all an occasion for the European Union to tread on Uncle Sam's toes, claiming to constitute the" third pole of the Europe-Asia-America triangle".

Thus. despite the firm reassertion of its supremacy, the world's gendarme is again and again faced by this wall of every man for himself. This is a real threat to its global leadership and the USA will be forced more and more to resort to brute force in response; as a result, the gendarme will become one of the main propagators of the chaos it claims to combat. This chaos, engendered by the decomposition of the capitalist system on a world scale, can only cut an increasingly destructive and murderous swathe across the whole planet.

The Franco-German alliance is put to the test

If the USA's world leadership is threatened by the exacerbation of the war of each against the growing chaos that characterizes imperialist relationships has also consigned to a more and more hypothetical future the tendency towards the formation of new imperialist blocs. This is strikingly illustrated by the turbulence through which the Franco-German alliance has been passing.

Marxism has always stressed that an imperialist alliance has nothing in common with a marriage of love or with real friendship between peoples. Self-interest alone governs such alliances and each member of an imperialist constellation aims first and foremost to defend their own interests within it and to draw the maximum profit from it. All this applies perfectly to the "motor of Europe" which the Franco-German couple used to be, and explains why it is essentially France which has been the one to start cooling off. In fact, the vision of this alliance has never been the same on the two sides of the Rhine. For Germany, things are simple. The leading economic power in Europe, handicapped by its weakness at the military level, Germany has every interest in an alliance with a European nuclear power, and this could only be with France, since Britain, despite its break with the US, remains its sworn enemy. Historically, Britain has always fought against the domination of Europe by Germany, and since reunification, the increased weight of German imperialism in Europe has only strengthened Britain's determination to oppose any German leadership of the European continent. France has often hesitated about opposing German imperialism: in the thirties, certain fractions of the French bourgeoisie were rather inclined towards an alliance with Berlin. For its part, however, Britain has always been against any imperialist constellation dominated by Germany. In the face of this historic antagonism, the German bourgeoisie has no other choice in Western Europe and it feels all the more at ease in its alliance with France in that, for all the pretensions of the "Gallic cock", it knows that it is in the stronger position. Hence the pressure it has mounted on a more and more recalcitrant ally can only have the goal of forcing it to remain faithful.

It is a very different matter for the French bourgeoisie, for whom allying itself with Germany was above all a means of controlling the latter, while hoping to exert a kind of co-leadership in Europe. The war in ex-Yugoslavia and more generally the rise of German power shattered this utopia entertained by the majority of the French bourgeoisie, who now beheld the return of the specter of "Greater Germany", haunted as they are by the memory of three wars lost to their too-powerful German neighbor.

We can say that in some sense the French bourgeoisie felt swindled and from this point began to loosen ties that could only exacerbate its weaknesses as a historically declining power. As long as Britain remained faithful to the US, the French bourgeoisie's margin of maneuver was very limited, reduced to trying to circumvent lie imperialist expansion of its powerful ally, to use lie alliance as a kind of cage for the latter.
Germany's advance towards the Mediterranean via the Croatian ports in ex-Yugoslavia marked the failure of this policy defended by Mitterand, and as soon as Britain broke away from its special alliance with Washington, the French bourgeoisie seized the opportunity to distance itself from Germany. The rapprochement with London, initiated by Balladur and extended by Chirac, allowed the French bourgeoisie to hope that it could contain German imperialist expansion in a far more effective way, while at the same time having greater strength to resist the pressure corning from the USA. Even if this new version of the "Entente Cordiale" is the union of two smaller powers against the bigger ones constituted by Germany and the USA, it should not be underestimated. It has considerable military strength, at the conventional and above all at the nuclear level. This is also the case at the political level, since the redoutable experience of the British bourgeoisie - inherited from the time when it dominated the world - can only, as we have seen, increase the chances of these two second-rankers to defend their own skins, both against Washington and Bonn. Moreover, even if it is still difficult to judge the longevity of this new imperialist alliance, which is severely exposed to the pressure from the US and Germany, a number of factors tend to give it a certain length and solidity. Both states are historically declining imperialist powers, ex-colonial powers threatened both by the first world power and the first European power, all of which creates a solid common interest. This is why we have seen London and Paris cooperating in Africa and also in the Middle East, regions where not long ago they were rivals, not to mention their exemplary collaboration in ex-Yugoslavia. But the factor which confers the most solidity to this Franco-British axis is the fact that these are two powers of equal strength, both at the economic and the military level, and that, because of this, neither fears being devoured by the other, a consideration of crucial importance in the alliances made between imperialist sharks.

This development of a tight collaboration between France and Britain can only weaken of the Franco-German alliance. This may in part correspond to the interests of the USA, by considerably postponing the prospect of a new bloc dominated by Germany, but it is totally against the interests of the latter. The radical reorientation of the army and military industry decided on by Chirac, while expressing the capacity of the French bourgeoisie to draw the lessons of the Gulf war and the serious reverses suffered in ex-Yugoslavia, and thus to respond to the general necessities confronting French imperialism in the world-wide defense of its positions, is also aimed directly at Germany, at several levels:

- despite Chirac's proclamations that nothing would be done without close consultation with Bonn, the German bourgeoisie has been presented with a fait accompli. France has merely communicated its decisions and does not expect any comeback;

- this is a profound reorientation of French imperialist policy, as understood perfectly by the German defense minister when he declared: "If France sees the priority outside the hardcore of Europe, this is a clear difference with Germany4;

- through the creation of a professional army and through giving priority to its external operations forces, France is clearly signaling its desire for autonomy from Germany and has facilitated the conditions for joint interventions with Britain, since while the German army is essentially based on conscription, the French army is going to be based on the British model, built around a professional corps;

- finally, the Eurocorps, symbol par excellence of the Prance-German alliance, is directly ilireatened by this reorganization; the group responsible for defense in the dominant party of the French bourgeoisie, the RPR, is demanding its abolition pure and simple.

All this testifies to tile determination of the French bourgeoisie to emancipate itself from Germany, but we cannot put at the same level the divorce within the Anglo-American alliance and what is, for the moment, only a marked weakening in the alliance between the two sides of Rhine. First of all, Germany is bound to react against its rebel ally. It has the means to put pressure on the latter, if only through the two countries' close economic relations, and the economic power of German imperialism. But more fundamentally, France's particular position can only make a total break with Germany extremely difficult. French imperialism is caught between the clashing rocks of Germany and the USA. As a middle ranking power, and despite the oxygen it has obtained through its alliance with London, it is forced to rely momentarily on one of the big two, the better to resist the pressure of the other; this is why it has to bang several drums at once. In the situation of growing chaos provoked by the development of decomposition, this double or triple game which consists of getting tactical support from one enemy or rival in order to face up to another one, will more and more be the rule. It is in this framework that we can understand the maintenance of certain imperialist links between France and Germany: Thus in the Middle East we sometimes see the two sharks supporting each other the better to penetrate Uncle Sam's hunting grounds. This phenomenon can also be observed in Asia. Further evidence for this is provided by the signing of a particularly important agreement about the joint construction of military observation satellites, the so-called Helios project, whose aim is to dispute American supremacy in this essential domain of modern warfare (Clinton was not mistaken when he sent - in vain - the head of CIA in Bonn to try to stop this agreement). It has also been agreed to jointly produce certain missiles. If Germany's interest in pursuing cooperation in the domain of military high technology is obvious. French imperialism also hopes to get something out of it. It knows that it cannot go it alone much longer in carrying out increasingly costly projects, and that while cooperation with Britain is actively developing at present, it is still limited by the latter's continuing dependence on the US, notably in nuclear matters. Furthermore, France knows that at this level it is in a position of strength vis-a-vis Germany. It has actually been black mailing Germany over the Helios project: if Bonn refused to participate in the project, it will put an end to the production of helicopters, by withdrawing from the Eurocopter group.

The more the capitalist system sinks into decomposition, the more inter-imperialist relations are marked by a growing chaos, breaking up the oldest and most solid alliances and unleashing the war of each against all. The resort to brute force on the part of the world's first power is not only proving powerless to hold back this advance into chaos, but is becoming a supplementary factor in propagating the leprosy which is eating away at the imperialist system. The only real winners in this infernal spiral are militarism and war, which like Moloch demand more and more victims to satisfy their frightful appetites. Six years after the collapse of the eastern bloc, which was supposed to usher in an "era of peace", more than ever the only alternative is the one outlined by the Communist International at its first Congress: "socialism or barbarism".

RN 10.3.96

1 The decline in military budgets which is supposed to be part of the "peace dividend", far from expressing a real disarmament such as that following World War I, is really a gigantic reorganization of military forces aimed at making them more effective, more murderous, in the context of the new imperialist situation created by the formidable development of every man for himself.

2 The USA did not hesitate to tactically get the support of Germany, via Croatia (see International Review no.83).

3 The recent series of bombings in Israel, whoever ordered them, can only play to the advantage of the USA' rivals. The latter was not deceived when it immediately pointed the finger at Iran and summoned the Europeans to break all relations with this "terrorist state", which is no small nerve on the part of a state which is using terrorism very widely, from Algeria to London via Paris! The response of the Europeans was unambiguous: no. In a general way, terrorism, once the classic weapon of the weak, is now more and more being used by the great powers in the deadly struggle amongst themselves. This is a typical expression of the chaos engendered by decomposition.

4 Similarly, concerning the vision of Europe's future, France has clearly distanced itself from the federal vision defended by Germany, moving closer to the schema upheld by Britain.