Report on imperialist conflicts (extracts)

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After having turned the globe into a gigantic slaughterhouse, inflicting two world wars, nuclear terror and countless local conflicts on an agonised humanity, decadent capitalism has entered into its phase of decomposition, a new historic phase first marked by the collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1989. In this historic phase, the direct employment of military violence by the great powers, above all by the USA, becomes a permanent phenomenon. In this phase, the strait-jacket discipline of the imperialist blocs gives way to rampant indiscipline and chaos, a generalised state of every man for himself, an uncontrollable spread of military conflicts.

At the close of the century, the historic alternative formulated by marxism during World War 1 - socialism or barbarism - is not only confirmed, but has to be made more precise: it is socialism or the destruction of humanity.

(...) Although a third world war is for the moment not on the agenda, the historic crisis of capitalism has reached such an impasse that the system can move in no other direction than towards war. Not only because the acceleration of the crisis has begun to plunge entire regions such as south-east Asia, which until recently still preserved a semblance of prosperity, into a state of destitution and instability, but above all because the great powers themselves are more and more obliged to employ violence in defence of their interests.

The nature of the conflicts: a key question today

(...)Revolutionaries will in the end only succeed in convincing the proletariat of the complete validity of the marxist position if they are capable of defending a coherent theoretical and historical vision of the evolution of modern imperialism. In particular, the capacity of marxism to explain the real causes and stakes of modern wars is one of our most powerful weapons against bourgeois ideology.

In this sense, a clear understanding of the phenomenon of the decomposition of capitalism, and the whole historic period which is marked by it, constitutes a vital instrument in the defence of revolutionary positions and analyses with regard to imperialism and the nature of wars today.

Decomposition and the collapse of the Eastern bloc

(...)The key event determining the whole character of imperialist conflicts at the turn of the century is the collapse of the Eastern bloc.

(...) The whole world was surprised by the events of 1989. The ICC did not escape from this rule but it has to be said that it very quickly succeeded in grasping the full significance of these events (its ‘Theses on the crisis in the eastern countries’, which foresaw the collapse of the Russian bloc, were written in September 1989, i.e. two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall). The capacity of our organisation to react in this way was not the result of chance. It was the result:

-  of the framework of analysis on the characteristics of the Stalinist regimes, which the ICC had developed in the 1980s, following the events in Poland (see ‘Eastern Europe, the weapons of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat’, in International Review 34, third quarter of 1983);

-  of an understanding of the historic phenomenon of the decomposition of capitalism  which it had begun to elaborate in 1988 (see ‘The decomposition of capitalism” in International Review 57, second quarter of 1989);

It was the first time in history that an imperialist bloc had disappeared outside of a world war. Such a phenomenon created a profound disarray, including in the ranks of communist organisations, where for example there were attempts to understand the economic rationale behind it. For the ICC the unprecedented nature of such an event, which had no rationality but represented a catastrophe for the old Soviet empire (and for the USSR itself, which very soon exploded as well) was a striking confirmation of the analysis of the decomposition of capitalism (see “Decomposition, final phase of the decadence of capitalism”, in International Review 62, third quarter of 1990).

(...) Until 1989, this decomposition, which had brought the world’s second superpower to its knees, had hardly effected the central countries of the Western bloc. Even now, ten years later, the local manifestations of decomposition are almost derisory compared to the capitalist periphery. However, by exploding the existing world imperialist order, the phenomenon of decomposition became the epoch of decomposition, placing the leading countries at the very heart of its contradictions - above all the greatest power of all, the USA.

US imperialism at the heart of the contradictions of decomposition

The evolution of US imperialist policy since 1989 has thus become the most dramatic expression of the present dilemma of the bourgeoisie.

During the Gulf war of 1991, the US could appear as the only counter-pole to the development of each for themselves, in that it was still capable, with whip in hand, of coercing the other powers behind it. And indeed, through its overwhelming demonstration of military superiority in Iraq, the sole remaining superpower was able to strike a decisive blow against the tendency towards the formation of a German bloc which had been opened up by with the unification of that country.

But only six months after the Gulf War, the outbreak of the war in Yugoslavia already confirmed that the “New World Order” announced by Bush would be dominated not by the Americans. but by a rampant “each for himself”.

(...) By February 1998 Washington, which in the Gulf War had used the United Nations and the Security Council in order to have its leadership sanctioned by the ‘international community’, had lost control of that instrument to such an extent that it could be humiliated by Iraq and its French and Russian allies.

Of course the US was able to overcome this obstacle by tossing the  UN into the dustbin of history....The logical conclusion was the “Lone Ranger” operation “Desert Fox”, which openly flouted the advice of all the other big and small powers concerned.

Washington does not need the permission of anybody in order to strike at any  time anywhere. But in pursuing such a policy, the USA, instead of limiting “each for himself” as it did momentarily during the Gulf War, has merely put itself at the head of this same tendency. Worse still: the political signals given by Washington during the course of the Desert Fox operation have inflicted great damage to its own cause. For the first time since the end of the Vietnam war, the US bourgeoisie, in marked contrast to its British partner of the day, has proven incapable of preserving a united front towards the outside during a war situation. Not only did the impeachment process against Clinton intensify during the action; leading American politicians, immersed in a real internal conflict over foreign policy, instead of repudiating the propaganda of America’s enemies that Clinton was taking action out of personal motives (“Monicagate”) politically repeated it.

(...) The underlying conflict over foreign policy between certain fractions among the Republican and Democratic Parties has proven so destructive precisely because this “debate” represents different sides of its insoluble contradiction, which the resolution of the 12th congress of the ICC formulated as follows:

On the one hand, if it gives up using or extending the use of its military superiority, this will only encourage the countries contesting its authority to contest even more;

On the other hand, when it does use brute force, even, and especially when this momentarily obliges its opponents to rein in their ambitions towards independence, this only pushes the latter to seize on the latest occasion to get their revenge and squirm away from Washington’s grasp”.

Paradoxically, as long as the USSR-led imperialist bloc still existed, the USA remained protected from the worst effects of decomposition on its foreign policy... Since there is no challenger in sight strong enough to form an imperialist bloc of its own against Washington, there is no common enemy and thus no reason for the other powers to accept the “protection” and discipline of America ...

The offensive character of US military strategy illustrates the increased irrationality of imperialist relations

Faced with this irresistible rise of every man for himself, the USA has had no choice but to wage a constantly offensive military policy. Not the weaker challengers of Washington, but the USA itself is obliged to regularly and increasingly intervene with armed force in defence of its position - normally the characteristic of the weaker power in a more desperate situation.

The ICC also pointed out this tendency already at its 9th Congress:

In some ways, the present situation of the USA is similar to that of Germany before the two world wars. The latter tried to compensate for its economic disadvantages (...) by overturning the imperialist division of spoils through force of arms. This is why, in both world wars, it took on the role of ‘aggressor’ because the better placed powers had no interest in upsetting the apple-cart. (...) As long as the Eastern bloc existed (...) the USA had no a priori need to make great use of its weapons because the essential part of the protection accorded to its allies was of a defensive nature (even though at the beginning of the 80s the USA began a general offensive against the Russian bloc). With the disappearance of the Russian threat, the ‘obedience’ of the other great powers was no longer guaranteed (this is why the Western bloc fell apart). To obtain  obedience, the US has had to adopt a systematically offensive stance on the military level (..) which looks a bit like the behaviour of Germany in the past. The difference is that today the initiative isn’t being taken by a power that wants to overthrow the imperialist balance but on the contrary the world’s leading power, the one that for the moment has the best slice of the cake (‘Report on the International Situation’, International Review no.67).

Each for himself: the dominant tendency today

Drawing a balance sheet of the past two years, the detailed analysis of concrete events confirms the framework laid down by the 12th Congress report and resolution:

1. The openly defiant nuclear armament of India and Pakistan, for instance, an example almost certain to be followed by others, greatly increasing the likelihood of the use of atomic bombs in war.

2. The increasing military aggressiveness of Germany, freed from the iron corset of the imperialist blocs, an example which will be followed by Japan, the other great power contained by the US bloc after 1945.

3. The terrifying acceleration of chaos and instability in Russia, today the most caricatural expression of decomposition and the most dangerous centre of all the tendencies towards the dissolution of the bourgeois world order.

4. The continuing resistance of Israel’s Netanyahu to the Pax Americana imposed on its allies in the Middle East, and the conversion of Africa into a slaughterhouse are other examples confirming:

 - that the dominant tendency in imperialist tensions after 1989 is chaos and each for himself,

 -  that at the heart of this dominant tendency lies the challenge to the dominance of the American super-power, and increasingly violent military actions by that power,

 -  that this dynamic can only be understood in the context of decomposition,

 - that this dominance in no way removes the tendency towards the formation of new blocks, which today as a secondary but real trend is itself one of the principle factors fanning the flames of war and the unfolding of chaos,

 - that the sharpening of the economic crisis of decadent capitalism is itself a powerful factor in the sharpening of tensions, without however establishing a mechanical link between the two, or lending these conflicts any economic or historical rationality (on the contrary) (...).

Decomposition of the bourgeoisie accentuates tensions and each for himself

With the loss of any concretely realisable project except that of “saving the furniture” in face of the economic crisis, the lack of perspective facing the bourgeoisie tends to lead it to lose sight of the interests of the state or of the national capital as a whole.

The political life of the bourgeoisie, in the weaker countries, tends to be reduced to the struggle of different fractions or even cliques for power or merely survival. This in turn becomes an enormous obstacle to the establishment of stable alliances or even of a coherent foreign policy, giving way to chaos, unpredictability and even madness in relations between states.

The dead end of the capitalist system leads to the break-up of some of those states which were established late, in the decadence of capitalism, and on an unsound basis, (such as the USSR or Yugoslavia) or with artificial frontiers such as in Africa, leading to an explosion of wars aimed at drawing frontiers anew.

To this must be added the aggravation of racial, ethnic, religious, tribal and other tensions, a very important aspect of the present world situation.

One of the most progressive tasks of ascendant capitalism was the replacement of the religious, ethnic etc. fragmentation of humanity by large, centralised national units (the American melting pot, the forging of a national unity out of Catholics and Protestants in Germany, or German, French and Italian speakers in Switzerland). But even in ascendancy the bourgeoisie was unable to overcome these divisions dating from before capitalism. While genocide and ethnic divide and rule were on the agenda wherever the system expanded into the non-capitalist areas, such conflicts survived even at the heart of capitalism (e.g. Ulster). Although the bourgeoisie pretends that the holocaust against the Jews was unique in modern history, and lyingly accuses the communist left of “excusing” this crime, decadent capitalism in general, and decomposition in particular, constitute the epoch of genocide and “ethnic cleansing” properly speaking. It is only with decomposition that all these age-old and recent conflicts, which apparently have nothing to do with the “rationality” of the capitalist economy, reach a generalised explosion - as a result of the complete lack of a bourgeois perspective. Irrationality is a characteristic feature of decomposition. Today, we not only have concretely diverging strategic interests, but also the sheer insolubility of all these countless conflicts. The culmination of  the 20th century vindicates the marxist movement which at the beginning of the century, against the Bund in Russia, showed that the only progressive solution to the Jewish question in Europe was the world revolution, or those who later showed that there could be no progressive formation of nation states in the Balkans (...).

The absence of an established and realistic division of the world after 1989 fans the flames of “each for himself”

In addition to American superiority over its rivals, there is another strategic factor, directly linked to decomposition, explaining the present pre-dominance of each for himself: the collapse of the Russian bloc without its military defeat. Until then, historically, the re-division of the world through imperialist war has been the most favourable precondition for the formation of new blocs, as shown after 1945. The legacy of this collapse without war is that:

- one third of the earth, that of the ex-Eastern bloc, has become a zone without a master, a gigantic bone of contention between the remaining powers,

- the main strategic positions of the ex-Western bloc powers in the rest of  the world after 1989 in no way represented the real imperialist balance of forces between them, but rather their former division of labour against the Russian bloc.

This situation, by leaving completely open, or generally dissatisfying,  the zones of influence of the greater and lesser powers, is an enormous encouragement for a free for all, an unorganised scramble for positions and zones of influence.

The main imperialist line up between the “satiated” and the “have not” European powers, which dominated world politics between 1900 and 1939, was the product of decades, or even of centuries of capitalist development. The line up of the Cold War was in turn the result of over a decade of the sharpest and most profound belligerent confrontations between the great powers, from the early 1930s to 1945.

By contrast, the collapse of the Yalta world order took place overnight, and without resolving any of the great questions of imperialist rivalry posed by capitalism - except one: the irreversible decline of Russia.

Decadent imperialist confrontation outside the corset of blocs:

an exception, but not a complete novelty

The only imperialist world order possible in decadence is that of imperialist blocs, of world war.

In decadent capitalism there is a natural tendency towards the imperialist bi-polarisation of the world, which can only be relegated to second place under exceptional circumstances, usually linked to the balance of class forces between bourgeoisie and proletariat. This was the case after World  War I.- until the coming to power of Hitler in Germany - as a result of the world revolutionary wave, which first obliged the bourgeoisie to end the war before it had been brought to a conclusion (i.e. the total defeat of Germany, which would have cleared the way for new blocs formed from within the victorious camp -presumably headed by Britain and the US), and then obliged it to collaborate to save its system after the war. Thus, once the proletariat had been defeated and Germany recovered from its exhaustion, World War II was fought out basically between the same camps as the first.

Obviously today, the factors counter-acting the tendency towards bi-polarity are much weightier than in the 1920s, when they were overwhelmed by bloc formation within hardly more than a decade. Today, not only overwhelming American supremacy, but also decomposition may well prevent new blocs ever being formed.

The tendency towards blocs and the rise of Germany

Decomposition is thus an enormous factor favouring “each for himself”. But  it does not eliminate the tendency towards the formation of blocs. Nor can we make the theoretical claim that decomposition as such makes the formation of blocs impossible on principle.

But we should not forget that these two bourgeois interests, the pursuit of its imperialist ambitions and the limiting of decomposition, are not always and necessarily opposed. In particular, the efforts of the German bourgeoisie to establish a first foundation for an eventual imperialist bloc in Eastern Europe, and to stabilise several of the countries in that zone against chaos, are more often complimentary than contradictory.

We also know that “each for himself” and the formation of blocs are not in absolute contradiction, that blocs are but the organised form of “each for himself” steered towards a single explosion of all the pent-up imperialist rivalries.

We know that the long term goal of the USA, to remain the world’s strongest power, is an eminently realistic project, but nevertheless in pursuit of this goal, it tangles itself in insoluble contradictions. With Germany it is the other way round: whereas its long term project of a German-led bloc may never be realised, its concrete policy in this direction proves to be extremely realistic.

The alliance with Poland, the advances on the Balkan peninsula, the reorientation of its armed forces towards military interventions abroad, are steps in the direction of a future German bloc. Small steps, it is true, but enough to worry the world’s super-power (...).

The credibility of marxism

All Communist organisations have had the common experience of how difficult it has become since 1989 to convince most workers of the validity of the marxist analysis of imperialist conflicts. There are two main reasons for this difficulty. One is the objective situation of “each for himself” and the fact that the conflict of interest of the great powers is today, as opposed to the Cold War period, still largely hidden. The other reason however is that the bourgeoisie, as part of its systematic equation of Stalinism with communism, has been able to present as “Marxist” a completely caricatural vision of war waged solely to fill the pockets of a few greedy capitalists. Since 1989, the bourgeoisie has benefited enormously from this falsification in order to sow the most incredible confusion. During the Gulf War the bourgeoisie itself propagated the monstrous, pseudo-materialist mystification of a “war over oil prices” in order to conceal the underlying conflict between the great powers.

As opposed to this, the organisations of the communist left have determinedly exposed the imperialist interests of the imperialist powers, in the tradition of Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg. But they have sometimes waged this struggle with insufficient weapons, in particular with a reductionist, exaggerated vision of the immediate, economic motives of modern imperialist war. This weakens the authority of the marxist argumentation. This “economistic” approach leads to falling for the propaganda of the bourgeoisie, as in the case of the CWO believing in a certain reality behind the “peace process” in Ireland.

Global character of imperialist war

The whole proletarian milieu shares the understanding that imperialist war is the product of the contradictions of capitalism, having in the last analysis an economic cause. But every war which ever took place in class society also has a strategic dimension, an important aspect with an internal dynamic of its own. Hannibal marched into the North of Italy with his elephants, not in order to open a trade route across the Alps, but as a strategic ploy in the Punic “world wars” between Carthage and Rome for the domination of the Mediterranean.

With the rise of capitalist competition it is true that the economic cause of war becomes more pronounced: hence the colonial wars of conquest and the national wars of unification of the last century. But the creation of the world  market and the division of the earth among the capitalist nations also gives war, in the epoch of imperialism, a global, and thus more political and strategic character than ever  before in history. This is already clearly the case for World War I. The cause of that war was strictly economic: the limits reached to the expansion of  the world market relative to the needs of existing accumulated capital; the entry of the system into its phase of decadence. But it was not the economic “cyclical crisis of accumulation” as such which led to imperialist war in 1914, but  the fact that all  the zones of influence were already divided up, so that the “late arrivers” could only expand at the expense of the already established powers. The economic crisis as such was much milder than it had been for example in the 1870s. In reality it was more the imperialist war which announced the coming  world  economic crisis of decadent capitalism in 1929, than the other way round.

Similarly, the immediate economic situation of Germany, the main power pushing for a re-division of the world, was far from critical in 1914 - not least because it still had access to the markets of the British Empire and other colonial powers. But this situation placed Germany, politically, at the mercy of its main rivals. The main war goal of Germany was thus not the conquest of this or that market, but breaking British domination of the oceans: on the one hand through a German war fleet and a string of colonies and naval bases throughout the world, on the other hand through a land route towards Asia and the Middle East via Russia and the Balkans. Already at that time, German troops were sent to the Balkans in pursuit of this global strategic goal much more than because of the mere Yugoslav market. Already at that time, the fight to control certain key raw materials was only one moment in the general fight to dominate the world.

Many of the opportunists in the Second and Third Internationals - and the partisans of “socialism in one country” -  benefited from their partial, in the last analysis national viewpoint, in order to deny the “economic and thus imperialist ambitions” of... their own country. The marxist left, on the contrary, was able to defend this global comprehension because it understood that modern capitalist industry cannot survive without the markets, raw materials, agricultural products, transport facilities and labour power of the whole globe at its disposal. In the imperialist epoch, where the entire world economy forms a complex whole, local wars not only have global causes, but are always part of an international system of struggle for domination of the world. This is why Rosa Luxemburg was right when she wrote in the Junius Pamphlet that all states, whether big or small, have become imperialist (...).

The irrational character of
imperialist war

“The decadence of capitalism is strikingly expressed by the fact that whereas wars were once a factor for economic development (ascendant period), today, in the decadent period, economic activity is geared essentially towards war. This does not mean that war has become the goal of capitalist production, which remains the production of surplus; it means that war, taking on a permanent character, has become decadent capitalism’s way of life (Report on the international situation of the Communist Left of France, July 1945).

This analysis developed within the communist left represents a further, fundamental deepening of our understanding of imperialist conflicts: not only are the economic goals of imperialist war global and political, but they themselves become  dominated by questions of military strategy and “security”. Whereas at the beginning of decadence war is still more or less at the service of the economy, with the passage of time the situation is reversed, the economy is increasingly placed at the service of war.

A current like the IBRP, steeped in the Marxist tradition, is well aware of this.

“....We must clearly reiterate a basic element of Marxist dialectical thinking: when material forces are creating a dynamic towards war it is this which will become the central reference point for politicians  and governments. War is waged in order to win: friends and enemies are chosen on that basis.”

And elsewhere  in the same article:

It then remains for the political leadership and the army to establish the political direction of each state according to a single imperative: an estimation of how to achieve military victory because this now overrides economic victory” (“End of the cold war: new step towards a new imperialist line-up”: Internationalist Communist Review No.10).

Here, we are far away from the oil in the Gulf and Yugoslav markets.  But unfortunately, this understanding is not anchored in a coherent theory of the economic irrationality of militarism today.

Furthermore, the identification between economic tensions and military antagonisms leads to a myopia about the significance of the European Union and the single currency, which the IBRP sees as a future imperialist bloc (...)

 “Euroland” is not an imperialist bloc

Until the 1990s, the bourgeoisie found no other means of co-ordinating economic policies between nation states - in an attempt to maintain the cohesion of the world market in the face of permanent economic crisis - than the framework of imperialist blocs. In this context, the character of the Western bloc during the Cold War, composed as it was of all the leading economic powers, was particularly favourable to the international, state capitalist crisis management of the bourgeoisie - going a long way towards preventing the kind of dislocation of world trade which took place in the 1930s. The circumstances of the post-1945 imperialist world order, lasting over half a century, could thus give the impression that the co-ordination of economic policy and the containment of commercial rivalries between given states within certain rules and limits is the specific function of imperialist blocs.

After 1989 however, when the imperialist blocs disappeared, the bourgeoisie of the leading countries was able to find new means of international economic co-operation towards “crisis management”, whereas at the imperialist level the struggle of each against all quickly gained the upper hand.

This situation is perfectly illustrated by  the attitude of the United States, which, at the imperialist level massively  resists any moves towards a military alliance of  European states, but at the economic level - after initial hesitations - supports and itself profits from the European Union and the Euro currency project.

During the Cold War, the “European integration process” was first and foremost a means of strengthening the cohesion of the US bloc in Western Europe against the Warsaw Pact. If the European Union has survived the break-up of the Western bloc this is above all because it has assumed a new role as an economic anchor at the heart of the world economy.

In this sense, the bourgeoisie has learnt in the past years to operate a certain separation between the questions of economic co-operation (crisis management) and that of imperialist alliances. And reality today shows that the fight of each for himself dominates at the imperialist, but not at the economic level. But if the bourgeoisie is able to make such a distinction, this is only because the two phenomena are distinct - although not completely separate - in reality. “Euroland” illustrates perfectly that strategic-imperialist and commercial trade interests of nation states are not identical. The economy of the Netherlands, for instance, is heavily dependent on the world market in general, and the German economy in particular. This is why this county has been one of the most fervent supporters within Europe of the German policy in favour of a common currency. At the imperialist  level, on the contrary, the Dutch bourgeoisie, precisely because of its geographical proximity to Germany, opposes the interests of its powerful neighbour wherever it can, and constitutes one of the most loyal allies of the USA on the old continent.  If the Euro were first and foremost a cornerstone of a future German bloc, The Hague would be the first to oppose it. But in reality Holland, France and other countries who are afraid of the imperialist resurgence of Germany support the common currency  precisely because it does not menace their national security, i.e.  their military sovereignty.

As opposed to an economic co-ordination, based on a contract between sovereign bourgeois states (under the pressure of given economic constraints and balance of forces of course) an imperialist bloc is an iron corset imposed on a group of states by  the military supremacy of a bloc leader, and held together by a common will to destroy an opposing military alliance. The blocs of the Cold War did not arise through negotiated agreements: they were the result of World War II. The Western bloc came into being because Western Europe and Japan were occupied by the USA, the Warsaw Pact through the invasion of Eastern Europe by the USSR.

The Eastern bloc did not fall apart because of shifts in economic interests and trade alliances, but because the leader, who held the bloc together with blood and iron, was no longer able to assume the task. And the Western bloc - which was  stronger and did not fall apart - simply became defunct because the common enemy had disappeared. As Winston Churchill once wrote, military alliances are not the product of love, but of fear: fear of the common enemy.

Europe at the heart, not of a new bloc, but of “each for himself”

Europe and North America are the two centres of world capitalism. The USA, as the dominant power in North America, was destined by its continental dimension, its situation at a safe distance from potential enemies in Europe and Asia, and its economic strength to become the leading power in the world.

The economic and strategic position of  Europe on the contrary, has  condemned it to become and remain the main focus of imperialist tensions in decadent capitalism. The principle battlefield in both world wars, and the continent divided by the “iron curtain” during the Cold War, Europe has never constituted a unity, and under capitalism it never will.

Because of its historical role as the birthplace of modern capitalism, and its geographical situation as a semi-peninsula of Asia lying to the north of Africa, Europe in the 20th century has become the key to the imperialist struggle for world rule. At the same time, not least because of its geographical situation, Europe is militarily particularly difficult to dominate. Great Britain, even in the days when it “ruled the waves”, had to make do with keeping Europe in check through a complicated  system of “balance of  forces”. As for Germany under Hitler, even in 1941 its domination of the continent was  more apparent than real, as long as Britain, Russia and  North Africa were in enemy hands. Even the United States, at the height of the Cold War, never succeeded in dominating more than half the continent.

Ironically, since its “victory”  over the USSR, the position of the United States in Europe has been considerably weakened, with the disappearance of the “evil empire”. Although the world’s super-power maintains a considerable military presence on the old continent, Europe is not an underdeveloped area which can be kept in check by a handful of GI barracks: four of the leading G8 industrial countries are European.

Indeed, whereas the USA can militarily manoeuvre in the Persian Gulf almost at will, the time  and  effort which Washington requires to impose its policy in former Yugoslavia reveals the present difficulty even for the sole remaining super-power to maintain a decisive presence 5000 km from home.

Not only are the conflicts in the Balkans or the Caucasus directly related to the struggle for control of Europe, but also those in Africa  and the Middle East. North Africa is the southern shore of the Mediterranean basin; its north-eastern coast (particularly the “Horn”) dominates the approaches to the Suez Canal; southern Africa, the southern shipping routes between Europe and Asia. If Hitler, despite the over-stretching of his military resources in Europe, despatched Rommel to Africa, this was above all because he knew that otherwise Europe could not be held.

What goes for Africa goes all the more for the Middle East, the point where Europe, Asia and Africa meet. The domination of the Middle East is one of the principle means through which the USA can remain a decisive “European” and global power (thus the vital importance of the Pax Americana between Israel and the Palestinians for Washington).

Europe is also the main reason why Washington, over the past eight years, has persistently made Iraq the focal point of international crises: as a  means of dividing the European powers. Whereas France and Russia are allies of Iraq, Britain is the natural enemy of the present regime in Baghdad, while Germany is closer to the regional rivals of Iraq such as Turkey and Iran.

But if Europe is the centre of imperialist tensions today, this is above all because the principle European powers themselves have divergent military interests. We should not forget that both world wars began above all as wars between the European powers - as did the Balkan wars of the 1990s (...).