Imperialist Rivalries: "Humanitarian" Warfare

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The intense diplomatic activity, and the proliferation of contradictory declarations on the intervention force "to bring aid to the refugees" in the region of the African Great Lakes, have become a macabre farce. Will the force be deployed at all? Will it carry out air-drops? Are there still any refugees left? In reality, the only purpose of this revolting and hypocritical music-hall sketch of "humanitarian aid" is, once again; to hide the interventions of the great powers as they defend their sordid imperialist interests and settle scores amongst themselves, at the expense of the local population. There is nothing "exotic" about the atrocities committed in eastern Zaire, and they have nothing to do with "tribal customs", any more than the repeated bombardments and massacres in the Middle East are "specific" to that region. They are nothing other than a further illustration that the capitalist world is breaking down. From Africa to the Middle East, from ex-Yugoslavia to the ex-USSR, the "new world order" so vaunted six years ago by the great and the good of this planet, is nothing more than the battleground for a fight to the death between the imperialist powers, and a slaughterhouse for more and more of the world population.
We have already (see for example International Review nos 85 and 87) described at length the growing triumph of "every man for himself' , and the increasingly brutal efforts by the American godfather to recover the situation wherever it is under threat. The framework for understanding the explosion of inter-imperialist rivalries and the inevitable crisis of American leadership forms part of the resolution on the international situation adopted by the 12th Congress of the ICC's section in France: "This threat [to American leadership] springs essentially from the fact that today, there no longer exists the essential precondition for any real solidity and stability in alliances between bourgeois states in the imperialist arena: the existence of a common enemy threatening their security. The powers of the ex-Western bloc may be forced, at one time or another, to submit to Washington's diktats, but it is out of the question for them to remain faithful on a durable basis. On the contrary, they will seize any opportunity to sabotage the orientations and dispositions imposed by the USA" (International Review no. 86).

From the endless civil war between Afghan factions sponsored by the various imperialist powers, to the lowering tensions that are intensifying in ex-Yugoslavia despite the pax Americana of the Dayton accords, recent events fully confirm the validity of this framework.

Here, we will deal more specifically with the situation in the Middle East and around the Great Lakes, inasmuch as they are a particularly striking illustration of how these rivalries are spreading chaos and decomposition to ever greater areas of the planet.

The Middle East: "Every man for himself" and the crisis of American leadership

The election of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was already a serious upset for the USA, in a region of immense strategic importance which for years has been an exclusively American sphere of influence. It showed, even in a country as dependent as Israel on the US, how centrifugal forces and the desire for political independence are gaining the upper hand over any policy of regional stabilisation, even one enforced by the world gendarme.

Since then, repeated provocation by the Netanyahu government has led to armed confrontations between Jewish settlers and the police forces of the new Palestinian Authority, as well as dozens of deaths in Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli government has been given the pretext for hardening its position in all the negotiations to the point where, in the name of the threat to national security, it has even called into question the meagre accords signed by Peres and Arafat in Oslo. Meanwhile, the same tendency to "every man for himself' triumphed in the Arab capitals. Israel's "hereditary enemies", starting with Syria and the Palestinians, reached a reconciliation, while Egypt and Saudi Arabia, solid US allies until then, increased their open contestation of American imperialism. That Egypt, the partner of the historic Camp David agreement, should refuse to take part in Clinton's damage-limitation summit in Washington speaks volumes for the USA's increasing loss of control over the situation in the Middle East. These events threaten to destroy a grip on the region which the US has carefully nurtured during the last 20 years.

The decline of American influence can only be mirrored by a rise of its imperialist rivals, whose ambitions grow in inverse proportion to the US' difficulties. The great beneficiary of recent events in the Middle East is undoubtedly France, which has immediately undertaken to gather together all the region's malcontents by posing as the spokesman for anti-American and anti-Israeli feeling, as we saw from Chirac's spectacular tour in October. Everywhere he went, he promoted the idea of a "partnership in the peace process", clearly indicating France's intention to stoke the flames and to sabotage Washington's policy by every means possible. Far from encouraging "peace", this is an open call for the holy alliance of Arab states against the common enemy, both Israeli and ... American - in other words an encouragement of war and chaos.

Its leadership shaken on the international scene, the world's greatest power must counter-attack: and it is less and less able to do so "peacefully", as the warning shot represented by the missile attacks on Iraq has shown (see International Review no.87). In fact, the US intends both to show its determination to keep its position as the world's military master, and to sow discord among the European powers by playing on their divergent interests. It is thus no surprise that today its blows are aimed first and foremost at French imperialism, which has the pretention to lead an anti-American crusade[1].

Zaire: America's offensive against French imperialism

Contrary to what the media tell us, what is really at stake in the massacres around the Great Lakes is not the struggle for power between Hutus and Tutsis, but the struggle between France and the USA for control of the region. Here, it is the US bourgeoisie which is calling the shots, and it has - for the moment - succeeded in seriously weakening its French rival's position in Africa through a skilful strategy of destabilisation.

Having helped the pro-American Rwandan Popular Front to power in 1994, the USA has continued to advance its pawns throughout the Great Lakes region. First, they have consolidated the RPF's power through increased economic and military aid. Then, they continued their tactic of encircling the French positions by putting maximum pressure on Burundi after Buyoya's pro-French coup d'Etat, through the embargo imposed by all the surrounding pro-American anglophone countries. This tactic has born fruit, since the Buyoya regime had no qualms about joining Rwanda and Uganda in the anti-French alliance as soon as the first confrontations began in Kivu. Finally, the US used the pretext of skirmishes provoked by the regroupment of one-time (Hutu) Rwandan Army forces under French auspices in the refugee camps on the frontier between Rwanda and Zaire, to carry the war into Zaire itself by fomenting the "revolt" of the Kivu Banyamulenge, with the success we have seen.

Washington's offensive has effectively succeeded in isolating French imperialism, and weakening more and more its position. France is forced to rely on Mobutu's Zaire, which is in a ruinous condition politically, economically, and militarily. During the confrontation between Eastern and Western blocs, Zaire was a key link in the Western bloc's anti-Soviet defence. Today, it is one of the world's most fragile strategic regions, and a prey to the most advanced decomposition. And the USA has exploited Zaire's reigning chaos, aggravated by Mobutu's illness and the resulting internecine struggles, and the disintegration of its army, to strengthen its strategic operations in the region. French imperialism, which had intended to use the Franco-African summit of Ouagadougou - where Uganda and Tanzania had been invited for the first time - to put pressure on Rwanda through its proposal of a conference on the Great Lakes region, has thus been caught out.

But this is not the end to the difficulties of the French bourgeoisie, since its American rival is scoring points elsewhere as well. Firstly, Clinton has brutally slapped down French pretentions to lead an anti-American crusade, and has reduced France's credibility in the eyes of other powers. French imperialism's desperate appeals - echoed by its UN candidate Boutros-Ghali - to its European "allies", and even to its traditional African allies, to intervene "urgently" have met with evasive replies. To start with, none of these great "humanitarians" wants to get caught in this mire for the sake of the French. Moreover, the American pressure on France is a threat and a message to every country in the world. Apart from Spain, which was less reserved in its support for French requests, Italy, Belgium, and Germany all found excuses to abstain. But it is the attitude of the British which is the most significant of the weakening Franco-British alliance in Africa - despite its apparent solidity in recent months. The Major government, while agreeing "in principle" to intervene, remained extremely vague as to its concrete commitments, which in fact came down to an implicit refusal, leaving Paris completely alone to confront an American super-power holding all the best cards.

Rejected and denounced by Rwanda and the Zairean rebels, who had been the victims of its imperialist activity, France had to give in and call for an American intervention, within which it hoped to find a place. The American bourgeoisie was quick to exploit its situation of strength, and oblige the French to surrender completely. It delayed intentionally, declaring its willingness to intervene provided that this was a "humanitarian" not a military operation, that there should be no interference in a "local conflict" (all the more happy to avoid interference, since its own henchmen had the upper hand!), and cynically pointing out the "the United States are not the Salvation Army"! The White House even gave itself the pleasure of blaming French imperialism for the chaos engulfing the Great Lakes region. A campaign was developed on the arms sales by several countries to Rwanda during the genocide of 1994, which implicated above all the French state, and turned the spotlight on its sordid role there. The Big Boss was thus able to highlight the shabby greed of a French government which" has supported decadent regimes" and "is no longer able to impose itself" on Africa (declarations by Daniel Simpson, the US ambassador in Kinshasa), and which only calls the "international community" to the rescue to defend its own private imperialist interests.

French imperialism has thus had to abandon its positions, in the face of an offensive minutely planned by the strategists of the Pentagon. It has been pushed out of East Africa, and reduced to a seriously weakened position in the West. This situation can only sharpen existing rivalries: the French will try to react, as we have already seen in their attempt to recuperate Burundi during the Franco-African summit by calling for a raising of the embargo directed against the latter, while the chaos around the Great Lakes is already spreading to Zaire, already seriously gangrened by its general social decomposition. Zaire's strategic position in the heart of Africa, its immense size, and its mineral wealth, all make it a choice target for imperialist appetites. The perspective of its collapse as a result of the military conflict that has spread into the country, brings with it the threat of a new explosion of chaos, not just in Zaire itself but also among its neighbours, especially to the North (Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan), and in nearby countries like Gabon and the Cameroons, which all belong to the French sphere of influence. All this gives us some idea of the alarm that afflicts the French bourgeoisie as to the durability of its African profits. And this new advance of imperialist chaos cannot but aggravate and spread still further the dreadful misery and barbarism that already reigns over most of the African continent.

It is thus strikingly clear that all the imperialist sharks' hypocritical calls for "humanitarian help" and "peace" only serve as a cover for new military expeditions, and so the worsening of chaos and barbarism. With monstrous cynicism, all the national bourgeoisies cry crocodile tears over the tragic fate of the local populations and refugees, while the latter are reduced to the state of impotent hostages used as weapons in the imperialist rivalries between the great powers. This whole enormous spectacle is laid before us with the complicity - whether conscious or not - of the "non-governmental organisations", the humanitarian associations like. Oxfam and Medecins sans Frontieres, which have themselves pleaded for military intervention.

This is not new. Just remember the previous "interventions for peace". The "humanitarian" operation in 1992 in Somalia ended neither the chronic famine, nor the clan warfare. The French, British, and American "soldiers of peace" sent to Bosnia between 1993 and 1994 under the UN or NATO banners only served as a cynical justification for the imperialist powers' military presence on the terrain, each supporting their own faction and its extortions. In Rwanda, the great powers were already responsible

for starting the massacres of 1994. Behind the alibi of a military intervention to "stop the genocide", they provoked a mass exodus of populations, and encouraged the creation of the precarious refugee camps. Since then they have profited from the degeneration of the situation, which is presented today as inevitable, to hatch new and bloody intrigues.

Far from "rebuilding order and peace", all these imperialist gangsters are only increasing chaos, as they escalate their rivalries and carry out their underhand tricks. They are an expression of a moribund capitalism, which can only hurl into barbarism ever vaster areas of the planet, and drag more and more of the world's population into massacres, forced migration, famine, and the epidemics that feed on the slaughter.

Jos, 12/12/96


[1] We have pointed out in many texts that in the final instance, Germany is the USA's main imperialist rival, and the only power which might eventually lead a bloc opposed to that of the world's greatest power. However, and this is one of the characteristics of today's chaos, we are still far from such an "organisation" of imperialist antagonisms. This leaves room for all sorts of situations where "second fiddles" like France can try to play their own game.

General and theoretical questions: