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Power Play and the New
World Chaos


Ken Coates TFF associate

The Bertrand Russel Peace Foundation and the Conference in the European parliament on Peace and Human Rights, beginning January 31st, 2002


Posted January 30, 2002


The idea behind the EU

Europe after the Second World War developed a strong culture of pacifism. Part of this was driven by internal motives. The movement towards European Union was undoubtedly stimulated by the felt need to eliminate tensions between France and Germany, and to make impossible new eruptions within the European continent. The establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community was, amongst other things, a deliberate attempt to fuse resources and overcome the national economic competition which could bring about a renewal of militarism.

Of course, all this unwound within the context of the Cold War, which, as it became more and more dependent on nuclear confrontation, aroused our own peace movements, for nuclear disarmament. Whilst not wishing to sentimentalise these different pacifisms , they undoubtedly became part of a wider culture, which was only partially eclipsed by the end of the Cold War, as a result of which we were proved wrong in our supposition that general nuclear disarmament might become an established fact.

Within the European pacific mindset was maintained a decades-long social consensus, the broadly social/Christian democrat commitment to full employment and welfare, now eroding under the influence of neo-liberalism.

The collapse of the Soviet Union gave an early impulse to a number of genuine European efforts to develop close co-operation in the renewal of Russia, and to move towards joint institutions which might guarantee the progress of disarmament. But in a relatively short time, the international stage was clearly taken over by the United States, which has followed a different policy, with considerable determination.


Doctrine of global domination - and too little peace movement attention

Part of this has involved an exaggerated economic liberalism, which, although very one-sided, may not necessarily be belligerent. But another, nakedly militaristic, part of this doctrine was enunciated by Zbigniew Brzezinski (one-time National Security Adviser to President Carter), who formulated the doctrine that global domination follows the domination of Eurasia.

This doctrine implied that the United States would follow a forward policy in respect of the former Soviet Union. So evolved the expansion of Nato, and the establishment of a new transitional organisation, the Partnership for Peace. This was seen as a kind of bridge to Nato for former neutrals, and above all for former members of the Warsaw Treaty and former republics of the Soviet Union itself.

Peace movements, in their weakened state, paid some attention to the Eastward expansion of Nato, and often opposed the subversion of the neutrals, but they largely ignored the eastward progress of the Partnership for Peace which was able to mount joint Nato military exercises with the Ukraine, Georgia and some of the most important Central Asian Republics.

All of these were not only directed against Russian military power, but threatened the erosion of Russian political influence. Unfortunately, the undermining of Russian power, in this case, implied the aggrandisement of the United States, which was already over-grand for its own mental health.

At the culmination of this process, the bombing of Yugoslavia caused great revulsion among the Russian political classes, so that the end of the Yeltsin regime brought Vladimir Putin into office, with an apparently more robust policy aimed at restoring Russian influence over the territories of the former Soviet Union. This was accompanied by an alarming new nuclear doctrine of "first use" of nuclear weapons, as well as a ferocious intensification of repressive war in Chechnya.


New high-technology initiatives and farewell to Cold War agreements

Meantime, the American military were preparing the ground politically for the launch of a vast technological offensive, with the comforting but misleading name of National Missile Defence. "Son of Star Wars" as it has been more widely known, is a comprehensive plan for the militarisation of space, which implies the destruction not only of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, but also the Outer Space Treaty. The new surge of satellite weapons, and space-based lasers is all conceived within the overall doctrine of Full Spectrum Dominance, which is the official doctrine of the American military, and is nicely complementary with the Brzezinski schema.

All this had been seamlessly carried forward from the Republican administration into that of Clinton, but the election of President Bush produced a number of unilateral initiatives which have alarmed the European partners of the United States, and aroused the great concern of public opinion around the world. In order to introduce his space-based military techniques, Bush made it plain that he was determined to repudiate the ABM Treaty, and demolish what he called "the Cold War agreements" upon which contemporary arms control measures have all rested.

European discomfort was not mitigated by the fact that, at the same time, the United States unilaterally repudiated the result of the Kyoto negotiations on environmental protection, and undermined international agreements on landmines, small arms and biological weapons. The United States government also blocked moves to create an International Criminal Court, which may be seen as an ironical fact in the light of subsequent events.

By the summer of 2001, popular concern in Europe and the United States was already beginning to show itself in the growth of a number of peace movements.


September 21 and after

The destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, and the onslaught against the Pentagon in Washington, have changed international balances. The shock generated by these atrocities initially united world opinion in strong sympathy for their American victims. This popular sympathy remains strong. But when responses were considered, naturally most people thought in terms of the necessary actions of the United Nations and its relevant organs. But Governments did not all reflect the popular mood. In particular, the Americans and British ensured that a military response was developed with lesser and more indecisive involvement by certain selected Nato allies, and some other countries.

Great efforts were made to involve Middle Eastern and Muslim States. But the initial alliance-building efforts produced uncertain results. To begin with, the question of Palestine was continuously festering, and the Arab world had been deceived before, during the last crisis which had put the United States into an allegedly listening mode. All the elaborate promises extracted from the Israelis during the Gulf War, and the subsequent unwinding of the Conference in Madrid and the Oslo peace process, had led precisely nowhere, with the Palestinians in a worse state than before.

Now, in the new crisis, alienation and downright antipathy grew rapidly throughout the Arab world, and among Muslims from the Philippines and Indonesia across Pakistan to Saudi Arabia. A near revolutionary situation has been developing in Saudi Arabia, and it is reported that foreigners from the West dare not go out of doors. The American soldiers who are stationed in the country are confined to their base, and the Saudi royal family is deeply split on the question of how to get rid of them.

Even the European allies have been showing increasing fractiousness, as the implications of the bombing of Afghanistan have become more apparent and more disturbing.

The original overtures to Russia and China were received with greater than normal diplomatic warmth, and in mid-October a wider "coalition" announced itself with some official ceremony during the thirteenth Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting in Shanghai. This was attended by both Jiang Zemin and Vladimir Putin as well as George Bush. Yet within a very short time all these protestations of common cause began to look rickety. With the Middle East and the Muslim world in chaos, could the Brzezinski doctrine now be implemented in full force? With an Afghan war likely to spill over its frontiers into Pakistan on the one side, and former Soviet Central Asia on the other, the prospect could be one of very considerable tumult at the best, and quite possibly one of widespread war and destruction.


The new "Great Game" and possible "anti-hegemonic" coalitions?

No doubt the awesome possibility of such a war has troubled the Russian Government, which has already suffered from the effects of destabilisation elsewhere. But Zbigniew Brzezinski, in outlining his proposals for the renewal of the great game in Central Asia, had opened the speculation that one variant of American policy in the region might involve the offer of a condominium to the Russian leaders, involving one or several special areas of joint action. Those leaders might be sceptical about such an offer, if they had read Brzezinski's blueprint:

"For the United States, Eurasian geostrategy involves the purposeful management of geostrategically dynamic states and the careful handling of geopolitically catalytic states, in keeping with the twin interests of America in the short-term preservation of its unique global power and in the long-run transformation of it into increasingly institutionalized global cooperation. To put it in a terminology that hearkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together."

Extrapolating from this theme, Brzezinski tells us that for the Americans,

"The most dangerous scenario would be a grand coalition of China, Russia, and perhaps Iran, an "antihegemonic coalition united not by ideology but by complementary grievances."

Not surprisingly, Brzezinski thinks that preventing this may be a difficult task.

Hope springs eternal, and it is clear that the alliance builders who went to work after September 11th, wished to overcome this problem in one fell swoop, exploiting the grievances of all three countries against their adversaries in Afghanistan by including them in the Coalition against Terrorism.

However, such an inclusive alliance was not to prove acceptable to the Iranians, and even the impressive results that had been obtained with the Russians and Chinese by the time of the Shanghai summit could be of rather short duration. But one thing is absolutely plain. Dominance, Full Spectrum or other, is absolutely incompatible with a democratically acceptable world order. To incorporate new subordinates under the prevailing domination will inhibit rather than encourage any development of democracy among them.

Whether we like it or not, this is bound to concern all the peace movements, and their concern will deepen, as the crisis extends itself.

Fortunately, it also concerns all those other movements which have already articulated their responses to global economic domination, debt, and the destruction of the natural environment. It is not difficult to see how the processes begun at Seattle and Porto Alegre, and continued in Genoa, share all the fundamental concerns of the new peace movement*.

The immediate question for all of us is, how can we bring about a constructive convergence of these movements, which may well become the most important human resource, in the effort to save the world from new paroxysms of destruction?



* These matters will be considered at the launch Conference of the European Network for Peace and Human Rights, European Parliament, Brussels on 31 January/1 February 2002. Further details from the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation (e-mail: & web site:


© TFF & the author 2002  


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