War briefing
Juan Chingo
La Verdad Obrera 116


The international tensions have reached its climax in the last few weeks. The transatlantic rumble is reaching new, unprecedented heights, while major rifts have opened inside NATO, the European Union and also a crisis opened up with the Eastern European countries on the verge of EU membership. The last UN Security Council meeting saw Colin Powell standing in isolation in the face of a Franco-German proposal to give more time to the inspectors -a move also supported by Russia. Furthermore, the speech delivered by the French Foreign Minister was met with an standing ovation. On the other hand, millions protested worldwide last February 15. The US decision to go for a war on Iraq and the backlash fuelled by it are reaching a point of no turning back.



This not the first time ever that the European powers stand in opposition to Washington. The Suez Canal crisis in 1956 -when France and Britain wanted to uphold their colonial influence in the region, with the US opposing such move- was a major standoff also. Then came the Vietnam war and the Pershing missile deployment in Europe under Reagan in 1980, occasions in which major differences arouse. However, the Western world shared the same strategic agenda. The US and Europe both had a common interest -the fight against communism.
Today, instead, the different views do not revolve around tactical questions. Nor is the policy to be pursued in Iraq or Norht Korea a key question at stake, either. In the words of the commentator Jim Hoagland, the differences `revolve now around the scope and the nature of the American leadership on worlda affairs. These are not just another strand of the debate going on inside NATO around the Soviet gasoduct or the Pershing missiles. The transatlantic rumble
could be discreetly absorbed as far as the events or time itself provided solutions. The disputes of today revolve around the course of history. They emerge due to a lack of a common understanding on global security and America's role when it comes to delivering it. They are not going to fade away easily if the US, the UK, Turkey and other nations go ahead with a military action against Iraq in the face of the wide opposition of other traditional allies'. (Washington Post, 'America challenged', 13/02/03)
This political and strategic standoff opposing the big powers is far from being a trifle. It heralds a disruption of capitalist equilibrium. For all the talk of the advocates of 'globalization', with their economistic view of an ever self-expanding capital driven by the free market, the relationships between the states and the bargains between them remain key factors that allow for the expansion and the reproduction of the capitalist relations of production.
Today, Washington's decision to go for a unilateral war against Iraq, and the standoff with some of its main European allies, is threatening to smash both the postwar order and the prevailing alliances to pieces -a move with ominous consequences for capitalist equilirium as a whole.
This is just what some commentators fear. Paul Samuelson comments, 'The bad news is that globalization might be reversed, damaging countries that depend on international trade and investment.' He quotes another commentator that draws a harrowing parallel with the situation in 1913, 'when hardly anyone could imagine that the world economy might get out of control', adding that 'the danger now is that the top economic players are divided around non-economic issues and have lost the ability of trusting each other'.And then he concludes that 'the Financial Times from London reported last week that the leaders of the European corporations are concerned that the diplomatic standoff between the US and France/Germany grows into a trade dispute. The German companies are alreading reporting on a violent reaction by American consumers, said the Financial Times'. (Newsweek, February 24). Depending on the final outcome of the Iraqi test, i.e. should it deepen still more the inter-imperialist rifts, transforming former allies into open rivals, the frail capitalist equilibrium in place today might stumble.



The massive demonstrations of February 15 are the biggest ever in the whole record of imperialist oppression on the peoples of the world, this time against a war aimed at a semicolonial country. This highly symptomic because the war has not started yet. The mass nature of the movement, and the fact that people are seeing through it, picturing very clearly the rapacious motives at work in the forthcoming attack against Iraq speak volumes of its progressive nature. It also points to a heightened consciousness in the masses themselves -people are chanting 'No blood for oil!'- in spite of the predominantly pacifist mood among them, and the trust many still have in imperialist institutions like the UN.
This movement has come to life as a sum-total of individual men and women (a 'multitude'), and is not as yet a class phenomenon. The workers are not giving the lead to all the social layers opposing the war right now. But it would still premature to jump to conclusions in this regard, since the naivety or else the pacifist illusions within the movement might herald a revolutionary radicalization in the heat of a coming war.
What is new and remarkable is that the February 15 demos signalled that a new actor was coming onto the scene. In spite of being ignored by the US TV networks, the New York Times has duly taken notice of it. In an article titled 'A new power on the streets', they say that 'the standoff of the Western alliance on Iraq and the mass demonstrations against the war worldwide last weekend bears testimony that we might still have two superpowers in the planet: the US and world public opinion.' And later on, they add, 'The fresh awakening of the antiwar sentiment might not be enough to deflect Bush or his advisors from their determination for war, but the total figures of demonstrators is delivering a powerful message in the sense that the rush to war might have political consequences for those nations supporting the drift of Mr. Bush in the direction of the river Tigris and the Euphrates.' They conclude remarking that, 'for the time being, a remarkable phenomenon has appeared in the streets of the cities of the world. It might not be as deep as the people's revolutions sweeping through Eastern Europe in 1989 o the European class struggle in 1848, but the politicians and the leaders are not likely to ignore it'. (NYT, 17/02/03)
Those Europeans governments that have sided with Bush, like Britain's -the US's main ally- or else France's and Spain's have witnessed the most massive demonstrations. Thus, they are the ones in the weakest position when it comes to the political after-effects -first and foremost if the war does not proceed along quick and efficacious lines, like the Pentagon would want it to be. The political foundations of Tony Blair have grown extremely thin right now, not only as a result of the mass opposition he is coming up against, but also the growing dissent in the ranks of his own Labour Party. Should the UN fail to endorse the belligerent adventure and the demonstrations get radicalized, Blair might come tumbling down like Margaret Thatcher in the wake of the violent Poll Tax riots of the early 1990s.
In Spain, Aznar´s Popular Party was getting ready to preside over Spanish politics for the next period ahead, but alas!, the Socialist Party is on the rise again, making a come back after what looked like a political comma. The Italian premier, Berlusconi, felt the full impact of mass labor demonstrations and strikes against his reactionary agenda for austerity last year, and is now being harassed by new mass protests. Although he is standing by Bush, he has followed the advise of the Vatican and asked the American president to be more cautious. Instead, France has been leading the diplomatic opposition to the unilateral course of the US, unlike his EU partners. Chirac has rallied the nation behing his agenda, thus welding national unity and enhancing his social support.
Apar from the weakness of those governments that have rallied with Bush, the projected war against Iraq has divided the members of the European Community, opposing in turn the latter to the Eastern European countries as well -the bourgeois unification has thus been loosened, at a time when the world recession is hitting Europe very badly and the EU is busy trying to incorporate the former Communist countries into its orbit. Such disputes might fuel both economic and political instability throughout this key region, also opening gaps that the labor movement and the mass can take advantage of.



The fact that a flare-up in a peripheral country such as Iraq should unleash a bitter fight between the main imperialist powers bears testimony to the hitherto unseen massive erosion of the foundations of the US-hegomonized world order -which had been laid at the end of World War II. In the wake of the demise of the former USSR, the whole setup inherited from the Cold War period has become useless for dealing with the contradictions and the new realities emerging from a world already carved out by a triad of powers with relatively similar economic prowess since the early 1970s.
During the 1990s, this tendency was exacerbated because the 'bipolar world' of the Cold War was not superseded by a 'multipolar world', as the European powers had expected -instead, the Japan's depression along with the economic shortcomings of the European Community resulted in a renewed economic and political supremacy of the US. This deepened the imbalance of power at the heart of the international system between the US on one hand, and its rival powers on the other. The September 11 attacks and the American response to them -with the US relying on its overwhelming military muscle to wrestle strategic advances in the geopolitical field- dealt a heavy blow to the increasingly ficticious unity of the Western world.
After the unheard-of standoff of the last few weeks, the world leaders are trying to reach a compromise before things get nastier. While the heat keeps rising and the accusations fly from one side of the Atlantic to the other, a feverish round of diplomacy has been unfolding behind the scenes in an attempt to bridge the abysmal gaps opened. However, this is no easy thing to do, let alone accomplish.
That is why there are fundamental decisions to be taken in the next few days. The denouement of the war in Iraq will have a massive impact, not only for the war plans of the US -above all in the perspective of a long war- but also its ability to stabilize the Middle East, if Saddam Hussein is ousted from power. It is most likely that such outcome will come with a high price attached for the US leadership, accelerating its historical decline.