(19 pages)

(There is a c.120 page collection of documents providing evidence for this account.)

(The first few pages repeat points detailed in TSW: Third World Development.)


The global economy which delivers high "living standards" to us in rich countries is an imperial system; i.e., it involves domination, injustice, exploitation and repression and military action in order to secure for us far more than our fair share of world wealth.


            Who gets most world wealth?

Only a few people are getting most of the world's resource wealth.  The one to two billion who live in rich countries are getting about 80% of resources produced, such as oil.  Our per capita resource consumption is about 15-20 times the average for the poorest half of the world's people. Most Third World people are so seriously deprived of resources that large numbers are extremely poor and malnourished. For example the average energy consumption per person in a rich country is about 85 times as great as it is in Bangladesh. In other words, we in rich countries are getting far more than our fair share of the available resource wealth. Because we are taking most of the resources such as oil and fish these are not available for many who as a result suffer hunger and hardship.

Even more important, much of the productive capacity of the Third World, its land, forests, fisheries, factories and labour, are mostly geared to production of things to export to rich countries, not to producing things the people need.  This is the crucial fault in conventional development theory and practice. Third World people have around them the resources and the labour necessary to produce for themselves the basic things they need for a satisfactory quality of life, but these resources are not being applied to those purposes.  Instead they are going into producing to enrich the already-rich Third World elites, the corporations who own the plantations, and the people who shop in rich world supermarkets.

Thus the crucial point about "development" is to do with options foregone.  It is easy to imagine forms of development that are far more likely to meet the needs of people, their society and their ecosystems, but these are prohibited by conventional/capitalist development.  Needs would be most effectively met if people were able to apply their locally available resources of land, forest, fisheries, labour, skill and capital to the production for themselves of many of the basic items they need such as food and shelter, but this is precisely what normal conventional/capitalist development prevents. It ensures that the available  resources and productive capacity are mostly put into the most profitable ventures, which means mostly into producing relatively luxurious items for export to richer people.

So achieving global economic justice is not possible unless we in rich countries stop taking more of the world’s resource wealth than is our fair share, and allow Third World productive capacity to be geared to needs in the Third World.

“. . . the high standard of living in the West is owing partly to the extraction of a surplus in the form of cheap labour in the least developed countries.” p. 251.  “Our standard of living in the West depends in part on our exploitation of cheap labour and resources in the least developed countries...” p. 325. (Murdoch 1980.)

            How do we take the wealth?

These unjust distributions and the inappropriate development are a direct, normal consequence of the economic system. They are an inevitable result of the market mechanism. In the present economy production, distribution and especially development are not determined by reference to the needs of humans, societies and ecosystems. They are determined mostly by “market forces”, i.e., the quest to maximise profits from selling, buying, investing, trade…. The inevitable results are that the rich get almost all of the valuable resources simply because they can pay most for them, and that almost all of the development that takes place is development of whatever rich people want because that is most profitable, i.e., will return most on invested capital. It is in other words a capitalist economic system and such a system ensures that the few who own most of the capital will only invest it in ventures that are most likely to maximise their profits, and therefore in ventures which produce for those people with most “effective demand”, i.e., rich people. No other forms of development are undertaken, hence much of the productive capacity of Tuvalu or Haiti lies idle because people with capital can make more money investing somewhere else.

More importantly, most people cannot imagine any other form of development.  The dominant ideology has ensured that “development” cannot be thought of in any other way than as investing capital in order to increase the capacity to produce for sale in the market and thereby maximise profits. (On the alternative conception see TSW: The New Economy.)  Thus the possibility that development might be seen predominantly as improving the quality of life, security, the environment or social cohesion, or the possibility that these might be achievable only if the goal of increasing the GDP is rejected, almost never occurs in development literature or practice.  Development can only be thought of in terms of movement along the single dimension to greater amounts of production for sale, business turnover, investment, consumption, exporting and GDP. (…the ”uni-dimensional” conception of development.)

Thus conventional development is only the kind of development that results when you allow what is developed to be determined by whatever will most enrich those few with capital competing in a market situation.  The inevitable result is development in the interests of the rich, i.e., those with the capital to invest and those with most purchasing power. The global economy now works well for perhaps less than 10% of the world’s people, i.e., the upper 40% of the people in rich counties, plus the tiny Third World elites.

Conventional development is, in other words, a form of plunder.  It takes most of the Third World’s wealth, especially its productive capacity, and allocates it to the corporations and consumers of the rich countries.  It takes much of this wealth  from billions of people who are so seriously deprived that 850 million people are hungry and thousands die from deprivation every day. Again the core point is that there are far better options than conventional “free market” or capitalist development, especially forms in which the resources and the productive capacity of Third World people are fully devoted to production by the people of the things they most urgently need.

The Structural Adjustment Packages of the World Bank and IMF.

Since the 1970s the most powerful mechanism determining rich world access to Third World wealth has been the World Bank's Structural Adjustment Packages.  When a heavily indebted Third World country faces an impossible debt repayment situation the World Bank undertakes renegotiation of deadlines and provision of new loans – on condition that the country accepts a package of structural changes.  These centre on opening the economy to market forces and foreign investment, increasing exports, devaluing the currency, allowing corporations to take over government enterprises, cutting state spending and subsidies to the poor and reducing the Third World government’s capacity to regulate and control its own economy.

The rationale seems to make some sense in conventional economic terms since the objective is claimed to be to reduce national debt and increase business turnover and income.  However there is extensive documentation that the strategy does not even achieve these conventional economic goals.

But this is a minor consideration. As many have explained, SAPs transfer access to resources to the transnational corporations, and they dismantle the economy and enable the transnational corporations and banks to come in and buy up the most profitable remains at low prices. For example Chussodovsky (1997)  describes the sale of the USSR’s biggest aero engine factory for a mere  $300,000. Deregulation gets rid of the restrictions previously put on the corporations. Devaluation makes the country's exports to us cheaper and its imports from us dearer. New loans to meet urgent debt repayments saddle the country with even higher and unrepayable debts to our banks. Debtors are told that they must cut their spending, so governments slash welfare and assistance to the poor. All this is a bonanza for rich world corporations, banks and supermarket shoppers, while it further impoverishes the poor. The economy is prevented from producing to meet local needs and forced to let the corporations develop what they want with minimal interference. The process reduces the proportion of national wealth that the poor majority have access to and transfers this to the corporations and banks.

            The “trickle down” rationale.

On those rare occasions when a rationale for conventional development is given,  the “trickle down” theory is trotted out. The fact that ‘development” mostly enriches the rich is justified on the grounds that in the long run the increase in national wealth will “trickle down” to lift the living standards of the poor majority.

There are several reasons for rejecting this rationale.

Little trickles down to those in most need. The reductions in global poverty commonly claimed have mostly been in China (…see Hickel, 2017, Edward and Summer, 2013, McRae 2008), due in large part to China taking manufacturing business other poor countries used to have. Trickle down apologists do not consider the net effects; neo-liberal globalisation impoverishes many by allowing foreign corporations to come in and take the production opportunities. The rate of trickle-down development is extremely slow; it would probably take more than a hundred years for the “living standards” of the poor majority in the Third World to rise to present rich world levels. Fletcher (2016) quoting the U.N. Human Development Report says that in 2003 after decades of neoliberal development, 54 nations were poorer than they had been in 1990, and Sub-Saharan Africa had a lower per capita income than 40 years before. (See also Hickel, 2016.) Then there is the moral issue; the trickle-down rationale promises to improve the welfare of those in great need via crumbs from the tables of the rich. Above all, the global resource situation will not permit Trickle Down to work; there are far too few resources for this to be achieved.

Hence we have an empire.

The foregoing account is about the way the the global economy functions to siphon wealth from poor countries to the corporations and people of the rich countries. The “living standards” we have in rich countries could not be anywhere near as high as they are if the global economy did not function in these unjust ways.  We could not have the resources, the products, the comfort, the health standards or the security from turmoil if we were not getting far more than our fair share of the world’s wealth. It is a zero sum game; if we get the coffee then that land cannot grow food for local people. If we get oil to run a ski boat, others will get too little to sterilise the contaminated water that kills large nubers of people children every year. Because big fishing boats from rich countries are taking fish from the coasts of poor countries so our pets can have tinned food, those fish are no longer available to the poor people of those regions.

In most cases market forces are sufficient to keep people in the plantations and sweatshops producing mostly for the benefit of others. People have no choice but to accept work for very low wages. Often the rich countries can get poor countries to accept rules that suit the rich simply by virtue of their superior economic power, for instance by threatening to deny access to rich world markets or to deny them new loans when the can’t pay their debts. 

However, from time to time people rebel against these conditions and threaten to divert their productive capacity and their local resources to their own benefit.  Sometimes they contemplate replacing the coffee trees with corn for themselves.  Sometimes they move to nationalise the mines so that most of the earnings can go back to the people, or they attempt to block the export of logs and the destruction of their forests.  Sometimes they threaten our access to “our” oilfields (which unfortunately happen to be under their sand.)  Sometimes this has been termed “nationalist” development, i.e., development aimed at ensuring that the main goal is to benefit the nation, which means making sure that development is not just development of what corporations want. Rich countries have always fiercely opposed ‘”nationalist” development, labelling it “socialist” and therefore ill-advised and inefficient, and threatening to block aid and loans if the error is not corrected.

Rich countries support many oppressive regimes willing to keep their countries to economic policies that will benefit local elites and rich countries, and they often mover to get rid of governments that threaten not to go along with such policies.  Usually the rationale is in terms of the need to help a friendly government to put down a rebellion. Until recently this could always be labelled “communist subversion”, thereby eliminating any concerns about the legitimacy of the action. However in Colombia it has recently been labelled as a “war on the drug trade”, and in general it can now be labelled as a "war on terrorism". On many occasions governments of rich countries have waged ruthless war to install or get rid of regimes, according to whether or not they would facilitate the access of our corporations and the diversion of their resources and productive capacity to purposes that suited us.

In other words the rich countries have an elaborate and powerful empire which they protect and control mostly via their economic power but also via the supply  of military equipment and training to the repressive client regimes they support, and often through the direct use of their own military force. Our living standards could not be as high as they are, and our corporations could not be so profitable,  if a great deal of brutal repression was not being used to keep people to the economic policies which enrich us at their expense. As Herman says, there is a "…ruthless imposition of a neo-liberal regime that serves Western transnational corporate interests, along with a willingness to use unlimited force to achieve Western ends.  This is genuine imperialism, sometimes using economic coercion alone, sometimes supplementing it with violence." 

There is a vast literature detailing this account of the situation. Following is an illustrative  selection of statements. (N.B. Because the collection of material for this document ceased many years ago most of the quotes are old. However there is an abundant literature on these kinds of activities up to the present day.)

"To maintain its levels of production and consumption…the US must be assured of getting increasing amounts of the resources of poor countries. …This in turn requires strong support of unpopular and dictatorial regimes which maintain political and police oppression while serving American interests, to the detriment of their own poor majorities. If on the other hand Third World people controlled their own political economies,…they could then use more of their resources themselves…much of the land now used to grow export cash crops…would be used to feed their own hungry people for example."  (W. Moyer, 1973.)

"It is in the economic interests of the American corporations who have investments in these countries to maintain this social structure (whereby poor masses are oppressed and exploited by local elites.)  It is to keep these elites in power that the United States has …provided them with the necessary military equipment, the finance and training."  (Green, 1980, p. 125..)

"The impoverished and long abused masses of Latin America…will not stay quietly on the farms or in the slums unless they are terribly afraid…the rich get richer only because they have the guns.  The rich include a great many US companies and individuals, which is why the United States has provided the guns…."  (Chomsky and Herman, 1979,  p.3.)

"No socialist or communist government giving top priority to the needs of its people would, if it had any choice in the matter, willingly sell natural resources, especially the produce of its soils, at such very low returns to the common people as the typical Third World government does now.    '. . No democratic government could permit its country's resources to be developed on terms favourable to American corporate and government interests."  (Katsnelson and Kesselman, 1983, p. 234.)

To repeat, the essential evil within the system is to do with the extremely uneven shares of wealth received. For instance, the bulk of the wealth generated by coffee production now goes to plantation owners, transnational corporations, and consumers in rich countries. Coffee pickers often receive less than 1% of the retail value of the coffee they pick. Any genuinely "socialist" or "nationalist" government would drastically redistribute those shares, or convert the land to food production, if it could, meaning that people in rich countries would then get far less coffee etc., or pay much higher prices. Hence we again arrive at the basic conclusion: a more just deal cannot be given to the people in the Third World unless rich countries accept a marked reduction in the share they receive from wealth generated in the Third World.  Any genuinely socialist government would certainly clamp down on the bonanza terms now granted to transnational corporations, such as long tax-free periods, few restrictions on repatriation of profits, repressive labour laws, low safety standards, controlled or banned unions, and weak environmental laws. Even more important is the taken for granted doctrine that development can only be of what people with capital will make most profit from, not of the industries that will benefit most people.

Anyone who challenges this system will be identified as an economic illiterate, or a communist or insurgent, and dealt with appropriately. When a hungry labourer picks coffee for you at one-twentieth the wage you would expect, you and the coffee corporation are enriched at his expense, and he will not go on picking your coffee unless he is forced to do so by economic circumstances or fear of violence.

“In order to impose the model of development which gives privilege to small minorities, it was necessary to create or maintain a repressive State. The development they wish to impose on the country can only provoke indignation among the people . . . If there were any type of freedom left the cries of protest would be so great that the only solution has been to impose absolute silence.” (Chomsky and Herman, 1979.)

These policies of repression are “… designed to keep large numbers in a state of serious deprivation while small upper classes, multinational business interests and elites of military enforcers "develop" these countries without any democratic constraint.” (Herman, 1982.)

“The basic fact is that the United States has organized under its sponsorship and protection a neo-colonial system of client states ruled mainly by terror and serving the interests of a small local and foreign business and military elite.” 

“U.S. economic interests in the Third World have dictated a policy of containing revolution, preserving an open door for U.S. investment, and assuring favourable conditions of investment. Reformist efforts to improve the lot of the poor and oppressed, including the encouragement of independent trade unions, are not conducive to a favourable climate of investment.” (Chomsky and Herman, 1979.)

            Illustrating the violence and oppression taking place.

Following are some references illustrating the violence and oppression carried out by Western states or their "clients" in order to keep in place conventional/capitalist development strategies.  Much of this evidence indicts the US but this is incidental; the core problem is the powerful acquisitive drive in the Western mentality which fuels the insatiable quest for greater wealth and higher “living standards”, greater corporate profits, and a rising GDP. Given this, nations will compete for scarce resources and one will emerge as dominant, and run the empire in its own interests. In our era the dominant power just happens to be the US. The fundamental long term task is not to restrain US behaviour but to deal with the underlying motivation that comes from deep within Western culture and that generates imperialism and related problems, such as ecological destruction and resource depletion.

“In the early 1980s approximately 40,000 people were killed by the ruling class in El Salvador, mostly via "death squads” composed of off duty military officers  and police.  “The regime which presides over these measures would long since have collapsed were it not for the support of the US. US backed loans in 1981 amounted to $523 million.  (New Internationalist, 1983.) The US ensures “…the maintenance of a violent and undemocratic regime…which without American intervention would clearly fall within the next three months…” (The Guardian, 1981.) Training by US military “…has directly aided the oligarchy to carry out its terror campaign against peasant and worker masses…”  (CISAC, 1981.)  "The US has unfailingly supplied the tools of terror and repression to the Salvadoran military, as well as training in their use." (George, 1991, p. 5.)  After referring to massacres in El Salvador similar to those in Guatemala Chomsky says "…this is international terrorism, supported or directly organised in Washington with the assistance of its international network of mercenary states," (Chomsky, 1991, p. 23.)

In Indonesia in 1965 approximately 500,000 "communists" were slaughtered. The US fuelled the climate which led to the bloodbath, supplied names, provided equipment, and above all opted not to take steps to oppose the event it knew was coming. 

"…the US has undeniably launched major terrorist attacks against Cuba… including attempts to assassinate Castro. CIA trained Cuban exiles  bombed a Cuban civilian airliner, killing all 73 aboard…"  (Chomsky, 1991, p. 23.) George notes that most of these attacks of terrorism were organised by the Kennedy administration. (George, 1991, p. 24.)

Chomsky says "…the worst single terrorist act of 1985 was a car-bombing in Beirut on March 8 that killed 80 people and wounded 256.  According to Woodward the attack …was arranged by the CIA and its Saudi clients with the assistance of Lebanese intelligence and a British specialist…" (Chomsky, 1991, op. cit., p. 26.)  In 1986 the major single terrorist act was the US bombing of Libya."  (Chomsky, 1991, p. 27.)

US efforts to crush the Sandinista government in Nicaragua constitutes one of the clearest and most disturbing instances of sustained terrorism.  The US helped to install and then to maintain the Somaza dictatorship for 46 years, (the Somoza family ended up with 30% of the country's farmland. (Sydney Morning Herald, 17th July, 1979.)  As Easterbrook says "…the US launched a war against Nicaragua. That was a terrible war.  Tens of thousands of people died. The country was practically destroyed.  The Nicaraguans went to the World Court…the World Court ruled in their favour and ordered the United States to stop its 'unlawful use of force ' (that means international terrorism) and pay substantial reparations….the United States responded by dismissing the court with contempt and escalating the attack. (Chomsky reports that a further $100m in military aid was immediately granted; 1991, p. 27.)  At that point Nicaragua went to the UN Security Council which passed a resolution calling on all states to obey international law.  “…the United States vetoed this resolution.  Nicaragua then went to the UN General Assembly, which two years in a row passed a similar resolution with only the United States and Israel opposed."  (For further references see note 2.)

 The Contras were organised by the CIA to attack the Nicaraguan government.  "…the documentation of the murder of civilians  as standard operating procedure of the Contras was already massive in 1984."  (George, 1991b, p. 94. See also Brody1998, and Americas Watch Reports.)

Former CIA director Stansfield Turner stated to a House subcommittee that US support for the Contras "…would have to be characterised as terrorism…" (George, 1991b, op. cit., p. 72. For several other references see Note 1.)

During the 1980s the US assisted South Africa in the wars it initiated against neighbouring states in its effort to defend apartheit. Gervasi and Wong detail the activities that resulted in 1.5 million war related deaths.  (For further references see note 3.).

East Timor provides another of the most disturbing instances of recent Western state behaviour.  Rich Western countries did not speak out, let alone condemn, let alone block the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, which they recognised as being in their interests. Instead they sold the Indonesians the weapons used to kill some 200,000 East Timorese people. US presidents Ford and Carter supported the takeover. Budiardjo quotes a US State Department official as saying Indonesia is "…a nation we do a lot of business with...we are more or less condoning the incursion into East Timor."  (Budiardjo, 1991, p. 200.)   Britain "…offered the Indonesian regime continuous and increasing military, financial and diplomatic support."  (George, 1991b, p. 81.)  "It is well established that the Western powers…had already decided to give Indonesia a free hand." (Bundiardjo, op. cit.,1991, p. 200.)

In Iran "…the US installed the Shah as an amenable dictator in 1953, trained his secret services in "methods of interrogation" and lauded him as he ran his regime of torture."  (Herman, 2001.) 

In Iraq the United States supported Saddam Hussein throughout the 1980s as he carried out his war (with Iran) …and turned a blind eye to his use of chemical weapons…"    (Herman, ibid.)

"In Vietnam selected Vietnamese troops were organised into terror squads." (McClintok, 1991, p. 133.) "…indiscriminate killing of civilians was a central part of a 'counter-insurgency war' in which 20,000 civilians were systematically assassinated under the CIA's Operation Phoenix Program…"  (Focus on the Global South, 2001.)  Pilger says this operation was the model for the later terror carried out in Chile and Nicaragua.   (Pilger, undated.)

In the 1960s Kennedy instituted "counterinsurgency, essentially the development of "special forces" trained in the use of terror to prevent peasants from supporting revolutionary groups.  For decades the US School of the Americas has provided this training to large numbers of Laltin American police and military personnel, including many of the region’s worst tyrants and torturers. As Monbiot (2001) says, "The US has been training terrorists at a camp in Georgia for years - and it's still at it." Training manuals include explicit material on the use of torture and terror.  "…torture,  'disappearance', mass killings and political imprisonment became the norm in many of the nations most heavily assisted by the United States…"  (McClintock, 1991, p. 142.)

From time to time rich countries go beyond assisting repressive regimes and intervene either through clandestine activity or direct invasion to bring down or maintain a Third World government. "Our governments have intervened with troops or undercover agents to maintain friendly governments and unseat hostile ones. Since 1945 the USA intervened on average once every 18 months somewhere in the world. It included Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954, Lebanon 1958, Thailand 1959, Laos 1959, Cuba 1961, British Guiana 1963, South Vietnam 1964, Brazil 1964, Dominican Republic 1965, Cambodia 1968, Laos 1968, Chilc 1973, Jamaica 1975; British intervention included Egypt 1955, Malaya 1948, Aden 1963, Brunei 1966-1978; French intervention included: French Indo-China 1946, Algeria 1956 and continuously with troops since independence in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mauretania, Central African Republic, Chad, Zaire 1978.'  (New Internationalist, October 1978, p. 5.)

Again, there is a huge literature documenting these and many other cases.  (See note 9.)   Herman and Osullivan present a table showing that the overwhelming majority of terrorist actions, measured by death tolls, have been carried out by Western states, i.e., our governments, as distinct from the USSR. "State terror has been immense, and the West and it’s clients have been the major agents."  (Herman and O.Sullivan, 1991.)

Any student of international relations or US foreign policy will be clearly aware of the general scope and significance of the empire which rich countries operate, and of the human rights violations, the violence and injustice this involves.  Again rich world “living standards”, corporate prosperity, comfort and security could not be sustained at anywhere near current levels without this empire, nor without the oppression, violence and military activity that keep in place conventional investment, trade and development policies. 

It should therefore be not in the least surprising that several hundred million people more or less hate the rich Western nations. This is the context in which events like those of September 11 must be understood. (For documents relevant to Sept. 11, see Section 2 in the collection of documents on the empire.)   It is surprising that the huge and chronic injustice, plunder, repression and indifference evident in the global economic system has not generated a far greater hostile reaction from the Third World, and more eagerness to hit back with violence.  This is partly explained by the fact that it is in the interests of Third World rulers to acquiesce in conventional development strategies.

Disqualifying and crushing alternative development examples.

A great deal of effort goes into ensuring that alternative non-capitalist approaches to development do not succeed. If any of them were to succeed, they might become examples showing other Third World countries that it was possible and desirable to pursue “nationalist’ capitalist development, let alone an appropriate path to development. This explains why even the smallest countries that opt for a non-capitalist path can become the object of intense economic and military action. Tiny Nicaragua or Grenada must not be allowed to opt out of the capitalist path to development and show other poor countries that they could do the same.

“... the tinier and weaker the country, the less endowed it is with resources, the more dangerous it is. If even a marginal and impoverished country can begin to utilize its own limited human and material resources and can undertake programs of development geared to the needs of the domestic population, then others may ask: why not us?” (Chomsky, 1986, p. 72.)

Hence the US waged war on Nicaragua as intensely as international opinion has permitted. Nicaragua was one of the most pathetically weak and impoverished countries in the world, due primarily to forty years of dictatorship and exploitation at the hands of Somoza who was installed by the US and constantly propped up by US aid and arms. Somoza exemplified brutal rule in the interests of a greedy local elite while making his country a paradise for foreign investors. At the end of his rule his family owned approximately one-third of the country's arable land. Over 25,000 people were killed ”… in the 41 year reign of terror aided and abetted by Washington... Against all odds the Sandinistas finally overthrew Somoza. Despite great difficulties and many admitted mistakes they have achieved rapid improvements in the living conditions of most people, putting to shame almost all other countries in the region with the exception of Cuba. The USA has consistently done all it could to destroy the experiment. In the mid-1980s the US was spending millions of dollars in aid to the Contras fighting against the Sandinista government, and direct US invasion seemed imminent. In addition, all possible strategies for economic sabotage were being exercised, such as blocking trade, loans and aid, and attempting to get US allies do the same.”

What about the claim that Nicaragua was a communist country right on America's doorstep? In terms of the proportion of its economy in private hands - over 60% Nicaragua was less socialist or communist than Australia.  The Nicaraguan revolution was made by popular resistance, and the communist party was not centrally involved in it. There were a few communists within high government circles, but they were far from dominant. Despite many claims, the USA has not been able to give any impressive evidence that Nicaragua is a base for Russian or Cuban activity, or is supplying arms to guerrillas in other regions such as El Salvador. As Berryman emphasises, “… at no point has the Reagan administration furnished convincing public proof for its repeated assertions that Nicaragua has sent massive and continual arms shipments to the Salvadoran rebels."

Nicaragua's unforgivable error was to reject development defined in terms of permitting foreign investors, market forces, the profit motive and the obsession with economic growth to determine what happens, and to insist on some degree of rational control and planning of development in the interests of the majority. The US onslaught was intended to make sure that such an alternative path was not seen to succeed in Nicaragua.

Similarly US efforts to overthrow Cuba become understandable. Cuba threatens to show that a non-capitalist approach can solve many problems. Several Cuban social indicators, such as the infant mortality rate, are equal to or better than US indicators, despite the huge difference in “wealth “. This is especially important with respect to the large scale emergence of local organic food production after the collapse of the USSR cut Cuba's access to imported oil. The US has carried out many aggressive actions against Cuba including attempts to assassinate Castro. The US still refuses to let Cuba trade with the US after 30 years, which impacts heavily on the Cuban economy. (This is not to say that Cuba is ideal or that it does not have political repression.)

            The role of the US.

Given the foregoing quotes it hardly needs to be added that in the modern era the US has been by far the greatest supporter of oppression and practitioner of terrorism. Again space permits no more than a brief selection from the many summary statements to this effect.  

"The US has rained death and destruction on more people in more regions of the globe than any other nation in the period since the second world war…it has employed its military forces in other countries over 70 times since 1945, not counting innumerable instances of counter insurgency operations by the CIA."  (The Editors, Monthly Review, 2001, p. 3.)

"…the US state has long been using terrorist networks, and carrying out acts of terror itself." ( Deak, 2001.)

The US "…is the greatest source of terror on earth."  (Pilger, undated.)

"The greatest source of terrorism is the US itself and some of the Latin American countries."  (Said, 2001, p. 68.)

"…the US is itself a leading terrorist state."  (Chomsky, 2001, p. 16.) 

"There are many terrorist states, but the United States is unusual in that it is officially committed to international terrorism, and on a scale that puts its rivals to shame.  (Chomsky, 1991, p. 15.)

"We are the target of terrorists because in much of the world our government stands for dictatorship, bondage, and human exploitation… We are the target of terrorists because we are hated…  And we are hated because our governments have done hateful things….Time after time we have ousted popular leaders who wanted the riches of the land to be  shared by the people who worked it…We are hated because our government denies (democracy, freedom, human rights) to people in Third World countries whose resources are coveted by our multinational corporations."  (Bowman, undated.)

“In 1998 Amnesty International released a report which made it clear that the US was at least as responsible for extreme violation of human rights around the globe -- including the promotion of torture and terrorism and state violence -- as any government or organisation in the world."  (See note 4.)

"From any objective standpoint, Israel and the United States more frequently rely on terrorism, and in forms that inflict far greater quantums of suffering  on their victims than do their opponents."  (Falk, 1991, p. 108.)

That this situation has been clearly understood for decades by critical students of American Foreign Policy is evident in the following quotes from the late 1970s and early 1980s. 

 "..the US and its allies have armed the elites of the Third World to the teeth, and saturated them with counterinsurgency weaponry and training…  Hideous torture has become standard practice in US client fascist states …  Much of the electronic and other torture gear, is US supplied and great numbers of …interrogators are US trained…"  (Chomsky and Herman, 1979,  p. 10.) 

"Many of the world's most brutal dictatorships "…are in place precisely because they serve US interests in a joint venture with local torturers at the expense of their majorities."  (Herman, 1982, p. 15.) 

After documenting supply of aid to 23 countries guilty of "human rights abuses", Trosan and Yates say, "Without US help they would be hard pressed to contain the fury of their oppressed citizens and US businesses would find it difficult to flourish.  "Whenever their people have rebelled and tried to seize power, thereby threatening foreign investments, the US has on every occasion actively supported government repression and terror, or has promoted coups to overthrow popular governments."  (Trosan and Yates, 1980, p. 44.)

“In South America and Africa we continue to prop up the regimes of generals who beat their countrymen with one hand and rob them with the other.” (Anderson, 1980.)

US aid “... has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens....” (Chomsky, 1986, p. 157.)

After documenting a number of cases  of US complicity in torture by Third World countries, Chomsky and Herman state, '”… much of the electronic and other torture gear is U.S. supplied, and great numbers of client state police and military interrogators are U.S. trained.  ... the U.S. is the prime sponsor of Third World fascism.” (Chomsky and Herman, 1979, p. 15.)

“Throughout the 1950s the United States government consistently fought against fundamental social and political change in underdeveloped countries. Under the guise of "protecting the world from communism" the United States has intervened in the internal affairs of at least a score of countries. In some, such as Guatemala and Iran, United States agents actually engineered the overthrow of the legitimate governments and replaced them with regimes more to American liking.”  (Hunt and Sherman, 1972, p. 162.)

Klare's book Supplying Repression provides detailed evidence on US supply of weapons and other assistance to some of the most repressive regimes in the world. “Between 1973 and 1978 the US gave to the ten nations with the worst repression and human rights records $1,133 million in military aid and sold them an additional $18,238 million worth of military equipment.” (p. 28.)

E. S. Herman's book  The Real Terror Network (p.  29) provides a very detailed account of the way in which most terrorism in the world is sponsored by the rich countries, through their assistance to their client regimes in the Third World, i.e., provision of military equipment, training and money. The title of the book is to do with the hypocritical fuss made by governments and the press in the rich countries about the terrorism inflicted by hijackers and guerrilla movements. This is terrorism on an almost trivial scale: by far the main source of terrorism is Third World governments sponsored by rich Western countries.

Finally, reference should be made to the approximately 450,000 US troops that have been stationed abroad at a particular point in time, in three hundred major US military bases. (The total in 2019 was around 800.) The giant Subic Bay naval base in the Philippines was not there to protect American soil; it was there to protect American interests, and yours, i.e., to enable ships to patrol the sea lanes along which our wealth moves, to support client regimes, to move Rapid Deployment Forces into “trouble spots”, to remind “subversives” what they will be up against should they try to move their country from the free enterprise way. What would happen to your living standards if all those troops were brought home? Many Third World regimes would be swept away in no time if it were not for our support. Some of them would probably be replaced by even worse regimes, but some would take land out of coffee and distribute it to the peasants, thus causing your coffee prices to rise. Whatever else they are doing, those 450,000 troops are also protecting our high living standards.

            Pretexts, hypocrisy, deception, spin…

Most people would probably not believe their governments do the kinds of things discussed above. This would not be surprising because governments conceal what is going on and deny and distort, and make out that what they do is justified, e.g., because it is ”in the national interest”, or required for security purposes. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union any challenge to the oppressive client government could be labelled “communist subversion” and therefore ruthlessly crushed without fear of protest.  More recently Western interventions are more likely to have been justified as dealing with “insurgents” or “religious fanatics”, or as “humanitarian intervention”, dealing with “insurgents”, or bringing about “regime change” (Iraq.)  Chomsky’s writings are especially valuable in illustrating the double-speak and hypocrisy in the official pronouncements, (eagerly reproduced in the media, which is owned by a few of the richest people.)  Our side never does anything intentionally evil…although we admit that we do at times make innocent mistakes, and the other side is pure evil and without any reason or justification for what it does to “our interests”.

But attend to the outcomes; always the result is change to, or reinforcement of, a situation in which our corporations have secured the wealth.  The new regime grants us more access, we get more bases, the corporations get easier access to resources.  The outcome is never a regime that will divert resources that used to flow to us so that they can go to the poor majority.

            The longer view; Imperialism in history.

Let's step back from the current era and reflect briefly on the fact that since the first empire  established in 2,300 BC humans have shown such a strong tendency to conquer and exploit empires. In more recent times the Portuguese were replaced by the Spanish, then the Dutch became dominant.  For a long period after that the British ran the world, fighting 72 colonial wars to gain control of their vast empire.  World Wars I and II can be seen as attempts by Germany to carve out an empire, which the British strenuously resisted. These wars exhausted Europe enabling the Americans to emerge as the most powerful nation and to organise the world economy in the ways that suited them. So throughout history some power can usually be seen to have kicked and clawed its way to the top of the heap and then to have run things in ways that deliver most of the available wealth to itself. 

With the coming of globalisation the power and the wealth is becoming located more within a tiny international corporate class than within any one nation. More importantly, the looting can mostly be carried out by the stroke of a pen, that is through the routine operations of the global financial system. The trick is to get a poor nation into impossible debt and slap a SAP on it, meaning that to get bail out loans it must open its economy to our corporations, sell us its assets cheaply, devalue (thus lowering its export prices and raising the price of its imports from us), drive wages and conditions down to attract investors, and cut expenditure on welfare and subsidies in order to pay interest on the debt.

Empires cannot be understood without attending to the ideas and values that sustain them.  Firstly people in general seem to have little or no idea that they have an empire and that the global economy is massively unjust in allocating most wealth to a few. They seem to see global inequality as due to “backwardness” and not the result of a system that is morally repugnant. Most seem to have even less understanding that they could not have their high “living standards” unless their governments work with Third World dictators and ruling elites to run local economies against the interests of local people, or that many terribly brutal things are done in this process.  The media refuse to deal with these issues, which is not surprising since they are owned by a few of the very richest beneficiaries of the empire.  What is more difficult to understand is why the many “intellectuals” who understand the situation make little effort to raise public awareness about it.  Reflect on the fact that everyone spends at least 7,000 hours in classrooms, and twice that for university graduates, but most are never told anything about way the global economy and the foreign policies of their governments deliver to them the resources billion of other people need.  Most disturbing is the failure/refusal of the many officials and politicians who administer the empire to speak out. This is largely due to the fact they they have had their minds twisted by the study of conventional economics, which teaches that the free market system is the only path for development to take, and time trickle down will make everything OK.

When the British empire was supreme it seems that almost everyone was intensely proud of it, somehow convincing themselves that it was “civilizing” the savages. It never seemed to occur to anyone that you are not supposed to invade or kill and steal, or oppress people. But the mentality now seems to be even more difficult to deal with because it is about indifference.  In “post-modern” culture people are obsessed with fleeting trivia, spectacles, celebrities, thrills, fun, mindless TV, sport, pop music, fashion, status, lifestyle, consuming throw away products … which is precisely what the corporations want because of the lucrative marketing opportunities. They are not interested in the way their lifestyles affect the rest of the world so they do not interfere with the corporate and government elites who quietly and invisibly go about the business of running the world in the ways that will maximise corporate wealth and keep the supermarket shelves in the rich countries well stocked.

These are the core problems in the human predicament – the failure/refusal to recognise that some of our fundamental ways, assumptions, values and systems are appallingly bad.

            The solution?

We cannot expect to achieve a just world order, (nor a peaceful or ecologically sustainable one) until we grow out of this greedy, infantile and wilfully deluded imperial mentality. If nations continue to insist on manipulating and fighting their way to ever greater wealth, power and prestige, then we will continue to have an infallible recipe for endless and accelerating domination, conflict and imperialism. The USA just happens to be the current (and rapidly deteriorating) top dog. It is no more contemptible than the rest; if New Zealand or Ireland were able to dominate the world system it would surely do so, given that most people in any country subscribe to the values and ideas that drive imperialism.  Chief among these is the commitment to the competitive quest for endlessly rising 'living standards” and GNP. We cannot expect to see an end to imperialism and the domination of nations, nor to international conflict, until we outgrow the mindless obsession with affluence, growth and power and focus on the need to live according to The Simpler Way. 

The core theme in this discussion has been that if you want to live in an affluent-consumer-capitalist society you must maintain your empire.  We cannot expect to build a world in which there are no empires, no domination and oppression and unjust flows of wealth unless we shift to The Simpler Way. This means living without unnecessary consumption, mostly in small, localised, self-governing and highly self-sufficient economies under local control, without growth an not driven by market forces or profit. The Simpler Way would make it possible for us to live well on the resources of our region and without drawing wealth from others or taking more than our fair share of world resources.







  1. For further detail on the Nicaraguan case see D. Melrose, Nicaragua: The Threat of a Good Example,  Oxfam, (1985), N. Chomsky, Turning the Tide, South End/Pluto, (1985), P. Kornbluh, Nicaragua;The Price of Intervention, Institute for Policy Studies, (1987), H. Sklar,  Washington's War on Nicaragua, South End, (1989).

2.   C. G.  Easterbrook, "Is there a non-violent response to September 11?',

galliher@alexia.lis.uiuc.edu  See also Chomsky, "International terrorism; Image and reality",  p. 16, and George, "The discipline of terrorology", p. 82-83.)

3.   S. Gervaszi and S., Wong, "The Reagan doctrine and the destabilisation of Southern Africa", in A George, Ed.,  Western State Terrorism, Cambridge, Polity, (1991), pp. 222, 226.  See also   J. Hanlon, Beggar Your Neighbours; Apartheit Power in South Africa, Islington, London, Catholic Institute for International Relations.

4. E. C. Collier, Instances of Use of United States Forces Abroad 1798 - 1993, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, (Oct. 7., 1993).  See Amnesty International, 1998, The United States of America; Rights for All, http://web.amnesty.org






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