Friday 8 April 2011

The silence of the lambs (PO)

M. D. Nalapat

China, India, Russia and Brazil — now joined by South Africa — are fast-growing economies that have recently taken up a lot of newspaper space for the speed with which they have been developing. However, the fact remains that they are as yet marginal players on the world stage, which is still dominated by the former colonial powers of Europe and their ally, the US. 

The latest proof of this has been the extraordinary silence of Beijing, Delhi, Moscow, Brasilia and Pretoria on events in Libya. After an initial show of disapproval once it became clear that UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was being used by NATO as an excuse for bombing Libya into submission, the five countries have watched the daily air raids on infrastructure and other assets largely in silence. Clearly, they are nervous at the possibility that they would annoy the NATO powers by coming out more forcefully against what in effect is a war of that military alliance against Colonel Kadhafi and his regime. Is it that countries that were regarded as tigers are in reality only lambs?

What lies behind the NATO attack on Libya? It is definitely not democracy, for if it were, there are far bigger states in the region that are far from democratic. It cannot be the protection of civilians, for NATO is doing nothing to stop the ongoing slaughter of pro-Kadhafi elements by those opposed to the Libyan strongman. In fact, it is tacitly assisting in such slaughter by its open backing for one side in what is a civil war. As for implementing the UN resolution, that has been left far behind by the scale and scope of NATO attacks, now being waged even on oilfields, according to the Libyan regime. 

The excuse of democracy has often been used by NATO powers as camouflage for their actual aims. However, if we take as an example the case of Hong Kong, the British colonial administration discovered the virtues of democracy only after it became clear that China would not allow the British to get a fresh lease of rulership over Hong Kong, and that they would have to pull out by 1997. 

The reality is that the so-called “post-colonial” world has been characterised by an alliance between local elites in several countries and the former colonial powers. In Africa, for example, we have the example of France, which seeks to perpetuate its status as the country favoured in commercial deals. In the Ivory Coast, defeated president Gbagbo sought to ensure that other options for his country get explored rather than the claustrophobic embrace of French entities. This made him the target of Nicholas Sarkozy, who is hopeful that Allesandro Wattara will be as pliant a French puppet as pre-Gbagbo leaders were in the Ivory Coast. There seems to be some unique chemistry in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – and these days in the UN - that make those who work in these institutions pliant instruments for the fulfillment of NATO objectives. In both India and Pakistan, those with such an “international” background have almost always sought to ensure that the concessions demanded by the NATO economies be granted.

Under Ban Ki-Moon, the UN has evolved into an agency that has legitimized intervention by the former colonial powers in countries that are these days legally independent. The BBC and CNN - not to mention Al Jazeera, which seems to toe the NATO line even more faithfully than these two channels - talk with approval about the intervention of the “former colonial power Italy”, just as they approve the muscular French intervention in the Ivory Coast. After all, France is the “former colonial power”. While this relapse into the syntax of the past goes on, India, China, Russia, Brazil and South Africa watch by the sidelines, although the toxic nature of such a shift in international practice is damaging to all five. What would Secretary General Moon’s reaction be if Japan were to declare a special interest in Korea as the “former colonial power”? After all, he has facilitated such an usurpation of authority by European colonial powers in both Asia as well as Africa. Were it practicable, there is little doubt that South America would be next, with NATO intervening against Hugo Chavez. 

Why these spasms of activity by NATO? The reason is not political but economic. Financial speculation and the uncontrolled greed visible since the era of Reagan-Thatcher has pushed the NATO economies to the edge of collapse. Now that Portugal has fallen, the next will be Italy and Spain. To avoid such a fate, all kinds of optimistic views are getting aired in the media. However, those in the know accept that it is only a question of time before Spain and Italy fall the way Portugal and before that Ireland have. The best way out would be for such countries to accept that they are living beyond there means, and to drastically cut back on social services and other benefits. However, this is politically unacceptable to the NATO powers, so they seek another way out, which is to squeeze countries in Asia, Africa and South America into providing the surpluses needed for the NATO powers to continue on their unaffordable way for longer.

Libya is a lesson for the GCC. That entity has had its people and its treasuries lose more than $1.3 trillion in the 2008 financial crash. As a result of such criminal misconduct on the part of a handful of financial institutions based in Zurich, New York, London, Chicago and Frankfurt, millions of investors in Asia, Africa and South America have lost heavily. Within the Arab world, there is a growing realization that funds parked in such traditional entities are unsafe, and that options (such as India and China) need to be explored. This, indeed, was what Colonel Kadhafi was seeking to do before the bombing started. The NATO attack on Libya sends a clear message to the entire Arab world: If you do not continue to park your funds with us, look at the fate that will befall you. Of course, parking such funds means the risk of losing them once again, given that the criminal practices of the financial institutions that were legalised after the Reagan-Thatcher Age of Greed began are continuing. Barack Obama has not had the courage or the will to bring to account those that almost ruined the economy of his country, with the result that they and their friends in Europe are once again placing the international economy at risk by speculation. 

Rather than rein in such criminal activities, the NATO powers are instead seeking to gain economic concessions at the point of a gun. It is no secret that commercial interests in France have been angered by a slowdown since 2008 of Libyan purchases. Those in the Kadhafi government say that the reason for this has been the need to set aside higher budgetary resources for social expenditure such as on food and healthcare. They say that such an increase in money spent on the Libyan population was needed to prevent widespread social unrest, which even after the boosts in public spending rose substantially during the past year. However, even while he sought to damp down unrest in Libya, Colonel Kadhafi angered French and other NATO commercial interests by slowing down his purchases from them. That President Sarkozy is locked into a willing embrace with some elements of French business is well known. He even left his charming, accomplished and socially-aware wife of many years to marry a glamorous lay who is well known for her closeness to business interests. Clearly, he has been persuaded by them to punish Kadhafi for cutting back on business deals with French companies.

It is a source of wonder to the many admirers of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as to why the UN chief is unaware of the crass commercial motivations behind the NATO strikes, and the danger in his opening the Pandora’s Box of intervention by NATO powers in their former colonies. The fact is that this strategy - of enhancing commerce at the point of a gun the way it used to occur during the period of frank colonialism - will fail. Libya will descend into chaos ,and oil production will be the casualty. Rather than get billions of dollars from their favorites in eastern Libya, the NATO powers will be forced to fund them at a time of economic hardship.

Colonel Kadhafi listened to his nincompoops sons and disarmed Libya. He made himself as helpless as Saddam Hussein had before him. The odds are that he will go the way of Saddam, another victim of those who believe that they and they alone have the right to dictate the path of events. Unless the Five Lambs who will in days be meeting in China for the BRICS summit somehow get enough courage to challenge NATO by demanding a fresh meeting of the UN Security Council that can halt the bombing and destruction caused by “former colonial powers”. Looking at present=day events, the word “former” needs to be removed from that sentence.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

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