Do most people in the USA desire world peace? Like all normal human beings they certainly do, preferring a world of peace and stability to a world of wars and instability. Hence in normal conditions there is no reason why politicians should not be successful in seeking power on the basis of an agenda of world peace rather than an agenda of forever wars and war preparations.
What people of the USA, like people of all places, want most of all is that they should be able to meet their needs comfortably and have social security for difficult times as well as old age. Can this aspiration be met without exploiting people of other lands? Yes, this is certainly possible, as the USA has only 4% of the world’s people and 6 per cent of land area (compared to, for example, India which has 18% of the world’s people but just 2% of the land). The land of the USA is bountiful and, despite its misuse, still capable of meeting well the needs (although not the greed) of all the people of this country, as long as resources are used carefully and justly distributed. The geographical location of the USA is also very favorable and secure. Thus to meet the needs of its people, the USA has no inherent pressure to exploit or attack others.
However the situation changes if a relatively small number of highly resourceful, powerful persons manage to create a consensus among the leading politicians of both the dominant political parties that the leading aim of the country is not to meet the genuine needs and aspirations of people in conditions of peace and stability; instead the aim is to dominate the world and use this dominance, with the help of a few chosen submissive allies (vassals?) to arbitrarily use the resources of others as well to meet the unlimited greed of a chosen elite forever. A related aim is to glaringly cover up this highly unjust behavior in such a way that it can be passed off somehow to be consistent with democracy and peace; hence a lower rung of elites is employed for this cover-up too.
While the aim of meeting the needs and social security of all people of the USA is perfectly compatible with a world based on justice-based peace, the forever pursuit of economic, political and military dominance and with this the tendency to usurp the resources of others as well as to take arbitrary actions, including violent ones, against anyone who stands in the way, is obviously not compatible with world peace and stability. On the contrary, this inevitably involves wars and arms race involving increasingly more destructive weapons. Countries comprising about one fifth of the world’s population are sought to be taken along this path by the dominant section of their elites, with the core located in the USA and with the NATO as their military alliance. The identity of this top one-fifth is determined by strategic, historical, cultural and perhaps even unstated racial considerations.
Although the elites succeed in ensuring many advantages to secure their economic dominance at world level, this does not necessarily mean that the economic well-being of all the people living in these countries of the Global North is ensured. Just as greed motivates these elites to deprive other countries of their rightful share, similar greed motivates some of these elites to spare only a small share for the bulk of their people. In the USA, for instance, the bottom 50% of the population has only 1.5% of the wealth. Despite such injustice the elites seek to keep their people involved in their project of world dominance by manipulating them in various ways. Such relentless manipulation leads to many distortions and confusions in society, creating stress and distress.
Meanwhile, countries outside the global north aspire to progress and overcoming many adversities some of them are able to register fast economic growth. The elites of the global north instead of being appreciative and encouraging are much likely to see these as rival countries whose growth and aspirations should be curbed rather than assisted. Why they cannot be accommodative instead? The reason is that the exploiter countries can exploit more from a narrow base, and if those whom it seeks to exploit want to join them, then their own share will be much reduced, or if the upcoming countries want to set a new base of exploitation, then this too is unpalatable for entrenched elites as then they have a rival in exploitation of world’s resources and people. Hence by logic and habit the elites prefer to use their might and military to hinder and disrupt the emerging rival.
Following the disintegration of the USSR one option was to integrate Russia within the NATO alliance. But why should the USA and close allies spare some space for a rival as their habit and logic instead motivates them to put Russia under increasing pressure to open up its vast natural resources for plunder. Such is the logic of imperialism—it is seldom accommodative and that too under very special circumstances, its habit is to be aggressive and exploitative.
Wars and war-mongering which appear completely irrational, and in fact are completely irrational, appear to suddenly acquire great importance if the logic of imperialist thinking is followed.
Then there may be other countries which, with good reason and sense of justice, resent some of the unfair and extraordinary privileges the Global North elites have manipulated for themselves and seek to challenge them. There are others who oppose the exploitation, dominance and subservience being thrust on them in various ways.
All these countries may face the wrath of the forces of imperialism at one time or the other, leading to coups, destabilization, covert actions, military interventions and wars. This causes immense destruction and distress in all victim countries. However the perpetrators also have to bear some heavy costs, in combat as well as war-preparations being made all the time. Those justice-minded people within the Global North who protest against this also face suppression and isolation. Even the aggressive elites and their henchmen have to raise themselves to high levels of insensitivity in order to be able to carry out their essentially cruel and unjust agenda, leading to distress to them as well when this insensitivity spills over to their close relationships. Hence there is distress on all sides in the working of imperialism.
Imperialism with its globalized extraction and exploitation of resources of distant lands for greed driven consumerism is inherently destructive towards environment. This also leads to disruption of international cooperation even for meeting the most important priorities of environment protection and checking climate change. In the middle of all the imperialist preoccupations how can tasks like environment protection get the due priority? In addition the arms race, war preparations, wars, greed driven economic growth and consumerism are all highly polluting. Hence the most serious environmental problems are getting aggravated instead of being resolved.
Despite imperialism being integral to the arms race involving the most destructive weapons and to the accentuation of the environmental crisis and climate change, the issue of imperialism is almost never discussed at the biggest international conferences on environment protection and disarmament. In the middle of this neglect the survival crisis related to weapons of mass destruction and most serious environmental problems is getting most acute. People’s movements who are active in confronting these serious challenges will have to consider the role of imperialism as well, but if imperialism, even wounded imperialism, is allowed to prolong the survival crisis, then this may prove to be truly the real last stage of imperialism, where it is seen as dragging the entire world towards the erosion and destruction of life-nurturing conditions.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, A Day in 2071 and Protecting Earth for Children.