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January 27, 2020

The economic agenda of imperialism


January 27, 2020

It has not been fully explored how imperialism promotes the economic interests of the West. The common perception is that the West’s political and economic agendas exist in separate spheres, whereas they actually co-exist.

Noam Chomsky has discussed the economic agenda of imperialism (amongst other issues) in his recent interview with Robert Scheer for and we refer to it in this article.

One of the main points of the interview is how the United States (US) is bringing the world to a precipice by massively contributing to the “twin disasters”: failure to deal with climate change, and rollback of nuclear arms race control treaties and these “dystopian” models are going to ruin the world. However, we are going to focus on the economic agenda of imperialism part of the interview.

The US has around 800 military bases around the world. This is in addition to its enhanced capacity for “punitive surveillance”. It is viewed that cold war-oriented interventions of the US have been a “series of bellicose failures” from the military point of view ranging from Vietnam, Iraq, to Afghanistan. However, Chomsky’s view is that this US imperialism has prevented other countries from pursuing “independent development” model, and ushered in an era where the US multinationals are able to dominate the economic sphere in the world. The US empire has been engaged in these imperialistic wars to promote the interests of the US capital and it has tremendously benefited it and made it successful.

In the 1950s, US planners were concerned about the competition from the “superdomino” Japan. The worry was that if Indonesia, Burma, Thailand moved forward independently, they might circle around Japan as the hub of industrial and commercial centre. The rest of Southeast Asia might join in as well. American planners did not want to lose the Pacific War. They dominated militarily and curbed the independence of this region. The US destroyed Indochina militarily.

The real issue is political control of the world and is intricately linked to economic dominance. Kissinger is quoted to have said: “Chilean social democracy is a virus that might spread contagion”. The US launched Pinochet in Chile to control the “virus” as it has been supporting the launch of “brutal, vicious military dictatorships” all over to contain the “virus” and to dominate politically and economically.

There is focus on GDP that the US share of global GDP has decreased over the decades. US share was around 40 percent of world GDP in 1945; it declined to approximately 25 percent in 1970 and hovers around 17 percent presently. However, there is a need to look at another important measure of the US dominance of the world economy. US multinationals control about 50 percent of the world economy in every sector, ranging from manufacturing to retail. This economic success can be attributed to the US imperial model that prevented other countries from pursuing independent political and economic policies.

Chomsky further explains, “Suppose that the United States had really, in the forties and fifties, allowed countries to go their own way. Suppose that they’d said, OK, Vietnam, you want to develop independently, out of our control – fine, go ahead and do it; you’ll be successful. Thailand followed, Burma followed, Indonesia followed; Japan joined in and became the centre of this system. Would US multinationals be able to dominate the world?”

The imperial model succeeded. It was able to prevent other countries from developing independently, and paved the way for the global dominance of US multinationals. It also explains the current US-China rivalry.

China is moving towards independent development and the US is trying to prevent it from doing so. China has a successful industrial policy – a state-led industrial policy. The neoliberal economic theory repudiates this state-led industrialization and considers it detrimental to the economy. However, all developed countries have benefited from state intervention.

The US would not have had computers and the internet had there been no government funding sponsoring it. However, the US does not want China to pursue state-led development for the fear that they would become successful and would not remain under the US control. The US is pursuing an imperial policy in the world and it has been very successful in gaining control.

The US is also getting out of the nuclear arms control treaties that have been operational for the past few decades, which is going to lead the world towards disaster. This is tantamount to the “dismantling of the entire arms control system”. George W Bush dismantled the ABN Treaty. Trump has just abandoned the INF Treaty. Obama also pursued similar indifference. The next on the chopping board could be the Open Skies Treat or the New START Treaty. These nuclear arms control treaties in the past greatly diminished the prospect of nuclear war and walking away from them poses dangers to world peace.

The US is following the “standard imperial history”, according to Chomsky. At the time of American independence from the British empire, King George the Third had similar views. He thought the rise of republicanism in the New World colonies could spread like a virus in other British colonies as well and could lead to erosion of the empire. The US has been following this imperial pattern since the 20th century, and hides behind the mantra of “American exceptionalism” which is nothing but imperialism and pursuit of economic dominance of the world through military hegemony.

The writer is an Islamabad-based social scientist.

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