THE NEW IMPERIALISM?

Amy Barkshire, Member, on 17 May 2002

Amy Barkshire, a member with an academic background in medical sociology, began her talk by asking whether we are witnessing economic imperialism since the decline of the nation state? The term `new imperialism' is being used by some writers in that context.

Noam Chomsky suggested in 1996 that after 1945 United States policy has been to promote, protect and subsidise free enterprise under the disguise of defence. He wrote of an `international military Keynesianism' which required restoration of something like the old colonial system in order to implement that strategy. He later pointed out that corporations are treated legally as individuals with established rights, but with much greater wealth, longevity and power. A New Statesman contributor in April 2002 has referred to an unanticipated reality now in which `ethnic and religious wars have supplanted secular ideological conflicts, terror has returned and empire is being reinvented'. The MP for Bath, Don Foster, suggested in the same month that `if we don't change the rules, future generations will be looking back on globalisation as the new colonialism'.

The speaker traced developments after World War Two that she believes show the emergence of an international ruling class of politicians, financiers and businessmen. In 1944 the Bretton Woods Conference initiated the World Bank, the IMF and GATT, ostensibly to foster world trade and provide funds for reconstruction and development. After 1950 OECD and the EU promoted the integration of European policies for economic growth and development. After 1975 the Western powers formed the G7 group for the co-ordination of economic policies. Financial markets and business began to be deregulated. Then the US ended the Bretton Woods currency agreement - capital became nomadic and speculation became global through electronic transfers. The pre-1970 ratio between trade-based capital flow (then 90%) and speculative flow (then 10%) was precisely reversed.

The Structural Adjustment Programmes of the IMF were renamed Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, but remained impositions. After the North American Free Trade Area was set up in 1994, the World Trade Organisation was founded, based upon declared principles of free trade. Parallel developments in employer organisations brought the Transatlantic Business Dialogue in 1995 and the Transatlantic Economic Partnership in 1997, to work with the WTO. In 2001 the World Business Council on Sustainable Development and the International Chamber of Commerce jointly promoted Business Action for Sustainable Development. Asian and African bodies have also attempted to develop regional organisations to promote such development. A current proposal is for an International Development Trust, which would involve the World Bank, the IMF and some particular countries.

World population grew from 2 billions in 1930 to 6 billions in 2000. One aspect is a southern population explosion accompanying a northern technological explosion, yielding dire consequences for the global environment and increasing polarisation between the super-rich countries and others, involving increasing debts by southern countries. Over the same period the number of nation-states has trebled, which affected the voting patterns of the UN General Assembly - one consequence arguably being the withdrawal by the US of support and funding and sometimes of its bypassing of the UN altogether.

Economic rules are written by those who have power. Although the US has but 7% of the world's population it uses 30% of the world's energy and access to oil is seen as crucial to its survival. Following the oil crisis of 1973 US economic and political activities have been directed towards greater control of resources. Around the world there are over 100 US bases and US interests are regarded as uppermost by its leaders wherever any threat to its dominance is observed. The speaker warned that "US unilateralism" could dominate international development, but Britain, through its `special relationship' with the US and its membership of the EU, G7 and the Commonwealth gave it unique influence. (Gordon Brown's recent initiative in proposing a New Partnership for African Development was endorsed by the Organisation for African Unity in July 2001.)

The speaker saw at least two alternative futures. `Hyper expansion', based upon economic growth, competition and exploitation of nature, could continue, with predictable effects. Alternatively, a `sane, humane and ecological future' could be based upon `co-operation, tolerance and justice', but that would require developed effective partnerships by the world's richer nations.

In discussion the speaker's emphasis on the hegemony of US power was queried. Mention was made, for example, of the Mafia and the Masons.

She replied by reaffirming that Europe is being `colonised' by the US and pointed to the growing power of `right-wing' interests. Most, however, considered the analysis fundamentally sound and that the current global imbalances are undesirable. One contributor argued for inter-cultural understanding and a sharing of values, such as the importance of Nature. Another advocated the development of the concept of world citizenship.

Geoffrey Catchpole