“War…what is it good for?” Singer Edwin Starr answered his own lyrical question with “Absolutely nothing…”, and it is hard to disagree with that answer, unless the response comes from the promoters of war. Like the poor, the warmongers will, it seems, always be with us. Unlike the poor, the warmongers will themselves never see a day’s action, content to conduct their bloody military campaigns from afar while the uniformed working class die on the battlefield and the innocent civilians die by the bullet or the bomb.
Who are the warmongers? The answer is that they are not all that different in this century to the last century, or even the one before. Looking at the wars and ‘minor’ conflicts in other lands that have taken place in the 21st century, the warmongers and instigators and/or architects of conflict are principally the United States (and its proxies and client-states), and certain European countries, principally Britain and France.
The United States, currently the world’s sole superpower, has invaded Iraq and Afghanistan – two sovereign nations – facilitated primarily by Britain. Those invasions were founded on deliberate lies by both the US and Britain, and both invasions have led to massive loss of civilian life in the respective countries. The main components in what was called the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ were the US and European countries with imperialist histories, Britain, Spain and Italy. The US is also directly engaged through its client state Israel in the oppression of the indigenous Palestinian people (for over 60 years), and in the various Israeli invasions of Lebanon, the latest being in 2006. That long-drawn-out war against a defenceless people would not be sustainable without the connivance of major European countries and the European Union itself.
The US routinely employs its military in attacking Pakistani targets, despite claiming Pakistan as an ally, and without United Nations sanction for that action. The US is directly involved in the civil war between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas, and was similarly involved in the attempted coup in 2002 against the democratically elected President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, the successful coup against the democratically elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and the overthrow, aided by France, of the democratically elected President of Haiti, Bertrand Aristide, who was exiled to South Africa with a US puppet President installed in his place.
The US has as a matter of course propped up brutal dictators throughout North Africa and the Middle East for decades, and in the face of the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions has reluctantly come around to the overthrow of the Mubarak regime in Egypt but continues to support oppressive regimes in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Syria, Libya and Iran are different – they have not been compliant with western hegemony, and regime change is very much the US plan for these three countries. In all of this, Britain and France are key allies of the US.
Both of these countries have wreaked havoc on the world for centuries, and seem to have no appetite for changing their ways. Their bloody mark has been left in former colonies across the globe. The ‘Scramble for Africa’ in the 19th century by the British, French, German, Belgian, Portuguese and Italian imperialists has left a continent destabilised, undeveloped and permanently exploited, principally by those same countries, with conflict and corruption in every one of their former colonies. That legacy is also to be found throughout the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent, the Far East and South America.
Those European imperialists did not withdraw completely from their former colonies. They may have taken their military out but they made sure to leave compliant governments in their place, willing to maintain the lucrative trade the imperialists had enjoyed so long as a slice of the action came their way – and it always did. They left behind ‘settlers’ to hold the most fertile land, managers to hold onto the financial markets through banking, insurance and so on, trading companies to buy up local produce cheaply for processing ‘back home’, salesmen to hold onto the market for consumer goods, and, of course, military attaches to ensure coordination and influence and also to promote the arms industries of the particular imperialist nation. The British and the French did this most successfully.
One of the first visiting delegations to post-Mubarak Egypt was led by British Prime Minister David Cameron. The objective? To secure a lucrative arms deal, of course, together with the future influence that that would bring.
The previous British government made sure to gain access to Libyan oil and gas reserves, first through a visit to Gadaffi in 2004 by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and then by freeing in 2009 Al Megrahi, convicted of being involved in the Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am flight 103 (although he is widely believed to be innocent). In between those two ‘events’ French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Gadaffi in 2007 to sign agreements on behalf of the French government and the European Union.
How quickly things change. In the space of four months since February 17th this year, the US, Britain and France have flown over 1,000 sorties over Libya to attack forces loyal to Libyan President Muammar Al-Gadaffi, quite evidently far exceeding the UN Mandate that allowed them to commence military action ‘in defence’ of Libyan citizens. Those air raids include bombing the Libyan capitol, Triipoli, and are explicitly aimed at ousting Gadaffi from power. The British and the French move seamlessly from courting a dictator to ousting him. Nothing personal, it is just business or to put it more politely, it is ‘in the national interest’ – of the imperialist country of course.
War is an expensive business, but a lucrative one. Every bomb, every missile and every bullet carries costs in terms of its production and its transportation. So why would they be rained down on armies and civilians in far-distant countries? Well, bombs and missiles have use-by dates after which they may be unstable, inventories at the production factories need to be cleared so that employment in those factories can be sustained and large profits continue to be made, and the (successful) use of this ordnance and their delivery systems is the best marketing tool for the producers of weapons of war. Besides that, victory in a war, be it against oil-rich Iraq or Libya, or Afghanistan with its strategic importance in terms of pipe-line access to huge energy resources in countries to the north, is crucial to the ‘national interests’ of the successful warmongers.
Britain – a small island off the coast of Europe – is the fourth largest supplier of arms in the world, with sales in 2009 of over $29 billion. France topped that at $35 billion. Russia was in second place at $74 billion with the US topping the league at $166 billion. Between them, the US, Britain and France, with a combined population of just 6.4% of the global population, supply a staggering 55% of the world’s arms sales. These countries profit hugely from wars and conflicts while simultaneously indulging in empty rhetoric around ‘peace’, ‘stability’, ‘democracy’ and ‘the rule of law’.
While they arm the thugs of their choosing and watch without concern as those thugs brutalise their own people or other nations, these ‘whited sepulchres’ – the US, Britain and France – threaten and bully, invade and overthrow, to their hearts’ content and without sanction. In that respect the only institution that might be able to begin a meaningful campaign of pacification of the world in terms of avoidable conflict, the United Nations, is hobbled by the rigged set-up of the Security Council in which the United States, Britain and France hold three of the five seats reserved for permanent members, and also by the way in which many of the nations that make up the General Assembly of the UN are hopelessly compromised by and dependent on these three international arms dealers.
The only hope of countering this evil trade lies, as usual, in the mobilisation of a mass movement of ordinary human beings in opposition to war, particularly in those countries that engage in that trade. There already exists the basis for such a movement among the disparate groups that campaign on issues around the environment, human, civil and animal rights, social justice, trade unionism, anti-globalisation, and so on. Perhaps the template for bringing such a movement into existence is the one the world saw in Tahrir Square – leaderless but not rudderless, community-driven not ego-driven – a mass movement without a head-office. With modern means of mass communication that is possible now as it never was before.
“War…what is it good for?” For the men in pin-stripe suits and braid-encrusted military uniforms it means absolutely everything. For the mass of ordinary humans it is good for absolutely nothing. There is an imbalance there. Time for the majority to mobilise!