Is the fate of the world being decided today in the Indian Ocean?
- 25 Oct 2010
Straddled by the Islamic arch (which stretches from Somalia to Indonesia, passing through the countries of the Gulf and Central Asia), the region has certainly become the world’s new strategic centre of gravity. This new chapter in our series ‘Understanding the Muslim world’, takes us there on a tour. Mohamed Hassan explains to us how China’s economic development is overturning the world balance of power and is freeing the countries of the South from their dependence on the West. He also lays bare the strategies employed by the US in its efforts to maintain its leadership. And why it is that the US empire is nevertheless destined to die. Finally, he predicts the end of globalisation. It remains to be seen if their planetary domination will end without a struggle, or whether the gangsters will be shooting hostages.
INTERVIEW OF MOHAMED HASSAN
BY GREGOIRE LALIEU & MICHEL COLLON
From Madagascar to Thailand, passing by Somalia, Pakistan or Burma, the Indian Ocean area is in turmoil. How can you explain these tensions?
The world balance of power is being completely overturned. And the Indian Ocean region finds itself at the heart of the geopolitical storm.
What region are we talking about exactly?
It goes from Africa's east coast to the south of Asia, incorporating a lake (the Caspian Sea) and 3 rivers, i.e., the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
Why is this region so important? The first reason is that 60% of the world's population is concentrated in Asia and is connected to the Indian Ocean. China and India alone account for 40% of the world population. Besides that, the emergence of these two economic powers has made the Indian Ocean a zone of special strategic interest. Currently 70% of the world's oil is shipped through this Ocean. This percentage will increase along with the growing needs of both countries. On top of that, 90% of world trade is carried in container ships, with the Indian Ocean alone hosting half this traffic.
As the US journalist Robert D Kaplan, a close adviser of Obama and the Pentagon, has predicted, the Indian Ocean will become the 21st century world's strategic centre of gravity. Not only does this ocean constitute a vital passage for trade and energy resources between the Middle East and the Far East, but it is also at the heart of the economic axis that is developing between China, on the one hand, and Africa and Latin America on the other.
Does the emergence of these new trading relations mean that the South is in the course of freeing itself of its dependence on the West?
Certainly. Some of the statistics are dizzying: trade between China and Africa has increased by 20 times since 1997. Trade with Latin America has increased by more than 14 times in less than 10 years! India and Brazil are also collaborating more closely with the black continent. Encouraged by China's development, South-South investments have grown rapidly. After having been pillaged and sacked for centuries, the South is finally emerging from its torpor.
Why are so many African and Latin American countries turning towards China?
For centuries the West has been looting the resources of the South, preventing these countries from developing, especially because of their crippling debts. But China is offering higher prices for raw materials and is investing in the countries of the South in order to develop their infrastructure, their social policies or plans for non-polluting energy production. China has at the same time abolished import taxes on numerous African products, which greatly favours that continent's production and trade. And finally, China has also written off the debts of the poorest African countries.
In addition, unlike western powers, China does not interfere in the internal policies of its economic partners. At a Sino-African ministerial conference, the Chinese Prime Minister Jiabao summed up his country's policy thus: "Our economic collaboration and trade are based on mutual advantage. … We have never imposed political conditions on Africa and we will never do so in the future." What a difference from the western powers which never cease creating and bringing down African governments!
Finally the western capitalist countries are going through a severe economic crisis which has its repercussions in China, but has not prevented it from continuing with a healthy rate of economic growth. In such a situation it is natural that African and Latin American countries should turn towards their most robust economic partner. As the Financial Times pointed out, at one time Brazil would have been affected by the crisis in the US. But in 2009 its economy continued to grow, and it is not by chance that China has become its main trading partner.
This south-south axis is standing up to western hegemony. Will the US and Europe stand aside while China treads on their toes?
Globally the development of this south-south axis poses two major threats to the imperialist powers, especially the US. First of all, it is removing countries that are rich in raw materials from the western sphere of influence. And then it is allowing China to access to all the resources it needs to pursue its stellar growth. Peking is rising towards catching up with the world's primary economic power, the US. According to Albert Keidel, a former World Bank economist and member of the Atlantic Council, China could overtake the US in 2035.
These days Washington is therefore seeking to contain the emergence of China in order to safeguard its leading role. And control of the Indian Ocean lies at the heart of its strategy. The struggle against Somali piracy, by the way, is merely a pretext for positioning NATO forces in the Indian oceans so that western powers can retain control of the area. Japan too has begun building a military base in Djibouti with a view to fighting piracy.
There's a lot of talk about pirates and Islamic terrorists. Are these real threats or just an excuse?
I am not saying that there is no threat. All I am saying is that the western powers are making use of it in order to promote their strategic interests in the region. How did piracy arise in Somalia? For more than 20 years the country has not had a government. Certain European companies took advantage of this fact in order to come and help themselves to fish stocks along the Somali coast, and other companies came to deposit their toxic waste. In these circumstances Somali fishermen have taken to piracy in order to survive. Of course, the phenomenon has taken on another dimension in the meantime. But if you want to resolve the piracy issue you have to get to the root of the problem and re-establish a legitimate political order in Somalia.
This is an order that has been unacceptable to the US up to now.
Indeed and its mindless policy can cause much worse trouble. It should be realised that Somalia is the historic Islamic heart of East Africa. At one time the influence of Somali religious leaders was very important. They took Sunni Islam all the way to Mozambique. So, when Shi'ites from Oman extended their influence to east Africa during the 18th century, they were able to enormously influence the culture of the region, though they were never able to convert the population to Shi'ism.
Nowadays an Islamic movement could develop as a result of the errors committed by the US in the Horn of Africa. If the leaders of this movement used this common history to rally members throughout eastern Africa and to defend Somalia as a historic centre of African Islam, then the threat would really become a major one for the US.
The Indian Ocean is crowned by the 'Islamic arch', which stretches from East Africa to Indonesia via the Gulf countries and Central Asia. How was it possible for this ocean, the cradle of Islamic powers, to fall under the domination of western powers?
Before the Suez Canal was opened in 1869, four big powers dominated the region – the Ottomans, the Persians (Iranians today), the Moghuls (an Islamic empire that developed in India), and China. Across the Indian Ocean, trade brought Muslim people into contact with other people in the region and enabled Islam to expand even to China and East Africa. This is how the Islamic arch was formed and how the Indian Ocean came to be largely dominated by Muslim powers.
But a major event, occurring in India, began the process leading to European domination of the region: this was the Sepoy revolt in 1857. The sepoys were Indian soldiers in the service of English companies. The injustices inflicted on them by their employers led them to mount a rebellion which rapidly sparked off a great mass movement. It was a very violent revolt, with the sepoys massacring lots of English. However, the English did manage in the end to put down the movement. In Britain a major propaganda campaign was waged against sepoy barbarity. Karl Marx analysed these events and drew quite different conclusions: "Their methods are barbaric, but we should ask ourselves who led them to display such barbarity – it was the British colonialists installed in India".
We see today something similar with the attacks of 11 September. All western public opinion is whipped up to indignation concerning the barbaric methods of Islamic terrorists. But nobody asks questions concerning the factors that have given rise to this kind of terrorism: that would bring us back to US foreign policy in the Middle East over the last 50 years.
Finally, the repression of the sepoy rebellion had two important consequences; firstly, that the Indian colony that had up to then been managed by private companies, passed officially to the administration of the British government. And then Great Britain deposed the last Islamic ruler of India, the Moghul emperor, Mohammed Bahadur Shah. He was exiled to Burma where he lived out the end of his life.
11 years after the sepoy revolt, the Suez Canal was opened, which joined the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. Was this an important factor in facilitating European domination of that ocean?
Absolutely. European colonisation of the countries bordering the Indian Ocean accelerated. France seized Djibouti, and Britain seized first Egypt and then Bahrain, with the aim of protecting India from Russian expansionism.
Then, after many an upheaval among the various imperialist powers towards the end of the 19th century (e.g., the unification of Germany and Italy, the division of Africa among the European powers), the Empire of the Sultanate of Oman was the last great Arabic power active in the Indian Ocean. In order to overthrow it, the Europeans mounted a propaganda campaign around the fact that Omanis were exploiting Africans as slaves. Under the pretext of fighting slavery, Europe mobilised its troops in the Indian Ocean and overthrew the Sultanate of Oman. In this way western domination of the Indian Ocean became total.
However, today this domination is being challenged by the emerging Asian powers and the Indian Ocean could become a theatre of Sino-US competition. The US being in decline while China is in the course of a spectacular rise, how will Washington be able to block its main competitor?
The Pentagon is well embedded in the region: it has its enormous military base in Okinawa (Japan); it has accords with the Philippines on the pretext of the fight against terrorism; it has extremely good relations with the Indonesian army that was created by Washington to murder a million communists and instal a military dictatorship in the 1960s…
Besides that, the US has a military base on Diego Garcia. This coral island situated in the heart of the Indian Ocean would be a holiday maker's dream with its beach of white sand and its palm trees. Yet the history of this island is a lot less glamorous. In 1965 Diego Garcia and the rest of the Chagos Archipelago became part of British territory in the Indian Ocean. In 1971 all the inhabitants of the island of Diego Garcia were deported by the US who built a military base there; and it is from this strategic position that Washington carried out various operations during the Cold War and the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. Today even though they have won in British courts, the inhabitants of Diego Garcia are prevented from returning to their island by the government of the UK.
So the US military is well entrenched in the region. For its part, China has two Achilles heels: the straits of Hormuz and of Malacca. The first (which is between Oman and Iran) constitutes the only entry into the Persian Gulf and is only 26 kilometres wide at its narrowest point. About 20% of China’s oil imports go through this place. The other weak point, the straits of Malacca (between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra) bears heavy traffic and is very dangerous; yet it is the principal route for cargoes from the Indian Ocean destined for China. About 80% of Chinese oil imports go through these straits. The US being well established in the zone, could block the Straits of Malacca were a conflict to break out with China. That would be truly catastrophic for Beijing.
Does this explain why China is seeking to diversify its sources of energy?
Absolutely. Confronted with this major problem, China has developed several strategies. The first is to obtain its supplies in Central Asia. A gas pipeline is now linking Turkmenistan to the Chinese province of Xinjiang ; between now and 2015 it is expected to provide 40 billion cubic metres a year, which amounts to almost half of current Chinese consumption. A pipeline is also linking China to Kazakhstan, bringing oil from the Caspian Sea.
There is also south Asia. Beijing has entered into accords with Bangladesh to acquire gas and oil. The construction has recently been announced of an oil pipeline and a gas pipeline which will respectively supply from Myanmar (Burma) 22 million tonnes of oil and 12 billion cubic metres of gas a year.
Finally, there is the third Chinese strategy, codenamed the ‘pearl necklace’, which consists of building ports in friendly countries along the north coast of the Indian Ocean. The objective is to have at its disposal autonomous maritime traffic in the region. Included in this strategy is the construction in Pakistan of the deep water port of Gwadar. This type of port is specially adapted to the traffic in container ships and China proposes to build others, in Africa in particular. It should be understood that certain container ships carrying merchandise to China from Latin America are too wide to reach the Pacific Ocean by passing through the Panama Canal. Therefore they cross the Atlantic Ocean and then the Indian Ocean in order to reach China. For this journey, they would not have to transit through Europe anymore as they do at present to reach the Indian Ocean through the Suez Canal. In the context of South-South trade, these container ships would rather travel via Africa in their journeys between Latin America and Asia.
This would have major consequences for Africa. Countries such as Mozambique, Somalia, South Africa or Madagascar could join this Indian Ocean network. If new ports were developed there similar to the one at Gwadar, this would cause a major economic boom in this part of Africa. At the same time, activity in the major European ports such as Marseilles or Antwerp would decline. Connecting Africa to the Asian market thanks to the Indian Ocean would cause a veritable boon for the black continent. Nelson Mandela, when he was the President of South Africa, wanted to see this project undertaken, but the US and Europe opposed it. Today China has the means of taking the initiative. The South-South axis is being established: the third world countries are escaping the divisions that have been created between them and are increasingly cooperating. The world is being turned upside down.
How was China able to become such a great power in so little time?
Until the 19th century, China was a great power. It sold high quality merchandise and held more foreign currencies, gold and silver, than the European powers. But the country was not really open to international trade. There were only a few trading posts along the coast, to the annoyance of Great Britain. The latter, at the height of its industrial revolution, wanted to sell a large quantity of products throughout China as a whole.
Thus, when the Viceroy Lin Zexu ordered the destruction of 1838 of chests full of opium that Great Britain had been importing illegally into Chinese territory, the British used this as a pretext for war. Lord Melbourne sent an expedition to Canton, which was the first Opium War. It came to an end 4 years later. Beaten, the Chinese were forced to open up their country further to international trade.
But the imperialist powers desired to penetrate still further into the Chinese interior in order to sell their merchandise. They demanded legalisation of opium sales, despite the ravages that these caused to the population. For this highly lucrative trade enabled them to demand to be paid in silver lingots and secure a favourable balance of trade. In response to the refusal of the Chinese empire, Great Britain and France unleashed the « Second opium war » (1856-1860). On its knees, China then became a semi colony of the western powers. Finally, the sale of opium was legalised and Great Britain and the US devoted themselves to it at great profit to themselves.
Nothing is ever said about all that in Europe where it would seem that little is known of the history of China.
It’s the same elsewhere too. It is important to understand that these imperialist wars and the destruction caused by the colonial powers caused the death of over 100 million Chinese people. Some were taken as slaves to the Peruvian mines to work under appalling conditions which caused numerous mass suicides. Others were exploited to build railways in the US. While thousands of Chinese children were kidnapped for the purpose of sinking the first Shell oilwells in Brunei at a time when mechanised drilling techniques were not yet available. Those were terrible times. No other people have suffered so much. It is not until 1949 and the revolution led by Mao that China re-established itself as an independent and prosperous state.
There are those who attribute this amazing Chinese success to Deng Xiaoping and claim that it is only through having distanced itself from Maoism and opening China to foreign capital that the country has been able to develop.
That is to forget that under Mao, China already secured continual growth which oscillated between 7 and 10 percent every year! Of course, Mao did make mistakes during the cultural revolution. Yet he nevertheless took a country of a billion inhabitants out of extreme poverty. He enabled China to re-establish itself as an independent state after a century of oppression. It is therefore a mistake to attribute China’s development solely to Deng Xiaoping’s policy of opening China up. Starting from nothing, the country’s economy has not stopped growing since its revolution in 1949, and this task is not yet over.
Obviously, the present opening up to capitalism raises many questions over China’s future. There will certainly be contradictions between different social forces as a result of this strengthening of the local bourgeoisie. China could become an entirely capitalist country, but one that is not dominated by imperialism. But in either case, the US will seek to prevent this country from becoming a great power that has the means to stand up to it.
In fact, there are those who claim that China has itself become an imperialist power, exporting its capital to the four corners of the globe and prospecting throughout the South for the purpose of securing supplies of raw materials.
Confusion exists, even within the left-wing movement, over Lenin’s definition of imperialism (Lenin being the person who has undoubtedly best studied this phenomenon). Some people only hold on to one aspect of this definition, i.e., the export of capital to foreign countries. Of course, this is an essential factor. And of course, it is thanks to the export of capital that capitalist powers are able to enrich themselves faster and end up dominating the economy of less developed countries. But in the context of imperialism, this economic domination is inseparable from a political domination that transforms the country into a semi colony.
In other words, if you are an imperialist, you must, in the countries to which you export your capital, create a puppet for yourself: a government which serves your interests. You can also train your semi colony’s army to organise military putsches if the puppet was to disobey. This is what happened recently in Honduras where President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown by an army whose officers were trained in US military academies. You can at the same time infiltrate the political system through organisations such as the CIA in order to create quislings. In short, we can say that imperialism rests on a two-fold domination, economic and political. You can’t have one without the other.
This is where the major difference lies with China. China does not interfere in the politics of the countries with which it trades. And its export of capital does not to seek to suffocate or dominate the economies of partner countries. Thus, China is not only not an imperialist power, but on the contrary assists countries that are the victims of imperialism to free themselves by overturning the relations of domination established by the West.
Will the US still be able to stop their Chinese competitor? True, the Pentagon is firmly established in the region, but a direct military confrontation with China seems improbable. Washington seems still to be mired in the Middle East and, according to numerous experts, would be in no position to enter into direct conflict with Beijing.
It’s true that bombing and invading China is not a viable option. The US has therefore developed other strategies. The first is to rely on its vassal states in Africa in order to control that continent and block China’s access to raw materials. This strategy is not new, but was applied after the Second World War to contain Japan’s development.
And which are nowadays these vassal states?
In North Africa you have Egypt. In East Africa, it’s Ethiopia. In West Africa, it’s Nigeria. In the South and centre of the continent, Washington was relying on South Africa. But this strategy has failed. As we have seen, the US has not been able to prevent African states from trading with China and it has lost a lot of influence in that continent. Witness to this is the snub suffered by the Pentagon when looking for a country in which to establish the headquarters of its regional Africom command. Every country in the continent refused to host this base. The South African Defence Minister explained that this refusal was a « collective African decision » and Zambia even replied to the US Secretary of State: « Would you care to have an elephant in your living room? » Currently the headquarters of this regional command for Africa is based in … Stuttgart! This is an embarrassment for Washington.
Another US strategy for controlling the Indian Ocean would be to use India against China by exacerbating the tensions between these two countries. This technique has already been used in the case of Iran and Iraq in the 1980s. The US armed both sides at the same time, and Henry Kissinger declared « Let them kill each other »! Applying this theory to India and China would enable them to kill two birds with one stone by weakening the two emerging great powers in Asia. Moreover, during the 1960s, the US had already used India in a conflict against China. But India was beaten and I don’t think that today its leaders would make the mistake of going to war against their neighbour for the benefit of a foreign power. There are definitely contradictions between Beijing and New Delhi, but they are not major ones. These two third world emerging nations must not get involved in this kind of typically imperialist conflict.
No way out then for the US in India or Africa. But in the Far East it has numerous allies. Can’t it count on them for the containment of China?
There too Washington has failed because of its greed. South-east Asia underwent a terrible economic crisis in 1997, caused by a serious ‘error’ on the part of the US. It all started with a devaluation of the Thai currency which had come under attack from speculators. At a stroke, the Stock Exchanges went mad and many enterprises became bankrupt. Thailand hoped to get support from the US, whose faithful ally it was. But the White House didn’t move. It rejected even the idea of creating an Asian monetary Fund to come to the assistance of the countries worst affected. In fact, US multinationals took advantage of this Asian crisis to wipe out their Asian competitors whose rise had been worrying them.
In the end it was China which saved the region from catastrophe by its decision not to devalue its currency. A weak currency helps exports, and if the yuan had fallen, the increase of Chinese exports would have completely decimated the economies of neighbouring countries which were already in a bad state. Therefore, by maintaining the value of its currency, China allowed the countries of the region to rebuild their exports and to lift themselves up. While many Asian governments were angry with Washington because of its role during this crisis, the Malaysian prime minister declared « China’s collaboration and its high sense of responsibility saved the region from a much more catastrophic scenario ».
Since that time, economic relations between China and its neighbours have not ceased widening. In 2007 China even became Japan’s largest trading partner, despite the fact that Japan is one of the US’s most strategic allies in Asia.
Moreover, China has no pretensions towards hegemony in the region. The US thought that the countries of the Indian Ocean would be frightened by Chinese power and would seek to be protected. But China has established relations based on the principle of equality with its neighbours. From this point of view, the US has therefore also lost the battle in the Far East.
Has the US therefore no means of preventing China from competing against it?
It would seem not. In order to develop, China desperately needs energy resources. The US is therefore seeking to control these resources to prevent them reaching China. This was a major objective of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but these have turned into a fiasco. The US destroyed these countries in order to set up governments there which would be docile, but they have failed. The icing on the cake is that the new Iraqi and Afghan government trade with China! Beijing has therefore not needed to spend billions of dollars on an illegal war in order to get its hands on Iraq’s black gold: Chinese companies simply bought up oil concessions at auction totally within the rules.
One can see that the USA's imperialist strategy has failed all along the line. There is nevertheless one option still open to the US: maintaining chaos in order to prevent these countries from attaining stability for the benefit of China. This means continuing the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and extending it to countries such as Iran, Yemen or Somalia.
This short term strategy could turn out to be catastrophic as it brings ever more people into the anti-American, anti-Nato and anti-western front. Those who want to continue to pursue military means would do better to study the history of the US over the last 60 years. Washington has not won any war except against the tiny island of Grenada in 1983.
How did this decline of the « American empire » come about?
After the Second World War, the US took the jackpot. It had intervened very late in the conflict, after having for a long time financed (very lucratively) both sides: the Allies and the Nazis. Finally, Washington decided to come to the assistance of the Allies. When the conflict ended, Great Britain was undermined by debt, German power had been destroyed and the USSR had paid a heavy price (more than 20 million dead) to defeat the Nazi army. By contrast, the US having made hardly any sacrifice, came out as the major victors: they had a vast territory, an industry that was in full swing, major agricultural capacity and their principal European competitors were on their knees. This is how the US became a world superpower.
But they then spent all the jackpot won during the Second World War to fight against communism. The US economy was militarised and the wars followed one after the other, from Korea to Iraq, via Vietnam to name but a few. Today, for every dollar of the US government budget, 60 cents goes to the army. It’s a disaster! The country’s other major industries have been destroyed, and the public schools and hospitals are in a deplorable state.
Five years after Hurricane Katrina, the inhabitants of New Orleans are still living in camps. One can compare this situation with that of Lebanon : those who lost their homes as a result of the 2006 Israeli bombings are now once more housed thanks to Hezbollah. This has caused one mullah living in the US to say that it was better to be a Lebanese than to live in the US because in the land of the cedar one at least has a roof over one’s head.
This militarisation process has plunged the US into debt. But today their main creditor is none other than … China! Strangely, the destiny of these two great competitors seems to be intimately interlinked.
Yes, the economy is something crazy! In effect, China exports a lot of products to the US, which bring in a lot of profits in dollars. The accumulation of these profits enables China to maintain a stable rate of exchange between the yuan and the greenback, which favours its exports. But the accumulation of these US dollars leads to Beijing buying US Treasury bonds that finance US debt. Thus in financing US debt, China in fact finances the war on terror! Yet the Pentagon is waging this war in order to better control the energy resources of the world in an attempt to contain the emergence of China. You can see that the situation is paradoxical! But this campaign on the part of the US has failed and its economy is on the edge of bankruptcy.
There is only one option left: to reduce its military expenditure and to utilise its budget to kickstart the economy. But imperialist logic is dominated by immediate profit and unbounded competition. As a result, it keeps going unto the death. The historian Paul Kennedy has studied the history of great empires: each time that the economy of a great power finds itself slowing down, while its military expenditure increases, that great power is destined to disappear.
Is this the end, then, of the « American empire »?
Who can say? History moves in zigzags and I have no crystal ball to predict the future. However, everything points to US hegemony nearing its end. There will no longer be any world superpower and the US will probably become once more an important regional power. We will inevitably see a return to protectionism and as a result, the end of globalisation. Regional economic blocs will emerge and of these blocks, Asia will be the strongest. Today the billionaires are less and less to be found among western Whites. They are in Asia where wealth and production capacity is to be found.
What will happen to Europe?
It has very strong links with the US, particularly through NATO, a US invention that appeared after the Second World War to control the old continent. Nevertheless, I think that there are two types of leader in Europe: those who are pro-US and those who are truly European. The former remain dependent on Washington. The latter promote European interests and are allying with Russia. With the economic crisis and the decline of the US, Europe’s interests logically turn it towards Asia.
In his famous book The Grand Chessboard, the American political commentator Zbigniew Brzezinski contemplated such a possible alliance between Europe and Asia. But he said that this union will probably never see the light of day because of cultural differences.
After the Second World War, the US dominated the economic scene, particularly in Europe, and was able to export their culture and lifestyle. The economy in fact generated cultural links, but culture creates no links unless stomachs are full. One cannot eat culture. And when stomachs are empty, culture comes second to the economy.
That is why today, now that the capitalist world is in crisis, Europe has to put its economic interests ahead of the cultural links that unite it with the US. It would therefore be logical for it to turn towards Asia. In fact the cultural links between Europe and the US were forged in Hollywood. Historically one could say that the cultural links are stronger, for instance, between Italy and Libya, or between Spain and Morocco.
Henry Kissinger, when he was not ordering the Iranians and Iraqis to be allowed to kill each other, used to say that US hegemony was essential for maintaining the peace and propagating democracy throughout the world. Numerous experts such as Brzezinski held the same view. Does the end of the ‘American empire’ not risk provoking major conflicts?
The democracy they were talking about is that of the western countries which do not represent more than 12% of the world’s population. Moreover, it can scarcely be said that US hegemony has brought peace and stability to the world. On the contrary! In order to remain the world’s sole superpower, they have unleashed wars and fomented conflicts in the four corners of the planet.
Today many Europeans, even if they condemn US excesses, would not like to see the fall of the ‘American empire’. It has been for over 60 years that Washington has effectively been militarily dominant over the old continent, claiming to be guaranteeing its security. A lot of Europeans have taken fright at the idea of putting an end to this ‘protection’ and taking charge of their own security.
A European army would require a large part of the European economy to be invested in the army. But this is not a productive sector and this enormous cost could cause a renewed crisis. Moreover, if you invest in the army the question arises: who is going to fight? In case of war, Europe has serious demographic problems.
In my view, this situation explains the desire shown by certain European leaders to get close to Russia. This is the only peaceful and prosperous alliance that can be envisaged for Europe. But this means allowing Russia to become a great power in which Europeans could invest their technology. However, the US has always opposed the integration of Russia into Europe. If this happens anyway, there will be one too many in the alliance and Washington will have to leave the old continent.
In the 8 years of the Bush administration, its aggressive policies, its massive military expenditure and its crushing defeats have accelerated the fall of the US. Do you think Barack Obama is able to change anything?
His election was historic. Afro-Americans have suffered so much in the past. Even though they contributed enormously to the development of the US, their political rights were betrayed. In fact, during the American Civil War, the Afro-Americans were victims of slavery in the South. The northern bourgeoisie promised them their freedom if they would agree to fight on their side. The slaves agreed and their participation in the conflict enabled the North to win. Between 1860 and 1880, the US went through a period of prosperity, free of racism, which the celebrated Afro-American leader, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, described as a period of reconstruction. But very soon the US elite took fright on seeing people of colour, workers and ordinary citizens rallying together: the property rights of the minority bourgeoisie were threatened by the solidarity of the popular strata. As a result, segregation was reintroduced. The aim was to break the unity of the popular classes and to set ordinary citizens against each other with a view to preserving the elite in case of revolt.
In the context of US history, the elevation of a black man to the White House is therefore very important. But if it’s his colour that makes Barack Obama a progressive president that is not enough: the reactionary character of US imperialism has resurfaced, as we can see more and more. As a result I do not think that Barack Obama can change anything at all in the coming months or years. Imperialism cannot be changed or adapated. It has to be overthrown.
And where is the Muslim world in this great confrontation between the US and China? Does it really have an important role to play?
Yes, very important. As we indicated at the beginning of this interview, the US has demonised the ‘Islamic peril’ in a whole series of countries bordering the Indian Ocean : Somalia, the Gulf states, central Asia, Pakistan, Indonesia … The aim, linked to the interests of US multinationals, is to control the region’s oil and energy resources, as well as its strategic pipeline routes. But in the Middle East and in the whole Muslim world an anti-imperialist movement had developed, that stands up to the US domination.
There is a very positive factor here. All the world’s peoples have an interest in developing relations based on the principle of equality and putting an end as quickly as possible to the western hegemony that has engendered so much aggression and crime. In the past, all kinds of personalities and political currents tried to push the Muslim world into the arms of the US and its grand anti-communist alliance. But in fact the interests of the peoples of the Islamic arch, the interests of Muslims in general, lie on the other side. If everybody understands and supports the positive role played by China in today’s shifts in the balance of power, it will then be possible for a grand alliance to emerge, an alliance of all those countries which intend to develop themselves independently and in the interests of their people, i.e., by escaping from the imperialist powers’ looting and interference.
Everyone should inform those around them and help spread the understanding of these important and positive changes. To put an end to the hegemony of the imperialist powers will open up great potential for the liberation of the people of the world.
Mohammed Hassan recommends the following texts:
Robert D. Kaplan, Center Stage for the Twenty-first Century, in Foreign Affairs, March/April 2009
Robert D. Kaplan, The Geography of Chinese Power, in Foreign Affairs, May/June 2010
Chalmers Johnson, No longer the lone superpower – Coming to terms with China
Cristina Castello, “Diego Garcia”, pire que Guantanamo: L’embryon de la mort
Mike DAVIS, Génocides tropicaux. Catastrophes naturelles et famines coloniales.
Aux origines du sous-développement, Paris, La Découverte, 2003, 479 pages
Peter Franssen, Comment la Chine change le monde
Pepe Escobar, China plays Pipelineistan
Edward A. Alpers, East Africa and the Indian Ocean,
Patricia Risso, Merchants And Faith: Muslim Commerce And Culture In The Indian Ocean (New Perspectives on Asian History)
F. William Engdahl, A Century of War, Anglo-American oil politics and the new world order
Michel Collon, Media Lies and the Conquest of Kosovo (NATO’s Prototype for the Next wars of Globalization), traduction anglaise de Monopoly, Investig’Action
"Understanding the Muslim World", previous chapters: