Invasion of the third world fanatics
The Pentagon has projected seven possible scenarios which could require
an American military response. Almost all are in the third world. Frank
Richards examines why the USA wants to emphasise a hypothetical threat from
the weakest nations on Earth
Are you scared of REGT? No? Never heard of it? Then you cannot have read
the Pentagon's 70-page long-range guide as to who will constitute the enemy
in future war scenarios. REGT or Resurgent/Emergent Global Threat projects
seven possible wars into the future, in order to justify a new round of
increased military expenditure.
The Pentagon's war scenarios say as much about America's role in global
politics as anything else. Most of the scenarios target third world countries.
They consist of hypothetical situations such as a North Korean attack on
South Korea, a civil war in the Philippines which threatens 5000 US citizens
there, and a coup inspired by drug barons in Panama, which could threaten
the Panama Canal.
In this Pentagon report and in other American foreign policy documents,
there seems to be an inverse correlation between the perception of military
danger and the powerlessness of the aggressor. The weaker the enemy, the
more of a threat they apparently pose to the USA.
Unpredictable as they might be, Latin American drug barons and Philippine
guerrillas are hardly the stuff of which dangers to world peace are made.
But then the USA has for some time tended to exercise its force against
nations with negligible military weight. The eighties invasions of Grenada
and Panama and the air-strike against Libya illustrate the trend. Despite
the attempts of Western propagandists to inflate the threat posed by the
Iraqi military, the reality of last year's Gulf War quickly made clear that
Saddam Hussein posed no danger to the Allied forces.
The Pentagon report indicates that for some time to come small and middle-range
third world powers are likely to be vilified as rogue states threatening
the civilised world. Despite the implausibility of such a threat to the
technologically advanced West, there is a solid consensus of opinion behind
this perspective. It is worth looking at the political background to the
Pentagon report, in order to understand the strength of anti-third world
sentiments in the USA and the West today.
Low intensity warfare
Throughout the Cold War, the West regarded the third world as a problem.
It was seen as a region of turbulence, of unpredictable anti-imperialist
passions that were liable to explode against Western interests at any time.
During the Reagan era of the eighties, this standpoint was turned into a
doctrine which advocated low-intensity warfare. The Reagan administration
designated nations like Libya and North Korea as terrorist states. By definition,
these were states which invited a Western military response.
With the end of the Cold War and the visible collapse of the Soviet Union,
it became increasingly difficult for the West to justify major arms expenditures
and the maintenance of organisations like Nato. From the middle of 1989
and into 1990, there emerged a perceptible tendency for Western governments
and experts to convert their existing third world problem into the premier
danger facing the world. It was as if the third world took on the role hitherto
played by the 'evil Soviet empire'. The Western media became obsessed with
the new menace of third world nationalism.
The post-Cold War condemnations of the third world have expressed a hatred
verging on the pathological. For example, in an article ominously headed
'Dark spectre chills a bright spring', leading Sunday Times columnist
Norman Macrae observed that 'as Bolshevism dies 50 years later, it would
be horrid if any nationalism (including African ones) sprang from its graves'
(11 March 1990). Macrae's dark warning rests on the irrational assumption
that the end of one monster acts as a prelude to the next. A sense of fantasy
means that there need be no logical connection between the demise of Bolshevism
and the rise of African nationalism. And why is African nationalism - in
brackets - singled out for special treatment? Africa, a continent on the
verge of an economic and environmental catastrophe, the victim of global
power relations, is with a sleight of hand recast as the potential villain.
While many anti-third world intellectuals have tended to get carried away
by their rhetoric, others have been more calculating and circumspect. Deprived
of the all-purpose Soviet threat, they have searched for credible new candidates
to play this role. Edward Mortimer noted that 'many even felt the need to
discover a new threat to replace the Soviet one' and for this purpose Islam
'lay ready to hand' ('Christianity and Islam', International Affairs,
January 1991). Many Western commentators decided that Islam provided
all of the right ingredients to give a tangible expression to anti-third
The emphasis on Islam was consolidated through the experience of the Gulf
War. The US-led war against Iraq affirmed the relevance of anti-third world
politics to the West. For some this war represented a new crusade. 'An ugly,
evil spirit is abroad in the third world and it cannot be condoned: only
crushed, as Carthage was crushed by the Romans', wrote the editor of the
Sunday Telegraph (3 February 1991). The Daily Mail concurred,
warning that 'Saddam is not activating his most potent weapon - the fanaticism
which lies like a time-bomb beneath the surface of Islamic society' (18
January 1991). So the 'ugly' and 'evil' force is fanaticism, especially
of the Islamic variety.
Out of control
The use of the term 'fanaticism', with all of the images it involves, conjures
up the kind of threat that anti-third world sentiment can feed upon. Fanaticism
is a concept that portrays the actions of others as beyond reason and out
of control. A fanatic by definition is dangerous. And a fanatic need not
be rich or powerful to constitute a threat. Hence societies that are essentially
rural and even pastoral can still be a danger to the industrialised West
because they are populated by fanatics.
The war against Iraq helped give shape to the image of a threatening third
world nationalism. More importantly, it also helped to morally rearm Western
imperialism. Until the Gulf War, the Western powers had to contend with
their sordid record of gunboat diplomacy and unpopular interventions in
third world countries. The Gulf War helped the West to overcome some of
this legacy. In particular, by successfully posing as champion of the Kurds,
the West was able to win a degree of moral authority for its interference
in the affairs of the Middle East. The pleas of the Kurds for Western intervention
affirmed the credibility of imperialism.
Western politicians were exhilarated by the way in which the Gulf War and
its aftermath boosted the moral rearmament of imperialism. Lynda Chalker,
British minister for overseas development, boasted of the success:
'For 20 years, smart opinion dubbed any criticism by Western countries of
the political systems of developing countries as "neo-colonialist".
Like much of the conventional wisdom of the period, this was claptrap.'
(Sunday Times, 18 August 1991)
For Chalker and her co-thinkers, the Gulf War retrospectively vindicated
the West. Forget about Suez, Algeria or Vietnam. Imperialism had been right
President Bush said more or less the same thing earlier this year in his
State of the Union address, when he told Congress that 'by the grace of
God, America won the Cold War and I think of those who won it in places
like Korea and Vietnam' (Daily Telegraph, 30 January 1992). Even
the defeat of Vietnam could now be reconverted into a triumph through the
moral regeneration of imperialism.
The Islamic Bomb
The only problem with anti-third world propaganda for the West has been
its inability to match the impact of the previous anti-Soviet ideology.
As threats go, the two are not in the same league. Nevertheless the Western
powers cannot be accused of not trying. They have provided the idea of a
third world threat with a technological rationale, by inventing the self-serving
myth of nuclear proliferation and the Islamic Bomb. According to this myth,
even relatively poor nations can become supremely dangerous by acquiring
The problem of nuclear proliferation has been given a bizarre twist through
the collapse of the Soviet Union. American and British commentators have
relocated the problems raised by Soviet disintegration to the third world.
They now suggest that ex-Soviet nuclear scientists are receiving or are
about to receive princely sums from ruthless third world dictators determined
to get their hands on this lethal technology.
The problem of the ex-Soviet nuclear scientist had been widely discussed
in international forums. There is a strong possibility that, in the not-too-distant
future, some other third world 'terrorist state' will suffer the same fate
as Iraq, on the grounds that its former Soviet scientists are on the verge
of producing some new weapon of mass destruction. It does not matter that
Nato possesses overwhelming technological superiority; the hypothetical
prospect of an Islamic Bomb is sufficient to justify a Western military
Themes like nuclear proliferation, itinerant Soviet nuclear scientists and
Islamic Bombs legitimise a policy of imperialist intervention in the affairs
of third world states. Iraq provides the model. Iraq is continually forced
to submit to this or that inspection by the United Nations. Western diplomats
now frequently argue for the inspection of third world states. Some say
that the inspections should go beyond the nuclear issue to consider 'human
rights abuses'. At a recent meeting of the United Nations Security Council,
both China and India argued against such an interventionist approach.
Many apologists for Western imperialism argue that the United Nations is
not suitable for playing an interventionist role because it includes too
many third world countries. Francis Fukuyama, whose The End of History
and the Last Man is an eloquent argument on behalf of this standpoint,
would prefer Nato rather than the UN to be assigned the role of global inspector.
Fukuyama suggests that Nato could be transformed into a league of civilised
nations, 'capable of forceful action to protect its collective security
from threats arising from the non-democratic part of the world'.
Star Wars revisited
The most striking aspect of the discussion is that hardly anyone questions
the right of the 'democratic' Western states to inspect or intervene in
the domestic affairs of sovereign nations. Even Russian and East European
politicians have been dragged into the discussion, with Yeltsin arguing
for a joint US-Russian Star Wars initiative. Washington's Star Wars programme,
the military centrepiece of the Reagan administration's anti-Soviet strategy
in the eighties, has now been repackaged to counter the threat of secret
third world weapons programmes. The Cold War may have come to an end, but
it seems that the need for Western vigilance and a high level of military
preparedness has not diminished. And the Pentagon can carry on inventing
new war scenarios.
Despite the best efforts of the scaremongers in the Pentagon and their British
equivalents, the anti-third world panic cannot really provide an adequate
alternative to the old Cold War hysteria. Anti-Soviet propaganda glued the
West together. Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, there is considerable
evidence to suggest that the Western Alliance is also disintegrating. The
plan to withdraw Canadian troops from Europe is a sign of the times.
However, the Pentagon's hypothetical war scenarios should be taken seriously - not
as proof of a threat from the third world, but as an indication of Washington's
future intent. They demonstrate how the USA is seeking to recreate the conditions
of the Cold War by turning Western militarism against third world targets.
Exposing the hypocrisy of the West's anti-third world ideology will not
stop the drive towards further Gulf-style wars. But at least it can help
to discredit the moral pretensions of the newly confident imperialism.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 42, April 1992