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From global imperialism to local security - page 2

Its sphere of control was already well-established, having overthrown the monarchy of Hawaii in a coup organised by American business interests (1893), and removing the remnants of Spanish colonialism in America and the Pacific islands during the Spanish-American War (1898). The United States imperial reach now extended as far as the Philippines, after a particularly brutal war against the local independence movement in the early 1900s that involved a three year military conflict and a further ten year guerrilla campaign against US occupation, with the deaths of up to 500,000 Filipinos.4

But this initial burst of imperialism also brought with it widespread domestic opposition. Rather than replicate the old form of direct, colonial rule and occupation that was associated with European domination of the continent, US business and political leaders recognised that their interests could best be served through ceding political power to compliant, indigenous elites willing to support American corporate economic control. This pattern was already well established in Central and South America and was now expanded to the Caribbean and to the Pacific Rim, with the ultimate objective being the economic domination of China.

The centrality of the Pacific Rim to the United States’ imperial strategy made conflict with Japan a growing probability. The latter regarded itself as the leading power in South East Asia, with at least as legitimate a claim as the European imperialists to control of  neighbouring countries like Korea  that provided raw materials and food vital to the Japanese economy. The invasion of China, in defiance of the League of Nations, and the installing of a puppet regime in Manchukuo (1932) symbolised this new assertiveness, with the  attempt to create an economically self-sufficient zone in a region dominated by foreign powers and where it was dependent on external sources of raw materials and energy supplies.5

This was to be the last serious challenge to US imperialism by a major power in the 20th Century, leading to the imposition of economic sanctions in the late 1930s and early 1940s that triggered the Pacific War. All US exports of oil to Japan had been blocked and a freeze on all Japanese-owned assets in the USA imposed. From the Japanese perspective, these could only be interpreted as an aggressive act and a prelude to war, since the stage would be soon be reached where existing oil reserves and other vital war material would rapidly be depleted.

Following the defeat of Japan and Germany in World War Two, the United States consolidated its position as the world’s leading imperial power. The use of  atomic weapons against an already defeated enemy symbolised this new era of American global hegemony, both as a warning to the  USSR not to challenges its ascendancy in the Pacific and to signal its determination to use military supremacy, including a monopoly (albeit  temporary) of nuclear weapons, for political and strategic leverage in the post-war world.


The Cold War can be seen as just one facet, if an extreme ideological example that threatened nuclear exterminism, of a much broader strategy carried out by the USA and its allies since the end of World War Two. The official focus may have been on isolating communist influence in Western Europe during the 1940s and 1950s and preventing the spread of communism elsewhere - a strategy that failed spectacularly in China and in other developing countries that asserted their national independence through revolutionary political movements.

But the core, longer-term objective was always to provide guaranteed access to strategic resources, either through the direct control of American corporations or through compliant elites that acted as guarantors of American interests, all underpinned by a global military presence. The overthrow of the Mossadeq government in Iran (1953) that had a popular mandate to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian oil company was illustrative of this broader pattern. Here, the UK and the USA colluded in a CIA-funded plot to restore control of oil supplies under a consortium of mainly British and American oil corporations.7


Contemporary Conditions

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has consolidated then expanded its imperial reach, making it clear to potential competitors like China, that it intends to maintain control over the lion’s share of non-renewable resources from key regions. The ideological justification that the threat from global communism (and subsequently, global terrorism) forced it into extreme measures of military preparation and into a series of unholy but necessary alliances with authoritarian governments that were subsequently encouraged to develop democratic institutions, has been exposed for the hypocritical cant that it always was.

Traditional alliances have been re-inforced with states that have banned the formation of democratic parties or blatantly manipulate elections. At the same time, the United States is building new ones with authoritarian governments in other areas of growing strategic importance including the Caspian Sea. The objectives are always the same, to reward corrupt, authoritarian elites for oil and gas supplies.8


The pattern of Cold-War restructuring is now clear. Larger military bases in Europe and Japan that are surplus to requirements have been significantly reduced in size or closed and replaced with a series of smaller bases across the world, but especially in the zones of resource dependency, including a permanent presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Armed forces can be deployed rapidly in these zones, supported by aircraft-carrier battle groups and by a global, communications and intelligence-gathering network. Quite simply, this is the greatest imperial system the world has ever seen.

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