Less Net



From global imperialism to local security - page 3

Resource Wars

According to many analysts, the international system is set to experience fundamental change, moving back to the classic conditions of a multi-polar world where US hegemony is challenged by the newly emerging economic powerhouses of the East, particularly China and, to a lesser extent, India, both determined to play a more assertive role in world politics. Attempts to maintain exponential growth for energy-intensive manufacturing in these economies will lead to an intensification of nation-state competition for scarce resources and to military alliance building for strategic leverage.

Given their own experience of occupation and imperial control by foreign powers, it is hardly surprising that the leaders of China and India should want to achieve international status through traditional forms of military power projection, complete with nuclear weapons and increasingly sophisticated conventional military equipment, against what they see as the domination of the United States.

China is the clearest exponent of economic nationalism, making intense efforts to secure a global network for oil, gas and raw materials. Although incapable of projecting military power on anything like the scale of the United States, it has followed a similar path of elite bargaining and alliance building, especially in Africa. For example, 10% of its total oil supply comes from Sudan and it has invested directly in new pipelines that run thousands of kilometres from the interior to the Red Sea. In return for these concessions, China has embarked on a classic alliance-building strategy perfected by the USA in the Middle East, by selling modern weapons including fighter aircraft and light weapons to the Khartoum government, totally ignoring its appalling human rights record in Dafur.9

Will this intensification of competition for resources result in conflict or even full-scale war between the major powers? Certainly, the combination of alliance building and arms transfers has already resulted in increased tension as in the Middle East and more recently around the Caspian Sea. These could be the flashpoints for serious military confrontation.

The Break-up of Nation States

Desperate attempts to control resource flows only serve to highlight the underlying crisis of depletion and environmental breakdown. Early signs are already clear, with historically high prices for oil and other essential raw materials. This, it should be stressed, is not a temporary phase in the economic cycle, where traditional adjustments of demand and supply and the application of technological innovations will lead to renewed economic growth through improved methods of resource extraction and/or substitution. Rather it is the terminal phase of economic imperialism that will bring with it a fundamental restructuring of nation states.

For countries like China and India, the prospects are especially grim because of their exposed position as centres of resource-intensive manufacturing to feed Western consumerism. They simply will not be able to maintain exponential growth rates in the face of the resource depletion crisis. The result will be massive economic disruption leading to social breakdown and the collapse of central political authority.

Western states face their own immense challenges as the global economic system breaks down.  It is no exaggeration to say that we could see the restructuring of the nation-state system on a scale comparable with that at the start of the industrial revolution. Democratic legitimacy will rest, not with discredited national government institutions that propped up economic imperialism and corporate power, but with local institutions built around local economic and environmental security.

The UK – From Virtual Imperial Power to Local Security

The break-up of large states presents the UK with the unique opportunity of becoming the first major, post-imperial power to make the peaceful and democratic transition to localism.

Since the end of World War Two, and the loss of empire, the UK’s political and military elites have attempted to maintain international status through its role as a junior partner to the United States in global power projection, and through membership of the nuclear weapons club. Totally incapable of matching US military technologies for these roles, its subordinate position is best reflected in the desperation to maintain access to US inter-continental, ballistic missiles for its ‘independent’ nuclear weapons. In return, it has gratefully furnished the homeland as an extended overseas base. Giant facilities like Menwith Hill in Yorkshire, that are nominally under the control of the UK, are staffed and operated by American personnel to carry out military and intelligence-gathering functions in support of US security policy.10

Conventional force structures also reflect this peculiar independent dependency. A full quota of high-technology equipment, from jet fighters to aircraft carriers, developed and manufactured in the UK, is arrayed to demonstrate the capacity for full-scale, military operations around the world. But the number of military platforms capable of being deployed at any one time is small and the loss of even one key asset such as an aircraft carrier would be a crippling blow. They can only be deployed as a minor contribution to US battle groups and their role is essentially symbolic, in helping to present American imperialism as a broader form of Western alliance, while maintaining the illusion of the UK as a world power.

But even with an arms budget of over £30 billion a year, the UK is facing what is sometimes described as structural disarmament, or what might more accurately be described as involuntary disarmament. Attempting to fund the Trident nuclear replacement alongside all the other conventional programmes is leading to a budgetary crisis that cannot be resolved without significant cuts or even cancellations. Assuming that Trident is sacrosanct, the outcome will be smaller numbers of ships, submarines and aircraft, but military expenditure will still have to rise in real terms to keep the overall strategy intact.

In other words, the UK is a virtual imperial power with a diminishing arsenal of expensive military platforms that cannot be used independently of the United States, and whose security policy is subordinate to the United States. The UK is, therefore, in a unique, historical situation. On the one hand, it could attempt to cling on to its junior partner status within the framework of US imperialism; or in recognition of the new economic and environmental security challenges, it can become the first post-imperial, localising state.11

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