Originally published in Japan Focus.
I delivered the following remarks at an anti-NATO conference held in Moscow on May 15, 2012. I was the only North American speaker at an all-day conference, having been invited in connection with the appearance into Russian of my book Drugs, Oil, and War. As a former diplomat worried about peace I was happy to attend: as far as I can tell there may be less serious dialogue today between Russian and American intellectuals than there was at the height of the Cold War. Yet the danger of war involving the two leading nuclear powers has hardly disappeared.
Unlike other speakers, my paper urged Russians — despite the aggressive activities in Central Asia of the CIA, SOCOM (US Special Operations Command), and NATO — to cooperate under multilateral auspices with like-minded Americans, towards dealing with the related crises of Afghan drug production and drug-financed Salafi jihadism.
Since the conference I have continued to reflect intensely on the battered state of US-Russian relations, and my own slightly utopian hopes for repairing them. Although the speakers at the conference represented many different viewpoints, they tended to share a deep anxiety about US intentions towards Russia and the other former states of the USSR. Their anxiety was based on shared knowledge of past American actions and broken promises, of which they (unlike most Americans) are only too aware.
A key example of such broken promises was the assurance that NATO would not take advantage of détente to expand into Eastern Europe. Today of course Poland and other former Warsaw Pact members are members of NATO, along with the former Baltic Soviet Socialist Republics. And there are still proposals on the table to expand NATO into the Ukraine – i.e. the very heart of the former Soviet Union. This push was matched by U.S. joint activities and operations – some of them under NATO auspices – with the army and security forces of Uzbekistan. (Both these initiatives began in 1997, i.e. in the Clinton administration.)
There are other broken agreements, such as the unauthorized conversion of a Russian-approved UN Force for Afghanistan in 2001 into a force under the direction of NATO. Two speakers complained that America’s determination to locate a missile shield system against Afghanistan in Eastern Europe (rebuffing Russia’s suggestion that it be placed of in Asia) constituted “a threat to world peace”.
The speakers saw these measures as aggressive extensions of the old American drive under Reagan to destroy the Soviet Union. Some of the conferees I spoke to see Russia as having been threatened for two decades after World War Two by active US and NATO plans for a nuclear first strike against Russia, before it could gain nuclear parity. While obviously these plans were never implemented, those I spoke with were sure that the ultras who desired them have never abandoned their desire to humiliate Russia and reduce it to a third-rate power. I cannot refute this concern: my recent book American War Machine also describes a relentless push since World War Two to establish and sustain global American dominance in the world.
Conference presentations were by no means limited to criticism of US and NATO policies. The conference speakers bitterly opposed to Putin’s endorsement, as recently as April 11 of this year, of NATO’s military efforts in Afghanistan. They are particularly incensed by Putin’s agreement this year to the establishment of a NATO base in Ulyanovsk, nine hundred kilometers east of Moscow in Russia itself. Although the base has been sold to the Russian public as a way to facilitate US withdrawal from Afghanistan, one speaker assured the conference that the Ulianovsk outpost is described in NATO documents as a military base. And they resent Russia’s support of the US-inspired UN sanctions against Iran; they see Iran instead as a natural ally of Russia against American efforts to achieve global domination.
Apart from the remarks below, I was mostly silent at the conference. But my mind, almost my conscience, is heavy when I think of the recent revelations that Rumsfeld and Cheney, immediately after 9/11, responded with an agenda to remove several governments friendly to Russia, including Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran. Ten years earlier the neocon Paul Wolfowitz told Gen. Wesley Clark in the Pentagon that America had a window of opportunity to remove these Russian clients, in the period of Russian restructuring after the breakup of the USSR.) The agenda has not yet been completed in the case of Syria and Iran.
What we have seen under Obama looks very much like a progressive implementation of this agenda, even if we acknowledge that in Libya and now Syria Obama has shown greater reluctance than his predecessor to put US boots on the ground. (Nevertheless, under Obama, small numbers of US Special Forces were reportedly active in both countries, stirring up resistance to first Qaddafi and now Assad.)
What particularly concerns me is the relative absence of public response in America to a long-term Pentagon-CIA agenda of aggressive military hegemonism – or what I will call dominationism. 4 No doubt many Americans may think that a global pax Americana will secure a period of peace, much like the pax Romana of two millennia ago. I myself am confident that it will not: rather, like the imperfect pax Britannica of a century ago, it will lead inevitably to major conflict, possibly nuclear war. For the secret of the pax Romana was that Rome, under Hadrian, withdrew from Mesopotamia and accepted strict limits to its area of dominance. Britain never achieved that wisdom until too late; America, to date, has never achieved it at all.
And so very few in America seem to care about Washington’s global domination project, at least since the failure of massive protests to prevent the Iraq War. We have seen much critical examination of why America fought in Vietnam, and even the American involvement in atrocities like the Indonesian massacre of 1965. Authors like Noam Chomsky and William Blum have chronicled America’s criminal acts since World War Two, but without any prominent concern about the recent acceleration of American military expansiveness. Only a few, like Chalmers Johnson and Andrew Bacevich, have written about the progressive consolidation of a war machine that now dominates America’s political processes.
It is also striking that, until quite recently, the nascent Occupy movement has had little to say about America’s unprovoked wars; I am not sure they have even targeted the militarization of surveillance, law enforcement, and detention camps which are so important a part of the domestic apparatus of repression that threatens their own survival – the so-called “continuity of government” (COG) measures by which America’s military planners have prepared never again to have to deal with a successful American anti-war movement.
If I were to return to Russia I would again, as a former diplomat and as a Canadian, call for US-Russian collaboration to deal with the world’s pressing problems. The challenge is to move beyond the crude trade-off of so-called “peaceful coexistence” between superpowers a half-century ago, which in fact permitted and even encouraged the violent atrocities of client dictators like Suharto in Indonesia and Barre in Somalia. The alternative, a total breakdown of détente, seems likely to lead to increasingly dangerous confrontations in Asia, most likely over Iran,
But can this breakdown be avoided? For a week I have been wondering whether I have not perhaps been blinding myself to the realities of America’s intransigent striving towards dominance. Here in London I recently met with an old friend from my diplomatic days, a senior UK diplomat and Russian expert. I was hoping that he would dissuade me from my negative assessment of US and NATO intentions, but if anything he increased them.
So I am now publishing my talk with this preface for a North American and international audience. I believe that the most urgent task today to preserve the peace of the world is to curb America’s drive towards unchallenged dominance, and to re-energize the UN’s prohibition of unilateral and preemptive wars, for the sake of coexistence in a peaceful and multilateral world.
To this end, I hope that Americans will mobilize against American dominationism, and call for a policy declaration, either from the administration or from Congress, that would
1) explicitly renounce past Pentagon calls for “full spectrum dominance” as a military objective for American foreign policy,
2) reject as unacceptable the deeply-ingrained practice of preemptive wars,
3) renounce categorically any US plans for the permanent use of military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Kyrgyzstan, and
4) recommit the United States to conducting future military operations in accordance with the procedures set out in the United Nations Charter.
I encourage others to join me in urging Congress to introduce a resolution to this effect. Such a resolution might not initially succeed. But it would help focus American political debate on what I consider to be a topic that is both urgent and too little examined: American expansiveness as a current threat to global peace.
Remarks at Invissin Conference on NATO, Moscow, May 15, 2012
I wish to thank the organizers of this conference for the chance to speak about the acute problem of the Afghan drug traffic, a current threat to both Russia and U.S.-Russian relations. I will discuss today the deep political perspective of my book Drugs, Oil, and War, which looks at factors underlying the international drug traffic and also U.S. interventions harmful to the interests of both the Russian and American people. I will also talk about the role of NATO in facilitating strategies for U.S. hegemony in Asia. But first I want to look at the drug traffic in the light of an important factor that is prominent in my book: the role of oil in U.S. policies for Asia, and also the role of the major international U.S.-aligned oil companies, including BP.
Oil has been a deep driving force behind all recent U.S. and NATO offensive actions: one has only to think about Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, and Libya in 2011.
My book studies the role of oil companies and their representatives in Washington (including lobbies) in all of the major U.S. interventions since Vietnam in the 1960s. The power of U.S. oil companies may need a little explanation to an audience in Russia, where oil companies are controlled by the state. In America the relationship is almost reversed: oil companies tend to dominate both U.S. foreign policy and also the U.S. Congress. This explains why presidents from Kennedy to Reagan to Obama have been powerless to limit the oil industry’s special tax break called the oil depletion allowance, even now when most Americans are sinking deeper into poverty.
The underlying cause of U.S. activity in Central Asia, in traditional areas of Russian influence like Kazakhstan, lies in the heightened interest of western oil companies and their representatives in Washington, for three decades or longer, in developing and above all controlling the underdeveloped oil and gas resources of the Caspian basin. To this end Washington has developed policies that have produced forward bases in Kyrgyzstan and for four years in Uzbekistan (2001-05). The overt purpose of these bases was to support U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. But the U.S. presence also encourages the governments in nearby Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, both areas of U.S. oil and gas investment, to act more independently of Russian approval.
Washington serves the interest of western oil companies, not just because of their corrupt influence over the administration, but because the survival of the current U.S. petro-economy depends on western domination of the global oil trade. A passage in Drugs, Oil, and War describes this policy, and how it has contributed to recent American interventions, and also the impoverishment of the Third World since 1980. In essence, the U.S. handled the quadrupling of oil prices in the 1970s by arranging, by means of secret agreements with the Saudis, for the recycling of petrodollars back into the U.S. economy. The first of these deals assured a special and on-going Saudi stake in the health of the U.S. dollar; the second secured continuing Saudi support for the pricing of all OPEC oil in dollars. These two deals assured that the U.S. economy would not be impoverished by OPEC oil price hikes. The heaviest burdens would be borne instead by the economies of less developed countries.
The U.S. dollar, weakening as it is, still depends largely on the OPEC policy of demanding U.S. dollars for payment of OPEC oil. Just how strongly America will enforce this OPEC policy can be seen by the fate of those countries that have chosen to challenge it. “Saddam Hussein in 2000 insisted Iraq’s oil be sold for euros, a political move, but one that improved Iraq’s recent earnings thanks to the rise in the value of the euro against the dollar.” Three years later, in March 2003, America invaded Iraq. Two months after that, on May 22, 2003, Bush by executive order decreed that Iraqi oil sales would be returned from euros to dollars.
Shortly before the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, Qaddafi, according to a Russian article, initiated a movement, like Saddam Hussein’s, to refuse the dollar for oil payments. Meanwhile Iran, in February 2009, announced that it had “completely stopped conducting oil transactions in U.S. dollars.” The full consequences of Iran’s daring move have yet to be seen.
I repeat: every recent U.S. and NATO intervention has served to prop up the waning dominance of western oil companies over the global oil and petrodollar system. But I believe that oil companies themselves are capable of initiating or at least contributing to political interventions. As I say in my book (p.8):
There are recurring allegations that US oil companies, either directly or through cutouts, engage in covert operations; in Colombia (as we shall see) a US security firm working for Occidental Petroleum took part in a Colombian army military operation “that mistakenly killed 18 civilians.”
More relevant to Russia was a 2002 covert operation in Azerbaijan, a classic exercise in deep politics. There former CIA operatives, employed by a dubious oil firm (MEGA Oil), “engaged in military training, passed ‘brown bags filled with cash’ to members of the government, and set up an airline…which soon was picking up hundreds of mujahideen mercenaries in Afghanistan.” These mercenaries, eventually said to number 2000, were initially used to combat Russian-backed Armenian forces in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh; but they also backed Muslim fighters in Chechnya and Dagestan. They also contributed to the establishment of Baku as a transshipment point for Afghan heroin to both the Russian urban market and also the Chechen mafia.
In 1993 they also contributed to the ouster of Azerbaijan’s elected first president, Abulfaz Elchibey, and his replacement by Heidar Aliyev, who then agreed to a major oil contract with BP, including what eventually became the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline to Turkey. Note that the U.S. background of the MEGA Oil operatives is unmistakable. However who financed MEGA is unclear; and may have been the oil majors, many of which have or have had their own covert services. There are allegations that major oil corporations, including Exxon and Mobil as well as BP, were “behind the coup d’état” replacing Elchibey with Aliyev.
It is clear that Washington and the oil majors have a common perception that their survival depends on maintaining their present dominance of international oil markets. In the 1990s, when it was widely believed that the world’s largest unproven reserves of hydrocarbons lay in the Caspian basin of Central Asia, this region became the central focus for both corporate U.S. petroinvestment and also for U.S. security expansion.
Clinton’s close friend Strobe Talbott, speaking as Deputy Secretary of State, attempted to put forward a reasonable strategy for this expansion. In an important speech of July 21, 1997,
Talbott outlined four dimensions of U.S. support to the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia: 1) The promotion of democracy; 2) The creation of free market economies; 3) The sponsorship of peace and cooperation ,within and among the countries of the region: and, 4) integration into the larger international community.… Inveighing against what he considers an outdated conception of competition in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Mr. Talbott admonished any who would consider the “Great Game” as a model on which to base current views of the region. He proposed, instead, an arrangement where everyone cooperates and everyone wins. But this multipolar approach was immediately attacked by members of both parties. Only three days later the right-wing Heritage Foundation, think-tank for the Republican Party, charged that, “The Clinton Administration — intent on placating Moscow — has hesitated to take advantage of the strategic opportunity to secure U.S. interests in the Caucasus.” In October this critique was echoed in a new book, The Grand Chessboard, by former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, perhaps Russia’s most important opponent in the Democratic Party. Conceding that the “ultimate objective of American policy should be… to shape a truly cooperative global community,” Brzezinski nonetheless defended for now the “great game” that Talbott had rejected. “It is imperative,” he wrote, “that no Eurasian challenger emerges, capable of … challenging America.”
Meanwhile, behind this verbal debate, the CIA and Pentagon, through NATO, were developing a “forward strategy” in the area that was antithetical to Talbott’s. Under the umbrella of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PFP) Program, the Pentagon in 1997 began military training exercises with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, as “the embryo of a NATO-led military force in the region.” These CENTRAZBAT exercises had in mind the possible future deployment of U.S. combat forces; and a deputy assistant secretary of defense, Catherine Kelleher, cited “the presence of enormous energy resources” as a justification for American military involvement. Uzbekistan, which Brzezinski singled out for its geopolitical importance, became the linchpin of U.S. training exercises, despite having one of the worst human rights records locally.
The American sponsored “Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan (March 2005) was another conspicuous product of the CIA-Pentagon forward strategy doctrine. It came at a time when George W. Bush repeatedly spoke of a “forward strategy of freedom,” and Bush later, when visiting Georgia, endorsed the changeover (more like a bloody coup d’état than a “revolution”) as an example of “spreading democracy and freedom.” But the new Bakiyev regime, in the words of Columbia University Professor Alexander Cooley, “ran the country like a criminal syndicate.”In particular many observers accused Bakiyev of taking over and running the local drug traffic as a family enterprise.
To some extent the Obama regime has retreated from the hegemonic Pentagon rhetoric of (in its words) “full spectrum dominance.” But it is not surprising that under Obama pressures to reduce Russian influence (e.g. in Syria) have continued. For a half century Washington has been divided between a minority (principally in the State Department, like Talbott) who have envisaged a future of cooperation with the Soviet Union, and those hegemonic hawks (principally in the CIA and Pentagon, like William Casey, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld) who have pushed for a U.S. strategy of unipolar global domination. The latter have not hesitated to use drug-trafficking assets in pursuit of this unattainable goal, notably in Indochina, Colombia, and now Afghanistan.
Significantly, the hawks have used the drug eradication strategies of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) as well. As I wrote in Drugs, Oil, and War (p. 89),
The true purpose of most of these campaigns … has not been the hopeless ideal of eradication. It has been to alter market share: to target specific enemies and thus ensure that the drug traffic remains under the control of those traffickers who are allies of the Colombian state security apparatus and/or the CIA.
This has been conspicuously true in Afghanistan, where the U.S. recruited former drug traffickers to join in its 2001 invasion. Later the U.S. announced a drug reduction strategy that was explicitly limited to attacking those drug traffickers supporting the insurgents.
Thus those concerned (as I am) with reducing Afghan drug flows are faced with a dilemma. Effective strategies against international drug trafficking must be multilateral, and in Central Asia they will require increased U.S.-Russian cooperation. On the other hand the energies of the principal pro-U.S. forces currently on the ground there – notably the CIA, U.S. armed forces, NATO, and the DEA – have in the past been intent primarily not on cooperation but on U.S. hegemony.
The answer I believe will lie in team efforts using the expertise and resources of both countries, housed in bilateral or multilateral agencies not dominated by either. A successful drug strategy will also have to be multi-faceted, like the successful campaign in northern Thailand, and will probably require both countries to consider people-friendly strategies not yet adopted by either.
Russia and America share many features and concerns. They are both still superstates, even if now losing preeminence in the face of a rising China. As superpowers both were tempted into Afghan adventures that many wiser heads regret. Meanwhile Afghanistan, now a ravaged country, presents urgent problems for all three superstates: the menace of drugs, and the related menace of terrorism.
The whole planet has a stake in seeing Russia and America deal with these menaces constructively and not exploitatively. And any progress made in reducing these shared threats will hopefully be another step in the difficult process of learning to consolidate peace.
The last century saw a Cold War between the US and the USSR, two superstates which both armed heavily in the name of defending their people. The USSR lost, leaving an unstable Pax Americana much like the Pax Britannica of the 19th century: that is, a dangerous mix of globalizing commerce, increasing disparity of wealth and income, and wildly excessive and expansive militarism, leading to increasing conflict (Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya), and increasing danger of a possible new world war (Iran).
To preserve its perilous dominance the US today is arming against its own people, not just in defense of them. All the peoples of the world, including the American, have a stake in seeing that expansive dominance reduced, towards a less militarist and more multipolar world.