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Globalisers with guns

The heady, optimistic days of the 1990s, when the end of the cold war seemed to usher in a new era of peaceful transformation across the globe seem a long way off now. Sergio Yahni looks at the rise of 'armed globalisation', before and since 9/11, and the special role of Israel in the so-called 'clash of civilisations'

October 1, 2006
9 min read

The two faces of globalisation

The events of 11 September 2001 marked a turning point in the era of neoliberal globalisation. Before 9/11, following the end of the cold war, international relations were characterised by processes of conflict resolution, such as in South Africa, Northern Ireland, East Timor and in Israel-Palestine. ‘Peace’ was seen as a way to include areas of conflict into the realm of liberal globalisation.

This was evident, for example, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the immediate impact of the peace process was the cancellation of the Arab boycott on commercial relations with Israel – and of companies that had such relations. This allowed multinational corporations to invest in Israel, sell their merchandise and purchase Israeli technologies. It also allowed Israeli industry and investments to enter Arab markets and to normalise relations with countries in Africa and Asia. In particular, the peace process provided an opportunity for Israeli business to outsource low-tech labour operations to Jordan and to boost its economic relations with Asia’s major countries, especially China and India.

Before 9/11, there were military interventions, such as in the former Yugoslavia and east Africa. But they were sponsored by multilateral bodies, involved the deployment of ‘peace-keeping forces’ and aimed to find a way of including countries where an immediate peace process was not an option in the process of economic globalisation.

After the 1991 Gulf war (also conducted on a multilateral basis), wars still occurred but only in regions marginal to the interests of global economic liberalisation, such as in the Peru-Ecuador war, or in regions where war was the only way to access indispensable natural resources, such as in central and west Africa.

The Egyptian-born neo-Marxian, Samir Amin, has compared the optimism of the 1990s with the optimistic ending of the 19th century. According to Amin (‘Not a Happy Ending’, Al-Ahram Weekly, 30 December 1999), by the 1990s the structural crisis of capitalism was being managed through ‘a third technological revolution’, which had altered modes of labour organisation and reduced workers’ and popular resistance that obstructed capital accumulation.

Ten years before, Francis Fukuyama, then deputy director of the US state department’s policy planning staff, famously expressed this fin-de-siècle optimism in his essay ‘The End of History?’ (The National Interest, summer 1989). He wrote that: ‘The century that began full of self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of western liberal democracy seems at its close to be returning full circle to where it started: not to an “end of ideology” or a convergence between capitalism and socialism, as earlier predicted, but to an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism. ‘

Of course (and as predicted by Amin), Fukuyama’s final triumph of liberalism was a mirage. Already, pre-9/11, it was threatened by the emerging crises in the global system, such as the 1997 currency crisis of southeast Asia, the increasing resistance to globalisation and the relative decline of the US in the global economy. Then as now, however, US global hegemony rested on a military pillar as well as an economic one, and as the only global military super-power it had other means by which to pursue its interest.

While the Clinton administration had based its pre-9/11 globalisation strategy along mainly ‘peace’-oriented, economic lines, the right wing in the US was already planning the strengthening of the military pillar of US global hegemony. In 1997, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) was established with this objective by prominent conservative politicians, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John R Bolton, and Paul Wolfowitz. According to the Project’s statement of principles, the US should

-# increase its defence spending significantly and modernise its armed forces for the future;

-# strengthen ties to democratic allies and challenge hostile regimes;

-# promote the cause of political and economic freedom; and

-# accept responsibility for its unique role in preserving and extending a friendly international order.

Many of the founders of PNAC became key players in the Bush administration, and after 9/11 they were handed an unprecedented opportunity to implement their visions and policies. The shift to ‘armed globalisation’ was the outcome. Globalisation would now be characterised by the ‘clash of civilisations’, the de-legitimisation of dissent and the sidelining of multilateral institutions.

Samuel P Huntington’s concept of the ‘clash of civilisations’ (first outlined in Foreign Affairs, summer 1993) followed on from Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’. According to Fukuyama, the end of history was ‘the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government’. Fukuyama did not see it as the end of conflict because ‘the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in the real or material world’. Huntington explained the clash of civilisations as an irrational conflict that replaced the ‘political and ideological boundaries of the cold war as the flash points for crisis and bloodshed’.

Israel and the ‘clash of civilisations’

In this view, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is part of this irrational clash. Palestinian resistance is not seen in the context of national liberation, but re-framed as irrational acts of terrorism. Palestinian acts of resistance are viewed as the same as the attacks around the world by Al Qaeda.

On the day after the 9/11 attacks, for example, the former Israeli prime minister and then finance minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, was asked about their effect on US-Israeli relations. ‘It’s very good,’ he said. ‘Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy. ‘ The attacks, he said, would ‘strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we’ve experienced terror over so many decades’. He was not the only Israeli opinion-maker to express this sentiment.

At the fault lines between supposedly clashing civilisations, Israel is instrumental for US policies in its global war on terror. Terrorism here is viewed as an ideology, not as a tactic used by both state and nonstate actors.

The destruction in the Jenin refugee camp during the Israeli military’s ‘Defensive Shield’ operation in 2002, or the bombing of Gaza or Lebanon during the summer are no less acts of terror than the Al-Qaeda attacks on the US in September 2001. But this is not the way it is framed by western public-opinion makers: it is not the act in itself, but the identity of the perpetrators that matters.

Israeli operations such as Defensive Shield also set precedents for US operations elsewhere, as well as serving to test military methods and technologies. Practices and technologies used in the Jenin refugee camp, for example, were later used during the US re-occupation of Falluja in Iraq, while interrogation and public security technologies based on profiling developed by Israel are now used by the US, the UK and other countries.

The war in Lebanon

Israel went to war in Lebanon as part of the US global war. There is no doubt that it would not, nor could not, have done so without US encouragement and support. Its overwhelming military response to the seizure of two of its soldiers is an indication of just how far US foreign policy has switched from the peace process-oriented approach of the 1990s to the armed globalisation of today. However, the Israeli state didn’t require any persuading: it also went to war due to its own national security doctrine, which is conceptually similar to the Bush administration doctrine.

Israel’s national security doctrine takes as given that the ultimate goal of the Palestinians, and all the other Arab nations, is the destruction of Israel. Therefore, according to this doctrine, only a strong military, one that Palestinians or Arab armies will not be able to defeat, will deter the Arabs from attacking and later bring them to the negotiating table.

According to the former Israeli chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon,’Today’s [Israeli Defence Force] uses the most advanced weaponry on earth, excelling in its precision, mobility, durability, design, intelligence collection, and information management. ‘The real challenge for Israel, however, is not the confrontation on the battlefield, or the number of planes or artillery that it has, but ‘the strength of Israeli society and its ability to face…threats without yielding…The battles that Israel must now engage in, and will face for the foreseeable future, test not only Israel’s military power but its civic resilience. ‘

In its last confrontation with Hizbullah, Israeli military mobility, precision, intelligence collection and information management failed when confronted with a relative small guerrilla force armed with light weapons. The real failure, however, was on the part of the steadfastness of its civilian population – its capacity to meet the challenge of the war.

According to the logic of Moshe Yaalon, the real enemy was not Hezbollah but the few thousands of Israeli citizens that marched in Tel Aviv protesting against the war and their political representation, as well as the hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who did not actively oppose the war, but preferred to continue their lives as if nothing was happening in the north of the country.

It is difficult to predict whether Israel will go to a new war to avenge the defeat in Lebanon, and to restore its place in US global policies, or if the defeat in Lebanon signifies the end of Israel’s unilateral policies towards the Palestinians and its neighbours. But there is clearly a change in the public discourse demanding a more authoritarian approach by the state towards both openly dissenting Jewish voices and the Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as a cultural reaction against liberal Tel Aviv. This discourse demands the militarisation of citizens’ lives as a way to be prepared for next military challenges.

Israel leads the way in many of the political and military changes in this era of armed globalisation. The experience in Lebanon illustrates the weakness and dangers of the strategy of global wars. It now seems likely that Nato and the US army face a defeat in Afghanistan and Iraq on a par with that of Israel in Lebanon. Based on Israel’s experience, it is also likely that such a defeat will have a dangerous, de-legitimising impact on dissenting voices, lead to the further erosion of civil liberties and reinforce the new, armed pillar of globalisation. Sergio Yahni is co-director of the Alternative Information Centre, a joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation in Jerusalem

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