(design/edited Leo Edelstein and Yanni Florence, associate editor Judith Elliston)
EMPIRE OF DISORDER
BY ALAIN JOXE
from the Psychomilitary issue
We must cast our eyes on the New World, if that is the area with the dominant project today, in order to penetrate the genetic code behind its strength. In a manner of speaking, however, since this is just a biological parable. It serves to remind us of the fact that we are confronted, no doubt, with a living being, the North American state, albeit a political creature, a conglomerate of citizens. How and why can the law that has guided the autonomous development of American power since the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus be understood and pronounced?
Invaded in the north by Anglo-Saxon Protestants from Northern Europe, in the south by Spanish and Portuguese Catholics from Southern Europe, the two parts of America provide two different examples of genocide.
The genocide of Indians was almost total in North America and the slave trade became the project behind the southern United States; the Indian genocide in the South was interrupted by the encomienda that inaugurated a personal regime resembling the colonies of the Low Empire with vice-kingdoms that took over the Inca and Aztec Empires, and slavery was tempered by the ritualized and generalized emancipatory miscegenation that triumphed in South America along with the Spanish and Portuguese languages. Then, in the two autonomous new worlds founded by Washington and Bolivar, the North slowly but surely overtook the South, to such an extent that the New World as a whole described the potential in the entire world.
In Europe, Orthodox Christianity and Islam, as continuations of antique culture, were immobilized in antique conquering structures and slowly underwent the humiliating fate of economically inferior countries corrupted by the petroleum windfall along with the venal and police bureaucracies that are politically kept outside democratic European culture.
The United States is determined to shape the world in its own image and not as a world-cosmos, but as a world united by a principle of disorder, a world-chaos. It took ten years for this project to take shape in the United States and spread across the earth, with its own particular debates, truths, stakes, methods, vocabulary, myths and lies.
A 'chaos' has now completely and for years to come replaced the orderly world of the Cold War, yet it nonetheless has a dynamic morphology: an overdeveloped core, zones forming constellations of democracy or free market clusters, in circular form, then, farther away, zones separated by flexible or ephemeral institutional, economic or military membranes; zones in crisis, zones of barbaric violence, social wastelands and slow or rapid genocide; a surveillance system consisting of observational satellites and of bureaucracies to interpret their observations and databases; a non-hierarchical system of communication, telephone, internet, cyberspace, an infosphere structured as an anarchic, but diversified space; a system of repression as well: mobile or fixed military bases and stockpiles all in coordination to maintain the logistics of global military intervention; systems of alliances and Euro-American command systems under American control.
In the world today there is a serious disturbance in the representation of political identity and thus of sovereignty. In order to avoid being nothing or nobody, to avoid a loss of sovereignty, people rely on their god, their language, their tribe, their town or their family.
It has long been held that the essential power of capital is found in the corporation, be it involved in production, commercialization or credit. However, the idea that corporate leaders are merely a functional group that reproduces itself and prospers by following the scientific laws of economics and respecting 'good governance' is a na´ve and restrictive one that overlooks its political implications. It merely repeats the most common postulates of popularized Marxism by placing the 'economy' at the helm of human evolution. Corporate leaders of today are involved in politics. Even if the economy remains determinant, politics decides.
Corporations, or rather their leaders, have reached forms of sovereignty that are foreign to the territorial definition of states. This is not a conspiracy but just the state of the world. On the one hand, this situation derives from the transnationalization of violent Mafias; on the other, from the transnationalization and concentration of capital and especially financial capital. Colombian, Afghan, Pakistani, Nigerian drug Mafias, Russian and Yugoslavian Mafias, Chinese Triads, the Camorra, the N'dranghetta, etc. all make up a world of private, violent and popular enterprises with wealth and power. They harbor certain symbols of sovereignty such as 'the legitimate use of the threat of death.' Mafia legitimacy is a political construction that is at war with certain states, but sometimes allied with powerful states (Mexico, Russia) or tiny ones (Liechtenstein). Although they do not comprise or dominate the majority of entrepreneurial society, they contribute to the destabilization of the government and the breakdown of the protective function that is legitimately ensured by the Republic. They are a new global neighbor for corporations.
But the relationship of war or alliance with states also characterizes industrial corporations, distinct from the Mafia, which have increasingly become conglomerates that contest any form of regulation. Regulations once allowed nations to manage a certain distribution of resources between rich and poor. The wars or alliances with different nations are sought in the name of free trade. Over the past few years private corporations have substantially regrouped and concentrated their efforts and now these new conglomerates exercise their considerable weight on governments. Their directors are considered the equals of the President of the United States, and often wield more power than the heads of state of smaller countries.
Freely organized crime, freely organized finance and freely organized industrial or commercial corporations have become allies to defend free trade, and it is extremely difficult to locate the financial boundary between the criminal economy and the transnational economy in general.
Cruel internal wars financed by Mafias and with paramilitary armies have developed in many regions of the world since the end of the Cold War, in forms and for reasons that, by definition, can no longer be connected to the global bipolar dialectic between the Capitalists and the Communists, even if they first broke out in this ideological framework.
These cruel little wars have spread over the ruins of the system of communist federal nation-states (Yugoslavia, Russia), in non-communist nation-states once in full free-market capitalist expansion 'through import substitution' (Colombia) and in national states formed by single party, non-communist revolutions/liberations (PRI Mexico, Kemalist Turkey, FLN Algeria).
During the various processes of state decomposition, armed conflict between linguistic, religious or Mafia communities (and usually all three simultaneously) creates combat systems that legitimize long-term strategies of assassination, kidnapping or territorial cleansing involving more or less sadistic massacres provoking mass exodus (Serbia, Colombia, Algeria). In sub-Saharan Africa, the crises of post-colonial states have degenerated into conflicts between communities across borders: Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire, for Central Africa; Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia for West Africa. In Indonesia, the decomposition of the vast island federation, a legacy of the Dutch East Indies Empire, might only have begun.
Even if the combats have sometimes, literally, taken the form of 'ethnic' wars, the fact remains that they originate in oppositions between the interests of ruling classes seeking to take power by dividing the popular classes by means of massacres between 'ethnic groups' then joining them locally under ruling class hegemony by creating 'security zones' on a smaller scale, along the lines of state decomposition.
The wide variety of 'identity cases' leading to violence and war should not occult the fact that all these cases can now be combined and explained by a common and not at all secondary factor: the grand macroeconomic process of economic globalization following the computer revolution.
The general effect of globalization, its most general strategic definition, could be stated as follows: the disjunction of political, military and economic criteria that were once coordinated by the state, at the geographic level of the state. This disjunction constitutes the common source of diverse individual cases, allowing us to understand the proliferation of common symptoms, notably the outbreaks of cruelty and savagery, despite the cultural, historical and sociological differences that distinguish each of these suffering societies.
In all the spaces where composite, multi-ethnic federal societies of conviviality have been destroyed or have self-destructed, their inhabitants preserve a melancholic and embellished memory of their prior civilization or at least of the values it tried to represent or in which it attempted to believe. The Soviet Union, Yugoslavia under Tito, multicultural Bosnia all joined the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the paradise of the past.
In memory of these disjointed hopes, the analysis of conjoining destruction today must maintain a large-scale project for peace and reject the blunt, day-by-day myopic realism of the sordid accountants of other people's misery. The contemptuous post- or neocolonial mindset displayed by mediocre leaders often hastens these crises towards the worst catastrophes, which they follow with a sort of Schadenfreude, a neo-Darwinian pleasure in watching others suffer, close to an 'unconscious fascism' valid for the exterior.
Wars of balkanization (the destruction of a type of political cooperation) and liberation (the destruction of a mode of oppression) become 'current' and not 'archaic' when they are put in the context of the processes of market economy globalization and the unification of the 'chaotic' imperial system known as the American Empire.
Some of the harshest military dictatorships in Latin America and Asia--in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Indonesia, South Korea--already furnish long-standing examples of subcontracted massacres centrally organized by the United States during the Cold War. Each of these armies believed at the time that they were loyal cogs in the grand strategic vision of 'the struggle against communism.' In Latin America, it has been confirmed that various systems of selective and less than certain sociopolitical genocides were organized directly by order and with the technical assistance of the United States secret services, in order to liquidate, based on probability studies, a certain type of leftist figure according to a unified doctrine of National Security (though this doctrine was still aimed at maintaining the framework of the nation-state). This occurred in both Argentina and Chile. These examples give us an idea of what the vast centralized pyramid of asymmetrical massacre management might look like, the cold violence of globalist repression in the imperial system that has succeeded the bipolar world.
Certain cases in the most rigid communist dictatorships, in moments of transition, also evoke the cold violence of Nazism. For example, in China during the Cultural Revolution (as it was and not as it should have been), and in the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia or the decline of the North Korean regime.
Passionless barbarity could become global if violence were completely entrusted to machines instead of people, who would as a result become 'servants' rather than 'fighters,' calm and clean in white collars behind their computers. The rationality of technostrategy would then reach its zenith, without even obeying a global political project.
At an intermediary level, one finds the colonial massacres and tortures carried out by French and British decolonizers, the cruel exploits and Russian attacks in the Chechen War, the militias and 'tchetnik' nationalist troops of Mladic and Karadzic or Milosevic and Seselj and the 'oustachis' of Mate Boban, as well as the partial post-colonial genocides of crumbling African regimes, all of which were organized coldly but executed ardently by elite troops.
In each of the above cases, the source of military rationality, its political source, disappears, replaced by something else, by a technique for constant control of a calculated massacre as an act aimed at directly regulating, not politics - since such an art would obviously be the negation of any political community - but demographics and the economy. Throughout the world, circulating the hallways, one can find the reports, the fictions, the fragments of speech that resemble the virus or genes or mitochondria of a Nazi code being formed in the primal soup of global neoliberalism.
The mission objectives first given to troops wearing light blue or olive green helmets often change form imperceptibly along with the political goals. What seems odd is that, in this situation of disunion or non-cooperation, the deformation of the Ziel (the wartime military objective, in Clausewitzian terms) by leading military commanders, deforms the Zweck (the political goal of war-peace, in Clausewitzian terms) and not the contrary. This might shock the external allies (states), and may also shock the interior allies (the Congress) of the leader of military power (the President of the United States). Which means that in these cases military operations do not continue politics by other (violent) means.
Since there is no single common policy, variable local military tasks can come to influence and modify the vague or contradictory initial political goals. Their local goals are very much political and opposed, but the common military objective of the outside participants, with no common political goal, cannot be defined except as a desire to exercise military control over the war. Because they take part at a level of autonomy and coherence that is inferior to that of the local warriors, since they disagree on the level of conflict with one actor or another, they take time to control the conflict and can only do so through the absolute use of military violence.
For the UN and NATO, this is not a war at all, but for the Serbs, Croats and Muslims, it is a war and a Clausewitzian one at that.
The unbalanced Clausewitzian character of the interventions in cruel little wars is accompanied by a particular perversion: their international treatment through 'humanitarian' aid. This humanitarian action can pass for a purely political objective. Of course, humanitarian actions exist for themselves; in the field, they usually precede the expedition of UN soldiers. They are real and political and legally founded and praiseworthy in themselves. The point of perplexity concerns their connection with the classic scenario that makes war 'a mere continuation of politics by other means.'
The connection, to a certain extent contrary to nature, between humanitarian aid and war, contributes to confusing the political meaning of events: by countering the Clausewitzian politics-war 'continuation' with an illusory 'humanitarian aid-peace' continuation, the true political goals of war can be hidden while its military operational goals are paralyzed.
By using humanitarian aid, war ceases to refer to politics to become angelic or in other words disincarnate. The Celestial Blue of the UN or the white background of the Red Cross represent this disincarnation; the presence of military units removing the war from politics while at the same time removing it from armed action simply bears witness to the purity of the humanitarian intentions of the international community in the face of unchecked barbarity.
A great unease weighs on these undertakings since even deaf and mute public opinion can see and understand that expeditionary humanitarian forces are powerless to fight barbarity. It transforms the world television audience into a Roman plebe of voyeurs, ashamed of being constantly invited to watch the bloody circus games and watch innocent victims be devoured by the lions. The number of UN soldiers with serious neuroses continues to rise as they are submitted to an unprecedented situation for a soldier, trained to fight an enemy then stripped of the right to ride off in knightly armor to protect the innocent, watching them get slaughtered without pity.
If it were only a question of 'pulling the wool' over people's eyes, the situation would be serious from a democratic point of view, but history has often done without democracy in affairs of external violence. Human rights violations are always accepted as long as they remain unspoken. Military goals justify military means. It is not a military affair if the means used to serve a military goal ruin the political goal. Politicians must judge these actions and be judged by them. Which is why the clean conscience of torturers is protected by the bad conscience of politicians.
Then again, Clausewitzian rationality has been broken and a superior degree of moral perversion has been reached. When humanitarian action accompanies and serves to compensate for or hide a crime against humanity tolerated by policy, there is not only a breach of morality but of political rationality on both sides, not far from madness. For without political rationality, war is nothing other than madness.
In the transitional period that we are now crossing, even political leaders sometimes do not know what they are doing, in other words they do not have the words at their disposal to name their powerlessness or their power and therefore their moral or political conscience in the new international system remains clouded. They lack the landmarks necessary to alter their understanding and therefore to propose a rational policy in relationship to potential goals. It is important for democracy to search actively for the means to punish the language and words of political leaders, to invite them to speak about what they are doing, to make them speak the truth. Journalists have a prominent role to play in this domain, as do the elected representatives who have access to the media. They can either clarify or obscure public understanding.
Today, there is a form of servitude in all Third World factories that weighs on the free labor of prosperous countries. People without freedom are inexpensive. But they can be had without waging a slave-gathering war, by depreciating agricultural knowledge, destroying country life, increasing influx to urban centers and turning the masses of the agrarian popular classes into delinquent plebes. The accumulation of free workers without work has now been disconnected from the division of labor and progress. Progress occurs by introducing new technology and electronic equipment into machines and the division of labor is a division of machine labor. So free people are worth as much as slaves as they are as workers. From a moral and profit-based perspective, they can be massacred, not to conquer them or reduce them to slavery, but just to subdue them.
If the form proposed for the world empire is a chaos, it begs the question of the end of liberal capitalism. Except for the brief period of militant neoliberal media triumph that we are now crossing, one that started with Thatcher and Reagan, the question of the end of capitalism has not stopped being asked since its rise in the 19th century.
It is tempting in fact to consider the contradiction between 'empire' and 'disorder' to be insoluble and to pose the general question: why the world, dominated by the United States, seems to be heading towards a decline, an imperial chaos that resembles, more than anything else, the Low Roman Empire. This recognition seems to presage the end of the current mode of production known as capitalism, just as the Low Roman Empire presaged the end of classical slavery.
Translated by Ames Hodges.
Alain Joxe is Director of France's Center for Peace and Military Strategies, and professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris.
This is an excerpt from Empire of Disorder (New York:Semiotext(e)/The MIT Press).