What's the Alternative to NATO?

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at yale.edu
Fri Apr 16 11:02:56 PDT 1999

This is a serious question, since however much you think the defection of us "liberals" to imperialism is abominable, the fact remains that a large chunk of progressive folks are supporting this military action like none since the early part of the Vietnam War; in fact, liberals are supporting this intervention far more than conservatives.

The reason is not that pro-intervention folks have suddenly decided that the military and NATO is wonderful trustworthy set of institutions, any more than the anti-bombing folks think Milosevic's regime is wonderful. What has happened is a serious set of murderous catastophes -- you know, the ones that are listed as so much worse than Kosovo -- that have left many progressives feeling that a "USA out of Everywhere" position is no longer satisfactory.

In an ideal world, international law backed by a global set of institutions run democratically outside the dominance of great powers would address such incidents of mass murder, ethnic clensing and genocide.

But at the moment, that isn't an alternative. The alternative seems to be either a world of ethnic hatred and killing in disintegrating nation-states (fed by global capital and great powers) versus imperial hegemony by the US and its allies (supported by other parts of global capital and great powers).

First, the anti-imperial states in the present circumstances are not the semi-socialist newly decolonized regimes of the post-WWII period that progressives felt were uniformly worth protecting from the emerging capitalist order. Many of these new regimes are varying forms of kleptocracies and nationalist butchers with little popular legitimacy, and a high willingness to sell off large chunks of their real estate to high risk capital willing to trade stability for high financial returns. The world of narco-capitalism, off-shore tax havens and speculative capital thrives in this world of ethnic and nationalist chaos.

And as many on this list would be quick to point out, large elements of US capital and political elites have their fingers in this narco-capitalist style speculation as well, which is the point. There are large sections of the capitalist elite that have no interest in imperial stability, as reflected by the large divisions in the capitalist press and associated political organizations over the Kosovo intervention.

Defending a system of nation-state breakdown and ethnic killing amidst capitalist looting does not seem like the defense of "self-determination" and socialist self-empowerment progressives signed up for when the anti-imperialist line became dominant a generation ago during the Vietnam War.

The flatulence of the anti-imperial line is shown by the pathetic invocations of the United Nations - the same institution the anti-imperialists denounced as a stooge of the United States when the UN endorsed the far-more odious Gulf War. There is still promise in the UN through many of its agencies and debate in the General Assembly, but in regards to collective security, the vetoes wielded by the US, Russia and China turn it into either deadlocked indifference in one mode, or collusive hegemony in the other, neither of which has any appeal to progressive internationalists.

The anti-imperialists can list ten thousand reasons why NATO is evil and is responsible for ills throughout the world, and it will fail to convince most progressives supporting the NATO intervention, since they agree with all the criticism you list against NATO.

The support for NATO intervention and implicitly for Pax Americana is that the anti-imperial alternative vision is so ill-defined as to seem incoherent and, in my eyes at least, ultimately in bed with the narco-capitalist speculators that thrive on ethnic hatred and the politics of Pat Buchanan and his more mainstream Right isolationists.

Yes, Pax Americana is the politics of Robert Rubin and the stable money boys, of Eisenhower Republicanism with liberal cultural values. But are the speculative kleptocracies of ethnic hatred a better alternative worth defending?

If there is a logic to how to build global socialism from that anti-imperial defense of regimes like Milosevic's, I honestly would like to hear it. The anti-imperialists spend so much time attacking the US that any positive vision for social change based the anti-imperialist line has disappeared into the fog of jargon and repeated homilies.

These are BAD, BAD alternatives, but for that reason attacking NATO and its motives won't convince anyone on the progressive side of the divide on this issue. We know we are allying with bad guys on this, but we get frustrated that those on the anti-imperialist side of the debate refuse to recognize the bad guys they are lining up with, not just Milosevic but the whole system of capitalist looting that is thriving amidst ethnic clensing. And the anti-imperialists are failing to provide any argument for what comes next and how a defeat of the imperialists will lead to global socialism.

I won't make strong claims for the pro-bombing vision of global organizing in a world of Pax Americana, but it is similar to the claims Marx & Engels made for the advantages of socialism under Bismarck versus the divided German principalities. The argument was (and may be today) that the crushing of local sovereignty may in turn create an integrated economy that allows international working class movements to themselves find the unity for revolutionary action. This will entail the rise of a unified capitalist domain "on a scale large enough to allow the development of the working class to proceed without finding national complications any longer a serious obstacle. The grave-diggers of the Revolution of 1848 had become the executors of its will."(TACTICS OF SOCIAL DEMOCRACY) Substitute 1917-1989 for 1848 and the argument may parallel.

I quote Marxist scripture not to sanctify my argument but to highlight its tentativeness given the weakness of analogy over time. But then the anti-imperial line is based on analogies of defense of Milosevic to the conditions pertaining when Lenin saw nationalist resistance to colonialism promising the chance for socialist upheaval in the context of uneven global development.

But capitalism has moved on from there; we don't have a world of imperial country manufacture fed by colonies reduced to raw commodity production. We have an integrated global production system, with state-of-the-art factories scattered across the globe with an all-permeating global financial system backing the most speculative investments. Even in the absence of imperial military action, there are well-developed local economic classes willing and able to cut deals with global financial partners to oppress their own (or hated ethnic adversary) populations for mutual profit. Any attempt at local revolution against that global system can be de facto suppressed by a targeted capital strike supported, when the country has had enough, by IMF restructuring to discipline that country to the demands of the global market.

Within such an integrated global capitalist system, any political integration looks attractive as promising the chance for collective working class overthrow - a possibility largely precluded when financial markets are integrated but state apparatuses are divided. That integration would ideally happen through peaceful socialist granting of large chunks of sovereignty by nations to a global democratic government body.

But history doesn't happen ideally that way most of the time, and the jagged line of imperial integration (and yes, Clinton makes a piss-poor Bismarck want-a-be) looks more promising both in the short-term (in preventing specific oppressions as in Kosovo) and in the long-term in allowing the global space for a united working class response within that new imperium.

I won't argue for the attractiveness of that option, only a reluctant nod in its direction given the vacancy of any vision for global socialist mobilization attaching to the anti-imperialist line.

If someone has a line of argument for how to move from defense of Milosevic's Yugoslavia to a global socialist system, I honestly would like to hear it. And to be honest, it is the failure of the anti-imperialist viewpoint to articulate such a positive vision that accounts for a large part of the defection of progressives in the case of Kosovo. If evil lies down every long-term path, than short-term opportunistic alliances, even with the bombers of NATO, look more attractive than an anti-imperial line promising no hope at all.

--Nathan Newman

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