Military or Market-Driven Empire Building: 1950-2008

Published on Voltairenet.org, by James Petras, May 3, 2008.

… From the middle of the 19th century but especially after the Second World War, two models of empire building competed on a world scale: One predominantly based on military conquests, involving direct invasions, proxy invading armies and subsidized separatist military forces; and the other predominantly based on large-scale, long-term economic penetration via a combination of investments, loans, credits and trade in which ‘market’ power and the superiority (greater productivity) in the means of production led to the construction of a virtual empire …

… Market-driven empire building has both resulted from and created a strong civil society in which socio-economic priorities take precedent in defining domestic and foreign economic policy over military priorities and definitions of international reality. US empire builders, academics and political advisers have interpreted, what they call ‘the rise of US global power its victory in the Cold War and the decline of Communism’ as a vindication of military-driven empire building. They have ignored the rise of capitalist competitors and the relative and absolute decline of the US as an economic power. It can be argued that the newly emerging market-driven former Communist countries (like China and Russia) represent a greater global challenge to the US Empire than the previous stagnant bureaucratic Communist regimes.

Militarism is deeply embedded in the structure, ideology and policies of the entire US governing class, its political parties, the executive and legislative branches, the judiciary and the armed forces. Over the same half-century countervailing market-driven empire builders have declined as a defining force in the formulation of foreign policy in the US. The growing encroachment of the militant Zionist power configuration within the policy-making directorate has been greatly facilitated by the ascendancy of militarism and the relative decline of economic-empire building.

The long period of incremental decline of US economic empire building and the trillions of dollars wasted by military-driven empire building has come to a climax. In the new millennium with the profound devaluation of the imperial currency (the dollar), the huge indebtedness and loss of markets Washington is totally dependent on the good will of its commercial partners to keep accepting constantly devalued dollars in exchange for essential commodities.

The immediate outcome is likely to be a major domestic crisis, which could be accompanied by one more desperate and futile military attack on Iran and/or Venezuela or a forced confrontation with China and/or Russia. Desperate acts of declining military empires have historically accelerated the demise of imperial rulers.

Out of the debris of failed empires two possible outcomes could emerge. A new rabidly nationalist authoritarian regime or the re-birth of a republic based on the reconstruction of a productive economy centered on the domestic market and social priorities, free from foreign entanglements and power configurations whose only purpose is to subordinate the republic to overseas colonial ambitions.

The dismantling of the military driven empire will not occur ‘by choice’ but by imposed circumstances, including the incapacity of domestic institutions to continue to finance it. The demise of the militarist governing class will follow the collapse of their domestic economic foundations. The result could be a withered empire, or a democratic republic.

When and how a new political leadership will emerge will depend on the nature of the social configurations, which undertake the reconstruction of US society. (full text).

(James Petras is a highly skilled professor of sociology at the Binghamton University of New York).

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