Global Rivalries: From the Cold War to Iraq

Global Rivalries: From the Cold War to Iraq

by Kees van der Pijl


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745325415
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 09/26/2006
Pages: 459
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.05(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Kees van der Pijl is a Fellow of the Centre for Global Political Economy and Professor Emeritus at the University of Sussex. His books include The Foreign Encounter in Myth and Religion (Pluto, 2010), the Deutscher prize-winning Nomads, Empires, States (Pluto, 2007), Global Rivalries from the Cold War to Iraq (Pluto, 2006) and The Making of an Atlantic Ruling Class (new edition, 2012).

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Fractures and Faultlines in the Global Political Economy


In Third World countries I felt I had dropped into the past, and I had never accepted the notion of timelessness anywhere. Most countries had specific years. In Turkey it was always 1952, in Malaysia 1937; Afghanistan was 1910 and Bolivia 1949. It is twenty years ago in the Soviet Union, ten in Norway, five in France. It is always last year in Australia and next week in Japan. Britain and the United States were the present — but the present contains the future.

Paul Theroux, The Kingdom by the Sea, 1984

In order to study foreign relations properly, one has to abandon the Eurocentric mindset; but to understand global rivalries in today's world, we must first investigate the West and its specific history. This is how I will approach the subject matter in this study. I begin by looking at the origins and early development of the relationship between the emerging English-speaking realm and its continental rivals.

The Anglo-French antagonism that will serve as the core structure of our analysis was grafted on late-medieval contests within a ruling class of warriors-landowners on both sides of the Channel. Relations of exploitation and struggles over living space are primordial here; 'national' entities only emerged after centuries of fighting over land occupancy and income. Scandinavian Vikings had raided the British Isles since the ninth century, subduing the Saxons and others wherever they settled. In 1066, England was integrated again into Romanised, feudal Europe by the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror (himself a descendant of Viking corsairs). The Norman kings of England retained large tracts of territory in France; the Hundred Years' War in the fourteenth century merely saw the most intense fighting in a protracted struggle over further redistribution. Crucially, however, England became a unified entity right from the conquest. France, with a population six times as large, only came into its own in the mid-fifteenth century, when it made peace with Burgundy, then an ally of the English monarchy. In 1558, England finally surrendered its last holdout, Calais. This absolved the state of having to fight costly land wars and kept taxes on its subjects within negotiable limits.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, social and political development acquired a new cohesion and direction as a democratic revolution. Affecting all of northwest Europe, the democratic revolution evolved through struggles against feudal-aristocratic rule, royal absolutism and the hold of the Roman Catholic church on spiritual and cultural life. Its first, bourgeois, phases — the Reformation and the Enlightenment — entailed the reordering of the form of the state and its relationship with society in ways suiting the needs of the commercialising landlords, merchants and the artisans of the towns. The English and the French revolutions are the defining moments in this process, although even in those epoch-making events the 'bourgeoisie' was never a cohesive class but an amalgam of diverse social forces loosely united by urban residence and commercial activity and outlook. Generally the bourgeoisie in Europe was averse to radical political change because their businesses tended to be part of a system of royal or feudal monopolies and licences. Only when the privilege-granting authority (prince or city) could no longer accommodate an expansion of their field of activity and/ or mental horizon would elements from the bourgeoisie be drawn into the struggles erupting from religious disputes, popular discontent, or fights among different sections of the nobility.

The democratic revolution eventually resulted in parliamentary states with a unified national economy. But this was achieved only after a series of separate revolts and restorations, which moreover tended to be disjointed, spread across different societies as 'moments' of the larger transformation. Political revolutions sent their waves of refugees, ideas, agents and armies across borders into other societies, where they activated social forces that were waiting or lay dormant, thus reconnecting processes of change into a single flow. In this sense the long-term emancipation and formation of the bourgeoisie as a class and the revolutionary convulsions of the Reformation and Enlightenment epochs merged into one comprehensive process. However, the unevenly timed capture of state power in the democratic revolution, and the varying degrees to which the ascendant bourgeoisie was involved in it, also shaped the distribution of geopolitical space. In the wars of religion on the continent and in the British Isles, different patterns of state/society organisation and foreign involvement became apparent for the first time. Hence the bourgeois phase of the democratic revolution can be argued to have created the heartland/contender state structure, which has, after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, over-determined every democratic revolution. Let us look at this in some detail.

The North Atlantic Aspect of the Reformation

The Reformation was the first stage of the democratic revolution in Europe. It had the effect, in the words of Edmund Burke, 'of introducing other interests into all countries than those which arose from their locality and natural circumstances' — a shift of spatial coordinates primarily induced by the growth of commerce and private property, enclosure and displacement. The outcomes of the Reformation entailed major geopolitical consequences: the partition of the German and Spanish empires along confessional lines, and, crucially, the establishment of an English-speaking 'West'.

Protestantism is rooted in the idea of an unmediated covenant with God. Thus, in the context of Christianity, it articulates the rise of individualism, a key aspect of the rise of a commercially minded bourgeoisie. Indeed, till today Protestant Christianity accompanies the spread of capital across the globe, with the militant evangelism of both very much in step with each other. Back in the sixteenth century, the Lutheran reformation triggered the Peasant War and the revolution of the princes in Germany, ripping up the empire; a settlement was reached in 1555 by the Peace of Augsburg. Meanwhile, in England Henry VIII made himself the head of a separate Anglican church through the Act of Supremacy of 1534, dividing the landholdings of the church of Rome among his barons. If we have to define these events by reference to a single principle, it would be sovereign equality: the lord of the land is made the supreme authority in deciding on its religion, thus placing religious authority firmly under worldly authorities treating each other as equals. Sovereign equality, an aspect of absolutist state formation, enshrines the preoccupation with dynastic territoriality carried over from the warrior aristocracy. But it is simultaneously over-determined (as was, in Perry Anderson's view, absolutism as such) by the rise of the bourgeoisie. Without ever being the protagonist in the process, the presence of the ascendant bourgeoisie is felt at every step — carving out unified, mutually exclusive jurisdictions which create 'national' economic spaces, and separating a political-administrative and legal sphere from that of religion essentially serves the needs of the bourgeoisie.

Neither Anglicanism nor Lutheranism (nor, for that matter, absolutism) was able to keep up with the pace of social change driven by the spread of private commercialism. In the revolt of the Low Countries against the Spanish Habsburg empire that erupted in the 1560s, the economic aspect found a more suitable ideological vehicle in Calvinism. The Thirty Years' War (1618-48), fought across the princely states and cities of Germany, was triggered by the insurrection in Lutheran Bohemia against the German Habsburgs; it was eventually decided by the interventions of France and Sweden. The Westphalian Treaties of 1648 terminated the wars of religion by replicating the Augsburg principles of sovereign equality for the European continent as a whole. England, in the throes of its own religious civil war, was not a signatory. Its interests were pointing in a different direction, towards a policy of active balancing dictated by commercial interests, and a rupture with dynastic commitments and territoriality.

The special position of England, created in the Reformation phase of the democratic revolution, can only be understood if placed in the perspective of the conquest of the North Atlantic and settlement in North America. The concept of an English-speaking heartland has its origin here. Columbus may have discovered the Caribbean islands for his Iberian sponsors, but a Venetian —'John Cabot' in English — pursuing the earlier Viking attempt was the first to find land across the North Atlantic. Under a mandate from King Henry VII, and with the promise that he could govern the lands he found as long as he paid the crown 'one-fifth of the capital gain', Cabot landed in Newfoundland in the summer of 1497. He returned to England to organise a fleet of five ships stocked by London and Bristol merchants, but perished on a second voyage. Preying on Spanish treasure fleets sailing home from the Caribbean now became a favourite occupation for English sea captains in the Atlantic, and control of Barbados, Bermuda and other Spanish holdouts would matter much more to the English than North America. Hence there were few vested interests opposed or even involved when in 1578 Queen Elizabeth gave a former courtier, Humphrey Gilbert, letters amounting to a colonial charter (the first of its kind) for settlement in North America. These letters granted him the right to establish a colony anywhere along the coastline stretching from Labrador to Florida, to which the queen claimed title on the grounds of Cabot's landing. Gilbert, we read in Angus Calder's Revolutionary Empire, 'was the first Englishman to attempt a New World Utopia'. Conscious of the scarcity of land and the religious divisions at home, he offered feudal holdings in North America for sale to wealthy Catholics, while projecting, under his own rule, colonies for the poor as well.

Catholics did join the Atlantic trek, but the mainstream of seventeenth-century migration to North America was made up of (Calvinist) Puritans fleeing the restorative Anglicanism that accompanied the absolutist ambitions of Charles I. Brushing aside attempts to introduce feudal land ownership, they created overseas replicas of their home communities as sectarian Christian 'New Jerusalems'. 'English birthright' — the right to resist state encroachment that dates back to the Norman conquest — was thus transplanted across the North Atlantic, and would be appealed to at the time of the American secession. Overseas settlements developed as a spatial dimension of the democratic revolution. The process can even be understood as a lateral extension of the eventual civil war on the British Isles; it certainly served, for a time, as a safety valve postponing it (emigration would dry up after the 1650s, only to resume 200 years later). In the meantime, the vast space and resources on the other side of the Atlantic, in combination with the optimistic pioneer mindset of the settlers, created the society that would bring the United States to pre-eminence within the English-speaking world. A subordinate, forced migration of African slaves provided workers for the sugar plantations in the Caribbean and Brazil, and later for the southernmost North American colonies. English merchants operating from London and Bristol, their first royal charter dating from 1572, competed in this lucrative trade with Iberian slave traders and the Dutch. On the other hand, the English merchant-adventurers were late-comers in the Asian trade, which South American gold and silver had made possible for the Portuguese, Spanish and the Dutch. But when the English did arrive in the Indian Ocean, they would exploit the region far more effectively than their competitors.

North America and, at a later stage, Australasia would always occupy a special place in the British empire, not comparable with even the most important colonies such as India. Toynbee argues that the Old Testament allegory of the 'chosen people', dear to English Protestants (they liked to see themselves as the descendants of the 10 northern tribes of Israel dispersed in pre-Biblical times), fed conceptions of racial superiority that legitimised slavery as well as the extermination of the native peoples. The English Revolution established the 'West' as its new frame of reference with all these associations. As Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy writes,

'Western World' replaced Western Church and Roman Empire, but it kept the supernatural, religious background and atmosphere which surrounds these two millennial words. Western World was a programme for hegemony, as 'Europe' was for France. The word 'Western' had an appeal. It announced a beginning and a prerogative of Western man.

The establishment of the heartland incorporated the notion of sovereign equality into the divinely ordained union. In the 1640s Massachusetts proclaimed effective independence, but could not develop an economy to sustain it. Of course, there would be a respectable delay before the entities making up the British empire would actually enjoy anything like sovereign equality, and the process always entailed its own frictions and rivalries. But the transnational spread of English-speaking society had by then transplanted a language, a literature, a legal culture privileging property and contract, a political culture centring on the idea of an innate right to resist the state, and a shared belief in the universal validity of these against others. This allowed the heartland to develop as what Bastiaan van Apeldoorn calls a 'transnational space for the exercise and reproduction of capitalist class rule'; or, in the words of a historian of the British Commonwealth, as a 'system of interlinked groups, organizations and societies within the greater community that was able to avoid in a very large measure the growth of rigidities and compartmentalization in its political, economic and social structure'. This unique constellation was the result of an equally unique transformation of state power that provided the heartland with the specific state-society relationship which alone makes transnational integration possible.

The Hobbesian and Lockean Moments in Bourgeois State Formation

In the course of the English Civil War, the transformation of the state towards a bourgeois form passed through two stages. The first was the state described in Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan of 1651. This marks the concentric phase of the English bourgeois revolution, the moment when Cromwell assumed the mantle of Lord Protector and unified the British Isles into a single sovereignty. Hobbes, an admirer of the new natural science, captures the aspect of atomisation in a society subject to the centrifugal force of privatisation and commercialism. In his quest to find the force that binds the floating particles together again, he postulates a social contract that unifies society under a tentacular state (the original frontispiece of the book shows a crowned, sword-wielding ruler whose coat of mail is made up of minute human figures streaming towards him). Although a monarchist himself in the circumstances, Hobbes was not an advocate of the divine right of kings. The Hobbesian state is a new, impersonal entity separate from society, which does not allow any residual authority other than its own. Perhaps because the bourgeoisie was not the overt protagonist of the revolt, Hobbes was not yet able to fully gauge its ability (and that of the commercialising aristocracy, which in England retained its political prerogative) to direct social development without active state involvement. As to the American colonies, to him they were, at best, a safety valve for the surplus poor.

Cromwell's autocratic, 'Hobbesian' state adopted a foreign policy in line with the pre-bourgeois notion of stable alliances. The Protestant Commonwealth in the British Isles actually sought to bring the Dutch fellow Calvinists into an enduring union. It was felt, Pieter Geyl notes, that 'the two Protestant sea powers could form an invincible combination'. A solemn embassy of 246 diplomats and clerks dispatched to The Hague in March 1651, was mandated to negotiate 'the closest possible bond between the two nations ... nothing less than union within a single state'. But the Dutch merchant oligarchy was wary of the revolutionary belligerency that motivated the offer. They could dispense with Protestant militancy and were only too well aware that their newly sovereign republic, which lacked a centralised state power, would be overwhelmed as soon as England recovered from its civil war. The Dutch preferred to continue trading and actually provided the seagoing merchantman capacity that ensured the survival of English-speaking colonies in North America and in the Caribbean.


Excerpted from "Global Rivalries"
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Copyright © 2006 Kees van der Pijl.
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Table of Contents

List of Tables and Figures, ix,
Preface, x,
List of Abbreviations, xvii,
1. Fractures and Faultlines in the Global Political Economy, 1,
2. Integration and Rivalry in Europe and the Middle East, 33,
3. America's Crusade in Asia and the Euro-Atlantic Rift, 66,
4. The Spectre of Social and Economic Democracy, 104,
5. Transnational Rivalries and the Neoliberal Turn, 138,
6. From Pinochet to the Reagan Doctrine, 177,
7. The Rapallo Syndrome and the Demise of the Soviet Union, 216,
8. America Over Europe in the Balkans Crisis, 256,
9. The Rise of China as the New Contender, 297,
10. Energy Conflicts in the Post-Soviet Era, 336,
11. From Human Rights to the Global State of Emergency, 379,
References, 411,
Index, 441,
About the Author,

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