1990s >> 1990 >> no-1033-september-1990

Editorial: Another War for Oil

The press have denounced Saddam Hussein of Iraq as a “mad dictator”. A dictator he certainly is, and a ruthless and bloody one at that, but he is no more mad than Thatcher or Bush or Mitterrand. Or, put another way, since their foreign policies are based on the same principles as his, they are as mad as him.

Iraq is capitalist and its foreign policy is based on the principle that the national capitalist interest must be pursued at all costs. To do this Saddam Hussein has built up the most powerful armed forces his country can afford and has not hesitated to use them. One of Iraqi capitalism’s particular problems has been lack of an outlet under full national control to the sea by which to transit its main export, oil. To try to secure this, in 1980 Iraq attacked Iran, then temporarily weakened by the chaos that followed the overthrow of the Shah, so provoking a war which lasted eight years and in which up to a million innocent workers were slaughtered. Now Iraq has attacked and annexed Kuwait.

Would Thatcher or Bush or Mitterrand have acted differently in the same circumstances? Have they never used force to defend the vital interests of their capitalists? They criticise Iraq for developing and using chemical weapons, but their countries have armed themselves with the more deadly nuclear weapons, and each of them has personally declared that they would be prepared to push the button that could destroy the world. Who is the madder? Saddam Hussein or them?

The fact is that under capitalism “Might is Right” and all countries have to base their foreign policy on this principle. The battle of competition on the world market is not just a peaceful economic struggle. The threat of armed force is always present as the competing firms have the backing of their governments. States, with their armed might, exist to promote capitalist interests. At home they do this by trying to create the best environment for profit-making. Abroad their role is to secure access for their firms to raw materials, investment outlets, markets and trade routes.

Normally this jockeying for position takes place by diplomatic means, but all governments are aware that what influences the outcome of negotiations is not the “justice” of any side’s case but the amount of force each can potentially deploy to back up its demands. It is always a question of the balance of forces between the sides.

This is why all states strive to acquire the most destructive weapons they can afford. It was why Neil Kinnock’s hero, the failed Labour politician Aneurin Bevan, wanted Britain to have nuclear weapons. Without them, he said, a British Foreign Secretary would be going into the Conference Chamber naked. Which he said he was not prepared to do. So Saddam Hussein isn’t either, nor is any other leader of any other state.

The reason the Western powers are kicking up a fuss—and planning military action themselves—over Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait has nothing to do with this being some brutal “violation of international law” (They have all done this too, when it has suited their interests). It has to do with the threat this represents to their oil supplies. In other words, they are motivated by the same naked capitalist economic interest as Iraq. Iraq wants a secure trade route for its oil exports; they want a secure source of the vital raw material oil is for them.

Capitalism is a war-prone society. The armed truce that is all “peace” can amount to under capitalism will always be broken from time to time, as on this occasion, by the destruction and slaughter of real war. To end war capitalism must be ended.

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