1990s >> 1999 >> no-1143-november-1999

World View:*There’s no such thing as an ethical foreign policy* Chechen war (Part II)


    * There’s no such thing as an ethical foreign policy
    * Chechen war (Part II)

There’s no such thing as an ethical foreign policy

Ethical foreign policy? What a joke! How, in a capitalist world where each state is competing against every other state for a share of profits, can a government base its foreign policy on anything except economic self-interest—the economic self-interest, that is, of its capitalists?

“Obtain profits or die”, that is the economic law governing the conduct of states under global capitalism. And it cannot be otherwise for as long as global capitalism lasts.

Everybody knows that the reason for the Gulf War nearly ten years ago can be summed up in three letters O-I-L. Iraq, a virtually land-locked country wanted secure access to the sea for its exports and imports, so it invaded Kuwait. This represented a threat to the oil supplies of the capitalist West, so they went to war—and are still bombing and killing and starving ordinary people in Iraq to remove this threat. This has nothing to do with the fact that Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator who couldn’t care a damn about human rights. There are plenty of other dictators in the area—beginning with the King of Saudi Arabia and the other hereditary Gulf despots—who are left alone because they are on the side of the capitalist West.

It was the same earlier this year in Kosovo. Serbia wasn’t attacked because it was a dictatorship under Slobodan Milosevic but because it was a state with a powerful army that had been causing problems for Western capitalist interests in the area and had overstepped the mark. Neighbouring dictator and fellow ethnic-cleanser, Tunjman of Croatia, was left alone because he was “our bastard”.

East Timor? Who had heard of East Timor before last month? When Indonesian troops marched into this former Portuguese colony in 1975 the UN passed a resolution saying Indonesia had broken international law and left it at that. In the following years the Western capitalist powers competed amongst themselves for lucrative contracts from the Indonesian military. The ruling generals were invited to arms shows to buy guns, tanks, warplanes, ships, any military hardware they needed to maintain their grip on the country they were exploiting for their own ends.

“Please don’t use these weapons against your own people,” requested an ethically-minded diplomat. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” replied the generals. “That’s all right then,” replied the diplomat. When confronted with evidence that the generals were using British weapons for internal repression, a British Minister replied, “if we didn’t sell them arms, then the French would.” Questioned in the Assemblée Nationale on the same point, a French Minister replied, “if we didn’t sell them arms then the British would.”

When oil was discovered in the sea between East Timor and Australia, the Australian government decided that the Indonesian invasion of East Timor was not so contrary to international law after all. In order to get a share of the oil they signed an agreement recognising East Timor as part of Indonesia. Now they are leading the forces sent in to take East Timor from Indonesia. No wonder their erstwhile friends, the Indonesian rulers, regard them as two-faced double-dealers.

And of course a place like East Timor can never survive on its own. It’s obviously going to end up as an Australian dependency, no doubt giving Australia an even better oil deal.

That’s the way of the world—the capitalist world. And it’s no good just protesting about this and appealing to governments to base their foreign policy on ethical considerations. They can’t (except in words) even if they wanted to, since this would hamper them in the struggle for profits—and the trade routes, and investment outlets, and raw material sources, and strategic areas, to secure them.

The only way out is to get rid of global capitalism and replace it by a world socialist system in which all that is in and on the Earth becomes the common heritage of all humanity so that it can be used for the benefit of every man, woman and child on the planet irrespective of where they live, a small island or the industrialised heartlands.



Chechen war (Part II)

For too long now, the Chechen people have held that second-class status was often afforded South Africa’s black population. Indeed, in Moscow they are disparagingly referred to as “blacks” and the prejudice can be traced back over 150 years to the time when Tsarists conquered the area.

Stalin’s hate for them was such that he had the entire population deported to Central Asia in 1944, citing charges of Nazi collaboration—a venture that would wipe out some 60 percent of the Chechen population.

In recent years they have been blamed for every social ill facing Russia, from drug trafficking and kidnapping to black-marketeering. It was therefore not really surprising that the latest Moscow bomb attacks got blamed on Chechenya’s aspiring islamist secessionists—in spite of no evidence existing to suggest this—while providing the Russian rulers with another opportunity to send troops into the tiny republic.

Ostensibly, the present Chechen conflict was sparked by the seizing of border villages by islamic militants—the fundamentalist Wahhabi muslims, intent on creating an independent islamic republic made up of Daghestan and Chechenya. In the Chechen republic Wahhabi support has increased recently, chiefly because of high unemployment, despair at a corrupt local elite, frustration with the slow pace of market reforms and at the little effort Russia has made to rebuild the republic after the bungled Chechen war of 1994-6.

The Russian rulers, however, didn’t need much of an excuse to send troops into Chechenya at the end of September. They still feel the humiliation of Russia’s venture into Chechenya in the mid-90s, when 6,500 Russian troops lost their lives fighting Chechen guerrillas and the consequent pull-out sparked by public outcry at home. Moreover, here was a former superpower being whipped by a tiny band of poorly-trained fighters.

In the wake of that particular conflict, though still claiming Chechenya was breaching laws laid down in the Russian Federation constitution, Moscow was embarrassingly forced to accept the republic’s de-facto independence, but not formally.

More importantly, the Russian rulers are all too aware of Chechenya’s real significance. In spite of its size (7,350 square miles compared with the 8.64 million of the former Soviet Union) Chechenya is a veritable goldmine, and all the more important considering that previous successful secessionists—Georgia and Azerbaijan—took with them a wealth of mineral resources.

Chechenya, landlocked on three sides by Russia, includes fertile farmland that straddles the wheat fields of southern Russia. It has key transport assets—rail/road routes that link the Black and Caspian seas and trade routes to other trans-Caucasus republics. Most importantly, Chechenya controls vital oil pipelines that connect the Black and Caspian seas, as well as vital oilfields and refineries. We can add to this Chechenya’s chemical and engineering industries as well as its supply of building materials. All said, Chechenya equals roubles equals profits.

But one wonders why Russia, in recent weeks, has concentrated air strikes on oil terminals, bridges and dams. The strategy seems to be one of destroying Chechenya’s infrastructure and raw material supplies and to seal it off from the outside world. Sounds familiar? By all accounts Moscow has modelled the attack on the NATO strategy in Kosovo, hoping to bring Chechenya to its knees in as short a space of time as possible and with minimum loss of Russian life.

Nine years after the Chechen nationalists first informed Moscow of its secessionist ambitions, and with hundreds of thousands of Chechens now living the meagre life of the refugee in neighbouring republics, stability looks a long way off, and with President Aslan Maskhadov now enlisting the help of the region’s most prominent warlords—such as Shamil Basayev, a veteran commander of the first Chechen war that Maskhadov initially disowned—the conflict looks set to be long and protracted.

With so much mineral wealth at stake, wealth they are afforded no real share in, the Chechens should at least realise that whichever elite—Russian or Chechen, Russian Orthodox or Muslim—calls the shots, they will always come a poor second to the lure of the rouble and the profits that await the real victors. The 80-100,00 who lost their lives in the first Chechen war is a poignant reminder of this fact.



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