GSP+,the New Imperialism, India
August 3, 2010, 7:37 pm
By Izeth Hussain
To live out your life on this earth is not so simple as crossing a field. – Russian proverb
There would have been no cause for cavil whatsoever if the EU had refused to extend GSP+ on the ground that Sri Lanka had failed to maintain certain human rights standards, assuming of course that that was a fair assessment. But the EU went far beyond that in stipulating those fifteen conditions for extension, stipulated furthermore in the manner of an ultimatum which would not have been acceptable to any self-respecting government. The purpose, surely, was to insult and humiliate. Why? The assumption in Sri Lanka, a virtually unchallenged assumption, is that the EU has been chagrined over the fact that we have succeeded in militarily scotching terrorism whereas they have been unable to do so. I find that unconvincing. I want to argue that the real reason is that the EU has been engaged in an exercise of the New Imperialism
In connection with the alleged Western failure to scotch terrorism, the case most often cited is that of Afghanistan. But that case diverges so widely from the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka that I don’t believe that useful comparisons can be drawn between the two. In Afghanistan there is no ethnic conflict as such, but a war centered around the Taliban seen in simplistic terms as just a terrorist group. Furthermore, the EU and the West as a whole have not been involved in that war, so that it makes no sense to cite Afghanistan as an instance of their failure to scotch terrorism. The meaningful comparisons should be with the ethnic problems in the West. None of them has assumed the proportions of the SL ethnic conflict which has left around a hundred thousand dead, because the West has solved or contained its ethnic problems mainly through devolution which has been anathema to the SL power elite. We must note furthermore that apart from 9/11 the incidence of terrorism in the West has not constituted a major problem, contrary to what is made out in Western propaganda. The supposition that the West is jealous about our victory over terrorism, and that that is part of the reason for the morally shabby treatment over GSP+, makes no sense at all.
But our military victory could well be one of several irritants leading to that shabby treatment, though not because of jealousy. The West has been proved to be in the wrong over its assumption that such a victory would never be possible. It can sometimes be very irritating to be proved to be in the wrong. It is worth quoting at this point a statement made in March 2007 by the EU’s Commissioner of External Relations at a formal meeting with SL Government representatives, "The war is never, never, never going to solve any problem for your country. We have been telling you this for a long time. You have chosen to ignore us. We now have in our hands a powerful weapon which we will not hesitate to use against you." – (quoted by G.L.Peiris in Island of June 29). Then there could be the factor of sympathy for the defeated, the Tamils, which could loom large because the impression has been given that after having won the war magnificently we are in the process of losing the peace spectacularly, with no political solution in the offing. There could also be some other serious irritants which it is not necessary to detail here.
The quotation I have given in the preceding paragraph has about it the unmistakable arrogant bullying tone of imperialist action against its victims, but that and other details I have provided about the EU’s punitive action against us don’t prove that it is part of an exercise in the New Imperialism. For that I have to go into action taken outside the developments over GSP+. Rather strangely, at this juncture, American trade unions have reportedly got restive over our Government’s allegedly unsatisfactory treatment of trade unions here, which can apparently lead to our being deprived of GSP itself, not just GSP+, with really serious consequences for our economy. Also at this juncture comes Ban Ki-moon’s setting up of that Advisory Panel. I will not go into the reasons why that is unjustified, and instead focus on what seems to me the point of crucial importance: the horrendous display of double standards. Many Sri Lankans have been vociferous in their outrage over those double standards, but that has slid off the consciousness of the so-called international community like water off the backside of a duck. Then came Clegg’s denunciation of Blair for involving Britain in the Iraq war, and now comes the stupendous leaks over the horrors perpetrated in Afghanistan. But we all know that not one of the leaders responsible for all those crimes against humanity – among the worst in all history – will be taken away in chains to face trial. But they clearly hope that some of Sri Lanka’s leaders will be.
The double standards displayed are so horrendous that we have to look for an explanation that goes beyond straightforward ordinary hypocrisy. The double standards are too mind-boggling for that. I believe that the explanation is that in the minds of the powerful countries that seek a dominant role in the world, they are not double standards at all. It is rather a case of a standard having validity in one context having no validity at all in another context where a different standard has validity. At the root of this differentiation is the fact that the dominant powers want to establish a new world order. Therefore, in the case of Sri Lanka, alleged war crimes of even a very minor order make it legitimate for the international community to take punitive action of a very severe order. On the other hand crimes against humanity committed on a colossal scale in Iraq and Afghanistan have to be accepted as a form of collateral damage because they have resulted from the noble attempt to establish a new world order.
To illustrate the full horror of what is being perpetrated in the name of the new world order, I quote the following from Norman Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry: "After the United States-led coalition devastated Iraq in 1991 to punish ‘Saddam Hitler’, the United States and Britain forced murderous UN sanctions on that hapless country in an attempt to depose him. As in the Nazi holocaust, a million children have likely perished. Questioned on national television about the grisly death toll in Iraq, Secretary of State Madeline Albright replied that ‘the price is worth it’." Before proceeding I must add that Finkelstein is not just another scribbler but someone who became internationally known for his scrupulous scholarly work on the holocaust.
I must now briefly explain what I have in mind in using the term "the New Imperialism". After the demise of the Soviet Union it was thought that there will be a unipolar world in which the US as the sole super-power will have the dominant role. But the first Iraq war made it quickly apparent that the US did not have the economic power, the manpower, or power in any sense to be able to play such a role. The assumption is that there has to be a new world order to replace the bipolar world of the past, and it has necessarily to be a multipolar world in which order is maintained by a few dominant regional powers. On the list at present are the US, the EU, Russia, China, and India. Others such as Brazil can follow in the future.
What they have in mind is the establishment of a new world order, not a new imperialism. The peoples of the world have turned against imperialism, and it is hardly to be expected that any government anywhere will today openly avow imperialist designs. But imperialist consequences are part of the logic of a world order based on inequality, though the principle of the sovereign equality of states will continue to be regarded theoretically as sacrosanct: some will impose the order while others will have to accept it, some will be super-ordinate while others will be subordinate, some will have immense power while others will have hardly any power worth speaking about. This surely is a situation that can lead to economic exploitation, domination, hegemony, and unequal relations to varying degrees, an ensemble that can properly be called the New Imperialism.
In my view what we have to be most vigilant against is the prospect that a new world order, benign in intention and benign also in fact for many or most of the peoples of the world, could also have as its obverse side a new imperialism. A very convincing illustration of what I have in mind is provided by Sri Lanka’s travails over GSP+. There is nothing whatever that is overtly or implicitly imperialist about it. A favoured few countries are accorded additional tariff concessions, in exchange for which their governments are committed to maintain stipulated standards in the field of human rights. The EU countries don’t gain one cent from this arrangement, in fact they lose revenue by it, while the economies of the recipient countries could be given a considerable boost, and their peoples gain by enhanced human rights. GSP+ in fact implies a compact in which the EU and the peoples of some third world countries are on one side in potential opposition to their governments which are on the other side. It seems to be unique in the annals of state relations. It is certainly a noble contribution – I am saying this without any ironic intent – to the building a of a new world order. But what has happened in practice? It can be shown very convincingly that the Government was forced into fighting a war because the LTTE never wanted a peaceful solution. But the EU was not concerned with any of that. Instead its spokesperson growled, "We now have in our hands a powerful weapon which we will not hesitate to use against you." That was the obverse side, the new imperialist side, of GSP+.
Another convenient illustration is of course provided by R2P, about which I will not go into details as there has recently been a magisterial analysis of it by G.L.Peiris. Nothing can be more unexceptionable than intervening in a foreign country to save its innocents from a massacre, or from the heels of a brutal dictator. The latter happened in Iraq, and we know that what followed has to be counted among the worst crimes against humanity ever committed. But undeterred by that fact some powerful countries are evidently trying to establish the right to intervene here, there, and everywhere, just as they please, without sanction of the UN. The proponents of R2P seem to have forgotten that it was an old staple of imperialism. It was to save those poor poor Kandyans from the heel of an absolute Oriental despot that the British intervened, and took over this island in its entirety. In fact the pedigree of R2P is very ancient as shown by the fact that in 59 BC Julius Caesar persuaded the Roman Senate to appoint him Protector of the Gauls for five years. Within a few years his superbly efficient soldiers had killed one million Gauls, and according to the historian Plutarch they had enslaved a million more.
I will conclude with a few observations on India in relation to the new world order/ New Imperialism. It seems certain that the international community as a whole, not just the powerful countries, will recognize that a final solution of the ethnic problem, meaning a political solution, is a requisite for the new world order. The reason for this arises out of the fact that anything smacking of maltreatment of our Tamils will inevitably cause a fall-out in Tamil Nadu, and Delhi will have a legitimate concern about that. It is useless pretending that the SL Tamil problem is a purely internal one, and that Indian busybodies should simply stay out of it. The rest of the world will not agree. But of course "legitimate concern" implies that no license can be allowed for illegitimate interference. How do we draw the line of distinction between the two? It is not so simple as crossing a field. I believe that the crucial factor is whether or not the international community sees the SL Government as really wanting to give the Tamils fair and equal treatment. If so, there will be a constraint on any Indian disposition to interfere illegitimately. In the alternative, India could feel free to act towards SL in an overbearing imperialist manner, and – let us face it – that could have the virtual approval of the international community.
I am wondering whether India could have a special claim on us for services rendered during the concluding phases of the war. It is known that the fundamental principle of guerilla strategy is that the rebels resort to conventional warfare only at the final phase when it becomes apparent that the morale of the government troops is about to break and a debacle can be expected. That was how the Chinese and Vietnamese rebellions ended. Why, then, did Prabhakaran take on the Government troops so prematurely? Was he deliberately misled? A further question is why he did not make his getaway in time. Instead he was found dead in that lagoon without a cyanide capsule hanging from his neck, which meant that he was still confident of making his getaway. Again, was he misled? Did KP perhaps play a brilliant double agent role in all that, and is that why he is being given such peculiarly privileged treatment? Perhaps the question whether India could have a special claim on us is an idle one because at the end of the day what really matters is whether the international community sees our Government as prepared to give the Tamils fair and equal treatment. In the alternative the Government could well activate the obverse side of the new world order, the New Imperialism.
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