New threats, old imperialism

Wars of the 21st century: new threats, new fears by Ignacio Ramonet, 2004, available from Ocean Press at www.oceanbooks.com.au

Ignacio Ramonet, editor of the French paper Le Monde Diplomatique and president of the French NGO Action for a Tax on Financial Transactions to Aid Citizens (ATTAC), has written this compelling critique of the current global situation. He links together the main threats facing humanity – war, economic inequality, environmental destruction, unrestricted technological change (such as genetic cloning) and AIDS.

Ramonet sets the stage by reminding us of some unsettling facts, for example that ‘the 225 greatest fortunes in the world is equal to the earnings of the poorest 2.5bn people...that the total wealth of the 15 richest people in the world is greater than the GNP of all the sub-Saharan African countries.’ Ramonet’s ability to gather wide-ranging problems together in such short space without belittling them is excellent, but ultimately his book lacks a clear economic analysis and anti-imperialist understanding.

Ramonet, like Chomsky and Pilger, is an intellectual and progressive journalist. His strength is to write with anger, tenacity and accessibility about the intolerable situation we face. His weakness is his inability to put forth an alternative, a solution – this is a result of the fact that he has no concrete understanding of imperialism. He considers the US to be a ‘proto-world state’ – the first of its kind to enjoy such huge global hegemony. To a degree he is correct, but he underplays the role of other imperialist powers and the scope of rising inter-imperialist rivalries. On the Iraq invasion he says ‘the US by recruiting once-proud British forces as mere auxiliary troops, while holding at arms length obliging but non-essential allies such as France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Canada and Japan,’ but the reality was a definite rivalry.

The book is a victim of time and rapidly changing events of the war. Throughout he refers to the US victory in Iraq and the consolidation of its hegemonic power as a result. The rise in resistance has smudged a lot of the ink on his pages.

This book, like many recent works, confuses the true nature of globalisation and nation states. Instead of mentioning imperialism he writes about globalisation as some new entity that has just come into existence. States, he appears to suggest, are no longer the necessary bodies that they were and multi-national companies can now conquer markets without them.

His section on the Middle East is the weakest part of the book. Though writing from a relatively pro-Palestinian stance, there is an underlying acceptance of the right of Israel to exist while referring to the Palestinian liberation fighters as ‘Islamic fundamentalists.’ He also goes on to claim that ‘both sides are being manipulated by extremists’ and describes how the ‘Palestinian leaders who opt for terrorism continue to ignore the democratic character of Israeli society that freely elects its leaders.’ The section on the war against Serbia however is one of the most excellent overviews of the complex conflict that I have read.

In his final chapter ‘Another world is possible’, Ramonet puts forth the ‘model’ town of Porto Allegre and such collectives as the World Social Forums with NGOs at their helm as the main opposition which can build an alternative to neo-liberalism. The criticism is often fine but there is no heed of revolution or socialism. Despite its huge gains there is not one mention of the Cuban Revolution, next to nothing on the progress of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela and as for the Nepalese revolution, that is reduced to one line – ‘a recent outbreak of Maoist guerrilla violence in Nepal’.
Despite such shortcomings, I do suggest that people read this book, it contains a wealth of information. But the desperate situation Ramonet eloquently portrays demands something more.
Andrew Alexander

FRFI 180 August / September 2004

 

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