Foreign policy is how one nation-state interacts with other nation-states. This can be through one-to-one interactions such as embassies, or other diplomatic communications and multi-national groups such as the UN, EU, and NATO. Foreign policy, however, is not cooperative in nature but competitive. Nation-states will try to promote the incumbent political elite’s interests, which is why foreign policy is related to capitalism in the modern day.
Throughout history we have seen nations impose their will on other nations through military or economic domination; these violations occur because the aggressing power has something to gain. Historically, many of these military conflicts have been fought by working class armies ordered to murder each other for the gain of their commanders.
Whilst our modern day foreign policy interactions do not impose this brutality to the same extent on our own citizens – we don’t have a draft and we live in a comparatively peaceful Europe (although this may not be the case for much longer) – the West now furthers its economic interests abroad through proxy wars. The strategy of proxy wars emerged during the Cold War, and its legacy persists to this day through the spill out of terror groups, who were armed by the USA to fight causes pertinent to their interests (against the USSR in Afghanistan and against Assad in Syria).
Less full frontal military invasions are necessary to impose an imperial rule. The story behind the CIA overthrow of the Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 is a good way to examine how foreign policy is used. Mohammad Mosaddegh was elected in 1951. Some of the “atrocities” he introduced upon Iran included ‘a wide range of social reforms: unemployment compensation was introduced, factory owners were ordered to pay benefits to sick and injured workers, and peasants were freed from forced labour in their landlords’ estates.
Not content with helping the sick, Mosaddegh went on to ensure that twenty percent of the money landlords received in rent was placed in a fund to pay for development projects such as public baths, rural housing, and pest control. But the most heinous of his crimes was of course to attempt to audit the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC now British Petroleum, BP) and to change the terms of their access to oil reserves.
AIOC decided to act like a responsible multinational corporation, and refused to cooperate with the government. This led them to nationalise the oil reserves. When the government started to re-steal their black gold… that’s when the real trouble began. The response to this was for the CIA and UK intelligence services to back a coup d’etat (they openly admitted to doing so in 2013) which deposed the democratically elected leader, replacing them with a Shah (a king).
Why would this be done? It is not as simple as plain corporatism; in fact, it is part of a much wider plan known as ‘The Grand Area’. The Grand Area was the ‘New World Order’ set out in an official memorandum (1941), which would include the West, the Middle East, the former British Empire and third world countries, with plans to expand further if possible. Each nation would have a role to play. Former competitors like Japan, West Germany and Britain would become great industrial powers.
From the singed saplings WWII left them as, they were watered and pruned by the US in forms of loans, international organisations and military treaties. These powers would work under US supervision; they would exploit their respective third world counterparts to rebuild. They needed to install traditional right wing order, to put business interests on top and citizens’ interests below, in the third world areas this meant brutally enforcing this (we have numerous examples such as Nicaragua, Vietnam and Laos), in western areas this purely meant using the weight of American trade and the sway of military protection (for Japan) and being the banker for Europe.
Why go to all this effort? Surely the USA’s vast technological and economic advantage does not need such a power structure? In the words of one of the liberal architects of this policy George F Kennan:
We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.
Although this is plan is now 70 years old, we can see the pattern today when America seeks to destabilise the Middle East when it looks like democratic rule may occur. This is because true democracy that actually operates in the people’s interests is hugely detrimental to foreign business interests.
Yet, the US doesn’t even have to intervene directly – they can use the neoliberal International Monetary Fund (IMF) to bail out failing economies (or to boost growing ones), and these loans are then used as a weapon against the indebted country, forcing them to impose neoliberal economic reforms such as privatising utilities and public services. We have seen, particularly in South America, the democratic will of many countries overturned the minute a left-wing candidate enters office with a mandate to adopt different policies (see the rise of General Pinochet in Chile, for instance).
Foreign policy is also used to effect the domestic population. Empire Day, for instance, was created by the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli to instil nationalism into the working class. In addition to this, we have also seen the creation of terror cells to scare domestic populaces and trade agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are used to pass legislation without parliament’s approval (with the PM’s prerogative powers).
The 1984 scenario of having a constant war with either Eurasia or East Asia is realised by constant wars occurring from WWII until now. We had a War on Communism that lead to funds being funnelled into high tech industries, the military industrial sector, agriculture and so on; a War on Terror that further funded military firms, but also allowed us to bomb other countries then pay our own contractors to rebuild them! The War on Drugs, too, imposed draconian drug restrictions while supporting standing industries of alcohol and tobacco.
The benefit for business comes from state demand for their goods (specifically military and tech) – also foreign aid often goes into the gifting state’s companies (a common US corporate welfare tactic). The media also gains heavily – big media exclusively holds the capital to report global military strikes and their reporting style allows domestic populaces to feel detached from the atrocities the media support.
Wars with intangible enemies are also very useful in prolonging themselves. You can’t declare a victory on terrorism, communism or drugs: providing the conditions which produce them remain, all three will continue to exist and actively resist as well as feeding into each other. When Western governments destroyed Afghani opium growers’ farms, for instance, a lot of them joined terror cells. We armed a hell of a lot of warlords and terrorists in the hope of them fighting the communists, but it doesn’t matter because there is an enemy to fight afterwards.
These ideological wars also serve to justify intervention, making the oppressors feel like liberators. Posidonius (a Greek philosopher around 1st century BC) justified the Roman empire by claiming they lifted barbaric nations into civility; this worked too as it convinced Cicero to justly govern the province of Sicily, being painted as a hero of the isle. The overlap of domestic and international effects is socialising a populace into a superiority complex and allowing them to be complicit with jingoism – jingoism which perpetuates itself.
At least America has a good competitive spirit, because it truly isn’t about winning, but playing the game. The means truly are the ends: the USA’s major comparative advantage sectors are fully backed up by state support; the stated end goal of spreading democracy and free markets is done by extreme statist intervention and trampling democracy.
In conclusion, through a historical examination of foreign policy, we still maintain colonialism but through the guise of paternalism.
By James Cooper