Although the fighting continues in Afghanistan and Pakistan and will likely continue for sometime, perhaps for generations, Afghanistan was conquered for business purposes within weeks of the American-led unilateral invasion on 7 October 2001. A free trade compliant government was installed before year end.
Regardless of whatever humanitarian objectives the invaders of Afghanistan claimed to pursue, but failed to achieve, Afghanistan was pried open for business to provide a new strategic economic and geopolitical bridgehead in the heart of Eurasia.
Afghanistan’s new investment law allows 100 percent foreign ownership and provides generous tax allowances to foreign investors, without providing adequate protections for Afghan workers or the environment.
Planning and implementation is underway on numerous mega-scale industrial development projects worth billions of dollars, which are of vital geostrategic importance.
Exploiting the geological resources of Afghanistan is expected to net a trillion dollars. Yet, the monetary value of these resources is surpassed by their strategic value in the great game for geopolitical advantage.
Of even greater economic and geopolitical significance is the building of a transportation, communications, and energy transmission network – a contemporary equivalent of the ancient Silk Road – with Afghanistan at its hub, which will reconnect the disparate regions of Eurasia.
The United States and its closest allies forcefully placed themselves in position to control, secure, and ultimately profit from the gargantuan program of social engineering needed to obtain these economic and geopolitical objectives.
Social engineering is a dialectical process: it is a battle for the hearts and minds of imperial subjects taking place simultaneously on the empire’s home-front and the multiple overseas battlefronts of the current global war.
Ellen Meiksins Wood describes the American led empire that is emerging throughout this militarised process as an Empire of Capital. Canada is ensuring its important place in the empire as America’s closest ally, by playing a decisive role in building this Empire of Capital.
Wood observes that after WWII, “economic competition – in uneasy tandem with the cooperation among capitalist states required to guarantee their markets – overtook military rivalry among the major capitalist powers”. However, she notes “there is a growing gap between the global economic reach of capital and the local powers it needs to sustain it”. Thus, a new “systematic ideology of war” is needed to “fill the gap”.
The Bush Doctrine and Canada’s contribution toward legitimising warfare, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Doctrine institutionalise and legitimate this systematic ideology of war.
The expanding liberal capitalist empire that American presidents since Woodrow Wilson have referred to as New World Order, has, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, rapidly transformed itself to expand the global reach of capitalism.
Co-optation and coercion by political, social, and economic means were considered the legitimate means to impose liberalisation after WWII. However, with international acquiescence to the Bush and R2P Doctrines, the use of military force is gaining far broader legitimacy.
Canada is facilitating the expansion of the Empire of Capital by participating in the Global War on Terror.
An important part of this social engineering project, which Canada is assuming as it retreats from its combat role in Afghanistan, is to train and equip the Afghan national security forces.
Building a national army, air force, and police force is an extremely profitable enterprise worth many billions of dollars. Just as the Soviets expected the Afghans to pay for their own subjugation, in the 1980s, Afghans again today are expected to pay for these military and security forces out of the royalties the Afghan government receives from foreign companies in exchange for exploiting Afghan resources.
The ultimate purpose of these military/security forces is to serve and protect the interests of foreign investors by maintaining control of the Afghan state so it remains compliant with the global liberal economic system under the diktat of the Empire of Capital.
The military forces of the Empire of Capital are now dug into a strategic position at the centre of Eurasia in Afghanistan and Central Asia to better engage its Eurasian competitors in the interdependent great games of trade and geopolitics. In American parlance, a withdrawal of US forces after any war, since the precedent was set in Cuba and the Philippines in the 19th century, means strategically placed military bases remain on subjugated lands for decades or centuries after the war is concluded.
It is unlikely the American-led forces of the Empire of Capital will voluntarily leave Afghanistan anytime soon.
The Empire of Capital: The chaos and order of creative destruction
The Empire of Capital perpetuates a centuries-old system of liberal imperialism better described as a global protection racket. Its purveyors of creative destruction profit regardless whether their actions create order or chaos.
In the best-case scenario, the principals of the Empire of Capital will secure first place in the race to exploit the untapped resources of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Central Asian republics, and the Caspian Basin. More importantly, they will secure first place in the race to design, build, maintain, and secure the new Silk Road network to connect China to Europe and Russia to India.
Throughout this liberalisation process, the principals of the empire will engage the other powerful players outside the empire allowing them to play in the game, provided they play by the rules. Everyone wins in this ideal model of liberal global order, but the US and its closest allies manoeuvre to win the biggest share to stay on top of the global system.
The initial model for the best-case scenario was defined by the liberal ideal of New World Order US President Woodrow Wilson devised to end WWI. The New World Order, which had failed to secure peaceful relations, but had succeeded in remapping the world, was revived to conclude WWII. Wilson’s initial concept of New World Order has served as the guiding reference used with modifications by every American president since WWII in their mission to globally expand liberal order.
After the Cold War, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger, among many lesser-known strategists, promoted the idea of the necessity of expanding American powerin Eurasia. These strategists confronted the reality Brzezinski defines in his 1997 essay, A Geostrategy for Eurasia. There Brzezinski observes: “What happens with the distribution of power on the Eurasian landmass will be of decisive importance to America’s global primacy and historical legacy”.
Neither Brzezinski, nor Kissinger advocated war to gain power in the heartland of Eurasia. Nonetheless, they, like many American geostrategists appreciated the strategic advantages of controlling Afghanistan and Greater Central Asia. The 911 terrorist attacks provided an ideal pretense to seize control militarily to expedite the process.
A staunch promoter of more extensively militarising the liberal imperial system, Thomas Friedman wrote in 1999: “For globalism to work, America can’t be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is. …The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist – McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15”. From this perspective, it is irresponsible not to take advantage of an opportunity to expand when it arises.
In the worst case scenario of total war, the Empire of Capital will at least contain its competitors, the foremost of which are China and Russia, and America’s greatest irritant, Iran, by preventing them from exploiting the wealth-creating and strategic opportunities in Greater Central Asia and the Caspian Basin. In this worst-case scenario, everyone could suffer horrible losses but the US and its closest allies will lose the least to stay on top of the global system.
We have seen the model for the worst-case scenario of creating chaos in order to reconstruct world order during two world wars in the 20th century. Such total global war is the ultimate manifestation of the creative destruction abstractly defined by economists and geopolitical strategists. However abstract its economistic origins, creative destruction is experienced by real people as true horror.
In his 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Samuel Huntington describes this worst-case scenario of an American led alliance fighting a global war centered in the heart of Eurasia against a Chinese led alliance.
Huntington’s nightmare vision of an escalating global war could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. He was extremely influential, having informally advised every president from Eisenhower to George Bush Jr.
Since 2001, Chinese leaders faced with the security dilemma of US and NATO forces dug into place in Afghanistan and Central Asia to potentially contain China have developed strategic alliances and partnerships throughout Asia, including a strategic partnership with Russia.
A renewed arms race and intensifying round of geopolitical jockeying for strategic advantage began when the Anglo-American Quintet (the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) invaded Afghanistan. This militarising movement intensified after NATO assumed command of the UN International Security Force (ISAF) in 2003 to gradually merge under the Obama administration with the aggressive US led OEF force.
The US National Defense Strategy of 2008, which the Obama administration has not revised, defines America’s simple two-track geopolitical strategy.
The first and preferred strategic track is to engage China, Russia, and other competitors within the globalising system of liberal economics.
The second track, always in reserve, is containment reminiscent of the Cold War policy, or destruction reminiscent of the 20th century total wars.
The forces needed to implement the second track are maintained at constant alert ready to be deployed should any state (such as Iran and potentially China and/or Russia) or non-state organisation decide at anytime to significantly resist the system. Non-state resistance organisations might be a terrorist organisation, such as al Qaeda, but it could also be any democratically organised non-violent anti-globalisation organisation that threatens capitalist interests.
Regardless of what events evolve – whether the best or worst case or the myriad possibilities that might fall between – investors in the military industrial complex win and the US and its closest allies stay on top of the global system.
The winners include the investors in Canada’s defence and security industries, which according to the industry’s lobby-group, the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI), currently generate $10 billion CDN per year.
The contemporary process of imperialism has been described by new euphemistic names – globalisation and liberalisation. These euphemisms separate economics from militarism in the way liberal academics try to abstractly separate politics from economics. However, in reality, politics, economics, and militarism are inseparably intertwined within the process of liberal imperialism.
The Bush administration didn’t invent aggressive liberal imperialism; it took advantage of opportune events to extend its reach by adapting the tried and true process of liberal imperialism perfected during four centuries of prior British and American practice. The Obama administration continues to perpetuate and improve the effectiveness of liberal imperialism as every American administration has throughout history.
After only recently gaining independence during the collapse of the British Empire, the Chrétien, Martin, and Harper governments all chose to lock Canada into an ever deepening alliance with the US as a bellicose partner in the emerging Empire of Capital.
Imperialism, racism and paternalism
The contemporary liberal imperialists employ a few newly refined tactics, significantly improved weapons systems, and war propaganda that is ever so slightly less racist and sexist in its tone. Nonetheless, contemporary liberal imperialism differs little in its substance, tactics, and effect from its historical iterations.
To make the inherent military force of imperialism palatable, its purveyors designed a new paternalistic facade of “humanitarian intervention”, “democratizing mission” and the “responsibility to protect”. These euphemisms replace the worn 19th century facade of “civilising mission” and “white man’s burden”.
In the past, imperial missionaries built churches to supposedly save the souls of the conquered. In exchange for their suffering from war and exploitation, the imperial subjects could at least look forward to a just compensation in the subjugator’s heaven.
Despite Prime Minister Stephan Harper’s ignorance of Canada’s colonial legacy, it is a fact that only a generation ago the Canadian government stole children from their “Indian” families to “educate” them in religious mission schools to destroy their cultural heritage to prepare them for assimilation into mainstream society. At the time this was believed to be humanitarian. Today, the new secular liberal missionaries build schools and medical clinics in newly conquered territories, as if these are fair compensation for the damages wrought by war, exploitation, and resource extraction.
Today, soldiers fighting for the American-led Empire of Capital venture into the dangerous unknown “outside-the-wire”. Soldiers fighting for the British Empire ventured into the dangerous unknown “beyond-the-pale” (outside-the-fence).
In either case, a militarised line is drawn to arbitrarily divide the world. Soldiers protect a supposedly civilised inside that we know and are comforted by knowing. Outside lurks a supposedly barbaric, terror-invoking other who exists beyond the scope of our comprehension or empathy.
The inherent racism of this inside-outside, good-versus-evil rhetoric is so commonplace we give it little notice in our conscious minds. But it infects a collective nightmare in which we fear and loathe everything outside-the-wire just as the historical imperialists feared and loathed everything beyond-the-pale.
The fact is that the people who inhabit the space outside-the-wire/beyond-the-pale are human. If one only read the anonymous comments posted on the websites of every major Canadian newspaper, or only watched Youtube videos of military personnel hunting their prey, one might be lead to believe these real people were instead vermin worthy only of extermination.
We might like to believe we are incapable of replicating the injustices of the past. We supposedly fight a just war. Yet, we are in fact replicating injustices thought to be crimes relegated to the past. These are however crimes of aggression that will haunt the generations of the future.
Fear and loathing provides the emotional impetus and the justification to destroy or subjugate with impunity those who stand in the way of our conception of “progress”. We dehumanise those we define as the enemy, so that we might exterminate them with a clear conscience.
Paternalism provides the emotional salve to make it all right. We infantilise those we define as the hapless victims of the enemy. We convince ourselves we are liberating Afghan women, as we fight a war that handicaps their own capacity to liberate themselves.
In the end, we comfort ourselves by rationalising that we do more good than harm when we satisfy our greed for wealth and power. The “necessary evils” of torture and warfare are thus acceptable tactics if used to achieve the strategic objective of global liberalisation – freeing the world for investors to profit.
This racist and paternalistic formula performed well as a rationalisation of liberal imperialism for four centuries.
Yet, even if contemporary imperialists could somehow entirely shed their racist, sexist, paternalistic shells, contemporary liberal imperialism would still share at its core the same strategic objectives as historical iterations.
The objectives of the process of liberal imperialism British leaders began to develop in the 17th century were to expand liberal markets, gain unfettered access to resources and labour, secure the rights and property of investors, and ensure geopolitical advantage. These objectives remain the same today.
The imperial formula will continue to perform for its beneficiaries until either those within the Empire of Capital decide to radically oppose imperialism, or those outside the empire who suffer its effects finally succeed in destroying it.
Michael Skinner is a researcher, human rights activist, musician and composer. For a decade he was a National Education Facilitator for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Since 2006, he has been a Researcher at the York Centre for International and Security Studies at York University. Skinner is currently writing his Ph.D. dissertation titled, Peacebuilding, State-building, & Empire-building: The emerging Empire of Capital and its interventions from Central America to Central Asia. Michael Skinner recently returned from his second research trip to Afghanistan