Drones: the international system of force and collusion is alive and well

by Dr Rohail Ahmad

The BBC revealed on 24th October 2013 that Pakistan was fully aware of the drone attacks on its territory by America: “Secret memos show Pakistan endorsed US drone strikes”.

This is a confirmation and continuation of the international system of force and collusion that is both the origin and perpetuation of the current East/West imbalance, stemming from the sixteenth century.

blog_niall_fergusonThe imbalance is seen by many as being “natural”. Historians like Niall Ferguson see the West as intrinsically superior; in fact they go so far as to say that civilisation means Western civilisation, by definition. But there is nothing natural about the current imbalance. Empires and civilisations rise and fall in history but because they endure for fairly long periods of time, at their peak it seems obvious to them that this is natural. The likes of George Bush currently believe this of America – or at least did until the recent rise of China and India, which has given them some pause. See, for example, the BBC article on 6th November 2003: “Bush puts God on his side”.

The exact causes of the rise and fall of individual empires and civilisations are complex, but the most likely general explanation is a combination of social evolution and the Marxian idea that we are the products of our environment: i.e. small, random variations which accumulate over time. Such variations might include the emergence of a great leader or a change of climate, for example. And so, in the same way that creationists cannot conceive that complex organisms such as the eye, or human beings generally, can evolve naturally, some people find it hard to believe that the current superiority of the West may have evolved similarly.

The origins of the current East/West imbalance lie in the rise of capitalism in the sixteenth century, alongside the current system of force and collusion. Capitalism spawned colonial slavery and colonialism. The profits of colonial slavery partly financed the British Industrial Revolution according to Eric Williams, and it is also well known as having financed the British banking system. Colonialism initiated the first international division of labour when India was forced to be the supplier of raw materials and the market for British manufactured goods. Here is the evidence for collusion in colonial slavery and colonialism:

They [the English traders] had to establish and maintain good relations with African middlemen, who supplied slaves from the interior” and “the Raj relied upon the collaboration of the ruled with the rulers just as much as upon military strength.”

The quotes are from historians Kenneth Morgan and Dennis Judd, respectively (see references at end). The second international division of labour occurred more recently, in the 1970s and 1980s, when cheap manufacturing in its turn was outsourced to the East, whilst the West retained high-end, high-margin industries in the West. Cheap labour can only provide subsistence living, leaving no scope for health, education, pension, law and order, and hence is not a comparative advantage, contrary to accepted wisdom.

How capitalism itself arose is a complex question but Immanuel Wallerstein for example says that it did so as a result of a “crisis of feudalism” resulting from many causes such as land erosion and climate, which forced the worker to sell his land in return for a subsistence wage. The very nature of capitalism is such that it is particularly prone to accumulation, and hence divergence between rich and poor, over time but genuine capitalism would probably not lead to such gross disparity.

The truth is that we have a very rigged form of capitalism, enforced artificially. Force was overt in colonial slavery and colonialism. Although force still exists, e.g. the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – and most recently drones – nowadays the force is more subtle, in the form of unfair and rigged policies. The most egregious of these policies is free flow of capital and goods, but not labour. Also, the problematic international division of labour described above. Collusion exists, not just in the case of drones, but also in the fact that corrupt and incompetent Eastern rulers are allowed to travel freely to the West for health, education and leisure, thus giving them no incentive to improve their own countries.

kidssoldiers

The Afghanistan War

It could be argued that we all in the West – including ethnic Westerners – collude in the current world-system, most of all in the cheap goods we enjoy, which in all likelihood is made by child labour. This is evidenced by almost daily reports and articles in newspapers, especially following disasters such as the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh. So to deny knowledge is to merely accentuate our hypocrisy.

The Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh

Collusion continues even more subtly. Until recently, most independent reports suggested that many hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians had been killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan by drones. Specific estimates range between 400-900. But Pakistan released a report on 31st October 2013 that “only” 67 civilians had been killed. Is it a coincidence that this happened just one week after the accusation of collusion? To put the figure of 67 in perspective, the number of people killed in London in the horrific 7/7 bombings was 52.

The London 7/7 bombings

Do we merely conclude from all this that the West is evil and domineering? No, because domination requires collusion, and one could easily argue that collusion in the subjugation of your “own people” is far more evil than domination of others. The real conclusion is that the battle is not between East and West, but rather between the ruling classes of both who collude with each other to exploit the masses. In his book Civilisation, Niall Ferguson “warns” that Western civilisation is in danger of collapse. But what we call “Western” is simply what arises (with some local variation) when people become economically independent. Rich people in Pakistan are completely “Western”: western education, freedom of women etc. And so, ironically, by keeping Eastern countries poor, we “prevent” them from becoming Western!

Residents stand near the coffins of victims of a missile attack in Mir Ali on the outskirts of MiranshahIf we are going to have capitalism and it is probably worth having for its association with freedom, democracy and individual liberties, as well as its incentivising and enterprising nature, it needs to be a free and fair capitalism. For example: free flow of labour, as well as capital and goods – or, failing that as perhaps being rather unrealistic, an international minimum wage to encourage people to remain in their home countries. We need a proper system of International Law, which holds all leaders and countries accountable, not just Eastern ones, as in Amnesty International’s recent call for US officials, including Barack Obama, to stand trial for the fact that drone attacks may possibly be war crimes. Eastern leaders like Asif Zardari and Yousaf Gillani of Pakistan should be in the dock with them.

We need to do these things if we are to have a fair and more balanced world, which is critical in the age of modern globalisation, to address issues such as war, terrorism, drones, pollution, climate change, mass migration, unsustainable population growth, child labour, and more. And to do all this, we need an end to the system of force and collusion, whether overt or subtle.

 

References

BBC History: “Slavery and the building of Britain”:

“Making sense of Pakistan drone death reports”:

“US drone strikes could be classed as war crimes, says Amnesty International”:

Ferguson, Niall. Civilization: The Six Ways the West Beat the Rest. London: Allen Lane, 2011.

Judd, Dennis. The Lion and the Tiger: The Rise and Fall of the British Raj 1600-1947. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. (Contains the quote about colonial collusion, p.16)

Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. (Contains the quote about colonial slavery collusion, p.69)

Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century Vol 1. London: Academic Press, 1976.

Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. London: Andre Deutsch, 1944.

Dr Rohail Ahmad has a PhD (2013) and an MA (Distinction, 2010) in Creative Writing from Brunel University. He also teaches there – “Travel Writing” on the BA program and “Global Fiction” on the MA program. His MA novella jointly won the Curtis Brown Prize at Brunel, and was also longlisted for the Paris Literary Prize. One of his MA stories was shortlisted for an anthology of British Asian fiction by Tindal Street Press. His PhD novel, thesis and commentary on globalisation / child labour were well-received by the examiners. Twitter @HaveYou_Read_It  Find out more at Have You Read It

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2 replies

  1. Really great article. Invading foreign lands, and then creating elites to collude with, is definitely a historical trait of Imperialism.

    Regarding Trans-Atlantic Slavery – European Slave traders could only rely on local collusion in Africa once Africans had already been forcibly dehumanised. During the so-called “age of discovery”, the first contact Europeans had with West Africa was to conduct “snatch and grab” Slave raids on isolated coastal communities.

    The great empires of West Africa were all inland, and collusion in the Slave trade only began once European nations had gained a foothold on the coasts. But outbreaks of rebellion and revolution were a constant occurrence across Africa and the Americas throughout the four-century history of Trans Atlantic Slavery.

    I think this strong desire for self-determination demonstrated by people of African descent exemplifies the “will-power” we require today if we are to ever end our existing reliance on asymmetric force & collusion in the current global order.

    Like

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