The Guardian August 6, 2003

"Failed states" doctrine

by Peter Symon & Anna Pha

"Solomon Islands, one of Australia's nearest neighbours, is a failing 
state" , declares the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in a 
report to the Australian Government. For the sake of Australia's interests 
and the interests of regional and global security Australia must intervene, 
says the ASPI report. Australia must take over and reconstruct the 
institutions of governance and the economy of the Solomon Islands.

On what basis does the report decree the Solomon Islands a "failed state"? 
The list of indictments includes: "weak institutions, corrupt government, 
criminalisation of politics, poor law and order, insufficient revenue, 
economic stagnation, social dislocation, disaffected and alienated youth, a 
growing culture of violence, international neglect, collapse of government 
services, disillusioned and passive populations, and a plentiful supply of 

The Solomon Islands is "fatally damaged", in a "classic vicious circle  
from which there appears no escape".

What's more, the Solomon Islands are not alone, "most countries in the 
Southwest Pacific face major problems of political and economic viability, 
and some of them could go the way of Solomon Islands". (ASPI report)

The Australian Government has sent troops, police and administrators to 
take over the institutions of government and the economy. There is no time 
limit on the occupation.

" the rest of the world expects Australia to shoulder a lot of the burden 
because this is our part of the world, this is our patch", said Prime 
Minister John Howard, arguing for Australia's right to intervene in the 
affairs of another sovereign country and take over its government.

According to the ASPI report there is a "more or less universal pattern of 
post-independence state failure around the world".

Using this and similar arguments the US, Britain and Australia are 
preparing to stage pre-emptive strikes in other countries. Many more wars 
and interventions are being prepared.

The wars already waged in Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Iraq and those 
threatened against Syria, Iran and North Korea are only the beginnings.

These interventions are nothing short of occupations and re-colonisation so 
that US, British, Australian and other transnational corporations can take 
over the governments, plunder the resources and exploit the people of these 

Features of globalisation

There is nothing new about wars, the occupation and colonisation of foreign 
territories, the installation of puppet governments, the carve-up of 
territories and the rearranging of state borders. They are the defining 
features of imperialism or what is now commonly referred to as 

The theories used to legitimise imperialism's aims and the methods used to 
achieve them, however, do change according to historical circumstances.

The big picture

The outcome of World War II saw the defeat of Nazi Germany and its allies, 
Italy and Japan. They were knocked out for a time as imperialist countries, 
and stripped of all their former colonies. Fascism, a monstrous political 
manifestation spawned by monopoly capitalism, had been repelled, its drive 
for world domination brought to a grinding halt when the Nazi war machine 
was smashed by the Soviet Union.

National liberation movements swept the world and almost all the former 
colonies won their independence. A number of new socialist states emerged 
following the war. Industrial development in many countries meant that the 
working class became more numerous on a world scale. Trade unions emerged 
in most countries as did strong and influential communist parties.

However, capitalism and colonialism did not give up the fight. While most 
former colonies gained their political independence many remained under the 
economic domination of the developed capitalist countries which imposed 
their economic policies through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the 
World Bank and by their discriminatory trade policies.

The main capitalist countries continued their struggle against socialism 
through the cold war and by way of trade boycotts and political 


The break-up of the Soviet Union and overthrow of socialist governments in 
Eastern Europe changed the balance of forces in the world in favour of 
imperialism. The imperialist powers were freed to focus on their global 
ambitions and emboldened Western leaders, particularly those of the US 
whose military might surpasses that of all other world powers, launched a 
campaign for world domination.

As the British and US Government leaders and their advisers see it, there 
is nothing to stop them from openly re-colonising and re-ordering the world 
under their domination. And the Howard Government is happy to assist and 
pick up some crumbs for Australian corporations.

While the language of the political leaders of the capitalist countries has 
changed their objectives remain the same. There is one major difference, 
however. Instead of attempting to enforce the direct political and economic 
rule of the imperialist country as was the case in the colonies of the 
former British, French, Portuguese and other empires, one of the methods 
today is for "regime change" so that a local government subservient to the 
ruling power is established. This form of control is known as neo-

A new kind of imperialism

In a book entitled Re-ordering the World, Robert Cooper, a former 
diplomat and adviser to the British Labour Government of Tony Blair, gives 
expression to imperialism's new forthrightness, confidence, arrogance and 
racist views:

"Empire and imperialism are words that have become terms of abuse in the 
post-modern world. Today, there are no colonial powers willing to take on 
the job, though the opportunities, perhaps even the need, for colonisation 
is as great as it ever was in the 19th century.

"Those left out of the global economy risk falling into a vicious circle. 
Weak government means disorder and that means falling investment...

"All the conditions for imperialism are there  the weak still need the 
strong and the strong still need an orderly world.

"What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a 
world of human rights and cosmopolitan values." (Cooper, Re-ordering the 
World p.17)

Cooper explains what tactics are to be employed: "The challenge to the 
postmodern world is to get used to the idea of double-standards. Among 
ourselves, we operate on the basis of laws and open co-operative security.

"But when dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of states outside the post-
modern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rough methods of an 
earlier era  force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary 
to deal with those who still live in the 19th century world of 'every state 
for itself'." (pp.15-16)

Think Tanks

Joseph Nye, from Harvard University, points out that "in modern democracies 
 the use of force requires an elaborate moral justification to ensure 
popular support" and "Power is the ability to effect the outcomes you want, 
and, if necessary, to change the behaviour of others to make this happen". 
(Re-ordering the World pp.2-3)

For this purpose a number of "think tanks" have been created to help 
governments plan and justify their operations. They work out what has to be 
done and how it should be done. They may also work out costings. Above all, 
they work out how "pre-emptive strikes" and outright wars are to be "sold" 
to an increasingly sceptical and resisting public.

The Australian Strategic Planning Institute (ASPI), the Sydney Institute, 
the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the British Foreign Policy Centre 
are among a number of such bodies. Even Australia's new Governor-General 
established his own conservative institute  Future Directions.

It is these "think tanks" that have come up with the concept of "failed 
states", "rogue states", "new imperialism", the "civilising" and 
"modernising" mission of the developed capitalist countries, etc.

"In the wake of 11 September, the Arab and Muslim worlds confront a 
civilisational challenge unlike any they have faced since the fall of the 
Ottoman Empire." (Kana Makiya, a professor in Near Eastern and Judaic 
Studies at Brandeis University, California, "A Civilisational Challenge", 
Re-ordering the World p.48)

There are also the policy directions handed down by the Organisation for 
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), IMF, World Bank and WTO.

The leading corporate powers and their governments pay think thanks and 
consultants hundreds of millions of dollars to develop these theories and 
the associated propaganda to sell their policies to the people.

Failed states

"The Cold War dichotomy of freedom versus communism has been replaced with 
a new organising principle: order versus disorder", writes Mark Leonard, 
Director of The Foreign Policy Centre. This is a British think tank backed 
by Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. Leonard's remarks were made in the 
introduction to Re-ordering the World (p.xi).

"The Arab world today comprises a veritable cauldron of collapsing 
economies and mass unemployment overseen by ever more repressive regimes", 
writes Kanan Makiya. (Re-ordering the World p.50)

Makiya refers to a "constellation of ultimately failed states" in the 
Middle East and attributes the terrorist problem to "the mess that the Arab 
part of the Muslim world is in". (Re-ordering the World pp.52-3)

These "failed" or "pre-modern" states as Robert Cooper also calls them  
former colonies  pose a threat internationally. We are told they can be 
used as a base by terrorists, drug rings, etc, "for attacks on the more 
orderly parts of the world".

Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary in the Blair Government, adopts a 
similar approach: "Only ten out of roughly 120 wars in the 1990s were 
between states", he said. " when we allow governments to fail, warlords, 
criminals, drugs barons or terrorists fill the vacuum."

Straw cites as examples Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and the Democratic 
Republic of Congo. He fails to mention that in the case of Yugoslavia it 
was the Western imperialist states that fomented and armed the separatist 
movements that launched wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and in Kosovo 
to break up the unified Yugoslav republic and defeat a legitimate and well-
functioning government.

They are labelled "failed", "uncivilised" and "chaotic" and it is the duty 
of the "successful states" to intervene and restore order and impose good 

Reasons for failed states

It is no coincident that the "failed states" are former colonies. Straw, 
Blair, and others prefer not to discuss the history of colonisation  
invasion, occupation, wars, slavery, exploitation, seizure of the land and 
resources of "their" colonial possessions, the imposition of Western 
religions, culture, languages, individualism, corruption, capitalist 
morality and distorted economic development.

The very imperialist powers that are using the social, economic and other 
problems of former colonies as an excuse to intervene, created those 
problems. They have a responsibility to assist and make reparations, but 
that is not the purpose of their intervention.

They are not about to give land back, nor do they intend giving the people 
control over their own resources. Quite the contrary. Their aim is to re-
open mines that were closed by the people (as in Bougainville), plunder 
forests (as in PNG and the Solomons), take over oil resources (as in Iraq), 
take over government and public services and re-colonise in the name of 
carrying out a law and order mission and creating "global security".

The ASPI reports does acknowledge the colonial past of the Solomons: 
"Recent events are in many respects the culmination of many years. In the 
South Pacific, the introduced institutions of the modern nation-state have 
been overlaid on top of a multiplicity of indigenous political structures.

"The latter have proven to be remarkably adaptable and their resilience in 
the face of colonial and post-colonial transformations provides the broader 
basis for the continuing weakness of the state."

So it's all the people's fault for not completely abandoning their 
traditions and their indigenous political structures!

"The crisis in the Solomon Islands is less about the collapse of a 
coherent, functioning state, and more about the unraveling of the apparatus 
of colonial rule." If they had not achieved independence and had remained a 
colony, all would presumably have been well.

Reasons for failure obscured

The description of states as successful or failed, as modern, post-modern 
or pre-modern, as "good" or "evil" hides the important class questions 
behind the actions of the US and British ruling classes. "Chaos", "failed", 
"rogue" , "unstable" are posed as a "threat to security". All suggest 
questions of organisational and managerial skills which may be learnt with 
some assistance from the better educated and more experienced "civilised" 

They hide the reality of imperialism and colonialism and its consequences. 
They cover up the manoeuvres of the main imperialist states as they 
interfere in the affairs of nation states, occupy them and take over their 

Nowhere in these theories is there mention of the real objectives for the 
West's involvement in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, or 
any other "failed state".

* * *
Next week: terrorism, old wars and new wars, redrawing the map of the world and the struggle for sovereignty and independence.

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