April 2014        

Liberal imperialism:
The freedom to plunder

“What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values. We can already discern its outline: an imperialism which, like all imperialism, aims to bring order and organisation but which rests today on the voluntary principle.”
      This concept of liberal imperialism was publicly promoted in 2002 by Robert Cooper, a senior British diplomat and former member of Tony Blair’s Cabinet Office staff who is now a special adviser to the European Commission on foreign affairs and appears to be accepted by NGOs involved in “humanitarian” work, by the media, some unions, the European Union, and social democratic parties, not to mention the obviously more open advocates of imperialism.
      What is striking about Cooper’s doctrine is not what he is calling for—as we all know this is what imperialism is, from the military, economic and cultural point of view—but the open manner in which he says it, which suggests a worrying legitimacy attached to his ideas.
      Clearly these policies have become the stock in trade of many NGOs, which now follow imperialism’s death and destruction, paying themselves lavish salaries as they lecture the world on morality and ethics and collaborate actively with the aftermath of imperialism’s military actions while providing a liberal ideological cloak for it.
      “As auxiliaries to this effort—in many areas indispensable to it—are over a hundred NGOs.”
      Cooper positively recalls the “age of empires” and how it maintained peace and stability in a world order based on a delicate balance of power between competing empires. This relationship of peace and stability to empire is why he believes there is a need for a “return” to an imperialist age. Readers will know, of course, that it never went away and what he really means is a more aggressive and open form of imperialism, which has certainly become more acceptable since 11 September 2001.
      Of course, even using his incorrect equation of imperialism with military intervention, he forgets US military breaches of the sovereignty of Haïti, Cuba, Venezuela, Yugoslavia, the Philippines, Puerto Rica, Guatemala, Chile, Korea, Laos, Viet Nam, Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Indonesia, Cambodia, and many more,* all since the Second World War and especially since September 2001, when, according to Cooper, the global powers were fearful or hesitant in playing the role of imperialist for the good of peace, stability, and world order!
      “Today [2002] 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 nineteenth century.”
      For Cooper the “postmodern” world needs to accept double standards, deceit, military intervention and a new kind of imperialism to protect our peace and stability.
      “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 cooperative security. But when dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of states outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era—force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself. Among ourselves, we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle. In the prolonged period of peace in Europe, there has been a temptation to neglect our defences, both physical and psychological. This represents one of the great dangers of the postmodern state.”
      The public (in the West, of course) needs to accept Cooper’s liberal imperialism and come to terms with murder, war, inequality, injustice, robbery, and deceit—all in the name of liberal freedom.
      “First there is the voluntary imperialism of the global economy. This is usually operated by an international consortium through International Financial Institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank—it is characteristic of the new imperialism that it is multilateral. These institutions provide help to states wishing to find their way back into the global economy and into the virtuous circle of investment and prosperity. In return they make demands which, they hope, address the political and economic failures that have contributed to the original need for assistance. Aid theology today increasingly emphasises governance. If states wish to benefit, they must open themselves up to the interference of international organisations and foreign states (just as, for different reasons, the postmodern world has also opened itself up.)
      “The second form of postmodern imperialism might be called the imperialism of neighbours. Instability in your neighbourhood poses threats which no state can ignore. Misgovernment, ethnic violence and crime in the Balkans poses a threat to Europe. The response has been to create something like a voluntary UN protectorate in Bosnia and Kosovo. It is no surprise that in both cases the High Representative is European. Europe provides most of the aid that keeps Bosnia and Kosovo running and most of the soldiers (though the US presence is an indispensable stabilising factor). In a further unprecedented move, the EU has offered unilateral free-market access to all the countries of the former Yugoslavia for all products including most agricultural produce. It is not just soldiers that come from the international community; it is police, judges, prison officers, central bankers and others. Elections are organised and monitored by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Local police are financed and trained by the UN. As auxiliaries to this effort—in many areas indispensable to it—are over a hundred NGOs.


*For a comprehensive list see http://academic.evergreen.edu.

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