Is US imperialism necessary

US Imperialism Trends

What will the next century look like? How will the distribution of roles develop among the two hundred countries on earth? Certainly some will be more influential than others. The United States is doing everything it can to maintain its undeniable primacy. The main concern for them will be to lay down the rules of the game for the “age of electronics” unilaterally in their interests, in order to secure control over the global networks for the coming century. From this point of view, the Internet could primarily serve to expand American trade. But no hegemony is eternal. And Europe and some countries in the south are beginning to rebel, albeit cautiously.


HOW could the leadership of the United States be further enhanced? Hardly anyone in the political ruling class in the USA objects to the right of this country to implement an “imperial policy”, even if one tries to trivialize the term. The only debate is about the best means and methods of implementation.

A “moderate” proponent of this new imperialism describes the problem as follows: “American foreign policy pursues the goal of working with like-minded people to 'improve' market mechanisms and to ensure that their basic rules are observed more closely, if possible voluntarily, but also if necessary forced. Regulation of international trade is ultimately an imperial doctrine as it seeks to enforce a set of norms that we believe to be right. This has nothing to do with imperialism in the sense of an exploitative foreign policy. "1 In this view of things, imperialism appears as an exclusively European strategy of action.

Others use even clearer words to assign America its role in the world. Irving Kristol, for example, a well-known theorist of aggressive conservatism, does not even refer to the alleged constraints, but sees the "emergence of an American empire" as a matter of course. A stricter formulation that still avoids the term “imperialism”.

“The American people will soon realize that they have become an imperial nation,” writes Kristol, only to reassure them immediately afterwards: “It happened because the world wanted it to happen.” To explain his strange theory Kristol claims that "a great power can imperceptibly be induced to assume responsibilities for which it has not specifically sought."2

Unrestrained market economy as a weapon of the strongest

He is thus subject to the notion that Europe is happy about its dependence on the United States and voluntarily renounces any independent foreign policy: "Despite extensive local autonomy, the European nations are dependent nations." The status of Europe is thus to a certain extent the same as that of the Palestinians Authority in the West Bank comparable. Regarding South America, a region that traditionally resists American intervention, Kristol claims: “They are beginning to recognize the legitimacy of American leadership and to come to terms with the increasing Americanization of their own culture and way of life.” He pretends to be surprised at this development which it distinguishes from former European imperialism with its open and brutal coercive measures. “Our missionaries live in Hollywood,” he writes, but in conclusion he adopts a rather gloomy tone: “This predominance will be absolute and have only a minimum of moral substance. Even if the rest of the world longs for and needs them at the moment, the question arises as to whether one will not get tired of them quickly. "3 Irving Kristol is one of those theorists who deal with the current domination of America in the world quite impartially: America's rivals can be brought to reason in whatever way.

Nevertheless, the prevailing opinion among American politicians is that total hegemony over the world is by no means guaranteed. Bringing it about through unilateral action remains dangerous and costly. For the 21st century to be American, one must secure the support, if only temporary, of partners. One proponent of this prevailing view is Richard Haass, director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution and former special advisor to President George Bush. He sees the Gulf War as the model for the future. In his book The Reluctant Sheriff, he recommends the United States for the role of global sheriff. According to Haass' ideas, the sheriff - unlike the police officer - only has a part-time job. It only becomes active when a campaign against unruly powers - "rogue states", as he calls them - becomes necessary, or from a different perspective: against areas or groups that oppose the orders of the USA. Then the sheriff brings together a delegation of "voluntary states" to help him restore order. According to this view, which is widely accepted in the United States - the Brookings Institution is considered a “centrist” think tank - foreign policy is reduced to the mobilization of militias. Like in a western.

It is hard to imagine that such a policy can succeed in a world where three billion people live below the poverty line and nuclear warheads are spread out over a dozen regions like melons in the fields. Such strategic conceptions are based on an undifferentiated consideration of the results of the Cold War: "We won, and the opposing camp not only lost, it has disappeared."4 With this interpretation in mind, the geopoliticians allow themselves to be lulled into their imperial daydreams.

The blueprints of the future - some of which have already been outlined - are more consequential, on which the basic material structures of the world economy for the coming years will be designed. In this area, an informal and operational coalition has been formed in which the government, the military and capital interests pursue the same interests as the information industry, the media and computer science. The vision of the future that these groups have in mind is clearly electronic. Like the geostrategists, they are prepared for a world under American domination. It is believed in these circles that this goal can be achieved with the help of the information and media sectors, since they confer not only cultural power, but also power in a very general way.

The proponents of this thesis are located at the highest levels of the hierarchy. For example, in 1996, former Assistant Secretary of Defense, Joseph S. Nye, and former Vice President of the Joint Committee of Chiefs of Staff, William A. Owens, commented on "America's decisive informational lead." Accordingly, the “leading country of the information revolution will be more powerful than any other (...). That position will fall to the United States for the foreseeable future. "5 And from the point of view of the country that was able to round up a Gulf War alliance, for example, they continue to argue: “Nuclear supremacy was a sine qua non for leading the previous coalitions. In the information age, information superiority will have this function. ”This results in her optimism:“ In reality, the United States will see its peak of supremacy not in the 20th century, but in the 21st century. Information is the new currency of the worldwide empire, and the USA has better conditions than any other country to bring its hardware and software resources to bear in the information sector. "

The privatization of frequencies

THAT is by no means an individual opinion. David Rothkopf, also a former member of the Clinton administration and currently director general of Kissinger Associates, the consulting firm of "dear Henry", is no less enthusiastic when he predicts an "American age" based on culture and information . In his essay “In Praise of Cultural Imperialism?” In his essay “Praise of Cultural Imperialism?” The taboo word imperialism not only occurs, but also describes the American possibilities with relish: “A central foreign policy goal of the USA in the information age must be to fight for the worldwide flow of information win by mastering the frequencies just as Britain did the seas in its day. "6

David Rothkopf, like Nye and Owens, is confident that it will turn out this way: "The United States will inevitably become the 'indispensable state' for solving global problems and, in the early years of the information age, the main supplier of information products." Enjoyable He comments on current trends: “The United States has an economic and political interest that in a world where a common language is emerging, that language is English; that in a world that agrees on common telecommunications, security and quality standards, American standards will prevail; that in a world that is becoming more and more networked by means of television, radio and music fashions, the corresponding programs are American; and that in the formation of a common value system, values ​​are those with which Americans can identify. ”Having set out this grand plan, the author gives us his humble rationale for why it will benefit everyone:“ Americans should do not deny the fact that your country is the most just and tolerant of all countries in world history, the country with the greatest willingness to question itself and to improve, in short: the best example for the future. "

This interpretation may seem outrageous and arrogant, but it illustrates Washington's decisions on information policy. Right at the start of his first term in office, President Clinton forged close ties with Silicon Valley industrialists - if only to fund his re-election. Vice President Al Gore is considered a computer fanatic. In view of his 2000 presidential candidacy, he surrounded himself with a group of electronics executives nicknamed "Gore Tech". From a newspaper report we learn: “Once a month the Vice President meets semi-officially with a selected group of entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley. (...) Every month a different topic is discussed, but the overarching agenda remains the same: one wants to assess the implications of the 'new American economy' and work out concrete solutions to large and small public relations problems. ”One of the participants in this Treffen said: “Our vanity leads us to believe that what is best for our companies must also be best for the whole country.” 7

All of this is reminiscent of the good old days of the famous “Engin Charlie” Wilson, General Motors President during World War II, who always proclaimed: What is good for GM is also good for the USA. At the end of the 1990s, there is no more appropriate formulation for United States policy. The government is leading the march into the electronic age. In her speeches and her practice, she proclaims the computerization of the economy as an indispensable prerequisite for national growth and global domination. The communications industry can easily agree to this.

Over the past few years, plans for a wired country and connected world have become a reality. The National Information Infrastructure (NII), announced in September 1993 under the patronage of the President, was presented as an all-encompassing electronic solution for all problems of the country and at the same time as a suitable means to increase the well-being and wealth of mankind.8 The advantages were listed with uninhibited enthusiasm: round-the-clock communication for the whole family, online lessons from the best teachers in the country; Access to the most important works of art, literature and science, online health care for everyone without waiting times, teleworking, the latest leisure activities in every American's living room, fast connection to authorities and a wide range of information available via the Internet.

These advantages, which were mostly ambivalent, were, however, subject to a reservation that sooner or later had to deny the promised blessings. The founding statutes of the NII expressly state: “The private sector will drive the development of the NII (...). The private companies are responsible for setting up and operating the NII. "9 The development and dissemination of this remarkable information technology, which was initially financed by the state and run as a public service, was entrusted to a small group of powerful corporations in the communications industry: computer builders, software designers, telecommunications providers and media producers.

The big players in this branch reacted to the new and promising conditions with wild movements of merger and concentration that brought capital and resources together in giant companies.10 The government hurriedly sold off the entire spectrum of radio frequencies to the telecommunications giants in order to create the conditions for new and expanded services which the new frequency owners will see as profitable. This means that public property such as radio waves have once again been withdrawn from any form of social responsibility without public debate and given over to commercial interests that are fundamentally incompatible with the needs of the community.

After the government had created favorable material conditions for the private sector in this way and encouraged the formation of mega-companies to which the emerging digital networks were offered for full exploitation, the recent intervention of the government tackled the crucial question of the markets, especially the foreign ones. Ira Magaziner's report, The Framework for Global Electronic Commerce, presented and approved by President Clinton himself on July 1, 1997, recommends the unhindered development of electronic commerce in the United States and the rest of the world World.

This document states that the use of the NII and the GII (Global Information Infrastructure) is already remarkably advanced, and at the same time emphasizes that “the worldwide trade in computer software, with products of the entertainment industry (films, video films and games, sound recordings ), with information services (databases, online newspapers), technical information and product licenses, with financial and professional services (technical and commercial advice, accounting, architectural design, legal advice, travel agency, etc.) has developed very rapidly over the past ten years. Currently, US software export sales exceed $ 40 billion. A growing proportion of these transactions are carried out online. "11

This trade will expand rapidly in the years to come. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) shows, for example, that “the Internet has doubled annually for ten years (...); By the year 2000 there will probably be around 110 million PCs with an Internet connection, which means a number of around 300 million users "12 .

The main concern of the report, namely free travel for trade in the electronic sector, would be self-evident and even welcome if there were numerous, more or less equally strong participants on the national and international markets. But the reality is very different. The development of the electronic economy is similar in one crucial respect to the situation after the Second World War. Back then, the United States demanded and enforced a "free flow of information," giving its media and cultural giants the chance to flood the entire earth with their products and services.

State support

THIS policy shaped the past half century and was actively promoted through government aid programs and subsidies, economic pressure on any unruly and all kinds of political persuasion. Information and cultural products made in America therefore dominate the television and cinema screens, music productions and entertainment venues, and English is the dominant language of business circles.13

The technological substructure of the American industrial nation has fundamentally changed over the past fifty years. Data processing and digitization have spread rapidly. Completely new areas of activity have emerged and are now experiencing spectacular growth. They produced some of the most powerful companies in the world today, such as Intel or Microsoft. The production and sale of information has also become a gigantic new line of business. The telecommunications companies that transmit information streams (data, messages, images) work worldwide and are increasingly cooperating with foreign, local providers.

These and other developments form the core of what is called "globalization". However, the term is misleading because it gives the false impression that everything has globalized. The main players in globalization are the large corporations in the automotive and oil industries, in the banking sector, in the consumer goods, communications, media and electronic services sectors, which are becoming increasingly transnational.

The political decisions that are being made in the United States, Japan and Europe today are primarily in the interests of these industries. There is a certain coordination between these groups in order to guarantee a minimum of stability and security for the worldwide activities of this transnational system as a whole, as well as for the most important national companies. Although every transnational corporation is primarily oriented towards its own profit, it also enjoys the generous support of the state in which its registered office or the residence of the majority of its shareholders is located. The emphasis with which a state - or a regional association of states such as the European Union - stands up for its top companies depends on its economic, military and cultural importance. In that regard, the United States is still in a class of its own.

In this context, the framework program for global e-commerce was developed. It tries to set the rules of the game for the digital age unilaterally in favor of the particular interests of the United States. These rules of the game will reinforce the already considerable advantages of the US communications industry. To propagate this goal, the magazine report uses the term “freedom” in every single paragraph. Obviously, the aim is to exclude from the outset any measure that a sovereign state could take to protect its independence or economic viability or to question the forms of organization that the beneficiaries of the system have formulated with regard to norms, licenses or collective bargaining regulations.

In the name of freedom

For example, it should be impossible to choose freely between the private and the public sector: "Whenever necessary, governments must encourage self-regulation in the sector and support private sector organizations in their endeavors to develop mechanisms that ensure smooth It follows that the new electronics industry must get rid of the regulations that have been enforced over the past sixty years to regulate telecommunications, radio and television. During this entire period, the political measures that are binding on providers have still invoked the protection of the common good. Even if social needs may not always have been taken into account, they were at least recognized. At the end of the 1990s, global capital refused to restrict its prerogatives.

Although the supporting program was presented as a national platform, it basically has an international intention, namely to regulate “global electronic trade” where the political and economic environment is not yet completely subject to the will of the White House. For example, by calling for the free flow of information, it invokes the fundamental rights section of the American constitution and tries to use it to construct a general principle for the defense of the messages and images produced by large corporations. But the relevant constitutional article actually protects the freedom of expression of individuals, and by no means that of companies.

If one accepts this confusion of terms, as it is nowadays in the USA, one prevents any measure to protect the citizens from a discourse that corresponds to the interests of big industry and is also financed by it. This becomes even clearer at the international level: If the nations accept the business-friendly definition of the free flow of information, they lose their cultural and often also their political sovereignty. What worries the White House and high-tech communications executives most is the possible measures that nation-states may take to defend their autonomy. Indirect taxes and customs duties for the Internet, a limitation of the copyright for films, sound recordings and software products that are distributed via the Global Information Infrastructure (GII), protection measures for databases and patents, in short: all forms of property in the information age are part of them Horror. The magazine report tops it all off when it formulates: "The legal regulations for commercial transactions via the Internet must be based on uniform principles beyond state, national and international borders in order to enable predictable results, regardless of the case law, to which a possible buyer or seller is subject. "

This proposal apparently strives for equality, but turns a blind eye to the differences and inequalities between states, regions and peoples. It puts the interests of powerful corporate intellectual property owners above those of weaker business partners. In this respect, the framework program for the global electronics industry acts like the transfer of the doctrine of the free flow of information from the post-war era to the digital age: “The American government supports the greatest possible freedom of information flow across all borders. This concerns most of the information that is already accessible and transferrable via the Internet, including websites, as well as information services, virtual department stores, entertainment products, especially video and radio, and also the arts. This principle applies to the information generated by commercial companies as well as to information that comes from schools, libraries, governments and other not-for-profit institutions. ”However, the framework program has so far only been a catalog of letters of intent. His opposition to government regulation is not to be taken literally, at least not in relation to the American economy. This contradiction is explained by the fact that the magazine report is not primarily intended as an American-style manual. Government rhetoric does fall back on the usual anti-regulatory argumentation, but the ritual demands for free markets have been belied by practice in the information sector for fifty years.

At the international level, of course, everything looks very different. Columbia University professor Eli Norman rightly remarks that “even if you read the Magazine report carefully, there is no evidence of government intent to relax economic regulation in the areas that are important to it. His clear statements relate above all to measures that other states could take to enforce such regulation on the Internet. "14 It's the old trick: you ask others to do things that you don't do yourself.

But the success of this endeavor does not depend solely on the intentions of the United States or on the fact that its industry is currently the leading player in the electronics sector. American rule in cyberspace is not guaranteed forever, and other nations can impose alternatives if they just want to.

The European Union (EU) supports the free trade doctrine advocated by the USA in principle, but has kept its distance with regard to electronic trade. Initially, Ira Magaziner was welcomed with open arms at a conference in Bonn on July 8, 1997, just a week after the publication of his report, and the EU signed a paper recognizing the importance of the private sector to the electronics industry, but the public sector only certifies an "active role". Within a year, however, opinion formation has evolved and the 15 Member States are starting to define their own positions instead of simply referring to the framework program. In a communication dated February 4th of this year, the European Commission proposed the negotiation of an international charter that would lay down common rules for everyone, particularly in the areas of personal data protection, author rights, encryption and taxes.

Contradictions between the US and Europe

THE most delicate task is the protection of private life, which is viewed very differently on both sides of the Atlantic. In France, the National Committee on Information Technology and Personal Freedoms (Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés, CNIL) has existed since 1978. In 1995 a particularly rigorous European directive was passed, which must be incorporated into national legislation by October 1998. According to this policy, personal data cannot be transferred to countries that have not put in place "adequate" safeguards, which is exactly the case in the United States. Faced with this situation, President Clinton has urged American companies to make such regulations for themselves. Last May he was able to get the Japanese to delegate the corresponding task to the private sector as well.15

Another point of contention between the United States and the European Union is the rules for assigning an Internet address, which Washington continues to declare a purely American prerogative in a White Paper published in February 1998. In contrast, the Internet Society and the Internet Assigned Number Authority (IANA) advocate entrusting this responsibility to an international organization. Faced with such opposition, the American government has shifted into reverse and is now heading for a solution that will likely be based on the World Industrial Property Organization (WIPO).

To avoid the frontal attacks by the USA16 , the EU could propose moving the problem to the World Trade Organization (WTO) level. At the WTO level, several states, above all India and Pakistan, are anxious to defend their specific national interests against the free trade offensive; It is also the rule here that the 132 member states make decisions based on the principle of consensus. An agreement was reached in May 199817 that the organization is preparing a study on all issues relating to the electronics industry and will submit it to the next ministerial conference scheduled for the end of February 1999.

In the short term, the economic power of transnational capital and people's acceptance of a commercial multimedia environment - two of the pillars on which the American economy rests - will encourage Americans in their dream of entering the world of the 21st century with the help of their leadership role in electronics . Century to master.

The same applies to their military supremacy, which is further expanded by the highly developed communication technology and gives them the opportunity to be present, monitor and intervene anywhere in the world. The US commander in chief for the Atlantic declared: "One should be clear about this: there is no land on the surface of the earth that we cannot reach."18

In the long term, however, the unreasonable imbalances that result for the peoples and their resources through an economic-military power system that is not accountable to anyone could trigger a chain of defensive reactions. And that could possibly bring the whole structure to collapse.

German Margrethe Schmeer

* Professor at the Department of Communication at the University of San Diego, California (USA), author, among others. from “The Distribution of Knowledge. Information in the Age of Big Corporations ”, German by Werner Raith, Frankfurt / M., New York (Campus) 1984.

Footnotes: 1 Richard N. Haass, "The Reluctant Sheriff" New York (Council on Foreign Relations) 1997. 2 Irving Kristol, "The Emerging American Imperium," The Wall Street Journal, New York, August 18, 1997. 3 Ironically, carries the study of the global media by Edward Herman and Robert McChesney, written from a completely different perspective, entitled "The Global Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism"; published in London (The Global Media, Cassell) 1997. 4 Richard N. Haass, op. a. O. 5 Joseph S. Nye and William A. Owens, "America's Information Edge", Foreign Affairs, New York, March / April 1996. 6 David Rothkopf, "In Praise of Cultural Imperialism?", Foreign Policy, No. 107, Washington, Summer 1997. 7 Elizabeth Shogren, "Gore Finds Brain Trust in Silicon Valley Group," Los Angeles Times, Aug. 25, 1997. 8 National Information Infrastructure (NII): Agenda for Action, Sep. 15, 1993, Washinton DC. 9 a. a. O. 10 Cf. Ignacio Ramonet, “Aufschwende Datenfluß”, Le Monde diplomatique, April 1997. 11 This report can be viewed on the Internet: 12 A Global View of Internet's Rise, The New York Times, September 8, 1997. See also Bernard Cassen, “Adieu au rêve libertaire d'Internet?”, Le Monde diplomatique, August 1997. 13 New York Times Magazine, June 7 1997. Also Armand Mattelart, “From the cannon bot policy to the diplomacy of the networks”, Le Monde diplomatique, August 1995. 14 Eli Noam, “Why the Internet Will Be Regulated”, Educom Review, Vol. 32, No. 5, September / October 1997. 15 S&T Presse, press magazine of the scientific and technological mission of the French Embassy in the USA, No. 469, May 15, 1998. 16 In addition, the remarkable study by Annie Kahn, “Internet, le bras de fer Europe-Etats-Unis ", Le Monde Télévision-Radio-Multimédia, 24./25. May 1998. 17 See “Pact on Electronic Commerce,” Financial Times, May 20, 1998. 18 Hugh Pope, “US Plays High-Stakes War Games in Kazakstan,” The Wall Street Journal, September 16, 1997.


Le Monde diplomatique from 08/14/1998, by HERBERT I. SCHILLER