When the powerful feel they are under an effective attack and can find a convincing pretext, they rarely hesitate to use virtually any tactic to recapture hearts and minds.
By Greg Guma
Late in the last century, those in charge of the "new world order" faced a mounting challenge to their planetary management. Whether it began with the disruption of a World Trade Organization summit in Seattle in late 1999, with the Zapatista rebellion -- launched on the very day the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994, or with the numerous local uprisings in bloom around the world, the message was obvious: The corporate-dominated Pax Americana promoted with the end of the Cold War was not "the end of history" or anything else. Superpower rivalry might be a thing of the past, but that did not mean the US would have an open-ended term as global CEO.
By early 2001, the struggle had entered a new stage. Uprisings challenging privatization, low wages, structural adjustment, and other "globalization" policies were mounting throughout Central and South America. When leaders from the Western Hemisphere gathered in Quebec City to iron out details for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), massive protests on the street combined with widespread dissent inside the summit to derail the negotiations. Meanwhile, back in the US, doubts grew that President-select George W. Bush would soon succeed in winning "fast track" -- recently renamed "trade promotion authority."
Unable to continue ignoring demands for change, the establishment was forced to respond. In June, at a G8 Summit of industrialized nations in Genoa, Italy, leaders professed concern -- or at least shed crocodile tears -- about poverty, debt, and environmental threats. Even Bush, still shopping for a mandate in the wake of his contested election, urged rich nations to give more grants to poorer ones.
At the same time, however, Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and other nervous cheerleaders for one world under free market capitalism went on the offense. Blair called the protesters who converged in Genoa "an anarchist traveling circus." Bush added that their anti-globalization crusade was actually hurting the poor. The predictable clash between activists and police also escalated to a new level: a direct assault on the Italian city's Independent Media Center, and the movement's first fatality.
Still, both responses -- the carrot and the stick -- betrayed a growing apprehension in the corridors of power. Well-laid plans were being placed in jeopardy. Regional cracks were also deepening, especially once Bush took office. In the first six months of his term, Europe broke with the US on missile defense, trade rules, the "war on drugs" in Colombia, and global warming. After shooting down a US spy plane -- and getting away with it -- China signed a treaty of friendship with Russia, including agreement on military policies that directly challenged the new administration. In the UN, the US was ejected from the Human Rights Commission. Global trade deals were going nowhere and NATO's future was up for discussion again.
As summer waned, events suggested that the next months would be critical. In late September, for example, the anti-globalization movement was planning to converge again, this time on Washington, DC for meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. But as history illustrates, when the powerful feel they are under an effective attack and can find a convincing pretext, they rarely hesitate to use virtually any tactic, from disinformation and agents provocateur to repression and premeditated violence, in order to recapture hearts and minds.
Tomorrow: Nexus of Infamy
This article is adapted from Greg Guma’s 2003 book, Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization and What We Can Do.