The United States ‘intelligence community’ has recently produced a report giving a strategic overview of current geopolitical and economic trends, and mapping out potential scenarios by the year 2025. The U.S. is militarily and economically pre-eminent in the world, and the aim of the report is to guide strategic thinking and inspire political action on behalf of the U.S. ruling class and its allies.
To make it less incestuous, certain academics, consulting firms and think-tanks were invited to participate. These include the Atlantic Council of the United States, the Wilson Center, RAND Corporation, the Brookings Institution, American Enterprise Institute, Texas A&M University, the Council on Foreign Relations and Chatham House in London.
The report is declassified and available to read online (Link), which means it is considered safe for public consumption. The specific plans for action resulting from it will no doubt be on a strictly ‘need to know’ basis. There is enough material to fill several issues of this magazine, so we will look at one broad theme: increasing authoritarianism and its implications for democracy.
The Chairman’s preamble notes that the study seeks to “identify opportunities for policy intervention … (which) … can decrease the likelihood and severity of negative developments and increase the likelihood of positive ones.” So, what do they consider to be ‘negative’ and ‘positive’? The plans do not prioritise, for example, alleviating world hunger, preventing war or cutting the emissions that cause global warming (even though going over the climatic tipping point is recognised as a possibility). No. The ruling class concern is how they can continue to protect their interests as these disasters that their system is causing unfold. Their predictions are to some extent their intentions, and we can stand warned about what to expect from them.
The global financial crisis is seen as accelerating processes already underway and the report calls for “long-term efforts to establish a new international system.” (p.11) As the Cold War era gave way to a unipolar order of American hegemony, in which the U.S. became the self-appointed policeman of the world, this too may have to give way and be replaced by a multipolar international system, with strong regional blocks centred in North America, Europe and Asia. China and India, in particular, are expected to have further economic growth and greater regional and world influence. However, this is also expected to cause (or exacerbate) certain problems. Concerning oil and gas resources, and also food and water (partly due to climate change), “demand is projected to outstrip easily available supplies over the next decade or so.” (p.viii) It is predicted that nation states will therefore be taking greater protectionist measures up to and including war.
Capitalism is based on ownership and control by the minority capitalist class, ruthless exploitation of the majority for profit, and thus competition. In this system, the nation state is a mechanism used by capitalists to protect – and extend – their dominion as owners and rulers, and this has always led to international strife. As resources dwindle, due to pollution, overexploitation and climate change - or easily accessible supplies (those that are profitable) are used up - competition and thus conflict can be expected to intensify.
The report’s authors “remain optimistic about the long-term prospects for greater democratization, but advances are likely to slow and globalization will subject many recently democratized countries to increasing social and economic pressures that could undermine liberal institutions.” (p.87) This is something the rich and powerful know all about. U.S. and U.K. governments have regularly intervened to disrupt and sometimes overthrow democratic institutions and to support the installation of military dictatorships when it has been considered good for making money/establishing strategic positions. Such foreign policy has frequently resulted in pro-democracy campaigners being beaten or shot in the street or hunted down, tortured, and imprisoned. U.S. supported coups (and attempted coups) specifically to remove elected governments include: Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954, Chile 1973, Nicaragua 1981, Grenada 1983, Panama 1989, Algeria 1992, Haiti 1994-2000, Venezuela 2002, and Bolivia 2008 (for a full list of interventions see here) Interestingly, in Venezuela and Bolivia the elected government has been retained due to popular pressure.
Democracy is used by the ruling class as both shield and sword: as a cover (legitimisation) for the continuing rule of the minority class, and when useful as a justification for aggression against other nation states. Whilst it was suddenly imperative for oil-rich Iraq to be ‘democratised’ by operation ‘Iraqi Freedom’, non-democratic regimes that are ‘friendly’ to U.S. business, such as Saudi Arabia, are not deemed to be a problem.
There is speculation in the report that economic success for China may lead to other countries adopting state capitalist authoritarianism; which means the state taking a more direct and prominent role in economic management. This might be a regional phenomenon, or become more widespread. It is suggested that a trade-off could occur with domestic populations; the promise of more ‘security’ and ‘economic success’ in return for less democracy. In a complex world of economic crisis, environmental catastrophe and war over resources, democracy may come to be (or is already being) regarded as too unpredictable and uncontrollable – and may come to be presented to the populace as such. The report notes a “questioning among elites over the ability of democratic governments to take the bold actions necessary to deal rapidly and effectively with the growing number of transnational challenges.” (p.87)
This “questioning among the elites” has long since gone over into action in the U.S. and elsewhere. The enhanced state powers that have been taken following the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001 marked a speeding-up of processes already underway. In the U.S. we have seen the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, and the passing of the USA Patriot Act. The latter has legalised greater surveillance of telephone and internet users, searches of premises without consent or knowledge, access without a court order to financial records, library records etc. and indefinite detention of immigrants. This has been accompanied by an increasingly restrictive appeals process in the U.S. judiciary system.
Other countries have also been expanding their anti-terrorism legislation and law enforcement powers. Two significant trends are 1) the broad application of terrorist legislation and 2) moves that have been taken to exclude people who have been labelled as terrorists from having the protections conferred by national and international law such as the right to an open trial. Of course, a state of war – and the ‘War on Terror’ will do – anyway allows for martial law to be imposed by democratic governments on behalf of the capitalist class whenever they see fit.
The report says that “terrorism is unlikely to disappear by 2025.” (p.iv) Given that terrorism is an inevitable consequence of capitalist competition, this is no surprise. And the possibility as well as the actuality of terrorism is a useful propaganda tool. It serves to justify the diminishing of democratic rights – all in the name of defending democracy – and to keep domestic populations sufficiently supportive of state terrorism being carried out by certain liberal democracies (often the U.S. with the U.K. helping) in various parts of the world. We are also told that "counterterrorism and counterinsurgency missions increasingly will involve urban operations as a result of greater urbanization,” including domestically (p70). This accords with the present trend for an increasing percentage of civilian casualties in war.
The capitalist class (or significant sections of it) certainly seems to be preparing to deal with the kind of threats to their system that would be posed by the unrest and disruption that could result from greater societal dysfunction, and also perhaps from the growth of informed types of rebellion that locate the source of our problems as being the profit system itself. The burgeoning of information sharing through the World Wide Web may be something in particular that worries the capitalist class. For a considerable time in the West, propagating deception and distraction has helped to keep the majority of workers compliant, but we should not doubt that the more overtly violent and oppressive techniques that have been used to pursue ruling class interests elsewhere in the world will also be used to control people in the West if it is deemed necessary by the ruling class, and if they can get away with it.
And, to an extent, they are already getting away with it, including in the U.K. As well as the measures mentioned above – and in some cases in close association with them – trade union rights have been neutered or removed, local government has become even more geared to meeting central government targets than meeting local needs, restrictions have been placed on the right to protest, the incidence of ‘stop and search’ by the police has greatly increased and the length of time which people can be detained without charge has been extended. Generally in the West ever larger numbers of people are being criminalized and imprisoned. Hard-won civil liberties and human rights have been removed or limited by law at an accelerated rate during the last few years, and the process isn’t over yet. There are advanced plans for ID cards, yet more CCTV cameras, and further surveillance of telephone and internet use. For the capitalist class, enemies are not just rival capitalists, capitalist groups or states: the enemy also resides ‘within’ – it is us, the working class majority of wage and salary earners.
The report notes that “surveys show growing frustration with the current workings of democratic government …” (p.87), which is not surprising given the current level of democratic deficit. Alienation from existing institutions has profound and diverse effects in society, and changes of popular mood and action may be unpredictable. This presents a potential threat to those in power, but for the moment they have been presented with an opportunity. Lack of democratic involvement has itself resulted in growing apathy and lack of political awareness, which in turn results in the unwitting acceptance of democratic erosions and a grudging acquiescence to authoritarian methods. Unfortunately, in capitalist style democracy, it is democracy that is often blamed for not fulfilling the promise, instead of the capitalist structures that place such severe limits upon its function.
Within capitalist limits, democracy exists in a state of flux; the balance altering according to the relative strength of the contending classes, and to the different forces in the capitalist class. Amongst themselves the capitalist class have found use for democracy in solving disputes. However, concerning wider democracy, the more quiescent we are and the more an alternative to the existing system is deemed to be unrealistic or impossible (the more that capitalist indoctrination is successful), the more we stand to lose that bit of democratic space we do possess. Where it exists, the right to vote has been won through direct pressure, and conceded by members of the ruling class who could see the potential of a more inclusive electoral process conferring legitimacy to minority class rule. Subsequently the use of the concept of democracy in the ideological struggle has helped to establish it around the world. However, since so much propaganda (and hypocrisy) has been expended on extolling its virtues, it might prove difficult to switch off.
Even the better democracies existing in capitalism come nowhere near to fulfilling the potential of what democracy can actually be. What we have presently is a system in which wealth is concentrated in the hands of a minority, who therefore have most of the power – including in the media. ‘Free speech’ in these conditions simply means that the wealthy – the rulers – still get to put their view foremost and have so far convinced the electorate to faithfully return capitalist parties to parliament.
Democracy comes from Greek: ‘demos’ and ‘kratia’. It essentially means ‘people power’ or ‘rule by the people’, i.e. it is about the majority being able to make decisions and put them into effect. Mainstream political theory and practice tries to separate ‘politics’ from ‘economics’. ‘Political democracy’ is allowed in an approved form, but economic democracy is impossible because of economic inequality; the majority are deprived of ownership and control of the means of life.
As long as capitalism continues the working class will continue to be exploited for profit, and the system will continue to give rise to waste, war, poverty and famine. The capitalist class will continue to claim that the aim of their actions is to relieve us of these dire conditions, whereas in actual fact their profit-making policies only perpetuate them. For all the expected changes indicated in the report, what we see is business as usual. As such, there are tactical decisions to be made, and we can rest assured that other power blocs have similar concerns. What the thieves are bothered about is that other groups of thieves will take their booty – or at least take too great a share – or worse still, that the workers will recognise them for what they are and unite to emancipate themselves.
‘Global Trends 2025’ is the capitalist version of the immediate future, but we do not have to be passive recipients of this. It benefits the workers of the world to organise to defend and extend democratic rights; to widen the democratic space as much as possible. For democracy is the way in which we can unite to free ourselves from the insanity of the profit-system and domination by a minority ruling class. We can replace oppression with equality, waste of resources with production directly for use, and systemic competition with cooperation for the common good. We can create the world that we want, fashioned by the majority, in the interests of the majority.