Understanding Empire: Hierarchy, Networks and Clients
by Prof. James Petras, www.globalresearch.ca/
March 19, 2007
The structure of power of the world imperial system can best be understood through a classification of countries according to their political, economic, diplomatic and military organization.
Introduction: The imperial system is much more complex than what is commonly referred to as the “US Empire”. The US Empire, with its vast network of financial investments, military bases, multi-national corporations and client states, is the single most important component of the global imperial system (1). Nevertheless, it is overly simplistic to overlook the complex hierarchies, networks, follower states and clients that define the contemporary imperial system (2). To understand empire and imperialism today requires us to look at the complex and changing system of imperial stratification.
Hierarchy of Empire
The structure of power of the world imperial system can best be understood through a classification of countries according to their political, economic, diplomatic and military organization. The following is a schema of this system:
I. Hierarchy of Empire (from top to bottom)
A. Central Imperial States (CIS)
B. Newly Emerging Imperial Powers (NEIP)
C. Semi-autonomous Client Regimes (SACR)
D. Client Collaborator Regimes (CCR)
II. Independent States:
Cuba and Venezuela
Sudan, Iran, Zimbabwe, North Korea
III. Contested Terrain and Regimes in Transition
Armed resistance, elected regimes, social movements
At the top of the imperial system are those imperial states whose power is projected on a world scale, whose ruling classes dominate investment and financial markets and who penetrate the economies of the rest of the world. At the apex of the imperial system stand the US, the European Union (itself highly stratified) and Japan. Led by the US they have established networks of ‘follower imperial states’ (largely regional hegemons) and client or vassal states which frequently act as surrogate military forces. Imperial states act in concert to break down barriers to penetration and takeovers, while at the same time, competing to gain advantages for their own state and multinational interests.
Just below the central imperial states are newly emerging imperial powers (NEIP), namely China, India, Canada, Russia and Australia. The NEIP states are subject to imperial penetration, as well as expanding into neighboring and overseas underdeveloped states and countries rich in extractive resources. The NEIP are linked to the central imperial states (CIS) through joint ventures in their home states, while they increasingly compete for control over extractive resources in the underdeveloped countries. They frequently ‘follow’ in the footsteps of the imperial powers, and in some cases take advantage of conflicts to better their own position.
For example China and India’s overseas expansion focuses on investments in extractive mineral and energy sectors to fuel domestic industrialization, similar to the earlier (1880-1950’s) imperial practices of the US and Europe. Similarly China invests in African countries, which are in conflict with the US and EU, just as the US developed ties with anti-colonial regimes (Algeria, Kenya and Francophone Africa) in conflict with their former European colonial rulers in the 1950’ and 1960’s.
Further down the hierarchy of the imperial system are the ‘semi-autonomous client regimes’ (SACR). These include Brazil, South Korea, South Africa, Taiwan, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Chile and lately Bolivia. These states have a substantial national economic base of support, through public or private ownership of key economic sectors. They are governed by regimes, which pursue diversified markets, though highly dependent on exports to the emerging imperial states. On the other hand these states are highly dependent on imperial state military protection (Taiwan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia) and provide regional military bases for imperial operations. Many are resource-dependent exporters (Saudi Arabia, Chile, Nigeria and Bolivia) who share revenues and profits with the multi-nationals of the imperial states. They include rapidly industrialized countries (Taiwan and South Korea), as well as relatively agro-mineral export states (Brazil, Argentina and Chile).
The wealthy oil states have close ties with the financial ruling classes of the imperial counties and invest heavily in real estate, financial instruments and Treasury notes which finance the deficits in the US and England.
On key issues such as imperial wars in the Middle East, the invasion of Haiti, destabilizing regimes in Africa, support for global neo-liberal policies and imperial takeovers of strategic sectors, they collaborate with rulers from the CIS and the NEIP. Nevertheless, because of powerful elite interests and in some cases of powerful national social movements, they come into limited conflicts with the imperial powers. For example, Brazil, Chile and Argentina disagree with the US efforts to undermine the nationalist Venezuelan government. They have lucrative trade, energy and investment relations with Venezuela. In addition they do not wish to legitimize military coups, which might threaten their own rule and legitimacy in the eyes of an electorate partial to President Chavez. While structurally deeply integrated into the imperial system, the SACR regimes retain a degree of autonomy in formulating foreign and domestic policy, which may even conflict or compete with imperial interests.
Despite their ‘relative autonomy’, the regimes also provide military and political mercenaries to serve the imperialist countries. This is best illustrated in the case of Haiti. Subsequent to the US invasion and overthrow of the elected Aristide Government in 2004, the US succeeded in securing an occupation force from its outright client and ‘semi-autonomous’ client regimes. President Lula of Brazil sent a major contingent. A Brazilian General headed the entire mercenary military force. Chile’s Gabriel Valdez headed the United Nations occupation administration as the senior official overseeing the bloody repression of Haitian resistance movements. Other ‘semi-autonomous’ clients, such as Uruguay and Bolivia, added military contingents along with soldiers from client regimes such as Panama, Paraguay, Colombia and Peru. President Evo Morales justified Bolivia’s continued military collaboration with the US in Haiti under his presidency by citing its ‘peacekeeping role’, knowing full well that between December 2006 and February 2007 scores of Haitian poor were slaughtered during a full-scale UN invasion of Haiti’s poorest and most densely populated slums.
The key theoretical point is that given Washington current state of being tied down in two wars in the Middle East and West Asia, it depends on its clients to police and repress anti-imperialist movements elsewhere. Somalia, as in Haiti, was invaded by mercenaries by Ethiopia, trained, financed, armed and directed by US military advisers. Subsequently, during the occupation, Washington succeeded in securing its African clients (via the so-called Organization of African Unity according to the White House’s stooge, Ugandan Army spokesman Captain Paddy Ankunda) to send a mercenary occupation army to prop up its unpopular client Somali warlord ruler. Despite opposition from its Parliament, Uganda is sending 1500 mercenaries along with contingents from Nigeria, Burundi, Ghana and Malawi.
At the bottom of the imperial hierarchy are the client collaborator regimes (CCR). These include Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf States, Central American and Caribbean Island states, the Axis of Sub-Saharan States (ASS) (namely Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Ghana), Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, Mexico, Eastern European states (in and out of the European Union), former states of the USSR (Georgia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Latvia, etc), Philippines, Indonesia, North Africa and Pakistan. These countries are governed by authoritarian political elites dependent on the imperial or NEIP states for arms, financing and political support. They provide vast opportunities for exploitation and export of raw materials. Unlike the SACR, exports from client regimes have little value added, as industrial processing of raw materials takes place in the imperial countries, particularly in the NEIP. Predator, rentier, comprador and kleptocratic elites who lack any entrepreneurial vocation rule the CCR. They frequently provide mercenary soldiers to service imperial countries intervening, conquering, occupying and imposing client regimes in imperial targeted countries. The client regimes thus are subordinate collaborators of the imperial powers in the plunder of wealth, the exploitation of billions of workers and the displacement of peasants and destruction of the environment.
The structure of the imperial system is based on the power of ruling classes to exercise and project state and market power, retain control of exploitative class relations at home and abroad and to organize mercenary armies from among its client states. Led and directed by imperial officials, mercenary armies collaborate in destroying autonomous popular, nationalist movements and independent states.
Client regimes form a crucial link in sustaining the imperial powers. They complement imperial occupation forces, facilitating the extraction of raw materials. Without the ‘mercenaries of color’ the imperial powers would have to extend and over-stretch their own military forces, provoking high levels of internal opposition, and heightening overseas resistance to overt wars of re-colonization. Moreover client mercenaries are less costly in terms of financing and reduce the loss of imperial soldiers. There are numerous euphemistic terms used to describe these client mercenary forces: United Nations, Organization of American States and Organization of African Unity ‘peacekeepers’, the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ among others. In many cases a few white imperial senior officers command the lower officers and soldiers of color of the client mercenary armies.
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