Terror, invasion, occupation and militarization are hallmarks of the US-led corporate recolonisation of Iraq. But they have long been the hallmarks of colonialism and imperialism the world over.
Neoliberal globalization and war are two sides of the same coin. So too are oil and imperialism. Former Shell scientist Claude Ake, described Shell’s activities in Nigeria, as a process of the “militarization of commerce and the privatization of the state”. In 2003, this process is sweeping across the world, perhaps most visibly in Iraq.
In 1999, neoconservative journalist Thomas Friedman wrote that the “hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States’ Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps.”
Among today’s transnational corporations, the modernday heirs of the colonial chartered corporations, the oil and gas giants are some of the most politically and economically powerful players in the world. The ancestor of the Royal-Dutch Shell group was ‘Royal Dutch Company for the Exploitation of Petroleum Wells in the Netherlands East Indies’. With so much of the world’s economy dependent on oil, the colonial exploitation and genocide continues, on an unprecedented scale. The lyrics may have changed a little, but the tune remains much the same.
The U’wa people in Colombia believe that oil maintains the balance of the world and is the blood of Mother Earth – to take the oil is worse than killing your mother. To the US corporate/political/military elites, oil is the lifeblood of capitalist expansion, a national security concern, and a vital resource to be controlled by US corporate interests for American economic and geopolitical dominance. As well as being central to US imperial interests, the interests of the oil and defense sectors are closely intertwined.
Weapons production and the maintenance of US military and economic might across the world depends on massive consumption of oil and petroleum. In turn, massive defense and security spending boosts an ailing US economy, and is a boon to the profits of its defense and security corporations. We hear a lot of talk about weapons of mass destruction.
But the so-called “war on terror” is a weapon of mass distraction away from the growing US deficit, from the naked corporate greed and colonial mindset that underpins the US and a model of development that is as exploitative as it is unsustainable, lurching as it does from one crisis of capitalism to the next. And this war kills. Before this “war on terror”, there have been other pretexts to kill for oil.
Behind the convenient cloak of “war on drugs”, Plan Colombia has provided US $98 million to train and equip Colombian military to protect an Occidental Petroleum pipeline. With a US presidential election looming let us remember that it was the Clinton Administration that between 1996 and 1999 quadrupled military aid for the Colombian government for the “war on drugs”, and recall the Gore family’s deep financial ties to Occidental.
With making the country “safe” for US investors and regional geopolitical goals a real priority, Occidental, and defense contractor UTC -whose subsidiary Sikorsky’s Black Hawk helicopters are used there – have lobbied hard for increased US “aid” to Colombia. US military hardware has been used against the U’wa who opposed oil and gas exploration by Occidental and Shell on their lands, leftist guerrillas and many other communities.
When Conoco’s Mogadishu office became the de facto US embassy before the Marines landed in Somalia, it was not a war on terror, but supposedly a “humanitarian mission”. Protecting oil concessions to Conoco and other US corporations was a key factor behind this invasion, after major oil finds in Somalia. The president of the company’s subsidiary in Somalia served as the US government’s volunteer “facilitator” before and during the US invasion and occupation.
The operations of oil and gas corporations have long been characterized by militarization, human rights abuses, economic injustice and ecological disaster and obscene profits. Sometimes this means protection for drilling operations and pipelines by local military, police or private security firms, frequently backed by military aid. Increasingly it means the direct deployment of US forces, on some other pretext, just as we can see in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Eight years after the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders who stood up to military occupation, and the ecological devastation wrought by Shell in their territory, we should remember how, in the Niger Delta, Shell and Chevron both directly supported military operations against Ogoni and Ijaw communities protesting their activities, by providing helicopters and boats to armed forces. Shell admitted to importing weapons into Nigeria to arm the police, to paying field allowances to Nigerian military, and to bribing witnesses to testify against Saro-Wiwa in his military trial.
In the North and the South, oil corporations, backed by state security forces confront Indigenous Peoples struggling for self-determination, and control over their lands and resources. These battlefronts include the unceded territory of the Lubicon Cree in Northern Alberta, Canada, from which billions of dollars of oil and gas revenues have been extracted without consent, by companies such as Shell, Norcen, Petrocanada, and Unocal, backed by armed police, while disrupting Lubicon Cree society and poisoning the land and people.
There is BP’s Tangguh LNG project in West Papua, where a longstanding struggle for independence from Indonesia has met with massive military force and human rights abuses, in the name of protecting foreign investments extracting the territory’s rich resources. In Aceh, Exxon Mobil has colluded with the Indonesian military, the beneficiaries of US and British military aid, who have been conducting a brutal war of terror against the Acehnese independence movement which has been challenging the oil and gas plunder of their territory.
The Bush regime is an oiligarchy. George Bush is former CEO of Harken Energy. Harken has lodged a claim against the Costa Rican government for US $57 million over the cancellation of an oil exploration contract because of serious concerns about its impact in an environmentally sensitive area. The compensation demanded is equivalent to more than three times the Costa Rican GDP, and 11 times larger than the annual government budget. After serving as Bush senior’s Defense Secretary, Vice President Dick Cheney was CEO of oil services corporation Halliburton from 1995-2000 – which was awarded a massive no-bid contract in Iraq and is wellplaced to control Iraqi oil production for US interests. Cheney also served on the board of defense giant TRW, while his wife Lynne sat on Lockheed Martin’s board.
Donald Evans, Bush’s Commerce Secretary, was with Colorado Oil’s Tom Brown Inc.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is a former board director of Chevron, and its principal expert on Kazakhstan, where Chevron has major interests and until recently, had an oil tanker named in her honor.
Oil and defense corporations donate generously to both Republican and Democratic party coffers. If the US was in the global South, its governments would be slammed for corruption, crony capitalism, and nepotism. Instead we are told that it is the world’s champion of freedom, integrity and democracy.
Meanwhile, these corporations help shape national economies and global trade and investment rules, using the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the baby banks like the Asian Development Bank, the World Trade Organization (WTO), official development aid, and other international economic agreements as weapons of mass extraction with which to pursue economic warfare.
The World Bank and agencies like the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have encouraged the expansion of oil and gas development for export, deregulation, corporatization, privatization and liberalization. In the name of economic development and poverty reduction through oil and gas sector development and reform, the World Bank has funded a number of controversial oil and gas production and pipeline projects in areas where there is popular resistance to these activities, and despite threats to the environment.
USAID is actively involved in promoting the interests of US oil corporations – from its role in the so-called reconstruction of Iraq, to its public-private alliance for enterprise development with ChevronTexaco in Angola, to its involvement in rewriting hydrocarbon laws and regulations to suit US companies in Central Asian republics.
Ironically the World Bank highlights Bolivia’s Hydrocarbon Sector Reform and Capitalization as a success story. The 1995 World Bank-imposed partial privatization of the oil and gas industry forms part of the backdrop for last month’s uprising, which was largely triggered by plans by US-backed neoliberal President Gonzales Sanchez De Lozada to export gas to the US and Mexico. This was yet another unjust neoliberal policy which would deliver great benefits to the latest corporate conquistadors, Spanish-British consortium, Pacific LNG, at the expense of the peoples of Bolivia. In the military repression against the popular revolt, scores of people were killed.
While enjoying corporate welfare through generous subsidies and other forms of government support at home (not least a revolving door into politics for many big business executives), US oil gas and defense corporations are active lobbyists for expanded trade and investment liberalization through the WTO and other trade and investment agreements.
They seek to remove governments’ ability to regulate their economies. US oil and gas corporations seek unrestricted access to markets in the entire range of energy services, through the further liberalization of services and investment, and rules on competition policy. These could severely constrain governments’ ability to set energy policy, to regulate oil and gas industry and control its own energy supply.
Through neoliberal prescriptions or outright military occupation, or both, transnational corporations have been able to gain control over these resources. And while markets are prised open, while social spending is slashed, and an attractive investment climate created, there is no shortage of funds being turned over to the police and the military, the muscle of neoliberal globalization.
While oil literally and figuratively fuels this war – or these wars – of terror – there is much more to it than that. The US wants to control as much of the world’s oil resources for its own use and for the power and leverage such dominance will afford it over economic and political rivals such as China, Russia and Europe and their oil corporations. This strategy aims to maintain, expand and defend a 21st century colonial empire for the US military and economic elites. A central feature of this agenda is to attack countries and social movements which are standing up to US imperialism and the neoliberal agenda, wherever they may be.
In the face of rising global resistance against the operations of oil and gas corporations, war and the military-industrial complex these companies now employ public relations firms to craft illusions of environmental and social responsibility.
Look at the websites of the top 10 defense contractors in the US, and you will find heartwarming stories about how these corporate killers help the poor and disadvantaged, take care of the environment through employees’ voluntary work, or corporate contributions to various NGOs and foundations. Lockheed Martin and Raytheon propaganda tries to sell weapons production as a contribution to peacemaking, while Shell, BP, ChevronTexaco and Statoil join corporate NGOs like Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy in the Energy and Biodiversity Initiative which aims to integrate biodiversity conservation into upstream oil and gas development.
In October, the Guardian reported that ExxonMobil held a series of secret meetings with selected environmental and human rights NGOs to try to change its negative public image. Such spin reinvents Shell and ExxonMobil as champions of human rights and defenders of the environment, and the world’s biggest defense contractors as peace activists. NGOs which collude with such corporations should be exposed and denounced.
In our struggles for social and economic and environmental justice we must be clear that neither war nor neoliberal globalization can be humanized or reformed. We need to stop the economic and environmental warfare waged by the corporations, their proxies in government and the Bretton Woods institutions. We must oppose the militarization of the planet in all its forms, and expose the interconnections between the hidden hand of the market and the not-so-hidden fist. To do that we need to support the grassroots resistance movements which are already struggling against these injustices, and to confront the oil and war corporations in our own backyards.
(Adapted from a talk at the Asia-Pacific Research Network 5th Annual Conference, Beirut, 4 November 2003. See www.aprnet.org for further details)