What Uncle Sam Really Wants Copyright © 1993 by Noam Chomsky
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The three-sided world

From the early 1970s, the world has been drifting into what's called tripolarism or trilateralism -- three major economic blocs that compete with each other. The first is a yen-based bloc with Japan as its center and the former Japanese colonies on the periphery.

Back in the thirties and forties, Japan called that The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The conflict with the US arose from Japan's attempt to exercise the same kind of control there that the Western powers exercised in their own spheres. But after the war, we reconstructed the region for them. We then had no problem with Japan exploiting it -- they just had to do it under our overarching power.

There's a lot of nonsense written about how the fact that Japan became a major competitor proves how honorable we are and how we built up our enemies. The actual policy options, however, were narrower. One was to restore Japan's empire, but now all under our control (this was the policy that was followed).

The other option was to keep out of the region and allow Japan and the rest of Asia to follow their independent paths, excluded from the Grand Area of US control. That was unthinkable.

Furthermore, after WW II, Japan was not regarded as a possible competitor, even in the remote future. It was assumed that maybe somewhere down the road Japan would be able to produce knickknacks, but nothing beyond that. (There was a strong element of racism in this.) Japan recovered in large part because of the Korean War and then the Vietnam War, which stimulated Japanese production and brought Japan huge profits.

A few of the early postwar planners were more far-sighted, George Kennan among them. He proposed that the United States encourage Japan to industrialize, but with one limit: the US would control Japanese oil imports. Kennan said this would allow us "veto power" over Japan in case it ever got out of line. The US followed this advice, keeping control over Japan's oil supplies and refineries. As late as the early 1970s, Japan still controlled only about 10% of its own oil supplies.

That's one of the main reasons the United States has been so interested in Middle Eastern oil. We didn't need the oil for ourselves; until 1968, North America led world oil production. But we do want to keep our hands on this lever of world power, and make sure that the profits flow primarily to the US and Britain.

That's one reason why we have maintained military bases in the Philippines. They're part of a global intervention system aimed at the Middle East to make sure indigenous forces there don't succumb to "ultranationalism."

The second major competitive bloc is based in Europe and is dominated by Germany. It's taking a big step forward with the consolidation of the European Common Market. Europe has a larger economy than the United States, a larger population and a better educated one.

If it ever gets its act together and becomes an integrated power, the United States could become a second-class power. This is even more likely as German-led Europe takes the lead in restoring Eastern Europe to its traditional role as an economic colony, basically part of the Third World.

The third bloc is the US-dominated, dollar-based one. It was recently extended to incorporate Canada, our major trading partner, and will soon include Mexico and other parts of the hemisphere, through "free trade agreements" designed primarily for the interests of US investors and their associates.

We've always assumed that Latin America belongs to us by right. As Henry Stimson (Secretary of War under FDR and Taft, Secretary of State under Hoover), once put it, it's "our little region over here, which never has bothered anybody." Securing the dollar-based bloc means that the drive to thwart independent development in Central America and the Caribbean will continue.

Unless you understand our struggles against our industrial rivals and the Third World, US foreign policy appears to be a series of random errors, inconsistencies and confusions. Actually, our leaders have succeeded rather well at their assigned chores, within the limits of feasibility.

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