NSA spying row reveals new tensions between imperialist powers

Millions routinely spied upon by state agencies – Published on Socialist World.net, by Robert Bechert, CWI, Oct 30, 2013.

… Underlying conflicts of interests between states: The very existence of “Five Eyes” and Britain’s closeness to the US is an illustration of how underlying conflicts of interests, potential or current, between states can continue.

Britain’s closeness, the so-called “special relationship”, with the US stems from the historic decline of British capitalism from its position of once being the “workshop of the world”. Faced, from the mid-Nineteenth century onwards with rising competitors, British capitalism sought to manoeuvre, particularly from the new international powers of the US and newly united Germany.   

At one stage, sections of the British ruling class were thinking of supporting the Confederacy in the American civil war. Later, when faced with the rise of German capitalism, Britain’s rulers turned towards an alliance with its traditional enemy, France. But this alliance was too weak to successfully challenge German imperialism and so, in both World Wars, British capitalism became increasingly reliant on the US. However this was a gradual process. The US was not sure what would happen as it sought to replace Britain as the dominant world power. It was only in mid-1939 that Washington stopped developing its “War Plan Red” for a possible conflict with Britain and its then Empire.

The Second World War cemented this relationship and was the basis for the 1946 intelligence agreement that eventually became the Five Eyes group, an intelligence sharing operation originally established by the US and Britain in 1946 and then extended over the following 10 years to include Canada, Australia and New Zealand. After the failure of the 1956 Anglo-French Suez invasion, which the US opposed, the British ruling class accepted that it no longer act in a totally independent fashion.

The resulting British dependence on the US has put Cameron in a difficult position as Snowden’s leaks continue. More and more evidence is coming out of Britain’s role in the US spying operation, like GCHQ’s Temora operation to tap international fibre-optic cables or its own operations against Belgium and Italy.

The British government is desperately trying to cover its own tracks and shut down criticism by endlessly repeating the claim that Snowden’s leaks were damaging the fight against terrorism. Thus Andrew Parker, the MI5 boss, says these leaks have done “enormous damage”. Cameron, speaking just after the news of the bugging of Merkel’s phones made international headlines, dismissed all the complaints as “la-di-dah, airy-fairy” criticisms of Britain’s “brave” spies. He evaded answering the question of whether the British security services were involved in spying on other European leaders. How “brave” the security services have to be when bugging European leaders is open to question.

These pleas to trust the state are not plausible. One of the reasons for Snowden’s actions was that his bosses were lying to the US Congress. No-one has forgotten the lies that surrounded the British and US governments’ drive towards invading Iraq. This continual lying and deceit is one reason why the security and military services themselves are not “secure”. Operatives such as Snowden, Chelsea Manning (former known as Bradley Manning) and others, disgusted at what they see, leak information.

Internationally there is a growing popular feeling that unaccountable states are gaining more and more powers over and knowledge of the lives of ordinary people. There is also widespread disgust at the generous compliance of the telecoms and social media multinationals to the security services’ requests.

In Cameron’s Britain, the increasing exposure and questioning of police methods, including lying, is further undermining trust in the state. This has been re-enforced by “Plebgate”, a claimed police frame-up of a Cabinet member, even though it may turn out to be ham-fisted attempt to use “normal” fabrication methods to block government changes to the police conditions, rather than to secure a conviction.

Of course, if one believes for a minute Cameron’s fantasy approach to the bugging of Merkel then the implications are far-reaching. If the US and British governments’ only target is fighting terrorism then the implication of bugging Merkel’s mobile is that her government is running terrorist operations or maybe they think she is building a Fourth Reich!

However the reality is that one of the aspects Snowden has exposed is the rivalry between nation states, which is why the US bugged Merkel and other foreign leaders. The Republican Chair of the US House of Representatives intelligence committee was quite open, telling CNN that the US should try to protect its interests “at home and abroad”, while adding that “sometimes our friends have relationships with our adversaries”. This is the reason why, as the Wall Street Journal has reported, that the bugging of some of the 35 foreign leaders the NSA targeted is still continuing today.

Renewed rivalries:

There has been a fundamental shift in the world situation over the last two decades. To a certain extent, the post-1945 division of the world into competing capitalist and non-capitalist sectors provided the glue which held most of the major capitalist powers together. They then felt threatened that a rival system existed and thereby showed that capitalism was not the “only show in town”. This was despite the fact that, notwithstanding their formal names, these countries were not socialist as they were run by totalitarian elites. However these states’ economies were not capitalist, and their problems were not the ones of capitalist booms and slumps. But, as we have pointed out before, the collapse of these regimes removed a rival system to capitalism. The restoration of capitalism in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe, along with the tremendous growth of the capitalist economy in China, removed a common threat to the capitalist powers and allowed a freer rein to national rivalries between them.

While the new extent of globalisation, the integration of production and markets around the world have held back international relations dramatically worsening during these first years since the world economic crisis erupted in 2007/8, the rivalries between the competing powers have not gone away. It is not accidental that aspects of the US bugging campaign is seen by other countries as part of an attempt to get a stronger hand in trade negotiations. But it is certain that other countries do the same as they attempt to steal an advantage over one another.

Many in countries like France and Spain, has been shocked by stories of tens of millions of phone calls, texts and emails being checked by the NSA just in one month. But the complaints of their governments are hypocritical as their own security services are no better. They have had their own security scandals.

In Germany there are the open questions as to why the security services were unable to track down or stop the NSU underground Nazi grouping that carried out 10 murders after 2000 and why security files relating to the NSU were destroyed.

French governments have particularly been prepared to intervene brutally to defend their interests, something that has been frequently seen in francophone Africa, but also wider afield. In 1985, during the rule of the so-called “socialist” president Mitterrand, the French foreign intelligence service attempted to prevent any interference with a planned nuclear weapons test by bombing the flagship of the Greenpeace fleet, the Rainbow Warrior, with the loss of one life, while it was moored in the port of Auckland, New Zealand.

State machine cannot indefinitely hold back people rising: … //

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