State colonialism dead, hail multinational rule!

Article published on March 12, 2003
community published
Article published on March 12, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Masked by the events in Iraq, the sly and implicit face of a new form of colonialism is beginning to emerge: Take-over by western multinationals.

Since the very beginning of the century, the British have imposed themselves on Iraq in order to establish a land route through to the Indies. With oil slowly replacing coal as the main energy source, the Middle East has become the most coveted zone by the big industrial powers and the UK is at the forefront of the contenders. It was, in fact, the downfall of the Ottoman empire which allowed Great Britain to occupy most of the Middle East. After the First World War, the British and the French, taking the normal approach of European colonisation, drew up what were considered to be 'reasonable' borders in this oil-rich territory, in order to facilitate administrative divisions, already made difficult by ethnic differences. Just as in newly created states in Africa or the Balkans, a number of artificial ethnic 'patches' of varied territories were formed in the Middle East. And so ensued a period of instability where the 'puppets' placed in power by the British were replaced by other puppets, revolutions followed numerous coups d'Etat, and all this under a cloud of widespread corruption. "The question of international law never presented itself, as this law was always fashioned to protect the oil interests." Obviously.

So, why is it today we can talk of a new genre of colonialism in Iraq? Who are these terrible people who dare to adopt such worrying colonial attitudes, in a world where we claim to passionately defend principles of democracy? If Iraq had managed to rid itself of the British colonists after World War II, it was only to be invaded once again, but this time by a more subtle force: that of the western oil companies.

Between Macdonald's and Mac Donnel Douglas

In the follow-up to WWII, the interests of the large oil companies in the Middle East were no longer assured by the British, and the big winners became the Americans. A pact binding the key Middle Eastern countries to the new Power was subsequently proposed, in order to "protect the free world" from the Soviet threat. Yet the real objective was above all to assure the protection of the western oil companies, and to guarantee the extraction of oil by the USA and Great Britain.

In 1965, and to the great displeasure of these oil companies, the decision by the Iraqi government to nationalise 90% of oil deposits sparked new unrest in the Middle East. The West wanted to maintain control of Iraqi oil at all costs and, because of this, Iraq did not have the slightest hope of independence.

There are now wars, which certain people like to call "wars in the interest of the New World Order", such as those which took place in former Yugoslavia from 1991, in the Caucasus, or again in Iraq, where, after the air raids and embargoes, more than a million victims have already been created. When intervention occurs, it is not solely to protect Human Rights, or some other humanitarian cause. A much more important objective is to enable the multinationals to obtain strategic resources and markets. Taking into account the political instability and social chaos, it becomes a lot easier to acquire such things, sometimes violently. "McDonalds could not prosper without McDonnell Douglas" ( Manufacturer of F15 and F18 American fighter jets.)

Multinationals : the new Tower of Babel?

And so, the oil groups want above all for Iraq to fall into their hands. Unfortunately, the absurd reality of modern day life is that businesses produce profit margins which are often 14 or more times the GDP of certain countries. Before its scandal, Exxon had produced a turnover of $116 billion, whereas the GDP of Gabon is only $7 billion. Needless to say these countries are in no position to do battle with such businesses, all the more so since the domestic situation in these countries is often marked by great political unrest. In this balance of power these states are quite clearly in the weaker position.

Yet the Middle East is of particular interest to the multinationals, especially with regard to their future. In this politically unstable region, where the oil stakes are high, it is the countries of OPEC that control the fluctuations of the stock exchange. However, this is far too worrying for the western multinationals, who ideally want absolute control over the 'oil tap', which is to be Iraq. In actual fact, it is not the oil (as such) which represents what is mainly at stake in the Middle East, rather the control of this 'oil tap', which could have disastrous repercussions for the multinationals, should the barrel price rise. The rivalry between the big powers, in particular the USA and Europe, has now become the main feature of the wars declared 'higher up'. One could also question whether the sleaze campaign mounted against the unbearably dictatorial Iraqi regime, is a round about way of trying to resolve this western conflict.

In a similar fashion, the previously denounced air raids were undertaken with the objective to force the IMF and CMO programmes to concentrate on the affected 'victim' countries. So, whereas Iraq was once a land of immigration, it is today suffering a deadly human haemorrhaging, as we witness the emigration of intellectuals and the most brilliant minds, leaving behind the weak and impoverished. The embargo placed on Iraq is much more than a simple burden, and day after day it eats into the countries resources. The international programmes were first and foremost supposed to encourage development, but it would seem that they have imposed an unprecedented blockade which stops the development of the country and ruins its future prospects. “The embargo is just another colonial war with an economic character, even under the pretext of international law.”(1)

Pacifist Alternatives

In order to stop these ‘New World Order wars’ by the multinationals, and to curb the threats to countries trying to gain independent development, Michael Collon calls for the urgent creation of an international movement for peace. Furthermore, the NGO Friends of the Earth has proposed a convention regarding the responsibility of businesses. The aims of the convention are clear: To ensure that states do not suffer worsening trends of social and environmental norms in the quest to attract business; to prevent companies from making savings on social rights or with respect to the environment ; and lastly to favour the control of the indigenous population over their own resources.

The irony we are faced with today, is that world leaders attend international summits, which make provisions for large sums of money for development, but when a country makes important steps towards developing, we grab the reins. We are witnessing a worldwide scheme which claims to ensure fair rules, yet these rules are basically imposed by the most powerful, who eventually become the only legitimate arbitrators. Thus, the crux of the problem is two-fold : On the one hand, we surely need to elect heads of state, but it is out of the question to envisage democratic control of the heads of the multinationals, who actually have more influence in the international arena. On the other hand, there is also the concern that the big powers will sell their best arms to shady heads of state, who will then turn out to be bloodthirsty dictators, responsible for horrific crimes.

It is also ironic that European public opinion is currently 80% against war on Iraq. If the US are triumphant in war and 'free the Iraqi people' of this awful dictator, all the while distributing chocolate bars and chewing gum on the streets, we will immediately see how wrong it was to support a man like Saddam Hussein. And it is the same 80% of European public opinion that will hail the victory.

(1) Toma, Suhbi, in " Iraq: The victim of oil", an analysis of the harmful effects of the embargo. (Toma is an Iraqi-born sociologist, exiled in France since 1971)