Archive for May, 2011

Maintaining leadership

May 30, 2011

The US Secretary of State’s budget-request speech before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March was, as might have been expected, tedious and slow going.

Her remarks on funding for climate-change programmes, therefore, were calculated (42 minutes in) to straighten her audience’s back and command its attention:

We have a lot of support in the Pacific Ocean region. A lot of those small countries have voted with us in the United Nations.

They are stalwart American allies. They embrace our values… [and] we are in a competition for influence with China.

I’ll just be  let’s put aside the moral, humanitarian, do-good side of what we believe in, and let’s just talk, you know, straight Realpolitik.

We are in a competition with China.

Take Papua New Guinea, huge energy find, to go to one of Senator Lugar’s very strong points. ExxonMobil is producing it [LNG]. China is in there every day in every way trying to figure out how it’s going to come in behind us, come in under us.

They’re supporting the dictatorial regime that unfortunately is now in charge of Fiji.

They have brought all of the leaders of these small Pacific nations to Beijing, wined them and dined them.

I mean, if anybody thinks that our retreating on these issues is somehow going to be irrelevant to the maintenance of our leadership in a world where we are competing with China that is a mistaken notion.

With the obvious proviso that no public pronouncement, whatever the official’s apparent candour, can be taken as a straightforward expression of private opinions and strategic priorities  as though arcana imperii were artlessly disclosed without heed to audience or consequences here some conclusions may safely be drawn.

Washington is indeed disturbed by Beijing’s ability to exert political influence, and meet other objectives, through the offer of credit and provision of funds to states in the southwest Pacific and elsewhere.

Take the US diplomatic cable dated 19 June 2009, sent out of Beijing, and titled ‘PRC/SOUTH PACIFIC: INTERNATIONAL ISOLATION OF REGIME IN FIJI AN OPPORTUNITY FOR CHINA’.

A Fijian embassy official in Beijing, the State Department contact Filipe Alifereti, confided that Chinese economic and development assistance (both ‘project assistance’ and cash grants, including one of 10 million RMB) had won it a degree of influence among the Fijian elite.

Beijing, he claimed, ‘valued Fiji as a useful transit point and for its proximity to important shipping lanes’:

Beijing was privately candid about linking development assistance and economic engagement with “guaranteed” political support on issues of interest to China…

Alifereti asserted that there was little need for the Chinese to push directly for political support from Fiji on issues of Chinese interest, because such support was “guaranteed” and China’s interests were well-understood by Suva.  He indicated that such political support was a simple consequence of the enormous economic influence China had on the island.

In addition to assistance, trade and investment ties, the Chinese government was providing Fijian government officials with training on a range of skills in China, Alifereti reported. This included training military officials, a practice that began after the 2006 coup, he added.

The influence in regional capitals of China’s foreign ministry and Navy  and investment abroad by its companies acquiring productive assets in strategic industries  has grown sharply in recent years.

This blog has shown previously the disquiet this has prompted in the chancelleries of Washington, Canberra and elsewhere, provoking figures charged with strategic policymaking, and alarming media commentators and academic theorists.

While vexation is commonly voiced, a quick glance at a map does not show obvious reason for their unease. The US Navy retains unchallenged dominance of regional sealanes, its Pacific fleet graciously accommodated in ports from Okinawa to New Zealand. The US Treasury and State Department’s influence over local authorities is, likewise, seemingly boundless.

Yet recent regime change in Timor-Leste, military intervention in the Solomon Islands and attempted isolation of the Fijian leadership has not succeeded in maintaining the existing power balance in the southwest Pacific, responsibility for which had been delegated by Washington to the Australian deputy sheriff.

Thus, newspapers have reported that the Dili government’s dispute with Australian firm Woodside Petroleum over the Sunrise natural-gas processing plant could see the international treaty governing development of the offshore field overturned before development ever begins.

At the July 2009 ASEAN summit, one month after the above diplomatic cable was sent to Washington, Canberra and Wellington, Secretary Clinton declared that ‘the United States is back’ in the East Asia-Pacific region.

This return has been accompanied by a characteristic mode of public-diplomatic presentation, repeated faithfully in the newspapers.

As Clinton’s Senate testimony makes clear, officials denounce what they see (or affect to see) as the Beijing elite’s search for a Platz an der Sonne (often described in these very words), including naval expansion and quest for secure energy supplies.

This, the US and their allies tremble, will inevitably lead the Chinese leadership to naked aggression, just as it did for Wilhelmine Germany at the dawn of the twentieth century.

The historical comparison is regularly made.

“The Next Empire”, a 2010 article in The Atlantic, described Chinese outward investment in copper mines and railways in Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other parts of southern Africa:

The truest intellectual forerunner of China’s strategy seems to be a plan once pursued by Germany. Before its defeat in World War I, Germany’s leaders had dreamed of a continental empire, a Mittelafrika stitched together by railways stretching from Dar es Salaam to the Atlantic Ocean…

Germany’s railway schemes were driven by intense competition with Britain. Although China may claim to be a new kind of power, its plans, too, have always had a strategic component, including rivalry with the West, and lately a desire to circumvent the regional economic powerhouse, South Africa, and ultimately control the markets for key African minerals.

But the comparison is not apt.

What is described both by Clinton, in her Senate testimony, in The Atlantic article, and in a April 2011 report by the Lowy Institute on loans to Pacific countries, is Chinese export of funds and the acquisition of stocks of foreign productive assets, which then allows Beijing to exert political influence and meet strategic objectives.

This practice of net capital export is only open to countries, such as China and Germany, that persistently export more commodities than they import and run a surplus on the current account.

But this prerequisite was not met by the Kaiser’s Germany, which had balance of payments difficulties. It was because the gaining of influence through capital export was closed as a policy option that genteel figures like Bethmann Hollweg resorted to aggression and the seizure of territory.

In the decades before the First World War, Imperial Germany sought to add Angola and Mozambique to its existing territorial holdings in Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Namibia, Kamerun and Togoland.

At the time Angola and Mozambique were Portuguese possessions. But the Portuguese government was massively in debt. In order to secure loans from foreign creditors, it was willing to put up its African colonies as security.

The deepest capital markets in those days were in London and Paris. In 1898 and again after 1911, Whitehall and the Wilhelmstrasse secretly negotiated to partition Portugal’s African possessions between themselves in the event of a default. (More recently the crippled Portuguese state has been bailed out in return for agreeing to privatize state assets.)

But in the first event Lisbon’s finances recovered, and in the second case agreement could not be reached.

Germany was left empty-handed, powerless to act alone (the British Foreign Office had understandably been less eager to conclude a deal).

To the east, as well, stakes in the Ottoman Public Debt were mostly held by French and British creditors, granting the Quai d’Orsay and Whitehall strategic influence.

Thus the Ottoman Finance Minister reported to the German Ambassador that ‘Germany could not expect to be treated the same as France. The latter had, through the granting of the loan, saved Turkey from a desperate situation while Germany, the power on which Turkey had placed all her hopes, had failed her completely, not only financially but also politically.’

Ultimately, access to Persian, Mesopotamian and Caucasian oil rested on this.

Before the Great War broke out, Deutsche Bank and the construction firm Philipp Holzmann AG had reported an ‘unavoidable breakdown of negotiations’ in extending the existing Berlin-Constantinople railway to Baghdad.

The outline concession for the project had been granted in 1899, and in 1903 a supplementary agreement allowed construction to extend to Basra, with the German firms granted authority to make exploratory bores for oil, and given options on confirmed discoveries around Mosul. The line was to be built in separate 200 kilometre sections.

But by 1913 Germany’s financial resources were such that it could not support completion of this project while also pursuing Ottoman-Balkan deals to supply arms, develop civilian and military port facilities, etc. The steel and armaments firm Krupp could not raise a loan for a planned Ottoman-Bulgarian arms deal on the Berlin market while Deutsche Bank refinanced its work on the Mesopotamian railway.

Britain and France, with their more liquid money markets, were able to produce funds for loans, German influence thereby losing out irretrievably.

Thus, in the years before war broke out, Turkish battleships were built in British shipyards by firms such as Vickers (two super-dreadnoughts, due for delivery in August 1914, were famously confiscated by the First Lord of the Admiralty). Meanwhile British leverage over the Porte’s public finances assisted the rise of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which together with part-British firm Royal Dutch/Shell secured control over Persian and Mesopotamian oil.

The same was true for achieving Rathenau’s strategic goal of a Mitteleuropa, set out as war aims in the September programme: Belgium ceding to Germany a coastal strip on the North Sea, the Netherlands annexed, France subordinated (with the Longwy-Briey iron-ore basin seized) and Russia’s European territory turned over.

This subordination of the European economy to German strategic imperatives (which has since been achieved peacefully) could not, at the time, be accomplished except by force.

So in general there seems to be an inverse relation between capital export and naked aggression. The latter is the policy resorted to when economic influence wanes or is no longer sufficient to keep out competitors.

Today, as Clinton’s opening remark makes clear, this describes the condition of the United States, which has become a net borrower, unable to pay for its imports with matching exports. Its political leadership, and the propertied classes that control it, must therefore rely on coercive means to preserve their international position relative to rival firms and territorial states.

The latter, on the other hand, can go on achieving export surpluses, with a corresponding buildup of overseas assets and supplicant borrowers, granting them ‘guaranteed political support on issues of interest.’

This does take a peculiar form.

Since many US and European manufacturers have shifted production to low-wage China, and the material form taken by the Chinese export surplus is primarily consumer goods, Chinese capital cannot be exported to the US or Europe productively, i.e. as intermediate or capital goods.

And US firms (e.g. Walmart) and their subsidiaries do own foreign assets in China. They may own plant outright, or hold controlling shares in plant, employ workers in Chinese factories, hire equipment, etc. But the stock of buildings and machinery for these factories hasn’t been manufactured in the US then shipped over. It has, by and large, been produced in China, as have the consumer goods that make up the real wage of the workers employed in these factories.

And, because the US runs a net trade deficit, the local currency necessary to purchase these assets is not obtained from the Yuan receipts of US firms exporting to China. Instead it is converted from dollars which are taken on as IOUs by the Chinese central bank, with these holdings then converted into US government assets, financing the arms expenditure of the Pentagon.

Chinese capital export to the US and Europe thus takes the unproductive form of credit, financing public spending and funding household loans to allow purchases of Chinese consumer-good exports. (Due to this, and to the advent of funded pension schemes, US financial markets remain by far the world’s largest and most liquid).

But there is export of productive capital assets, too. Aside from high-profile cases like Lenovo’s takeover of IBM’s PC division, this has been concentrated in strategic raw materials, and thus towards acquisition of assets in countries like Kazakhstan, Iran, Sudan, Zambia, Australia, Indonesia, Venezuela and (following Sinopec’s purchase of Addax Petroleum) Nigeria.

In short, Chinese firms can finance their railways and mines in southern Africa, and Beijing can afford infrastructure projects in Timor-Leste and the ‘wining and dining’ of people like Frank Bainimarama, in ways that the German Empire could not.

Washington, on the other hand  to ‘maintain its leadership’ and prevent its rivals ‘coming in behind and under’ it  must rely on force.

In the First World War, as now, the grand strategic prizes did not lay in the deserts of the Kalahari, the swamplands of the Caprivi, or even the more mineral-rich territory of southern Africa.

They dwelt in Persian Khuzestan (where in recent years the Chinese National Petroleum Company and Sinopec have negotiated production licences with the Tehran government), the oilfields around Basra (where the largest fields are allocated to ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and CNPC, remaining stakes are divided between mostly British, Dutch and US firms, but where more importantly the US has 50 000 troops, in addition to its various garrisons dotted around the Arabian peninsula), and the Caucasus and Caspian Basin (where the discovery of Tenghiz and Kashagan has raised the stakes, where NATO has recently intruded, which region is subject more generally to Russian-US strategic manoeuvring, e.g. in Georgia and Chechnya, and where, finally, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is something to watch).

It is in these territories that the State Department and the Pentagon have been most eager to plant occupation forces, establish large bases and overthrow governments.

Before this brazen and lawless Drang nach Osten, Beijing’s reliance on dollar diplomacy and penetration through loans and capital export can seem strategically unshrewd and hopelessly effete, much as the British and French political class and military High Commands once appeared mysteriously deferential and transfixed, during the first half of the twentieth century, by the expansionism, spiked helmets, and Nietzschean grandeur of their counterparts in the German Reich.

By extending hundreds of billions of dollars in credit, while the Pentagon undertakes its wars and ‘limited kinetic actions’ throughout the geostrategic Heartland of the World-Island, aren’t the Bank of China, the Chinese state and the Chinese capitalist class merely funding their own strategic encirclement?

Yes, but the overriding aim for the moment seems to be obtaining technical know-how through compulsory technology transfer.

The key concern here, it seems, is in developing a domestic industrial base to allow production of Beijing’s own aircraft carriers (the nearly-complete Shi Lang is a refitted Russian purchase), carrier-based fighter aircraft (the new J-15), and ballistic-missile submarines (of which the PLAN still has limited numbers). Today this level of naval development (i.e. being able domestically to build fleets of capital ships from which expeditionary air power can be projected) is a necessary attribute of a first-rate imperial power.

Only once this capacity is achieved, presumably, will the strategic middlegame be over, a prospect, properly considered, which ought to inspire dread.


The demands of war

May 25, 2011

At Nuremberg, judges acquitted Hjalmar Schacht (President of the Reichsbank and Hitler’s Economics Minister) of participating in the Nazi conspiracy to wage aggressive war. 

Exculpation rested on a kind of ‘double-effect’ justification. Schacht was held to have voluntarily performed actions – floating government securities used to fund re-armament – which had as a foreseeable consequence an increase in Germany’s capacity for crimes against peace. But he was held not to have intended that this specific consequence should come about.

In turn the plausibility of this defence rested on Schacht’s having been removed from his position by Hitler in 1939. Schacht had protested when Hitler’s Finance Ministry exceeded its agreed level of borrowing. In a kind of before-its-time concession to today’s Maastricht conditions, he refused to let the central bank re-finance government debt. It was this fiscal orthodoxy (born, no doubt, of the 1920s) that saved Schacht’s neck in 1945:

After Goering’s appointment, Schacht and Goering promptly became embroiled in a series of disputes. Although there was an element of personal controversy running through these disputes, Schacht disagreed with Goering on certain basic policy issues. Schacht, on financial grounds, advocated a retrenchment in the rearmament programme, opposed as uneconomical much of the proposed expansion of production facilities, particularly for synthetics, urged a drastic tightening on government credit and a cautious policy in dealing with Germany’s foreign exchange reserves. As a result of this dispute and of a bitter argument in which Hitler accused Schacht of upsetting his plans by his financial methods, Schacht went on leave of absence from the Ministry of Economics on 5th September, 1937, and resigned as Minister of Economics and as Plenipotentiary General for War Economy on 16th November, 1937.

As President of the Reichsbank, Schacht was still involved in disputes. Throughout 1938, the Reichsbank continued to function as the financial agent for the German Government in floating long-term loans to finance armaments. But on 31st March, 1938, Schacht discontinued the practice of floating short-term notes guaranteed by the Reichsbank for armament expenditures. At the end of 1938, in an attempt to regain control of fiscal policy through the Reichsbank, Schacht refused an urgent request of the Reichsminister of Finance for a special credit to pay the salaries of civil servants which were not covered by existing funds. On 2nd January, 1939, Schacht held a conference with Hitler at which he urged him to reduce expenditures for armaments. On 7th January, 1939, Schacht submitted to Hitler a report signed by the Directors of the Reichsbank which urged a drastic curtailment of armament expenditures and a balanced budget as the only method of preventing inflation. On 19th January, Hitler dismissed Schacht as President of the Reichsbank.

Today, the world’s chief belligerent power faces no spending or balance-of-payments constraints, whatever Congressional demagogues may tell the public.

The Pentagon’s annual $US800 billion-or-so budget is made possible by an international financial system running on the US Treasury-bill Standard, in which Washington borrows abroad in its domestic currency, and where, in consequence, servicing overseas liabilities represents no more of a challenge than does domestic debt. Around two-thirds of US government debt is held, as a long-term investment, by foreign central banks and their associated sovereign-wealth funds. Even if the Federal Reserve refused, in a fit of conservative pique, to monetize the fiscal deficit, these foreign central banks would continue happily to do so.

There does exist, however, a real constraint on US military spending and government arms procurement. To see why, it’s necessary to consider the economic nature of the defence/military industries.

An economy can be partitioned into a basic sector (made up of all industries whose output is technically necessary, in that their goods provide material inputs for a wide range of other activities) and a non-basic sector (output of which does not feed back into production of other goods, or which only enters into production of other non-basic goods). This non-basic sector exists by the support of the physical surplus product of the basic sector. The latter sets an upper limit on the material product available for unproductive purposes, such as armament production.

This is why, speaking generally, conflicts involving force or the threat of force are resolved to the advantage of that contending party which can produce and mobilize a larger freely disposable surplus available to be squandered on the demands of war.

Take the typical production process of a federal-government-contracted armaments firm like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, United Technologies, Raytheon, British Aerospace, etc. The output of these military producers typically takes the form of weapons, munitions, armour, vehicles and warplanes, etc. These latter goods do not enter, directly or indirectly, as inputs into production of other goods. They do not add to the economy’s productive capacity or stock of accumulated wealth, being merely destructive (i.e. they don’t persist over time or enter into future rounds of production). They do not enter into the consumption bundle of the working population and its dependents (i.e. they don’t make up part of the real wage).

Suppose that, due to some advantageous new invention or design at Skunk Works, an assembly line or production unit at Lockheed now produces more output with the same inputs or uses less input for the same output. This increased efficiency does not flow on to reduce the cost of producing anything else. (It’s true that some intermediate components of defence/military producers may have alternative non-military purposes, e.g. a turbofan jet, produced by a Boeing, Pratt & Whitney or a Rolls-Royce, can be installed in a military fighter or in a passenger aircraft, in which latter case it enters into the wage bundle. By contributing to reproduction of the employed population this output therefore is productive).

But armaments production does require, as an indirect input, a bundle of consumption goods (necessary to feed and clothe the workers of the company, plus upkeep of the administrators), plus as direct inputs some capital goods (buildings and equipment), raw-material resources, etc.

The size of this military/defence industry is thus limited by the magnitude of the surplus created in the basic sector (i.e. the wage goods and capital goods industries), a fraction of which enters as a material input into the former’s production and without which surplus it, accordingly, could not exist.

In procuring the output of defence contractors, the Pentagon thus appropriates part of the US’s surplus product (economic output over and above that necessary to reproduce the domestic working population, its dependents or the country’s productive capacity).

As a net creditor, it also appropriates part of the surplus product of other economies. China’s positive balance with the US in merchandise trade (along with that of other big exporting countries like Japan and Germany) represents a free transfer of part of the East Asian country’s surplus product. The flipside to this subsidy is the accumulation of dollar holdings by the state banks of these exporting countries. China and Japan alone hold over $2 trillion in US Treasury securities.

Note that this process is self-reinforcing. The more of the surplus product allocated to unproductive activities like weapons manufacture, the more the investment fund is drained, contributing to a rundown of the US capital stock, and exacerbating the US’s chronic current-account deficit and other global macroeconomic imbalances.

Meanwhile persistent positive balances on their external accounts allow the surplus countries to exert political influence through the offer of credit and building up their stock of foreign assets, i.e. capital export, as for example Beijing currently does throughout southern Africa, and as Japan did throughout southeast Asia during the 1980s. If its international position relative to its rivals is not to decline, this leaves Washington with little strategic recourse than naked military aggression, seizure of territory rich in energy resources and raw materials, etc.

Update: None of this means that expenditure by the state on weapons production and research, and the technical innovation that results, does not regularly find civilian applications and productive spinoffs. The example most readily brought to mind is the role in developing the Internet of DARPA, the successor to military-funded “Big Science”, which emerged under the stewardship of Vannevar Bush during WW2 and the Cold War, and which allowed carryover into various commercial domains. A recent post on this blog discussed the links between armament producers, educational institutions, federal agencies and armed services, and private firms in the home-entertainment and consumer-electronics industry. The Orlando research park can be added to the United States’ other better-known clusters of aerospace/ICT/engineering/high-tech R&D: northern California, North Carolina, Boston and the Baltimore-Washington-Arlington metro centre. In general, it’s impossible to miss the extraordinary proportion of social activity (and the dependence of the most capital-intensive, high-tech sectors of the US economy) on the Security State, especially in the Sun Belt.

This kind of spatial concentration and proximity of private firms and military agencies has an orthodox theoretical explanation. It is interpreted by Paul Krugman and the ‘New Economic Geography’ as a matter of increasing returns to scale due to ‘knowledge spillovers’ and ‘agglomeration economies’ (an emergent macro outcome of decisions by individual producers, who each chose locations thanks to existing specialised labour markets and reduced transport costs).

Military production is very susceptible to technical advance. But when assessing whether or not the military is the cradle of capitalist innovation, we must keep two things in mind. The first is the ‘productivity paradox’ observed by Robert Solow and others, i.e. that the introduction of computers did not appear to make a measurable contribution to economy-wide productivity. This empirical example illustrates the general point that very salient technical advances may have little impact on an economy’s productive capacity if  the technology is used, or the increased efficiency occurs, mostly in the non-basic sector. The second point is one about opportunity cost. Great concentrations of engineering and scientific talent employed by the US armed forces, intelligence agencies and military contractors may produce innovations that, sometimes and in a roundabout fashion, can be applied commercially. But suppose these same workers were re-deployed in civilian R&D and directed towards productivity improvements in consumer goods or machinery. In such a case, how much greater would be the level of technical advance and the long-run improvement in material living standards? This conditional counterfactual can be illustrated by comparing the actual contemporary US to its ‘nearest possible worlds’, namely the advanced economies of Japan and Germany, which since the Second World War have been under the US security umbrella, and which consequently have spent little on armaments. The productive capacity of each country has grown more swiftly than that of the US. 

Finally, none of this should be taken to suggest that high military spending is in some sense dysfunctional or unpropitious for US capitalism. Recall that deductions from the social surplus product (e.g. military expenditure, but also other kinds of unproductive consumption such as the advertising industry, finance, legal services, public administration, luxuries, etc.) mean that less can be spent on investment, prompting slower growth in the stock of fixed capital, and thus, ceteris paribus, higher profit rates. Here, again, stagnating Japan can serve as the example.

Ordinary language

May 19, 2011

N-gram viewer lets you check the usage frequency of written terms (relative abundance, i.e. number of instances of a given n-gram or string of characters in a particular year divided by total number of words used in a sample of books published in that year, with a single word being a one-gram) found in millions of digitized books, in several languages, during a specified time period.

Thus you can observe grammatical changes over centuries: for example, the gradual movement of a verb from commonly having an irregular conjugation (e.g. burnt as past tense of burn) to a regular one (burned).

You can also see how historical-political change is reflected in the written lexicon.

No need for use of a term specifying a movement or ideology that is defeated, vanished or as-yet undreamt of (or is that undreamed?). On the other hand, being talk of the town may be a sign of social ascendancy.

Observe (o tempora o mores!) the following plots in English, French and Spanish:

Usage of the German Sozialismus is not comparable over the same timescale, for obvious reasons; but restricted to post-WW2 years it exhibits the same general trend, with use of the word peaking around 1980. Same for Kommunismus.

The emergence of Minsky’s money-manager capitalism also shows up:

How ‘traditional’ is the owner, and how universal is property?

The nation:

Pop-academia-derived buzzwords like paradigm show up:


A poser

May 17, 2011

Having been asked to comment on the Bin Laden assassination, Benjamin Ferencz (a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials) ends his interview with CBC radio by describing the US state elite’s turn towards strategic criminality (see last two decades, passim).

This, he makes clear, consists not merely (or mostly) of using roaming extra-territorial hit squads, a bit of the old non-judicial detention, attempted assassination of political leaders (e.g. Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein), and a sensitive new (post-speech-in-Cairo?) commitment to the traditional Islamic burial rite of Ståplats i Nybroviken.

Ho hum.

The assessment rests, rather, on culpability for crimes against peace, i.e. belligerence to advance policy objectives, viz. yer actual hanging offence c. 1945:

I’m afraid most of the lessons of Nuremberg have passed. Unfortunately, the world has accepted them but the United States seems reluctant to do so.

The principal lesson we learned from Nuremberg is that a war of aggression  that means, a war in violation of international law, in violation of the UN charter, and not in self-defense  is the supreme international crime, because all the other crimes happen in war. And every leader who is responsible for planning and perpetrating that crime should be held to account in a court of law, and the law applies equally to everyone.

These lessons were hailed throughout the world  I hailed them, I was involved in them  and it saddens me no end when Americans are asked: why don’t you support the Nuremberg principles on aggression? 

And the response is: Nuremberg? That was then; this is now. Forget it.

As previously discussed on this blog, various court philosophers have been complicit in the diminishing of aggressive war’s status as ‘the supreme international crime’ (the phrase dates from the Nuremberg judgements themselves), e.g. by re-casting it as an auxiliary offence (i.e. one with no distinct independent existence) conditional on the prior or concurrent commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity, or by shrugging it off as hopelessly indefinable.

Among these are numbered not just straightforward regime stooges like Bernard-Henri Lévy, but more ‘serious’ scholarly figures like Jürgen Habermas and Larry May.

To this list of the culpable may be added a mainstream media that has, with no great subtlety, deliberately cultivated a war-loving Sammlungspolitik amongst the broader US population, with ‘reporters’ from Entertainment Tonight unaccountably visiting training facilities at Fort Irwin for fawning photo ops, and professional sportsmen such as LeBron James and Lance Armstrong conscripted into the post-OBL-death celebrations.

How is one to understand this situation, in which rules set up over centuries to govern lawful international conduct have been trumped by some perceived imperative or strategic emergency (which ’emergency’, on any fact-sensitive assessment, plainly does not resemble the official line about terrorist threats or humanitarian crises)?

Liberal analysts like Glenn Greenwald, whose column in Salon has valiantly tracked the bipartisan criminalization of the US political class (it’s where I found the Ferencz interview), offer no adequate way of interpreting it, outside of vague mutterings about the Mil-Ind Complex, the National-Security-&-Surveillance State, etc.

I know I do harp on about this, and frankly it’s all a little downbeat and something one attends to only grudgingly.

But it’s a reasonably pertinent question: just what do non-radical folks think the boys in Washington, and their allies, are up to with this routine (i.e. overthrowing governments in various energy-rich regions and disposing of their leaders in more-or-less mobsterish fashion, establishing and retaining military garrisons close to key infrastructure, ensuring that successor regimes have various desirable characteristics, wiping out and mutilating people in huge numbers, not to mention the whole arbitrary-detention-and-torture business)?

It’s happening, right?

So what are they so-to-speak getting at?