Enforcers for the global 1 percent

January 5, 2012

Eric Ruder looks at who's coming to Chicago in May--and what they have planned.

IN MID-MAY, Chicago will host the elite of the global elite.

The heads of state from the Group of Eight (G8) club of powerful governments will meet side by side with the world's most powerful military alliance, right in the heart of a major American city.

Not since 1977 in London have the G8 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) met in the same city. Not since its 2001 meeting in Genoa, Italy, drew some 200,000 protesters and Italian police killed demonstrator Carlo Giuliani has the G8 dared to meet in an area accessible to protesters, preferring instead remote locations that could be sealed off from the world.

The other backdrop to the joint meeting is the rise of an international resistance--from the revolutionary struggles in the Arab world, to the revolt against austerity in Europe and the upsurge of the Occupy movement in the U.S.--to precisely the agenda that NATO and the G8 will try to advance when they meet from May 19 to 21.

Already, activists--from Chicago, across the U.S. and around the world--are planning how they can raise their voices. There will be marches against NATO's plans for militarization; actions to oppose the G8's program of bailouts, privatization and austerity; and a People's Summit (most likely the weekend of May 12-13) where we can put forward our own alternatives of a world of peace and equality, instead of war and want.

Top officials pose at 2011's G8 summit in France
Top officials pose at 2011's G8 summit in France

But the enforcers for the global 1 percent are also preparing--for repression. Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel is bending Chicago's laws without regard to the rights of protest and free speech, and the federal government is planning a militarized state of siege in an effort to squash dissent.

BOTH NATO and the G8 have transformed themselves in the years since they were founded as the needs and interests of the world's most powerful countries have evolved.

In late December, Admiral James Stavridis, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, declared, "As I look back on 2011, I think we had a reasonably good year in the operational sense."

This assessment defies reason. A few weeks earlier, NATO air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, supposed allies of NATO in its war on Afghanistan, triggering rage across Pakistan, further straining U.S.-Pakistani relations and prompting Pakistan's closure of NATO's critical supply routes to landlocked Afghanistan.

Of course, Stavridis would prefer to focus on the "successes" of NATO's operations in Afghanistan. He claims that roughly 50 percent of Afghanistan has been returned to control by Afghan security forces, with NATO troops playing "a support, mentorship, and training role" in these areas.

But now that Afghanistan has become the longest war in U.S. history, this doesn't seem like much to gloat about--especially considering the costs: more than 10,000 Afghan civilians killed since 2007, nearly 3,000 NATO troops dead, and a price tag approaching half a trillion dollars for U.S. taxpayers alone.

Then there was NATO's seven-month air war on Libya that involved 26,000 sorties to destroy some 6,000 targets. NATO's rationale for intervening was to target the dictatorship of Muammar el-Qaddafi, but the real reason was to give Western powers a foothold in the region with which to control Libya's oil resources and curb the unfolding events of the Arab Spring.

Even defenders of NATO have raised doubts about why and whether the alliance--whose original mandate was to provide for mutual self-defense of Western Europe and the United States in the event of an attack on any member nation--should engage in military operations in North Africa and Asia that have nothing to do with self-defense.

But in the aftermath of the Cold War, the U.S. has worked to repurpose NATO to help it pursue its own imperial interests.

NATO was founded in the wake of the Second World War in order to, in the words of its first Secretary General Lord Ismay, "keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down." The U.S. wanted NATO to draw together allies under a security umbrella for the stand-off with the USSR, but also to provide a counterbalance against a possible resurgence of Germany.

According to its own self-defense mandate, NATO should have been disbanded with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Instead, the U.S. and other Western European powers sought to enlarge NATO to include countries that were formerly part of the Eastern bloc.

Today, NATO countries collectively account for more than 70 percent of world military spending, with the U.S. alone at nearly half--begging the question of who NATO is defending itself from?

But this is exactly the point. After "testing" NATO's military capabilities in the 1999 war on Yugoslavia, the U.S. has thrust NATO into offensive operations in which imperial aims, such as containing rising powers China and Russia, come into play.

THE GROUP of powerful countries that became the G8 got its start in 1975 in the context of a world oil crisis and global recession. Since then, the G8 heads of state have met annually to spread the gospel of neoliberalism, promoting open markets, privatization of state-run industries and enterprises and curbing environmental safeguards and workers rights in the name of "free trade."

Today, with the eurozone teetering on the edge of collapse and a global economic crisis that has created stubbornly high unemployment rates throughout the industrialized world, the G8 countries are seeking ways out of the economic disaster that began in 2008.

But their solutions are based on trying to offload the costs of the crisis--including the government deficits caused by trillions of dollars in bailouts to the world's largest financial institutions--onto the 99 percent. This means cutting social services like health care and anti-poverty programs, attacking the living standards of public-sector workers, raising the retirement age and privatizing more state enterprises and agencies.

But the leaders of the G8--the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, Russia and Canada--don't just meet to discuss issues relevant to their own populations. They make sweeping decisions--without any justification other than "might makes right"--that affect the entire world.

The annual G8 summit is therefore also a forum for the global elite to plan their use of international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization, to allow for the greatest possible "freedoms" for multinational corporations while imposing neoliberal measures on governments.

Greece and the other financially troubled countries of Europe are merely the latest to receive loans to rescue their economy from ruin--by plunging the 99 percent into poverty, devaluing the life savings of millions of people, and cutting wages.

Some of the G8's many crimes include keeping lifesaving AIDS drugs beyond the reach of millions of poor Africans who will perish without them; opposing climate change measures as "barriers to trade"; and demanding the elimination of agriculture subsidies in poor countries while maintaining them for their own agribusinesses.

The G8 countries, which contain 15 percent of the world's population, but account for more than 60 percent of world economic output, are at the top of the global capitalist food chain, and their leaders are meeting to make sure they stay there--even if it means wrecking the environment and plunging workers and the poor further into misery.

Together, the G8 and NATO help to shape the political and economic framework that social justice activists must challenge. Every dollar earmarked for bank bailouts and bombing runs is a dollar taken away from the possibility of meeting human needs.

Ironically, despite all the violence and misery imposed by these illegitimate and unrepresentative bodies, Chicago political leaders have again and again filled the media with the false claim that those of us committed to exercising our First Amendment rights to protest their plans are the "violent" ones.

Nearly a decade ago, global justice campaigner George Monbiot challenged the "democracy hypocrisy" of the G8 heads of state for their double standards.

"[The G8 countries] leave the rest of the world out of their deliberations," Monbiot wrote in his book The Age of Consent. "They reduce us, in other words, to the mob, and then revile the thing they have created...They, the tiniest and most unrepresentative of the world's minorities, assert a popular mandate they do not possess, then accuse us of illegitimacy."

What could be more legitimate than standing with the rest of humanity against the global 1 percent?

So whether you are concerned about better public education or the crisis of housing foreclosures and evictions, whether you want to confront the climate crisis or end the scourge of war, you have a reason to come to Chicago in May as part of the mobilization to oppose the G8 and NATO.

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