"Tony Blair should be brought before the ICC in the Hague"
November 14, 2007 15:02 | by Kees van der pijl
Political scientist Kees van der Pijl is Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex, England. In his latest book Global rivalries, from the cold war to Iraq, he offers an intriguing analysis of international relations. He views as central the relationship between Anglo-American capitalism and the two powers themselves. Willem Bos, of the Dutch Socialist Party monthly De Tribune, interviewed him about the war in Iraq.
Kees van der Pijl: "Of course the war in Iraq is about oil. But we cannot understand the whole development if we don't look at the relationship between the different parties involved, at the rivalry between on the one side the US and Great Britain and on the other countries such as France and Germany. This is, not coincidentally, the break between what I call the 'core area' - the English-speaking world, with its aggressive neoliberalism that wants to regulate everything via the market - and the more state-oriented countries, France and Germany being two examples. There have long been tensions over oil. When in the 1970s attempts were made to gain access to Arab oil by means of a Euro-Arab dialogue, the US reacted like someone who has been stung by a wasp."
Why has this rivalry come to a head over oil and over Iraq?
Kees van der Pijl: "In order to understand the background to this tension we need to look at the functioning of the international oil market. Oil is traded on the international market in dollars. These are deposited in London and from there spread around the world in the form of credit. In this way Britain and the US have their fingers on the buttons of the world oil trade, both in terms of the currency in which it is traded and via the investment structure. The other - European - countries need dollars in order to pay their energy bill. They can't simply just lay their hands on these. European countries do ninety per cent of their trade within Europe and only ten per cent with parts of the world outside Europe, so dollars don't come to them 'automatically' via trade. They have to be bought, and they're dear. In this way Europe, via its energy bill, constantly helps to keep the dollar strong. Increasingly, as the price of oil increases, Europe tries to find other, cheaper ways to acquire oil. Every time that they do that it leads to major tension with the US and Great Britain. In essence that is what happened on the eve of the Iraq war."
Following the first Gulf War of 1990, the US and Britain had Iraq, by means of economic sanctions, in a stranglehold. These sanctions led to enormous impoverishment and disruption throughout the country. This was why the United Nations established the oil-for-food programme, through which food and medicine were sent to Iraq, but the regime's control of their distribution resulted in the strengthening of Saddam Hussein's position.
Kees van der Pijl:"The sanctions led to a huge disaster for the Iraqi population, while for Saddam they meant only that he had his hands more firmly on the reins. The US and Great Britain continued to support the continuation of the sanctions, but in general the view was that these measures against Iraq had had long enough. Anticipating the ending of sanctions a number of oil companies signed contracts with Saddam's government to renew oil extraction - firms such as the French Total, Russian Lukol and corporations from China, India and Canada. They received contracts to exploit Iraqi oil fields operable as soon as the sanctions were lifted. The assessment of Saddam's politics also played a role. It wasn't, it's true, clear whether Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction, but in general it was assumed that he no longer had the stomach for military adventures."
So the US and Great Britain saw themselves threatened with being sidelined.
Kees van der Pijl: "Exactly. It had become a tricky situation for them. The foreign competition threatened in time to make off with the Iraqi oil and along with that also to put the position of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait under pressure. After all, when as a result of the sanctions Iraqi oil production almost dried up, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait had taken that share of the market. The oil revenues of these countries were used in part to buy American weapons. If the sanctions against Iraq were to be lifted and Iraqi oil production to recommence, they would have to return a part of their market share. Saddam would certainly not be spending his oil revenues on American weapons, but would be going to his traditional suppliers, Russia and France."
The US therefore was thus threatened not only with the loss of control of a part of the oil from the Middle East, but this would also represent a blow to the American arms industry and to the United States' military position in the region. In addition, the stability of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait would be put in jeopardy.
Kees van der Pijl: "This situation was also extremely disquieting for the Israel lobby in the US. It was feared that rising oil prices would bring about a change in attitude in relation to the Arab world - and that in the oil industry as well as in the arms industry sympathy for the Arab world would increase. The Arab countries were after all an increasingly important section of the market. Put all of these factors together, and understand also that Saddam had, as it were, 'threatened' to trade oil in euros, and you will see that there would have been a nervous reaction in London and Washington - Iraq returning to the oil market and the oil neither extracted nor traded by Anglo-American corporations but by companies from France, Russia, China and India. And all of this paid for in euros! This last factor represented a direct threat to the American economy and the position of the London markets. Because an oil-producing country that receives euros for its oil will not of course for preference spend its revenues in the US. Admittedly, none of these developments was complete. It was a matter of tendencies, of developments in a certain direction. But they explain, indeed, how at the end of the 1990s in the US and Britain the idea arose that the situation in Iraq and the Middle East was beginning to slip from their grasp. That was, moreover, not particularly strange, because France and Russia had long been the arms-suppliers and confidants of the Ba'athist régime in Iraq, so for that matter they were simply returning to their former situation, but under, indeed, what were for the Americans extremely unfavourable circumstances."
The American and British attitude to Iraq can therefore, you argue, principally be explained by reference to the struggle to maintain control of the international oil, arms and currency markets?
Kees van der Pijl: "Yes, and over the whole situation in the Middle East. Of course there was also a political-ideological element which played a role in this. The initiative to present the scenario of a doomsday which must be averted came principally from a group of neoconservatives, who, with the coming to power of George Bush, found themselves in a strong position. The key figures in the neoconservative network had already long been active in politics and played a central central role in the so-called oil-arms-Israel conglomerate. The politics of this group were laid down in the Project for a New American Century, which took as its starting-point the idea that the United States must maintain a military ascendancy sufficient to enable it to impose its will on anyone and everyone in the world.
"That is one aspect: a political approach, an ideology, on which is based the idea that America must rule the world and recreate it according to its own interests. The other aspect that determined that there would be war is the oil situation. This was sketched out in May 2001 in a report from vice-president Cheney in which it was foreseen that the American dependence on foreign oil would rise from the then level of 52% to a level of 66% in 2020. In order to ensure that oil would come directly to the US by that time, foreign producers would have to up their production and from this enhanced production also ensure that more was supplied to the US. That would be difficult to reconcile with a situation in which Iraq was producing just for the European market. That whole picture was already clear long before September 11. It's also clear that by then the scenario for an attack on Iraq was already in place. 9-11 gave the Bush administration the chance to carry out that scenario."
What plan did the American have at that time, then, for what would happen after the occupation of Iraq?
After the seizure of Baghdad Bush announced publicly that there would be a free trade treaty between a number of countries in the Middle East, and the US. In this way the US wanted to ensure the flow of the biggest possible slice of the region's oil revenues. It was also the intention that there would be a peace treaty between the new Iraq, Jordan and Israel and that a pipeline would run from Iraq to the Israeli port of Haifa. This would guarantee Israel's oil supply and put an end to the country's isolation in the region. And all of this would completely ignore the Palestinians. Obviously this did not work out. The Americans were not welcomed as liberators, the world turned out not to be as pliable as the neoconservatives had thought. Now the situation in Iraq is desperate. Numerous attacks take place every day. Estimates put the number of people who have fled their homes at four million, the economic situation is catastrophic and the internal struggle is only increasing."
The interviewer goes on to ask Professor van der Pijl what people in their country, the Netherlands, can do about this, but his answer - though it draws attention to the particular relevance of the Netherlands as the home of the International Court - is relevant internationally, particularly perhaps to people, political parties and other organisations in developed countries.
"There is concern about a war without any legal justification. A legal complaint must be made. A party such as yours, such as the Socialist Party of the Netherlands, could play a role in this, if you look at international law and the position of The Hague as what is in fact the judicial capital of the world. America and Israel have not recognised the International Criminal Court (ICC), but the UK has, so Tony Blair could be proceeded against. It makes little sense to call for an enquiry into the Netherlands' involvement in the war (which the SP and others have done - Ed.). I can tell you about that: we are the home port of Shell, we are scared, (the Dutchman) Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is paid for working for NATO (i.e., as Secretary General - Ed.) A child could understand these mechanisms. But why doesn't the SP take the initiative in bringing a complaint against Blair? As a serious parliamentary party the SP could do that. I can give you the names of progressive experts in international law who could explain perfectly what steps would be necessary in order to lodge a complaint against Blair at the ICC."
"Yes. In my book I've devoted a chapter to the history of international law. In Nuremberg, at the trials of the leaders of the Nazi régime and in Tokyo, where Japanese war criminals were tried, they proceeded from an idea that there were three sorts of crime. Crimes against the peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. These crimes against the peace have since been completely forgotten. A crime against the peace is when you attack another country without provocation. For this, Nazis and Japanese were condemned and hanged. It is of the utmost importance that that element of international law is brought back into use. This could occur by means of a case against Blair. This would also be of importance to the SP. The growth of the SP<http://www.spectrezine.org/europe/spnl.htm> is of course an important phenomenon. I see it as a consequence of the mistakes, or if you prefer the treachery, of the (Dutch) Labour Party. But you can't simply continue to build on this for ever. At a certain point the question will be posed - are we merely a left social democratic party or are we more than that? Are we truly going to try something different? A case against Blair could be an example of that."