Snowden and the new Empire: John Brown

This is a translation of a post by John Brown, originally published on his site Monday 8th of June.

Snowden breaks cover in Moscow

Snowden and the new Empire

The German magazine Der Spiegel has just published an interview with Edward Snowden in which he declares that despite the official protests over the massive eavesdropping on authorities and citizens of the German Democratic Republic, the country’s authorities not only knew of the eavesdropping but had accepted it. Such was the acceptance that in the new American base planned for construction on German territory in the near future, the United States National Security Agency, where Snowden worked, would have an eavesdropping centre. It is very likely that further revelations from Snowden will indicate very similar situations in other European Union countries. Hidden behind the -moderately- scandalised declarations of certain European leaders with regard to the NSA’s eavesdropping, there is a type of relation with the United States that has nothing to do with the one that operates between sovereign States.

Beyond the formal abnormality of eavesdropping on citizens and authorities, which simultaneously violates the national sovereignty of States and the constitutional rights of citizens, there is a new post-sovereign constitution based on unilateral transparency. The United States has, in effect, the right to obtain data on European citizens and authorities, without this transparency operating in a reciprocal manner. This means that the North American State, specifically its executive and its intelligence services, exercise sovereign prerogatives on European soil with neither limit nor reciprocity. This was made very clear, by the way, when -also in relation to the Snowden case- the Spanish minister for foreign affairs José Manuel García Margallo justified prohibiting the presidential plane of Evo Morales from flying over Spanish airspace with the argument that “they told us [Snowden] was on the plane”. Thus it only takes a signal from the CIA or the NSA for States such as the Spanish State to act as enforcers for the North American executive.

The situation described by Snowden in his interview; reactions of automatic obedience such as that of minister Maragallo; and even other episodes worthy of a farce such as that of the Spanish ambassador in Vienna proposing Evo Morales and he should have coffee in his presidential plane to “take a quick look”, are all testimony to the fact that beyond the formal constitutions of our States, there operates a material constitution that has little to do with the former. Modern States are based, as we know, in a principle of internal and external sovereignty that serves as a base for their internal ordering and their relations with other States. External sovereignty demands that other States recognise a given State as the power that exercises exclusive administrative control of a territory. Internal sovereignty, from Bodin onward, makes the sovereign the exclusive holder of political authority and legislative power in a given territory. The entire system of democratic guarantees in liberal States is based on these two principles, since if a State cannot exercise its sovereignty in its territory, nor can it guarantee the freedoms and rights of its citizens. The North American spying revealed by Snowden are a clear case of simultaneous violation of the state sovereignty of European States -and of the weak quasi-federal entity that is the European Union- and of the civil rights of citizens.

From a material point of view, beyond the formalities of international and constitutional law, it has been some time since the sovereign order -whose main features we have just outlined- went out of date. Robert Cooper, one of the advisers to Tony Blair who did most to defend the invasion of Iraq -and who was subsequently advisory to Javier Solana in his role as High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and is today a European External Action Service counsellor- explained this situation in daylight clear terms in 2002 article published in The Observer with the eloquent title “Why we still need empires“. In this text, Cooper claims that after the fall of the major European empires that divided the world among themselves and the end of the imperial divide of the Cold War, we find:

“two new types of state. First, there are pre-modern states – often former colonies – whose failures have led to a Hobbesian war of all against all: countries such as Somalia and, until recently, Afghanistan. Second, there are post-imperial, postmodern states which no longer think of security primarily in terms of conquest. A third kind are the traditional ‘modern’ states such as India, Pakistan or China which behave as states always have, following interest, power and raison d’état .”

Cooper goes on to claim that

“The postmodern system in which we Europeans live does not rely on balance; nor does it emphasise sovereignty or the separation of domestic and foreign affairs. The European Union has become a highly developed system for mutual interference in each other’s domestic affairs, right down to beer and sausages.”

For the purposes of accuracy, one would have to add freedoms and rights to “beer and sausages”, since the States of the EU have between them abolished -among other rights- the right to asylum, and they have automated and greatly simplified processes of extradition.

Facing this “club of friends” composed of the EU and other “postmodern” States such as the United States and Japan, there is a dark outside world where the same rules do not apply and against which, according to Cooper, we

“have to to start to get used to double standards”.

If the decolonisation that put an end to the European colonial empires in the 1960s had recognised the equality of all States as sovereign States, this equality is now questioned from the old colonial powers: the idea of universal international law disappears in favour of the “double standard”. This duality of norms is described in the following -crude- terms:

“Among ourselves, we operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security. But, when dealing with old-fashioned states outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era – force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself.”

Imperial violence and illegality thus continue as guiding principles, when faced with the premodern and modern world. Hence Cooper proposes, so as to stabilise the situation, a new imperial order in which postmodern countries, like the “white man” of yesteryear, assume their “responsibilities” in overseeing more primitive peoples.

Nonetheless, the liquidation of the legal order does not stop at the borders of the postmodern world. The European States also have their internal hierarchies, as can be seen in the current treatment of the debt of countries of the south of Europe, but, above all, they are all subject to the North American hegemonic power, whose orders, even administrative or policing ones, acquire rank and force of law. Thus there exists what Cooper calls a “voluntary imperialism” with institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, which also decide on the fate of developed countries, but what Cooper’s discourse hides is the deep asymmetry of the relation with the United States. Transparency, for the United States, is merely unilateral: they, as effective sovereign of this fictitious postmodern world, have full right to monitor administrations and persons in Europe and they have this right with full recognition and full acceptance of the European authorities. In this way, the quasi-totalitarian policy of mass spying on communications -which has been practised by the US in recent decades and which far surpasses that of the Stasi in the German Democratic Republic- can be extended into Europe. What is more, it can even be extended to the public authorities of European States, which are prepared, in the name of ‘transparency’  and ‘trust’ between allies, to allow themselves to be spied on, perhaps to thereby show their absolute fidelity to the only sovereign that they recognise. Gramsci said that liberalism commits a theoretical error and fools us when it makes us believe it is civil society and the market that decide: “since in actual reality civil society and state are one and the same, it must be made clear that laissez-faire too is a form of state ‘regulation’, introduced and maintained by legislative and coercive means. It is a deliberate policy, conscious of its own ends, and not the spontaneous, automatic expression of economic facts”.  (Q13 §18, pp.1589-1590).

Globalised liberalism needs a sovereign too: in the majority of countries this sovereign is the United States. Perhaps to get rid of it -and of neoliberalism- as many Latin American countries have begun to do, there is a need to create new forms of sovereignty based on a federal European democracy of the commons. Neoliberalism imposes property above the commons, but the creation of Europe as a federal and democratic reality cannot be based on a capitalist property over which only a sovereign foreign power may stand guard, but in the development of productive material and ‘immaterial’ European commons that already exist. Our freedom, and the possibility -presently blocked- for everyone to have access to decent living conditions, depend on it.

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