By Stephen Gowans
In mid-January, former US Chief of Staff General John Shalikashvili and four top military leaders from European Nato countries released a report calling for a new Western military alliance that could act without UN authorization and use nuclear first strikes to prevent other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The generals were justifiably denounced as Drs. Strangelove, but what was missed was the reality that the former military men hadn’t acted on their own, but were brought together to write their report by a think-tank whose board of directors includes chairmen and CEOs of America’s top corporations and investment firms.
The recommendations the generals made were every bit as much those of America’s corporate elite as they were the generals’.
Who rules America?
The American sociologist William Domhoff has spent years asking who rules America?
He thinks he has the answer. America’s rulers, he says, comprise a tiny slice of the US population whose members intermarry, go to the same private schools, join exclusive clubs, travel the world for business and pleasure, and own most of the country’s corporate wealth.
They pursue careers in business, corporate law and finance and sit on the boards of large corporations, head up investment banks, and lead top corporate law firms.
They’re not a cabal issuing secret edicts from behind the scenes but an interconnected group who are keenly aware of their common interests and who use their wealth openly to dominate the political process in legal — and in what most people would consider legitimate — ways.
They hire lobbyists and fund think tanks and foundations to influence public policy.
They employ public relations firms and use their control of the media to shape public opinion.
They provide most of financial backing to the United States’ two major political parties, the Democrats and Republicans.
Top government positions – secretaries of state, defense, treasury and commerce, top diplomats, the top tier of the bureaucracy – are overwhelmingly staffed by members of this tiny, interconnected, group.
Conflicts with organized labor, consumers, and others aren’t always won by this upper class of corporate grandees, but their domination of the political process allows them to come out on top most of the time.
Where money power dominates, public policy tends to be shaped to promote the interests of those with money. Here’s how the upper class uses its money power to shape public policy, according to Domhoff.
o A problem is identified in corporate boardrooms or exclusive clubs.
o The problem is communicated to one of the foundations and think-tanks the upper class finances and directs. These include the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, the Business Council and dozens of others.
o These organizations assemble groups of corporate executives, scholars (1), military officers and government bureaucrats to formulate solutions to the problems the upper class initially identifies in its boardrooms and exclusive clubs.
o The solutions are presented in papers, released to the public and sent to legislatures, where they are transformed into legislation, or to government departments to be enacted by executive order.
The upper class’s policy recommendations are often accepted by legislators and government officials. Top government officials almost always belong to, or are indebted to, the upper class. Legislators rely on upper class support to get elected, and to receive lucrative corporate lobbying or executive positions after politics.
Domhoff argues that political parties aren’t vehicles for formulating policy, but serve the purpose of selecting ambitious exhibitionists as candidates who can be relied on, if elected, to implement policies recommended by the ruling class’s experts.
Formulation of policy happens, instead, within ruling class think-tanks and foundations.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a little known think-tank which “seeks to advance global security…by providing strategic insights and practical policy solutions to decision-makers.” It calls itself “a strategic planning partner for the government.”
The CSIS fits Domhoff’s description of a ruling class policy formulation organization. Its board of trustees is made up a bipartisan collection of upper class leaders who have spent their adult lives alternating between top government appointments and the boardrooms of some of America’s largest corporations.
The organization brings together experts – usually retired generals, admirals and military strategists – to work on security issues the upper class has identified as needing attention. Policy recommendations are released in reports, and presented to the relevant decision-makers.
Recently CSIS brought together five top military officers from across the Nato community to prepare a “150-page blueprint for urgent reform of western military strategy and structures.” (2)
The blueprint “has been presented to the Pentagon and to Nato’s secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.” It’s expected the think-tank’s proposals will be discussed at the April Nato summit in Bucharest. (3)
There has been virtually no media coverage of the proposal in North America, but it has received some coverage in the British press.
The authors of the report, who include ”the US’s top soldier under Bill Clinton, John Shalikashvili,” recommend that the West use preventive nuclear first strikes to stop other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons. (4)
The generals were immediately denounced as Drs. Strangelove for their readiness to recommend preventive nuclear strikes. But the story, and the reaction to it, seemed to miss the connection of the military men to the CSIS, and the CSIS to the US ruling class.
Shalikashvili and his counterparts were brought together by the CSIS to prepare a military strategy to deal with countries that resist domination by the West, particularly those, like Iran, which could be in a position to defend themselves by developing a nuclear weapons deterrent.
The blueprint proposes the development of “a new pact drawing the US, Nato and the European Union” together as a single, unified fighting force capable of taking immediate action – up to and including the use of nuclear weapons – without the authorization of the UN Security Council.(5)
Like the anti-Comintern pact, which brought together Germany, Japan, Italy and later Spain in a crusade against communism and the Soviet Union, a new Western military alliance would bring North America and Europe together in a crusade against political Islam (which the generals refer to as a growing irrationality in the world.)
But unlike the anti-Comintern pact, the new military alliance the generals prescribe would be a lot more cohesive and far more deadly.
Whose policy is this?
There is a danger of misunderstanding the generals’ policy prescriptions as being solely the work of individuals representing private concerns rather than recommendations endorsed by an organization that has taken a leadership role in representing the interests of America’s ruling class.
Behind the generals’ manifesto lies the CSIS and behind the CSIS lies some of the top names in American business and investment banking, including former and current chairmen and CEOs of Merril Lynch, Lightyear Capital, The Carlyle Group, Coca-Cola, Glaxo, Time Inc, and Exxon Mobil. The investment firm Lehman Brothers is represented on CSIS’s board. So too are CARE and the United Way.
For the US ruling class, Nato’s consensual nature, the strictures of international law, Europe’s occasional assertions of independence, and reluctance to exploit America’s nuclear arsenal to secure military objectives, have delayed the arrival of a new American century.
Countries which practice policies of independent economic development need to be brought to heel.
The owners of America’s corporate wealth complain bitterly about Iran’s foreign investment-unfriendly policies, Belarus’s largely state-owned economy, and South America’s budding 21st century socialism.
China is competing with Western companies for investment, raw materials and markets in Africa. An assertive Russia is reclaiming its economy and competing with US firms for Western Europe’s energy markets.
A unified Western military alliance that marched in the same direction and used overwhelming force would be decisive in conquering space for Western capital.
While Shalikashvili and his counterparts are the public face of this strategy, the interests of the owners of America’s corporate wealth are its real author.
(1) Ruling class think-tanks don’t rely exclusively on right-wing scholars. Left-wing scholar Stephen Zunes is associated with the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, a ruling class think-tank headed up by Wall Street investment banker Peter Ackerman. The ICNC specializes in training youth groups in using non-violent direct action to destabilize countries whose governments pursue economic policies that, while friendly to their own populations, are unfriendly to the profit-making interests of US corporations and investors. One of the ICNC’s latest projects has been to give courses to young activists on how to resist, oppose and change the Chavez government in Venezuela using non-violent techniques. Patrick Bond, a left scholar based in South Africa, heads up a think-tank, the Centre for Civil Society, which counts business groups and capitalist foundations as its backers. Bond is on record as endorsing youth groups funded by the US State Department as being representative of the “independent” left in Zimbabwe.
(2) Ian Traynor, “Pre-emptive nuclear strike a key option, Nato told,” Guardian (UK), January 22, 2008; Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing a Transatlantic Partnership, http://www.csis.org/media/csis/events/080110_grand_strategy.pdf
(5) Traynor; Towards a Grand Strategy