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The Struggle for the Third World

The latest news on the Congolese front is that Mobutu is to receive $1 billion from a group of large international banks, headed by Citibank, “to shore up his shaky regime,” provided that he agrees—and why should he not?—to put the economy “under IMF management.”14 This was the decision of an eleven-nation commission, including France, Belgium, the United States, and the United Kingdom, in spite of the fact that the British government, according to the British foreign secretary, considers that “no technical or financial aid” should be given to “corrupt or totalitarian regimes.”15


Some readers, the young and the cynical, will say that all this is obvious enough, and that it was not necessary to make a long digression into the affairs of Zaire to prove what we already knew. Perhaps they are right. But it is also important, since so much prominence has been given to the alleged new turn in American foreign policy, to see that President Carter’s actions are not very different from those of Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, when important economic and strategic interests are involved. Human rights are a useful instrument from time to time for tweaking the Soviet lion’s tail, and in marginal cases, where little is at stake—such as the temporary US Export-Import Bank refusal to authorize a loan of $270 million or a little more to Argentina—the policies of the Carter administration may perhaps succeed in mitigating some of the worst excesses of repressive military dictatorships.16 But the position is apparently different when it is a question of safeguarding the human rights and welfare of twenty million oppressed and impoverished African tribesmen in Zaire.

That is one reason why the lesson of Zaire will not be lost on other African and non-African developing countries. When the idea was broached of an African peacekeeping force, to make Katanga safe for Europeans, it met with stony silence. Nigeria, which had made serious efforts to mediate during the invasion of Katanga in 1977, refused to become involved, and the only response came from two or three minor French satellites (Senegal, Gabon, Morocco), always obedient to their master’s voice.17 The result is that France and Belgium, in spite of promises to withdraw their troops once the evacuation of Europeans was completed, have apparently decided to keep some of their forces there indefinitely, the reason being that this is the only way to prevent the hated Mobutu tyranny from collapsing.18

Times may have changed since 1964—though personally I would say not much—but, as a well-informed English correspondent put it, “African memories are long,” and what they see and resent is “African weakness in the face of Western power.”19 This, no doubt, was what President Nyerere of Tanzania had in mind when he said that the “danger to Africa’s freedom” came not from the Soviet Union or Cuba but “from nations in the Western bloc.”20 It is impossible to know how far, if at all, Nyerere’s view is representative of African opinion; but it is significant that General Obasanjo, the Nigerian head of state, who is usually regarded as a “moderate” in African affairs, was scarcely less critical of Western “neocolonialism.” While issuing a warning to the Soviet Union and Cuba not to “overstay their welcome” in Africa, he simultaneously denounced “operations purposely mounted to protect foreign interests” and “any collective security scheme for Africa fashioned and guided from outside.”21 In the context of the French paratroop operation in Zaire and the proposed French-organized security force, the implication of his words is unmistakable.

The lesson other developing countries draw is likely to be more generalized, but not essentially different. It is, in the words of Carlos Díaz-Alejandro, that they had better not “sit around waiting for the arrival of understanding Northern governments and knights in white armor.”22 Only “steady pressure” and “the build-up of self-reliant bargaining strength”—in other words, solidarity and a common front—will get them anywhere at all. What is less clear is whether the developing countries can muster these qualities on a sufficient scale to make much difference.

The story of Zaire reinforces once again the old historical lesson that powerful nations “very seldom…let concern for the poor and oppressed…determine their major long-term policies.”23 Where their vital interests—in this case cobalt and copper—are at stake, they will fight for them as ruthlessly as their nineteenth-century predecessors, and though we are told that the days of gunboat diplomacy are over, those of paratroop diplomacy certainly are not. 24

The case of Zaire also illustrates another aspect of “North-South relations” of which, no doubt, there are more striking examples. This is the existence of client states, which can be relied upon in any confrontation to support the position of the industrial nation on which they depend. It was no accident, for example, at the recent meeting of the Organization of African Unity, that Zaire and Mauritania, both countries whose governments are only kept going by the aid of French troops, came out strongly in defense of French interference in Africa.25 So long as there are dictators such as Mobutu, whose very existence depends on the good will, if not the bayonets, of the rich countries, there are effective limits to Third World solidarity.

But the recent events in Zaire, if they point to the divisions, conflicting interests, and potential defections in the Third World camp, also point to another characteristic feature of the current world situation, and that is the divisions and rivalries among the rich industrial countries. In retrospect, no aspect of the whole series of events in the Congo, from the invasion by the National Liberation Front to the reoccupation of Kolwezi by French paratroopers, was more significant than the rift between France and Belgium which it immediately brought into the open.

From the start Belgian officials and businessmen made no bones about their suspicion of French motives. France, they claimed, was “trying to forge special links with mineral producers everywhere,” and French intervention in Katanga, under the guise of humanitarianism, was really a pretext for expanding its influence, squeezing out Belgian business interests—notably the big Belgian-Zairian conglomerate Gecomines—and replacing them by French mining companies, such as Pennaroya.26 In the event, the conflict was patched over, with British and American help, and a common Western front established; but while it lasted, it revealed, like a flash of lightning, the undercurrent of rivalry and conflict dividing the industrial nations, as they maneuver for leverage and access to raw materials and markets in the Third World.

The struggle for the Third World reaches back to the early 1960s, when the newly fledged European Community was bracing itself to challenge American hegemony. Its symbol was the Yaoundé Convention, signed in July 1963, which set up close economic ties between the EEC and eighteen African states formerly linked to France, Belgium, and Italy. 27 But the real impetus came in 1973, in the wake of the severe recession which followed the Yom Kippur war. As a consequence of the slowdown in world economic growth and the intensification of industrial rivalry, no country (as Mary Kaldor puts it in her recent book) could “afford to neglect” even “marginal markets.”28

In point of fact, by this time Third World markets were no longer marginal. In 1975 the non-OPEC developing countries took a larger share of US exports than the whole of the EEC, Eastern European and the Soviet Union combined.29 The dependence of the EEC and Japan on trade with the developing countries was even greater. As early as 1970, they accounted for no less than 43 percent of Japanese exports, and today some 40 percent of EEC exports go to Third World countries. 30 With a stagnant world economy and shrinking investment opportunities, the struggle for the Third World has thus become a major factor in world politics.

It is a many-sided struggle which defies easy classification. If the most obvious feature is the conflict of interests between Western Europe and the United States, a similar conflict within the EEC divides Great Britain and France. This emerged into the open in 1975 when Giscard d’Estaing put forward a plan for a “Latin African” bloc, tied to the French monetary system, in opposition to the English-speaking African countries.31 Giscard’s object was clearly to make France the dominant power in Africa before the British, following their entry into the EEC, could challenge the influential position France had built up through the Yaoundé Convention.

At the same time the Common Market was engaged in talks with the Arab countries—in particular Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan—for trade preferences, and was forging links with Mediterranean countries outside the EEC, such as Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Turkey.32 The object was to create a Mediterranean free trade area, including North Africa, which—as Washington immediately perceived—would virtually close the market to American exports.33 The effects of the Lomé Convention, negotiated in 1975 to replace the Yaoundé Convention, were similar. Here again a preferential trading zone was set up, which now comprised forty-six African, Caribbean, and Pacific developing countries and was tied to the enlarged EEC by reciprocal trade preferences and an aid program operating through the European Development Fund.34

Here were all the makings of a trade war, in which the protagonists were the EEC and the United States, with Japan waiting in the wings to intervene, if and when its interests were jeopardized. The United States’ response to the growing European influence in the Third World was to threaten any developing country which offered reverse preferences to the European countries (as provided for in the EEC agreements) with exclusion from its own general preference scheme.35 Its other weapon was to cut off US economic and military assistance. This it did in 1967 when Peru decided to purchase Mirage aircraft from France; but the threat did not deter Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela from concluding similar deals.36

Thus the trade war spread to Latin America, traditionally a United States preserve, helped by the determination of most Latin American countries to free themselves from a dependence which, as Douglas Evans has pointed out, too often meant buying disadvantageously in the most expensive market.37 Even before 1970, when the Declaration of Buenos Aires called for closer links between Latin America and Europe, Italy, Germany, and France were breaking into the Latin American market as competitors with the United States.38 So also was Japan, with heavy investments in Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Peru.39

In the case of Latin America, United States’ reactions were tougher and more direct. In Argentina a military coup unseated the Peronist government, which had taken the initiative in seeking closer relations with Europe. In Chile, Allende was ousted with direct US connivance. Peru was brought to heel by the IMF, which compelled it to abandon its policies of self-reliance, and right-wing coups in Bolivia and Uruguay brought these countries into line also. The result was seen in the virtual collapse of the Andean Common Market, the most successful of the regional groupings by which the Latin American countries had sought to strengthen their bargaining power against the United States and North American multinational corporations.40 Chile, under Allende, had actively supported the Andean Pact. In 1975, after a year of argument and recrimination, the military junta which had replaced him with US support withdrew from the Pact, and the country was again thrown wide open to United States business and investment.41

  1. 14

    The New York Times, June 14, 1978.

  2. 15

    The New York Times, June 25, 1978.

  3. 16

    The New York Times, July 21, 1978; cf. Tom Wicker’s assessment (“A Modest Success”), The New York Times, July 23, 1978.

  4. 17

    The New York Times, June 11 and July 2, 1978.

  5. 18

    The New York Times, June 14, 1978.

  6. 19

    Financial Times, May 20, 1978.

  7. 20

    The New York Times, June 11, 1978.

  8. 21

    The New York Times, July 20, 1978.

  9. 22

    Rich and Poor Nations in the World Economy, pp. 159-160.

  10. 23

    Ibid., p. 157.

  11. 24

    Ninety-six percent of the cobalt used in the United States is imported from the Third World; 45 percent comes from Zaire”; Howard M. Wachtel, The New Gnomes: Multinational Banks in the Third World (Transnational Institute, Washington, DC, 1977), p. 39.

  12. 25

    The New York Times, July 9, 1978.

  13. 26

    The New York Times and The Washington Post, May 23, 1978.

  14. 27

    For details about the Yaoundé Convention, see Douglas Evans, The Politics of Trade (Halsted Press, 1974), pp. 18-23.

  15. 28

    Mary Kaldor, The Disintegrating West (Hill and Wang, 1978), p. 152.

  16. 29

    The United States and World Development: Agenda 1977 (Praeger, for the Overseas Development Council, 1977), pp. 2, 89, 210.

  17. 30

    Evans, The Politics of Trade, p. 67; The New York Times, July 2, 1978.

  18. 31

    The New York Times, March 10, 1975.

  19. 32

    The New York Times, July 23, 1975.

  20. 33

    Evans, The Politics of Trade, p. 27; Kaldor, Disintegrating West, p. 100.

  21. 34

    For the Lomé Convention, see Orlando Letelier and Michael Moffit, The International Economic Order, Part I (Transnational Institute, Washington, DC, 1977), p. 35, and Kaldor, Disintegrating West, pp. 169-170.

  22. 35

    Evans, Politics of Trade, p. 60.

  23. 36

    Kaldor, Disintegrating West, pp. 161, 164.

  24. 37

    The increased cost has been estimated at 24 percent; Evans, Politics of Trade, pp. 55-56.

  25. 38

    Kaldor, Disintegrating West, pp. 164-168.

  26. 39

    Evans, Politics of Trade, p. 67.

  27. 40

    For the Andean Pact, see W. Howard Wriggins and Gunnar Adler-Karlsson, Reducing Global Inequalities (McGraw-Hill, 1978) pp. 56-57.

  28. 41

    The New York Times, November 21, 1975.

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