Year XXVII, 1985, Number 2, Page 85
On the Hijacking of the “Achille Lauro”
The relationships between the American and the Italian government during the hijacking of the “Achille Lauro” call for reflection on the way in which the USA’s hegemony over Europe has come to be transformed since the end of the Second World War.
For almost two decades after the end of hostilities, the domination of the North-American ally over Europe was characteristically progressive as a result of its objectively anti-colonial and anti-imperialistic stance. The comparison between the recent dramatic adventures of the Italian liner and the Suez crisis, which occurred almost thirty years before in the same area, is symbolic from this point of view. At the time of Suez, the American government’s action had the effect of snuffing out the lingering imperialist ambitions of declining European colonial powers and facilitated the independence of Arab countries in the Middle East and the Maghreb. Today, the role played during the Suez crisis by France and Great Britain has been taken over by the United States, which is playing the part with equal brutality and equal lack of results.
The fact is that in the decades that followed the Second World War the basis of North-American leadership over Western Europe was made up of a profound community of interests between the USA with its hegemonic power and its allies. Thus, as the European States needed American military and economic help to survive, so the USA had a vital interest in being able to count on prosperous, strong and united European partners. The Marshall plan, the Atlantic Pact and the beginning of the process of European unification were a political expression of these common interests. Thanks to this, the power of the USA was much stronger than it is today, because it was based on the consensus of its European partners. And this in its turn was justified by the fact that the United States guaranteed its allies’ security, brought peace to Europe thanks to the deterrence exerted on the Soviet Union by its nuclear monopoly and ensured Europe’s economic recovery, the basis of Europe’s subsequent prosperity. Initially this was due to the help given under the Marshall plan and subsequently to a stable dollar convertible into gold, sustained by structural surpluses in the American balance of trade.
The progressive nature of American leadership in that period is borne out, above all, by the fact that it actively favoured the beginning of the process of European unification in which the USA had an objective interest. This was a decisive factor in reinforcing the consensus of European allies vis-à-vis the dominant power, because it made American hegemony on Europe look like a transitory phenomenon, destined to cease as soon as Europe reached the goal of unity towards which it was moving.
As it turned out, Europe in that historical period was unable, as it was subsequently unable in the following historical period, to achieve unity. With the fall of the EDC, this great prospect, which had allowed Europeans to accept their status as satellites without feelings of frustration, disappeared. With the passing of the years, little by little, even that convergence of interests, which guaranteed the solidity of American leadership in Europe, waned.
The Soviet Union became a nuclear power and gradually reduced its nuclear gap with the USA, and even managed to overtake the USA in many sectors. Deterrence based on the nuclear monopoly thus ceased, without which the certainty of being defended by the USA could no longer be transmitted to Europeans by any strategic doctrine. The strategic doctrines which have followed since then, from the doctrine of flexible response onwards, in some way admit the possibility of war in Europe with increasing explicitness, which the preceding doctrine of massive retaliation was designed to exclude. Europe was inevitably given in this framework the role of theatre of operations, and draw up strategies to win it.
At the same time, the USA’s complete dominance in world trading has come to be curtailed. The growing financial burden of being the leader in the Western world and the steady emergence of powerful competitors on the world market, primarily the European Economic Community, have undermined the support on which the dollar’s convertibility into gold was based after Bretton Woods and its consequent stability. A period marked by a structural excess of the American trade balance was followed by a period of structural deficit, financed by increasingly depreciating dollars, until the point was reached in August 1971 where Nixon suspended the dollar’s convertibility into gold. This event, however, did not mark the end of the dollar’s role as an international currency. But it was a clear sign of a trend that had been growing for many years: the passage from a period of history, when the USA’s economic and monetary leadership in Europe constituted a growth factor in the stability for both areas, to another historical period in which the USA became increasingly imperialist and exercised a diverging effect on European economies. The period of monetary chaos and stagflation began. The construction of Europe which, in the first phase of the common market, seemed to be proceeding straightforwardly towards the goal, firstly, of economic unity and, subsequently, of political unity began to show the first signs of crisis.
This trend has developed ever since. US economic and monetary policy, based in the current period on a strong dollar, has the effect of draining European capital to finance the American balance of payments deficit and hence the arms race. The latter has undergone a further leap forward in quality with the launching of the SDI which, by making direct nuclear aggression on the United States more difficult, further accentuates the difference between the USA’s strategic position and Europe’s strategic position, and makes the possibility of a limited nuclear war in a European theatre increasingly possible. Parallel to this, is the style with which the American government exercises its leadership. The moralism and crusading spirit in the defence of democracy have now both been replaced by the open and brutal exhibition of power. The Sigonella episode illustrates this trend most effectively.
These phenomena are the consequences of the incomplete evolution of the world towards multipolarism. There can be no doubt about the fact that the evolution towards multipolarism is underway. This is borne out not just by the emergence of Europe and Japan as powerful rivals of the United States on the world market, but also by the fact that the USA and USSR have demonstrated that they are increasingly incapable of controlling the crisis flashpoints that have arisen in the world. It is equally true, however, that this trend has remained half complete, because the new virtual poles that have arisen in the shadow of the United States (and the Soviet Union) have not been able to take on – both as regards the management of the international monetary system and as regards guaranteeing world order – many of the responsibilities which weigh on the shoulders of the Superpowers. The result has been an increasing power vacuum, which no policy based on consent can fill. The only way in which the Superpowers can try to keep their leadership is to strengthen their military power.
The main responsibility for this state of affairs lies with the more advanced and richest of the new virtual poles, namely Europe. In the relationships between States, the exercise of hegemony necessarily involves taking on responsibilities as regards governing the world. It is certainly true that the type of government which Russian-American bipolarism today guarantees, based exclusively on military supremacy, is the worst possible kind of government. But it must also be said that any type of government guarantees a certain order, which, as such, is more progressive than anarchy, and that it involves serious economic, political and moral costs, which the hegemonic country supports on behalf of its satellites. It is in this context that post-war Europe has been able to prosper in irresponsibility, thanks to which, with the hypocritical good conscience of the sluggard, Europe feels justified in muttering against violations of its own multiple and impotent sovereignties by the American government. But the truth is that the deep cause of the imperialistic degeneration of American foreign policy is to be found in an impotent and divided Europe’s inability to take on its responsibilities as regards the management of the world.
The political unity of Europe would be the first step towards the transformation of multipolarism from virtual to real. As well as freeing Europe from American hegemony, it would involve the start of a trend towards the regionalisation of spheres of influence and towards the creation of an international balance which is more peaceful and flexible, no longer based on the uninterrupted race to gain military power but on a system of alliances discouraging hegemonic trends. Only in this way could the better soul of America return to power, i.e. the soul that recalls America’s democratic origins, one which today is still strong and alive, but which has been pushed to the wings of political life because of the constraints that the current international equilibrium place on the USA’s foreign and domestic policy.
Obviously, the relationships of a politically united Europe with an America which had rediscovered its democratic calling would no longer be those of a set of unruly satellites vis-à-vis a hegemonic power. The ties between the two areas, based on a strong economic and cultural interdependence and on the common inspiration of democracy, would become incomparably more solid by virtue of being based on a consensus freely given by independent peoples of equal dignity. It would be possible to think of a scenario in which, together with progress in the process of creating great federal units in Asia, Africa and Latin America and an end to the North-South divide, the project of uniting Europe and the United States into a federation, at first only economic and subsequently also political, would become concrete. In this way, the idea of a world government, in the institutional sense of the word, would begin to emerge from the mists of utopia and acquire the visible outline of a real process.
All this may seem, as the Germans say, Zukunftsmusik, music of the future. But we must not forget that, in the world today, historical processes are accelerating in very rapid progression. Moreover, the only conceivable alternative to world government is equilibrium based on deterrence and hence, as everybody can see from what is happening with the SDI, the increasingly crazy arms race and growing militarisation of society. It is a road at the end of which there is nothing but a nuclear holocaust. And faced with this prospect the time which ideas have left to mature in is shrinking and yesterday’s utopia is becoming a political project.