There are numerous legal and ethical arguments that can and have been made in opposition to U.S. foreign policy of raw aggression. For an example of the illegalities of U.S. Empire, examine the Geneva Conventions, all four of which directly proscribe what they each call “outrages” to human dignity, “in particular humiliating and degrading treatment” (I, 1, 3). The “outrages” are named specifically as torture, mutilation, cruel treatment, taking hostages, murder, biological experimentation, and passing sentences on prisoners without benefit of “a regularly constituted court.”
Additionally, the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 both underscore the Geneva Conventions and expand the traditional ethical concerns to rights and duties of neutral states by banning the use of poison gases or arms, destroying or seizing enemy private property, attacking towns and cities that are undefended, pillaging, collective punishment, servility of enemy citizens, and bullets made to wreak havoc once inside the human body. Prescriptions to limit the conduct of war include the requirements to warn towns of impending attacks, to protect cultural, religious, and health institutions, and to insure public order and safety.
For an example of the ethical problems of empire, think about the completely unjustifiable attacks on civilians done by the U.S. in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and most prominently in Pakistan and Yemen, especially done by drones. Or consider U.S. use of torture, from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay. As everyone knows by now, ethical and humanitarian appeals have been completely and categorically rejected by U.S. leaders, not beginning with 9-11, but certainly rejected with greater vigor since then.
But there is another, often overlooked, analysis of U.S. actions, that is the logical result of engaging in the actions of Empire, and that concerns the logical consequence of using massive amounts of resources to attempt to control the resources being used (the second use of the term “resources” here includes citizens; the people of a city or nation). As the economic, logistic, and humanitarian costs all rise in direct proportion to Empire’s actions, the sustaining of the Empire becomes impossible, on the basis of its own internal logic.
In whatever historical epoch you choose, if you take your compass and draw a circle around any given tribe, you can see the desired extent of their territorial claims for resource control. One thus can see that particular group’s 1) resource consumption; and 2) circle of desired resource control. But when two further historical developments are added, such as 3) technologically-driven consumption (e.g. fossil-fuel guzzling appliances and cars, etc.); and 4) now necessary desires for global resources needed to feed that group’s consumption habits—then the situation expands sufficiently to become one of using extensive amounts of the very resources one is attempting to control (in our case, oil and money) for the sake of controlling the resources over which one needs to exert control! This circular logic cannot be maintained when it meets 5) a scarcity of resources; and 6) the natural-institutional-logical antinomy of using resources in massive amounts to control the resources you are using for control. Let us call the logic of this contradictory scenario “overreach.” In other words, the empire based on this pattern must end when it runs headlong into resource scarcity, and/or natural-logical contradictions involving its own internal (economic and resource) limitations. This argument against U.S. Empire is not based on ethical or legal grounds (although those remain the best arguments in favor of voluntarily ending empire and regaining our citizenship [civil rights] and humanness)—since those arguments have been put asunder by the U.S. administrators of empire. Rather, the institutional-logical analysis argues that any empire, based as it is on resource control (e.g. oil; money), that consumes more of those resources in attempting to expand its control over them than they can possibly control (again, money and oil are prominent here), must meet its end. The end result is that empire exhausts itself by being unable to expand fast enough to control everything it seeks in order to continue its dominance. When a seventh point is added, to the effect that other nations and peoples are unlikely to cooperate willingly in having their resources, humanity, and very lives removed from them, the end result, Empire’s fall, could be hastened, but is assured.
Regarding point #1 above, the heaviest resource consumers of fossil fuels, in order, are the U.S. military, U.S. citizens, China, and India. Since this essay concerns U.S. Empire, and since the U.S. ranks #1 and #2 in resource consumption, I will focus my comments on the Empire’s consumption.
The U.S. military is the single largest consumer of energy in the world. The Department of Defense per capita energy consumption is 10 times more than per capita energy consumption in China, or 30 times more than that of Africa. Oil accounts for more than three-fourths of DoD’s total energy consumption. The Post Carbon Institute estimates abroad alone, the U.S. military consumes about 150 thousand barrels per day. In 2006, for example, the Air Force consumed 2.6 billion gallons of jet-fuel, which is the same amount of fuel U.S. airplanes consumed during all of WWII (between December 1941 and August 1945) (from The Resilience Group of the Post Carbon Institute, www.resilience.org ).
According to the WorldWatch Institute, the United States people, with less than 5 % of the global population, use about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources. Further, the U.S. has more private cars than licensed drivers, and gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles were among the best-selling vehicles as recently as 2007. New houses in the U.S. were 38 % bigger in 2002 than in 1975, despite having fewer people per household on average (from “The State of Consumption Today,” www.orldwatch.org ).
But the U.S. is not alone in the growth of resource consumption. China and India claim more than 20% of the global total—with a combined consumer class of 362 million, more than in all of Western Europe. (Note, though, that the average Chinese or Indian consumes substantially less than the average European.) Compare this, in the context of this essay, to Obama’s military campaign against China in the South China Sea and in and around the Philippines and Southeast Asia in general (from “The State of Consumption Today,” www.worldwatch.org ).
Regarding point #2, above, the circle of desired resource control, if it is not self-evident, then read about the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), and also examine the reasons for the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc., and/or see the excellent article (and book) by F. William Engdahl, “Seeds of Destruction: The Diabolical World of Genetic Manipulation” (Global Research, July 20).
If point #3, technologically-driven consumption, is not self-evident, take a quick glance around the room in which you are reading this is insufficient to establish this, and while jumping into your car and while driving.
For point #4, the global dimension of resource control, one needs only to understand the preferred method that U.S. Empire acolytes use to justify their actions abroad: the “state of emergency” that has continued unabated since 9/11, due to the “ongoing threat” of “terrorism” (see Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, for the latest detailed instances of this process. Scahill does not thematize the instances of drone strikes on “terrorists”, but only analyzes them individually. However, one may quite easily connect them under the theme of “the ongoing threat of terrorism”). The domestic equivalent to his “war” has been well underway since 9-11. For evidence as to how much it has progressed at home, here are just two stories from this week alone: Chicago played “host” to U.S. military exercises, designed to ensure the U.S. military’s ability to operate in urban locales; and Obama’s escalating war on the First Amendment, specifically Obama’s victory in forcing James Risen, the New York Times reporter, to reveal his sources. For detail on the domestic front, see also Trevor Aaronson, Terror Factory, regarding FBI domestic use of the “ongoing threat of terrorism” to deny basic civil rights to citizens.
This allows for the U.S. government administrators to maintain a “state of exception” to the rule of law. Georgio Agamben, in his book States of Exception, defines this phrase as extraordinary governmental actions resulting from distinctively political crises. As such, the actions of such administrators are in between normal political operations and legal ones. This “no man’s land” of government policy is not only difficult to define, but brings in its wake a “suspension of the entire existing juridical order.” Thus, states of exception are those in which a government in fact suspends the rule of law for itself, while attempting to maintain some semblance of legal order, for the purpose of consolidating its power and control (see Georgio Agamben, States of Exception). These two issues together have resulted in a complete breakdown of the current U.S. judicial system. For instance, this week alone, the Obama administration has denied that the court system has the power to rule on NSA spying and on drone assassinations of U.S. citizens (see “America No Longer Has a Functioning Judicial System,” Global Research, July 20). Add to this the USA PATRIOT Act and the increased power taken by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court, and one can see the process of the breakdown from 9-11 until now (for the PATRIOT Act, see Robert Abele, A User’s Guide to the USA PATRIOT Act, University Press of America).
For #5, scarcity of resources, none other than the World Bank produced a detailed study of demand and supply projections for the immediate future. The study projects that, on the basis of current consumption and immediately precedent rises in it, the demand for food will rise by 50% in 2030, for meat by 85%, for oil by 20 million barrels a day, and for water by 32%, all by the same year.
Statistics and predictions from the supply side are more alarming. In their report, they state that global food growth rates fell by 1.1% over the past decade, and are continuing to fall, while global food consumption outstripped production in seven of the eight years between 2000 and 2008. Further, the Food and Agricultural Organization and the UN Environment Program estimate that 16% of the arable land used now is degraded. Intensifying competition between different land uses is likely to emerge in future, including food crops, livestock, etc., and the world’s expanding cities. Current rates of water extraction from rivers, groundwater and other sources are already unsustainable in many parts of the world. Over one billion people live in water basins in which the physical scarcity of water is absolute; by 2025, the figure is projected to rise two billion, with up to two thirds of the world’s population living in water-stressed conditions (mainly in non-OECD countries). On oil, the International Energy Agency has warned consistently that there is a significant risk of a new “supply crunch” as the global economy “recovers.” Additionally, the IEA’s chief economist argues that peak production could take place by 2020 (from the “World Development Report 2011, Background Paper: Resource Scarcity, Climate Change and the Risk of Violent Conflict,” www.worldbank.org ).
The one wildcard in all this is climate change, which, studies are now reporting, will alter not only where and how people live with one another, but how national and world infrastructure is at risk. These factors could increase wars and exert intense pressure on the Empire to use its military might to attempt to control people and nations with more force, thus putting greater strain on its ability to function as an empire (see Lester Brown, “The Real Threat to Our Future is Peak Water,” The Observer, July 6; see also the U.S. Department of Energy report, released this month, entitled “U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather”).
Point #6, above, is simply the conclusion from points 1-5: if resources are even relatively scarce, and the habits of and desires for consumption continue to rise among nations, and especially among the citizens of Empire (as has been documented in part above), and if control over those resources is the goal of Empire, but if the Empire consumes more resources than it can logistically or economically control due to natural limitations of those resources themselves, and/or to the consumption of more resources than it needs to survive, then the power of the Empire will naturally-logically end in a sharp decline.
Any psychologist reading this analysis will recognize themes of “realistic conflict theory”–Realistic conflict theory, a the theory which explains how intergroup hostility can arise as a result of conflicting goals and competition over limited resources The originator of the theory was the psychologist Donald Campbell, who criticized psychologists who emphasized hedonistic theories to explain group relationships—i.e. that place food, sex, and pain avoidance are central to all human processes. The key point in bringing this psychological theory into the discussion is that Campbell concluded that friction between groups can be reduced only in the presence of superordinate goals that promote united, cooperative action (see Wikipedia on “Realistic Conflict Theory” for a good overview, summarized here. https://en.wikipedia.org ). Note that, according to the ethical, and now the psychological analysis of Empire’s oppression, the most effective resolution to oppression, (empire) dominance, and conflict is united, cooperative action, not the self-serving “they (foreign nations and domestic and foreign citizens who disagree with us) are the enemy” perspective under which we are currently ruled.
We have seen that progressives have had available to them a standard two-pronged argument against empire—American or any other. Progressives have for good reason appealed consistently to the ethical and the legal arguments available to help stem the desires for world and resource domination. This essays suggests that these two solid arguments should now be combined with an institutional-logical analysis to demonstrate not only the intrinsic, natural limits to empire, but to show reasons how and why empire must and will ultimately collapse due to the hubris of ignoring natural limitations of unbridled consumption coupled with singular control over others’ resources and peoples.
Dr. Robert P. Abele holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Marquette University He is the author of three books: A User’s Guide to the USA PATRIOT Act (2005); The Anatomy of a Deception: A Logical and Ethical Analysis of the Decision to Invade Iraq (2009); Democracy Gone: A Chronicle of the Last Chapters of the Great American Democratic Experiment (2009). He contributed eleven chapters to the Encyclopedia of Global Justice, from The Hague: Springer Press (October, 2011). Dr. Abele is a professor of philosophy at Diablo Valley College, located in Pleasant Hill, California in the San Francisco Bay area.