Leon Trotsky
Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Sri Lanka)

War and militarism

34-1. The end of the Cold War geopolitical framework led to an intensification of imperialist rivalries and the eruption of militarism. US imperialism, as the sole remaining “superpower”, sought to offset its economic decline through the aggressive use of its residual military might. Using the pretext of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the US put into operation longstanding plans to establish its dominance of the energy-rich Middle East. The 1990–91 Gulf War was backed by every imperialist power as the means of legitimising its own future predatory ambitions, as well as by the Soviet and Chinese regimes and the labour bureaucracies in every country. In its 1991 manifesto entitled Oppose Imperialist War and Colonialism, the ICFI concluded that a new period of neo-colonialism had opened up. “This ongoing and de facto partition of Iraq signals the start of a new division of the world by the imperialists. The conquests and annexations which, according to the opportunist apologists of imperialism, belonged to a bygone era are once again on the order of the day.”[1]

34-2. While the first Gulf War was conducted under the United Nations banner, the US-led military intervention against Serbia in 1999 had no such fig leaf. The excuse for NATO’s war in the Balkans—to prevent the genocide of Kosovars—was generalised to a humanitarian pretext to justify further neo-colonial operations. In reality, the Balkans war was part of a broader US strategy to exploit opportunities opening up following the collapse of the Soviet Union, particularly in the newly-established, resource-rich republics of Central Asia. The Bush administration seized on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as the justification for the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 in furtherance of US ambitions to subjugate the Middle East and Central Asia. Bush’s new doctrine of “pre-emptive war” was identical to the principal crime for which Nazi leaders were tried after World War II—waging a war of aggression. The limited opposition to the Iraq war in the UN Security Council led by France was based solely on fears that the US was cutting across the vested interests of other powers in the Middle East. The unprecedented emergence of mass internationally-coordinated protests against the invasion of Iraq underlined both the objective, revolutionary potential of the antiwar movement and its political weakness—the fatal illusion, cultivated by every pseudo-radical organisation, that the war could be halted through pressure on governments or through the UN. The failure of the protests underscored the basic lesson of Marxism—that war can only be averted through the independent mobilisation of the working class to abolish the underlying cause, the profit system and the outmoded division of the world into capitalist nation states.

34-3. The explosion of American militarism over the past two decades has had a profoundly destabilising impact around the world, especially in South Asia. Tensions between Pakistan and India have intensified as each has attempted to deflect acute social tensions at home by stirring up chauvinist sentiment against its rival. The two countries each tested nuclear weapons in 1998 and almost came to blows in 1999 when Pakistani troops and Islamic militants infiltrated and occupied the Kargil region of Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir. After the US compelled Pakistan to withdraw support for the militants, the military headed by General Pervez Musharraf seized power. The US further destabilised Pakistan in 2001 by forcing Musharraf to end support for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and assist the US-led military intervention. Taking advantage of Washington’s bogus “war on terrorism”, New Delhi took an increasingly belligerent approach to Islamabad. After Islamic militants attacked the parliament building in New Delhi in December 2001, India marshalled well over half a million troops along the border with Pakistan. The two nuclear armed powers were poised on the brink of all-out war for months before backing off. The decade-long neo-colonial occupation of Afghanistan has spilled over the border into Pakistan and, under President Obama, has become the AfPak war. Escalating CIA drone attacks and devastating US-backed Pakistani army operations in tribal areas inside Pakistan have compounded the deep political crisis in Islamabad. Nothing testifies to the political bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie and its agencies in the working class throughout the Indian subcontinent so much as the lack of any opposition—other than that of reactionary Islamist groups—to the AfPak war, the first direct imperialist intervention in South Asia since 1947.


Fourth International, Volume 18, No. 1, Summer–Fall 1991, p. 2.