Revelations about the activities of the National Security Agency and, increasingly, its British counterpart the Government Communications Headquarters, are sweeping the news once more, as we learn that the targets of their operations ranged from charities to EU officials. Many will be disgusted, and rightly so.
Yet this is hardly the first time the USA has been guilty of complete lack of scruples in its dealings with other countries. They have left a bloody trail of economic ruin across the developing world, have frequently intervened in the internal, political affairs of foreign nations when they have felt that it has been in their own interests to do so, and have boasted a flagrant disregard for due process in law when this has been convenient for them.
Let me provide you with an example of this. In 1995, an Agreement on Agriculture was introduced by the World Trade Organisation, identified by political writers Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies as one of the “forums of choice for maintaining US hyperpower”, and as one of “the most untransparent and undemocratic global institutions”. The Agreement, which, it is claimed by the same authors, “was stitched up by the US and the European Union” in spite of an appearance of global co-operation, required that import tariffs on food be reduced by 24% over ten years in the name of free trade; the result of this is the ability of the USA and the EU to export its goods, at extremely low prices, to developing countries, driving farmers in those countries out of business. The WTO itself has been described by a UN-appointed group as a “nightmare” for developing countries (according to the Financial Times). And yet while a search of ‘NSA’ on the Guardian’s website will yield 118,000 results, a search of ‘1995 Agreement on Agriculture’ throws up a paltry 140.
What could make their actions towards these countries more shocking? Perhaps the double standards on which the USA operates in terms of its commitment to this free trade. It has imposed enormous tariffs on imports of staple agricultural produce, including one reaching 100% on groundnuts; these cost developing countries over $2.5 billion, as a result of the loss of foreign exchange earnings, per year. The USA also regularly subjects other countries to economic sanctions; in 1998, these were levied against 75 countries, which meant in practical terms against 52% of the world’s population.
The USA has further proved itself morally bankrupt in its waging of war. Terrorists captured in the Afghan war, it was stated by the Bush administration, “don’t deserve the same guarantees and safeguards that would be used for an American citizen going through the normal judicial process”. How did they solve this problem, of putting on trial those they considered not worthy of trial? They established a Military Commission.
It is claimed by Geoffrey Robinson QC, a celebrated Human Rights lawyer, that the army officers acting as judges on this Commission, being ultimately in the pay of the US government, are actually, and with breathtaking audacity, the employees of the prosecutor; that the only appeal of this court is to the US President, who cannot be impartial because it is their own tribunal against whom the appeal is made; that there is not even any requirement made of the prosecution to shoulder the burden of proof. It violates Articles 84 and 85 of the Geneva Conventions. Yet where is the public outcry?
To provide a full account of American crimes abroad would be the work of years; many more can, and should, be named. We should probably consider, therefore, that while the activities of the NSA are undeniably appalling, we would do well to pay a little more attention to what occurs in the developing world; after all, according to head of the NEF’s global economy programme Andrew Simms, “as a consequence of of American policies, in a single day under globalisation, poor countries lose nearly $2 billion due to rigged international trade, 30,000 children die from preventable diseases, and $60 million drains from poor to rich countries in debt”. While we cannot ignore the activities of the NSA, we could afford to be a little more conscious of the crippling effect of American policy of the world’s poorest nations, and its poorest people, rather than devoting all of our attention to how it manifests itself in the developed world.
Sam Harrison is a lower-sixth student in Cheshire with a passion for Socialism and a dislike of international power abuse.