Mark Curtis

The Great Deception
Pluto Press, 1998

“Our so-called foreign aid program, which is not really foreign aid because it isn’t to foreigners but aid to us, is an indispensable factor in carrying out our foreign policy”
John F.Dulles (U.S. Secretary of State), 1956

“…we get a five to one return on investment in Africa, through our trade, investment, finance and aid… We’re not aiding Africa by sending them aid. Afrika’s aiding us”
Andrew Young, U.S. representative to U.N. February 1995

Like most of the world’s population I’m not on the internet so I still need to download my information from books. This particular book is an up-to-date introduction to ‘Anglo-American Power and World Order’ (the books subtitle). The idea that the USA and the UK are currently part of the solution to the world’s horrors is the ‘Great Deception’ that Curtis begins to examine here. He does so by going straight to primary sources. These include US and UK foreign policy documents (some only very recently de-classified0, UN reports, Hansard, politicians’ letters and biographies and Amnesty International reports. From his secondary sources a small selection of books have been included at the end of this review as ‘Recommended Reading’.
If you have ever felt that the news on television and in the newspapers is not really giving you the full picture on international affairs then this book might be a good place to start doing your own research. Or, like the Gravediggaz, you might believe that “Free enterprise and lies are idolized… Babylon is never penalized” in which case this book will confirm your beliefs with hard facts and a wide array of primary source information.
The world-picture that emerges from this wealth of quotations and data is essentially grim, with the United States holding the reins and the UK acting as a junior partner. Here are a few facts I have learnt from reading this book: over 4 billion people (i.e. three quarters of the world ) earn an average $2 per day; in 1994 $2.9 billion was lent by the World Bank’s ‘International Development Agency’: $2 billion was returned to the World BAnk in debt repayment; the richest ten people in the UK have as much wealth as 23 poor countries accounting for 174 million people: 1990’s investment in Western Europe and the US by Saudi Arabia exceeded $200 billion. These few facts give you an idea of the sort of inequalities the book is dealing with.
However it’s not just the reality of the world’s basically North/South (Rich/Poor) divide that Curtis is concerned with, it is the reasons for this divide which he finds consistently in US and UK foreign policy from the end of World War Two through to the present day. His book is split into four sections. Firstly he outlines the birth and growth of the US/UK ‘special relationship’ post WW2 in which he emphasises New Labour’s continuation of Thatcher’s and Major’s foreign policies. Secondly he deals with ‘Development’ in which the roles of the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund are clearly defined as instruments of the US/UK foreign policy (see the quotes at the beginning of this review). Thirdly he discusses the situation in the Middle East as an example of excessive interference in and continuing exploitation of the South by the North. Latin America would make another such example but with Britain’s colonial past in the Middle East (regarded as a ‘great price’, of course, because of its enormous oil wealth) this example emphasises the US/UK ‘special relationship’.
In the fourth section Curtis examines the role that the UN plays in all this. It really is extraordinary that our newspapers don’t report on the actual voting that takes place at the General Assembly each year. If they did, the United States’ obstructive vetoing of various progressive resolutions would be common knowledge. One example is the consistent US/UK vetoing of UN resolutions that call for colonial powers to take all necessary steps to enable the people of these colonial territories to exercise their right to self-determination. Curtis concludes this section by noting that, due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disciplining of the Third World through debt burden and structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) “the Western States could truly begin exercising the degree of control over the UN that they had intended in the early postwar period” (p.191). The UN then,like the World bank (another apparently neutral organisation), is little more than a tool for the Western States’ foreign policy.
In his introduction Curtis writes “If we were to look at the world with honesty, we would clearly see that the United States and Britain are responsible for the most basic and routine flouting of international law”. The book is really an attempt to justify this bold claim. Like Chomsky he is intrigued by the ‘Orwellian’ use of language where ’promotion of human rights’ amounts to undermining human rights, where ‘promoting security’ actually amounts to maintaining insecurity and where promoting ‘development’ leads to poverty. There are a number of reasons why books like ‘The Great Deception’ remain unpopular. Firstly there is an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness that makes such texts uncomfortable reading. Sometimes this feeling is acknowledged by the author and addressed in the book itself, encouraging the reader to write to MPs or companies or organise protests. Secondly there is the conviction amongst some people that books like this a re crazy left-wing propaganda, not to be taken seriously. Also, and in connection with this second point, books like this give the reader an uncanny feeling that those in power are stupid and racist: some people will not tolerate such notions. Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly a lot of people would much rather not know. Ignorance is bliss.

Recommended Reading
Korten, David ‘When Corporations RUle the World’ Earthscan London 1995
Bello, Walden ‘Dark Victory: The United States, Structural Adjustment and Global Poverty’ Pluto Press London 1994
Chomsky, Noam ‘Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies’ Pluto Press London 1989

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