The ‘Casus Belli’ for war

Comparing the ‘Gulf’ wars & the ‘Boer’ wars

History repeats itself, that’s the ironic part. For starters let’s compare the Anglo-Boer Wars (both of them the 1st and 2nd Anglo-Boer War – one leads to the other) to the last two Gulf Wars (both of them – one leads to the other). Let’s also take the seldom used ‘Economic History’ model rather than the ‘Political’ History model for a change.

The South African War (1899 to 1902) started due to a mix of British expansionist ‘influence’ in Africa, ZAR expansionism in Africa and the wealth in the ground – gold – and attached to it was the need to stabilise the global Gold market and linked currency. There was also unfinished business surrounding previous regional destabilisation which caused the 1st Anglo-Boer War (1880-1881) and this resulted in an ‘Old Score’ Britain had to settle with the South African Republic (ZAR) – and finally the suppression and threat as to civil rights by the South African Republic (ZAR) as to the mainly British citizens working in their Republic on the mines as well as as other indigenous African population’s rights. The last two parts – white miner’s franchise and rights and black African rights and protection from ZAR aggression was the British ‘Casus Belli’ – the justified case for going to war – that, and the fact the Boer Republics declared war on Britain by invading its neighbours on the 11th October 1899 and not the other way round .. was a Casus Belli all on its own.

The Gulf War 2 (or Iraq War 2003 – 2011) started due to a mix of USA expansionist ‘influence’ in the Gulf, Iraqi expansionism in the Gulf and the wealth in the ground – Oil, and attached to it was the need to stabalise the global Oil market and linked currency. There was also unfinished business surrounding previous regional destabilisation which caused Gulf War 1 (1990-1991) and this resulted in a ‘Old Score’ the USA had to settle with Iraq – and finally the perceived threat to Americans and Israelis (or ‘the world’) from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (entirely fabricated) and threat to civilians in various religious sects, indigenous populations and minorities in Iraq. This last part was the American ‘Casus Belli’ – the justified case for going to war. The fact that Iraq invaded Kuwait on the 2nd August 1990 and had on-going border disputes with Iran and Turkey and had previously declared war on its neighbours … was a Casus Belli all on its own.

World War 2 was a socio-political and economic consequence of World War 1, in effect it is World War 1 – Part 2 (unfinished business), so too the underpinning causes of these wars, Boer War 2, was Boer War 1 – Part 2 (unfinished business), and Gulf War 2, was Gulf War 1 – Part 2 (unfinished business).

All war has an ‘economic’ factor underpinning it, and the Boer and Gulf wars were no different. The  reasons given for the war – mainly that of ‘threat, oppression and persecution’ to minority groups in each case is no different. Like the USA in the modern-day Iraq context (citing oppression of Kurds, Christians, Kuwaitis), Great Britain also put it’s case forward to the ‘world’ (citing oppression by the Boers of British miners) and in both instances the war was passed off as entirely legitimate once it ended for these same reasons … the ‘Casus Belli’ had been made. The fact is the ‘economic’ factor underpinning both these wars was the stability of trading markets – the removal (by force if necessary) of governments, who are holding the pursestrings to these markets, and whose actions and policies around these vital commodities are perceived by global traders to be unstable. If you want to see a recent case of this – look no further Prime Minister Liz Truss, whose government was ousted in record time by the market (not by the populace), simply because the markets found her government’s policies – ‘unstable’.

In 2nd Gulf war, and in the 2nd Boer War, the governments of these vital commodities – deemed unstable by the traders/markets – receive an endless demonisation and bad press. Paul Kruger was painted as an aggressive, dictatorial, backward, ignoramus and incompetent leader of a corrupt government – and Saddam Hussein and his government received exactly the same press. In turn the ZAR painted Britain as having warmongering entrepreneurs coveting their gold – and so too did Iraq – painting the American entrepreneurs coveting their oil as warmongering.

In Iraq, America remained as an occupier after their last war – Great Britain did the same in South Africa after their last war– and in both instances the rational given to the ‘world’ was the reconstruction of the state both economically and politically until it’s perceived ‘threat’ to international mineral market stability was removed and the country was moulded into a more palatable ‘less aggressive’ version to the ‘world’. In both instances they attempted coalition political parties to govern the country as a means to gradually withdraw from direct governance, but retain influence – and in both instances injecting huge economic aid into both to ‘reconstruct’ them.

In both instances, a tiny state took on a superpower and in both instances resorted to guerrilla warfare as the only real means to fight a superpower (in Iraq’s case the ‘guerilla’ warfare phase was labelled as the ‘surge’ in 2007). In both cases civilians were oppressed and randomly imprisoned as a means of removing support to guerrilla cells. In the case of South Africa it was to curtail supply to ‘guerilla cells’  and in Iraq it was to curtail supply to ‘terrorist cells’ (both these guerrilla groupings where locally based). In both instances civilians were exploited to achieve these military objectives.

Oil in 1990 is to Gold in 1900. On the economic front the ‘world’ was presented a case that ‘aggressive’ states where not allowed to be in charge of the world economy as they hold the ‘key’ to it, and these states needed to be removed to ensure worldwide economic stability – this was argued by the USA in 1990 and by Great Britain in 1900 with a similar outcome and some support to both.

The ‘Gulf’ wars – lets face it the whole Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) as a ‘Casus Belli’ was a complete farce, human rights, aggression and expansionist reasons lie behind the war and millions of people were affected and will be for years to come, and whose kidding whom it was also about the MONEY i.e. market access, price stability and supply of Oil – same thing with the ‘Boer’ Wars, human rights, aggressive and expansionist reasons lie behind the war, millions of people affected for years to come, and whose kidding whom it was also about the MONEY i.e. market access, price stability and supply of Gold.

Notably, is that in establishing ‘Casus Belli’ – the USA, as a world Super-power embarked on a mission for global assurance by announcing a “coalition of the willing”- countries around the world where the USA held influence who fight side by side with USA and ‘stabilise the situation’ – Iraq could conjurer up no such significant ‘coalition’. The same is true of Britain and the South African War, it had to find a ‘coalition of the willing’ from its sphere of influence – Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India to fight side by side with them as a sort of global assurance to ‘stabilise the situation’. The Boer Republics could conjurer up no such significant ‘coalition’.

In summary, the cruel thing about history is that it repeats as it is often only one basic human condition that guides it, wealth generation (expressed by all sides in the conflict, never just one). The reasons for war are always about economic gain but they are also guided by emotional and political convictions (religion, political dogma, ethnic oppression, human persecution etc).

The even crueller thing about both Iraq and South Africa is that ‘world’ opinion will always justify the war because of the strong cases put forward before and after the war by the victor (albeit very flawed cases in both instances). For this reason it is very unlikely that the USA will be compensating Iraqi families 120 years after the war and apologising, the same is also true of Great Britain and South Africa.


Written by Peter Dickens

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