Having a fun time in New Orleans: the latest recruits (sorry, "alumni") of latter-day Reaganism

The meaning of the Pinochet affair appears to have been lost on some. Given critical support by the United States and Britain, the Chilean mass murderer was a beneficiary of an ideology called Atlanticism. The word is a euphemism, conjuring hands-across-the-sea movies and Coca-Cola. In truth, it represents an unbroken record of conquest and control, underwriting Pinochet, Suharto, the Gulf sheiks and other tyrants.

Atlanticism gave us the atrocity of Diego Garcia, the island in the South Atlantic whose people were denied their freedom by Britain in the mid-1960s and forcibly "removed" so that the United States could convert their homeland into a nuclear dump and refuelling base for its planes patrolling and attacking the Middle East.

Atlanticism backed apartheid. Between them, the American and British establishments accounted for most of the capital investment in South Africa. As the black opposition was progressively crushed, British and American profits soared to 17.5 per cent, twice the worldwide average.

Atlanticism produced the attack on Iraq in 1991, which left 200,000 people dead and a blockade of that country and its children, of whom a million are estimated to have died as a result of Anglo-American sanctions (executed behind a UN veil). Perhaps Atlanticism's greatest achievement has been its domination of the world's arms trade.

Such an impressive record will not, however, be on the agenda of the annual conference of the British American Project for the Successor Generation, which opens on Saturday at the Royal Orleans Hotel in New Orleans. Instead, the "introducers" and "alumni" of this Atlanticist freemasonry will be discussing "Going global: what does it mean?"

In this space a month ago, I described the Successor Generation network as part of the rise of the Atlanticist new Labour elite. Although its roots in this country go back to the Gaitskellite wing of the Labour Party and David Owen's SDP, the idea for a "successor generation" came from the extreme right in the United States in the early 1980s, then propping up their glove puppet, Ronald Reagan. Their fear was that many "baby-boomers" on this side of the Atlantic, who had opposed the American invasion of Vietnam and the Reaganite plan for a "limited" nuclear war using Cruise missiles launched from Europe, might be abandoning the Walt Disney view of the United States. Rupert Murdoch and Sir James Goldsmith were early backers, as was the Heritage Foundation, a hothouse of reactionary causes, and the Institute for Policy Research, set up by William Casey, the former head of the CIA. The start-up money came from the Pew Charitable Trusts of Philadelphia, established by the oil billionaire J Howard Pew, a devotee of the far right of the Republican Party. "A successor generation [in the US and Britain]," said Reagan at the launch ceremony in 1983, "will have to work together on defence and security issues."

Conferences are held alternately here and in the US. Five members of the Blair government are "alumni" - George Robertson, the Defence Secretary, Liz Symons, a Foreign Office minister, Peter Mandelson, Mo Mowlam and Chris Smith, as well as Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell. At the 1995 conference in Windsor, Tony Blair's specious "Third Way" was unveiled.

Graham Moore, now a leading primary healthcare analyst at York University, went out of curiosity to the 1996 conference in Dallas, Texas. "I never imagined it was so right-wing," he said. "It was held at the ranch of Ross Perot's son-in-law. One of the speakers described what he called the genetic causes of homosexuality, criminality and other deviant lifestyles. Afterwards, a party was held in a 'sculpture garden', whose theme was 'Victory over communism'. Millbank, the Foreign Office, Rio Tinto Zinc, Merrill Lynch send people to these conferences. Of course, there are those people who are flattered to be asked or just go along for the free trip. They give it credibility."

Moore was "introduced" by Marjorie Thompson, the former chair of CND. Her membership, I suggested to her, reinforced the appearance of diversity. "For me, it's an amusing opportunity to subvert," she replied, though I felt she was uneasy about that. Many members are journalists, the essential foot soldiers in any network devoted to power and propaganda.

The BBC is well represented. Last year's conference in Scotland was supported with "hospitality and donations in kind" by BBC Public Affairs. Evan Davis, the economics correspondent of Newsnight, flies off this week to the luxurious Royal Orleans Hotel. Thereafter his name will be added, along with his colleagues, to the "register" available to all networking members. Not surprisingly, the Successor Generation, its origins, aims and backers have had little publicity - certainly none on the BBC.

If journalists who are "alumni" are able to suspend their judgement on what the Successor Generation represents and its place in the web of great power, they can have it two ways, neither of them connected with journalism. They can feel part of an elite while enjoying a cosy freebie with "plenty of jazz, Cajun and Creole food and a riverboat trip [and] our own BAP Delegates revue". The CIA renegade, David McMichael, once said: "Give the Brits a nice hotel, a souvenir briefcase and flattery and they're happy." That, after all, is how the lobby system works in Britain. But are not journalists meant to guard their independence against even the most insidious corruption? It seems in these days of the "Third Way", that notion is far too exotic.