- Date published:
7:00 pm, February 20th, 2021 - 41 comments
Categories: australian politics, China, defence, International, jacinda ardern, leadership, Media, Propaganda, Russia, uk politics, us politics, war - Tags:
In February 2002 I was at a union-NDP conference in Ottawa watching US television in my hotel room. Back home I reported on the conference to the Labour Party caucus and stated as an aside that the US was going to war with Iraq. Helen Clark stood up straightaway and said “we won’t be going with them.” Jacinda Ardern needs to do the same now.
The US tv coverage I watched in 2002 was wall-to-wall anti-Iraq. Saddam had nuclear weapons, was murdering his people wholesale, and also had other chemical “weapons of mass destruction”. In early 2003 George W Bush did take the US to war with Iraq, in order to “restore democracy.” 17 years later the country is wrecked, the oil is looted, the Iraqis want the Americans out but they won’t go.
And it was all shown subsequently to be based on lies – most notably Colin Powell’s testimony to the UN Security Council. Also the infamous 45 minutes to mass destruction by chemical weapons relied on by Tony Blair. But they were lies with a purpose; to prepare the US and the UK people to be willing to condone the already-decided upon war, with all its subsequent horrors.
This has been the pattern through the history of the last one hundred and fifty years, from the filthy Hun to the vicious Nips to the subhuman Gooks. Now its the Russian thugs and the good old Chinese “yellow Peril.” The “War on Terror” that spawned the everlasting invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq has been replaced by the war against states – China, Russia, Iran and North Korea – all explicitly named in recent strategic documents.
The reason for this shift from the failed war on terror is because the failing states – the US and the UK – have become aware they are being out-thought and out-stripped by the rising Eurasian linkage between China and Russia, and points between, with all its attendant institutions – BRI, SCO, AIIB, RCEP to name just a few. New Zealand is involved in three of them.
The motivation for US and UK hostility is the same as it was in the nineteenth century with the Opium Wars – a refusal to surrender hegemony – total factor domination – coupled with a demand that the massive Chinese consumer market and the massive Russian resource base be opened up to Western finance capital for plunder.
The Russians and the Chinese have seen this coming, and they are determined that the 21st century outcome is not going to be the same as in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the Opium Wars and the Cold War. They do not wish war, but are not going to be run over again. They wish to be treated with respect.
The problem is that this war, if it were to happen, would not be like the war on Iraq, destructive for many millions of innocent people as that was. It would not be by invasion of Russia or China; as Michael Hudson points out in this excellent essay America no longer has the capacity to wage a ground war, so any such war would rapidly turn nuclear. As an example, the US Marine Corps, the naval expeditionary or invasion force, has turned its strategy from infantry attack to missile attack, planning to ring China with yet more short-range strategic missiles.
Assuming rationality, as always with all those weapons roiling around our region the main danger is mistake, the sort of problem Daniel Ellsberg warned against when he worked for the Rand Corporation and released the Pentagon papers in 1986, and emphasised again in his recent excellent book The Doomsday Machine in 2019. The Doomsday Clock run by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is at 100 seconds, the closest point to midnight it has ever been.
I do not think Jacinda Ardern was right when she said that “climate change is the nuclear issue of the 21st century,” as though the nuclear issue has been settled. It has not been. Both issues are in critical balance, and the nuclear danger is the more proximate.
That danger is very real. The Biden administration has carried on the ramping up of rhetoric and planning from the Trump administration with very little change. A Task Force has been set up in the Defense Department headed by the hawkish Ely Ratner to come up wit a new strategy in the next few months. The US political parties, the Washington foreign policy elite, and the vast range of think tanks are convergent on the need to bring China to heel. The US media is in full rage mode with the anti-China narrative. Billions have been poured into further development of nuclear weapons.
The main difference from the Trump administration is that Biden has announced that the US will now be relying on its allies to support its “extreme competition” with China. This means they will certainly be knocking on New Zealand’s door, reinforced by the Australians. While no doubt some in our foreign policy and defence establishments will enjoy being welcomed back to the cocktail parties and insider meetings, now more than ever we need to maintain our independent stance.
Our interests do not lie in extreme competition with China, as we continue to benefit so much from co-operation with them. We must resist being pulled into support for the US position against China, while supporting its efforts to deal with climate change in co-operation with them.
The underlying issue will be framed as the democratic US-led West against the authoritarian Eurasians. This is facile in the extreme. The United States is much more accurately described as a gerontocratic oligopolistic plutocracy. The Chinese governance system is consensual and meritocratic.
The other key difference is in priorities. The Chinese system prioritises communal welfare, so it has raised millions out of poverty. Corporate finance is state-c0ntrolled, and seeks massive investment in infrastructure for the common good. In the US infrastructure is decaying, evidenced most notably by the recent collapse of the energy system in Texas; and the private Federal Reserve has funneled four-fifths of the post-Covid stimulus to the private corporate sector.
There are very few Asian voices in our media, so Kiwis don’t have a good idea about what Asia thinks. One voice I do like is Kishore Mahbubani, a Singaporean academic, diplomat, and author. He is knowledgeable and balanced, and widely consulted and available on YouTube. In his recent book, “Has China Won?” he provides a penetrating analysis of the different perspectives of China and the US, and argues for co-operation rather than competition. He concludes:
At the end of the day this is what the six billion people of the rest of the world expect America and China to do: to focus on saving the planet and improving the living conditions of humanity, including those of their own peoples. The final question will therefore not be whether America or China has won. It will be whether humanity has won.
Humanity demands that we are kept safe from nuclear war. That should also be Aotearoa/New Zealand’s demand.