By Adrian Bailey
Monthly Review has published an article by John Ross that analyses the principal factors driving the current stepping up of US military aggression. It notes the escalation of US military action, from attacks on developing countries (recently Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and others) to willingness to both create the conditions for, by NATO expansion, and to wage a proxy war in Ukraine against the major nuclear armed state of Russia. The article, titled ‘What is propelling the U.S. into increasing international military aggression?’ sets out the interrelation between the economy and military factors underpinning this escalating US policy. In a wider context, the article explores the pressure for US aggression to escalate from a cold to a hot war with China, and whether the US can be constrained from such a clash.
This is one among a series of articles Monthly Review has published analysing the issue of the increasing use of war by the US as a policy. As this is clearly a vital issue for humanity the article is recommended to progressive activists. It can be found here.
US economic weakening and military strength
Ross explains that the fundamental challenge facing the US is that it is relentlessly losing in peaceful economic competition to China. The US therefore cannot maintain its global dominance through economic means and so it is increasing stepping up its use of political and military aggression to try to stop China’s economic rise. As Ross states:
‘the U.S. economy has permanently lost its overwhelming weight in world production, but that at the same time the U.S. still retains its preponderance in military power and spending.’
Ross compares the situation of the US in the ‘old cold war’ against the USSR with the current situation in the ‘new cold war’ against China. In the former the US economy was far larger than the USSR, so the US could aim to defeat the USSR economically without the resort to a direct hot war with the USSR. In the current cold war it has been shown that the US cannot defeat China through peaceful economic competition – on the contrary the US is losing in such competition.
The US economy is still stronger than China’s, but it has lost its global predominance and is continuously being outgrown by China. But the US retains military supremacy – its military spending is larger than the next nine countries combined. As the US cannot win through peaceful competition it is steadily increasing its military aggression. As Ross explains:
‘for a very significant number of years the U.S. will have stronger armed forces than China. This, therefore, creates the permanent temptation for the U.S. to attempt to use military means to compensate for its declining economic position.’
‘This therefore means that a very dangerous period has been entered for humanity. The U.S. is losing in peaceful economic competition. But it still retains a military lead over China. Therefore, the temptation is for the U.S. to attempt to use “direct” or “indirect” military means to attempt to halt China’s development.’
The US is seeking to draw other countries into its aggression with China
The US has been progressively escalating its aggressions against China, whilst pressuring other countries to break any positive relations with China and to support US provocations against China. There is now an active discussion in US foreign policy circles over whether, and if so how, to force China into a war over Taiwan. As Ross explains:
‘[The US] has not merely imposed tariffs against China’s economy, and carried out a systematic international campaign of lying against China over the situation in Xinjiang, but has attempted to undermine the One China policy regarding Taiwan Province.’
A key alliance that helps protect China from US aggression is China’s relations with Russia. Russia’s good relations with China are mutually beneficial and it would, for example, require a change of regime in Moscow to break them. Therefore, the US has and is deliberately pursuing a policy of aggression against Russia by means such as Eastward expansion of NATO, and the threat of incorporation of Ukraine into NATO. A key aim of this is also to attempt to pressure Russia out of good relations with China. This has led to the war in Ukraine. Ross quotes Sergei Glaziev, minister of the Russian government for Russia’s Eurasian Economic Commission, who accurately stated:
‘After it was not possible to weaken China head-on through a trade war, the Americans shifted the main blow to Russia, which they consider as a weak link in world geopolitics and the economy.’
The real context of the US proxy-war in Ukraine
This is therefore the context for the US’s proxy war with Russia in Ukraine. Ross also quotes Vyacheslav Tetekin, member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), who in precise detail sets out how the US ‘carefully and consciously’, ‘over a long period’ prepared Ukraine for the current war – with the 2014 Maidan coup and the subsequent training and arming of Ukraine’s military.
‘The aim of the U.S. in Ukraine is precisely to attempt to bring about a fundamental change in policy and government in Russia so that a government is installed which no longer defends Russia’s national interests, which is hostile to China, and is subordinate to the U.S.’
If regime change cannot be achieved in Russia then the US aim is to weaken Russia as much as possible – as US Secretary of Defence Austin admitted.
Despite its economic weakening the US retains great military strength
Ross points out that the US’s economic setbacks internationally do not mean that its international defeat is inevitable. Those on the left are mistaken who claim the US has already been defeated internationally or that its decline is irreversible decline. Such views:
‘forget, in the famous words of Lenin, that “politics comes before economics that is the ABC of Marxism”. And, regarding politics, in the famous dictum of Chairman Mao “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” The fact that the U.S. is losing in peaceful economic competition does not mean that it will simply allow this economic trend to peacefully continue—that is to make the mistake of placing economics before politics.’
Ross draws out how the US’s current offensive is a qualitative escalation from its recent wars. He states that:
‘the U.S. threat to extend NATO into Ukraine, which is the fundamental cause of the present war in that country, is a qualitative U.S. escalation from simply attacks on far weaker developing countries than itself. The U.S. was aware in advance that the threat to extend NATO into Ukraine …explicitly crossed Russia’s “red lines” — something the U.S. entirely understood and which it was prepared to take the risk of undertaking.’
This escalation in US military aggression, with its risk of a global military nuclear conflict, is therefore not only entirely unjust and reactionary, as were its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, but is a direct threat to all humanity. How far the US will go in military escalation, or whether it will be constrained by the countries it is attacking, depends on the outcome of these struggles the US is unleashing.
The imperialist character of the US means the US is not itself able to be more ‘peaceful’. It has consistently resorted to extreme military violence against developing countries with weaker armed forces than itself. It devastated North Korea during the Korean war, and did the same to Vietnam, Iraq and Libya. The US has now undertaken a qualitative escalation with the willingness to provoke and confront a major nuclear power such as Russia in a proxy war in the Ukraine. Without obstacles being placed in the US’s path, it will further escalate its current warfare.
What can halt escalating US aggression?
There are no internal pressures from within the US, either in the institutions of the US Constitution or the present anti-war movement, that have the strength to stop this drive to war. It is external constraints on the US which are potentially far more powerful and that could therefore stop US aggression escalating from a cold to a hot war. The ultimate military deterrent is the nuclear weapons of the powerful states, China and Russia, against which the US is aiming its aggression. There are also significant non-military forces that oppose US military aggression and could help constrain US aggression. The most powerful of these is China’s own economic development and the policies of a large number of countries in the Global South. The anti-war movement in the West, if it is to be effective, must therefore link up with these powerful international forces.
History confirms that the dynamic of US imperialism is that it is more aggressive when it is strong and less aggressive when it is weaker. Thus following its success in World War II the US was prepared to launch a Cold War against the USSR and to fight a hot war against North Korea. This was followed up by the Vietnam War. But US defeat in Vietnam prompted a shift to ‘détente’ with both China and with the USSR. However, when the US felt it had recovered from its defeat in Vietnam it became more aggressive again under Reagan and his successors. As Ross states:
‘When the U.S. feels in a strong position its policy is aggressive, when it feels weakened it becomes more “peace loving”’
In relation to the US’s current proxy war in Ukraine that means:
‘In the short term the outcome of the war in Ukraine will therefore be crucial. If the U.S. is successful in this war the more aggressive it will become…’
Increasing US aggression is an attack on the whole of humanity
Ross notes that ‘US policy is against the interests of the overwhelming majority of the world’s population’, because if US military aggression continues to escalate, and attempts to constrain it fail, there will be US aggression against any country which does not follow US policy. Therefore, the outcome of the present war in Ukraine is not just crucial for Russia and China, but also for the rest of the world.
Ross’s article concentrates on the economic driving forces of the present mounting US military escalation. Monthly Review’s editor John Bellamy Foster has also made a detailed analysis of how the US ruling class is consolidating itself around such a perspective of increasing preparation for growing military action.
Whilst the US is currently on a path of escalating military aggression, it has still not reached the point where it has today decided to actively unleash a generalised strategic, and therefore inevitably nuclear, conflict. Ross makes a comparison of the escalating military developments of the 1930s, that led to World War II, with US escalating aggression today. He points out that the US’s current actions should be understood as the first extremely dangerous steps down such a road of it launching a war against not only developing countries but against major nuclear powers. To make a comparison with the 1930s, we are today at 1931, when Japan launched an invasion of North East China, not in 1938 when the world was facing imminent world war.
The road from 1931 to 1939 was due to the defeats the international working class suffered in the 1930s – in Germany, in Spain, in France and other countries. The road to World War II could have been stopped if these defeats had not occurred. Similarly, today it is vital, in order to avoid such a generalised war, that the forces opposing US aggression succeed in constraining the US and it suffers defeats in its individual wars of aggression. Nevertheless, there are strong pressures forcing the US on a road of generalised use of military force and this is already reflected in discussions inside the US ruling class. This provides the overall context of the world political situation today.
‘Inevitably the precise details of U.S. aggressive policy cannot be seen in advance. But the overall escalating course of U.S. aggression, unless it suffers defeats of the type analysed, clearly follows from its combination of economic weakening and military strength.’
It is highly recommended that the full article here is read, as it sets out a clear explanation of these issues.