According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists humanity today, from the viewpoint of its survival, has entered the most dangerous period in its entire existence. This was the starting point of Vijay Prashad’s presentation of the new book “The United States is Waging a New Cold War: A Socialist Perspective” at its launch. Anyone who thinks such a judgement is alarmist should read the book – which is an analysis of current US political, military and economic strategy. As the book raises fundamental questions about present international politics and the US drive to war it is particularly important for the left. As the book is available in electronic form for free here, as well as being able to be bought in printed form, there is no cost obstacle to reading it. The book is published in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
The steady escalation of US military aggression
It is widely recognised that in the last decades the US has been greatly stepping up its military aggression – bombing Serbia in 1991, invading Afghanistan in 2001, invading Iraq in 2003, bombing Libya in 2011, systematic intervention in Syria up to the present day, plus numerous smaller military actions. But what is not so widely recognised is that while these attacks on developing countries are entirely unjust they are only one part of a much more wide ranging US strategy – one which is even more dangerous for the survival of humanity. This is the systematic US attempt to achieve a first strike nuclear capability against China and Russia. Anyone doubting that such a policy exists should read the chapter of this book ‘” Notes on Exterminism” for the Twenty-First Century Ecology and Peace Movements’ by John Bellamy Foster, the editor of Monthly Review.
This US policy, to turn to immediate questions, puts the war in Ukraine in perspective. The US was determined not to remove from the agenda Ukraine’s entry into NATO because it understood that this posed a deadly threat to Russia – creating the possibility to place US missiles within a few minutes striking time of Moscow. For United States policy against Russia this potentially directly increased the US ability to launch a first nuclear strike. This heightened threat, in turn, was aimed to intimidate Russia into breaking off its good relations with China – in order to try to get Russia to seek to remove itself from the US firing line. It was this attempt to leave open the door for Ukraine to join NATO, precisely because it was a deadly threat to Russia, to which the latter responded contrary to US hopes, that led to the Ukraine war.
Against China, whose nuclear weapons are numbered in hundreds, not the thousands possessed by the United States and Russia, the US calculated it could achieve first strike nuclear capacity, that is preventing effective nuclear retaliation, by sheer weight of number of weapons systems in a pre-emptive attack. US anti-missile systems would then be able to pick off whatever few Chinese missiles survived the first US strike.
This attempt by the US to achieve a first strike nuclear capability is analysed by Foster, alongside the effects of climate change, as one of the two threats to humanity with the potential for “Exterminism” – a term Foster borrows from E.P. Thompson, meaning the destruction of the present basis of human civilization (or possibly the physical survival of humanity).
Who is leading the United States to War?
The book’s chapter ‘Who Is Leading the United States to War?’, by Deborah Veneziale, then analyses the consolidation of the US capitalist class around this foreign policy perspective. The chapter’s conclusion is clear: ‘This article comes to three conclusions: first, in the Biden administration, two foreign policy elite groups that used to compete against each other, liberal hawks and neoconservatives, have merged strategically, forming the most important foreign policy consensus within the elite echelon since 1948 and bringing the country’s war policy to a new level; second, in consideration of long-term interests, the big bourgeoisie in the United States has reached a consensus that China is a strategic rival, and has established solid support for its foreign policy; and third, due to the design of the US Constitution, the expansion of the far-right forces, and the sheer monetization of elections, the so-called democratic institutions of checks and balances are completely incapable of restraining the belligerent policy from spreading.’
What Is Propelling the United States into Increasing International Military Aggression
The chapter ‘What Is Propelling the United States into Increasing International Military Aggression?’, by John Ross, analyses the economic forces driving the US towards hot war. It notes: ‘it is crucial to analyse what creates this escalating US military aggression. Is it temporary, after which the United States will resume a more conciliatory course, or is increasing military escalation a long-term trend in US policy?‘
The answer is that: ‘Reduced to the most essential facts, the key forces that have driven this escalating US policy of military aggression, which has now lasted over more than two decades, are clear. It is that the US economy has permanently lost its overwhelming weight in world production, but that at the same time the US still retains its preponderance in military power and spending. This, therefore, creates a very dangerous period for humanity during which the US may attempt to compensate for its relative economic failure by use of military force. This already explains the US military attacks on developing countries and also its escalation to confrontation with Russia in Ukraine.’
Therefore: ‘Regarding the question of whether these US provocations against both China and Russia are temporary, long term, or even permanent, the clear conclusion… is that the trend of US military escalation will continue.’
US cynicism and use of others
Vijay Prashad provides the Introduction to the book and gives a first-hand account of US foreign policy reasoning and its willingness to sacrifice others for its interests: ‘During the lead-up to the US illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, I spoke to a senior member of the US State Department who told me that the prevailing theory in Washington amounted to a simple slogan: short-term pain for long-term gain. He explained that the general view was that the United States elites are willing to tolerate short-term pain for other countries – and perhaps for the working people in the United States who could experience economic difficulties due to the disruptions of war and due to the carnage created in war; this price will, however, result – if all goes well – in long-term gain as the United States would be able to maintain what it has sought to maintain since the end of the Second World War, which is primacy. If all goes well is the premise that sent shivers down my back as he spoke, but equally what rattled me was the callousness about who must face the pain and who would enjoy the gain. It was quite cynically said that the Iraqis and working-class US soldiers who would be negatively impacted, so that large oil companies and financial companies could enjoy the fruits of a conquered Iraq. This attitude – short term pain, long-term gain – is the defining hallucination of the elites in the United States’
The book’s conclusion, and therefore its importance, is clear – it is analysed in detail from military, political and economies perspectives in almost 100 pages. It is that the US is compelled by its growing economic weakness within the world attempts to compensate for this by its increasing use of military force.
The left internationally, in recent years, has rightly geared itself up to oppose the total injustice of US aggression against developing countries – which of course remains a vital task. But now it faces something still more dangerous from the point of view of the survival of humanity – US aggression against nuclear armed states. The war provoked by the US in Ukraine is not isolated, it is part of that growing US aggressive drive. Any anti-war movement which also fails to deal with this is falling behind the needs of the great dangers in the situation.
Because the book shows this reality in the most detailed and thorough way it is essential reading and should inform the strategic discussion on the international left.
The United States is Waging a New Cold War: A Socialist Perspective is published jointly by No Cold War, the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, and Monthly Review. It is available for free download in electronic form here now in English, and also in Spanish and Portuguese. It will be available in printed form from Monthly Review.