World War III has begun. Don’t take my word for it. In his 2022 National Security Strategy Report, US President Biden states, “We are in the midst of a strategic competition to shape the future of the international order.” As a subtitle makes clear, this means “Out-Competing China and Constraining Russia.” (p.23)
In the contest for the future of our world… the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) is the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order in favor of one that tilts the global playing field to its benefit and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to advance that objective. (p.8)
Biden assures us, “the United States has everything we need to win the competition for the 21st century.” What does that mean?
Economically, the US is falling behind China. Its advantage is military. In 2021, the US invested $801 billion in armaments, almost three times more than the $293 billion invested by China. If the US can only defeat China by military means, then that is what it will do.
Biden admits the US is not powerful enough to defeat China on its own,
We will build the strongest possible coalition of nations to enhance our collective influence to shape the global strategic environment and to solve shared challenges. (p.11)
The need to involve other nations expands this into a world war.
In the days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a host of countries announced momentous hikes in military spending. Canada and the United States both released plans for new military expenditures. So did Australia. So far, 29 European states have pledged more than a combined $209 billion in new defense funding—a figure that will almost certainly rise.
Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff argued,
Given the deteriorating world situation, we need the defence industry to go into a wartime footing and increase their production lines… There’s a huge demand out there.
In 2021, global military spending reached an all-time high of $2.1 trillion.
The Great Global Rearmament will be financed with deep cuts to public spending, while profiting the world’s biggest arms dealer – the US government.
From 2017 to 2021, the US accounted for 39 percent of major arms deliveries worldwide, over twice what Russia transferred and nearly 10 times what China sent to its weapons clients. In addition, the US had far more customers – 103 nations, or more than half of the member states of the United Nations.
No going back
During the 1990s, technological advances in transportation and communications made it possible for larger corporations to organize manufacturing, trade, and commerce on a world scale (globalization). Natural resources could be extracted in one nation, parts manufactured in another, assembled in a third, and the finished products sold anywhere. An international chain of production, also called a supply chain, was constructed to support this global factory system.
The 2019 COVID pandemic caused the chain of production to collapse like a long line of toppling dominoes. By 2020,
Ninety-four percent of Fortune 1000 companies have experienced supply-chain disruptions from the pandemic, with three-fourth of them reporting negative or strongly negative impacts on their businesses.
Further chaos was unleashed by US trade sanctions against Russia. As the International Monetary Fund stated,
Russia today is a major exporter of oil, grain, and other key commodities, and the global economy is far more integrated. As a result, today’s sanctions have global economic effects far greater than anything seen before.
There will be no ‘return to normal.’ As one trucker put it,
For the whole supply chain to function efficiently every point has to be working at an equal capacity. Right now, it’s ALL failing spectacularly TOGETHER, but fixing one piece won’t do anything. It ALL needs to be fixed, and at the same time.
International cooperation could restore the global chain of production. However, competition and conflict make it impossible to solve the cross-border problems of climate change, pandemics, pollution, and war.
The minimal level of cooperation that previously existed was based on US supremacy, which is now contested. As the National Security Strategy Report makes clear,
The post-Cold War era is definitively over, and a competition is underway between the major powers to shape what comes next. (p.6)
There are two ways forward: One is for nations to retreat behind their borders and become self-sufficient. This is pure fantasy in a globalized economy. The other option is a third world war to establish a new imperial hierarchy of nations and corporations.
Corporations need States
Nation States uphold private property laws that enable employers to dominate workers and extract capital from their labor. The more capital a business accumulates, the larger it can grow. The largest can reach beyond their national boundaries to compete for access to natural resources, labor, and markets anywhere in the world.
Capitalist competition and national rivalry go hand-in-hand. No matter how large or trans-national a corporation becomes, it dare not sever its umbilical cord to the State.
States use their political, economic, and military powers to get the best deals for their capitalist class. The two operate fist-in-glove, with corporations being the fist and States serving as the glove.
Corporations backed by stronger States can dominate corporations backed by weaker States. Consider the battle for technological dominance.
American officials have tried to pressure, scold and, increasingly, threaten other nations that are considering using Huawei in building fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless networks. Mike Pompeo, the [former] secretary of state, has pledged to withhold intelligence from nations that continue to use Chinese telecom equipment.
Competition among State-based corporations creates an imperial hierarchy, with the most powerful States/corporations dominating less powerful ones which, in turn, dominate those with even less power, and so on.
Conflict over Taiwan reveals just how much corporations depend on their home States.
Taiwan produces 65 percent of the world’s semiconductors and almost 90 percent of advanced computer chips. In contrast, the US produces only 10 percent and China just 5 percent of these vital computer parts. Problem: China claims Taiwan as its territory and could cut off US supplies of computer chips.
To counter this possibility, the US is heavily investing in domestic computer chip production, while moving to block China’s access to U.S.-based chip-design software and high-end chips and chip components. Problem: it will take many years for the US to become self-sufficient in chip production or to relocate chip production to allied nations.
To protect US access to Taiwan’s chip technology, the US has challenged China’s territorial claim to Taiwan and moved to reduce China’s access to Taiwan’s products. China saw this move as an invitation to war.
These actions demonstrate an unprecedented degree of U.S. government intervention to not only preserve choke-point control but also begin a new U.S. policy of actively strangling large segments of the Chinese technology industry — strangling with an intent to kill.
Everyone is for peace – until war breaks out
Capitalism is based on lies. No one would choose to work all their life to make others rich, and no one would choose to support or die in wars that enrich the corporate class. To win public support, war must be portrayed as humanitarian intervention.
World War I was promoted as a contest between Democracy and Autocracy. World War II was promoted as a contest between Democracy and Fascism. The Cold War was promoted as a contest between Democracy and Communism. World War III is being promoted, yet again, as a contest between Democracy and Autocracy. Clearly, war has failed to settle these differences, but that was never their purpose.
The National Security Strategy Report describes both the actual purpose of this war (a battle for global domination) and how it will be marketed (as a fight for democratic ideals).
The word ‘democracy’ appears 38 times in the text. Here is a sample:
• The United States will continue to defend democracy around the world (p.3)
• The quality of our democracy at home affects the strength and credibility of our leadership abroad (p.7)
• We will work to strengthen democracy around the world (p.8)
• Our democracy is at the core of who we are (p.16)
This will not be an easy sell, because the United States is not, and never has been, a democracy. The nation was founded on the undemocratic genocide of Indigenous peoples, the undemocratic theft of Indigenous land, and the undemocratic enslavement of Black Africans.
Although the US abolished slavery in 1865, it created a loophole that allows prisoners to be used as slave labor. Today, enslaved prisoners contribute $11 billion worth of goods and services to the US economy every year.
US elites do not believe in democracy. As President Biden admitted,
There are candidates running for every level of office in America, for governor, Congress, attorney general, secretary of state, who will not commit to accepting the results of the elections that they’re running in.
In a real democracy, such candidates would not be allowed to run. In a real democracy, three individuals would not command as much wealth as nearly half the population. In a real democracy, a poor person would not get life in prison for possessing cannabis, while a former president who tried to overthrow the government is neither charged nor jailed nor denied the right to run for president again.
The US is not even a democracy in the limited sense of one person, one vote.
In 40 percent of recent presidential elections, the Electoral College and the national popular vote have failed to align. The Electoral College was never intended to bestow popular legitimacy on the president. The election of the president was to be left to a small cabal of wise men, chosen by states in whatever manner they saw fit to employ… In both conception and execution, it is now and has always been a thoroughly anti-democratic device.
US elites systematically undermine the electoral process by denying the validity of election results, policing ballot boxes, threatening election workers, stripping millions of the right to vote, and structuring electoral districts to produce biased results.
Democracy vs Autocracy?
The National Security Strategy Report states, “Democracies and autocracies are engaged in a contest to show which system of governance can best deliver for their people and the world.” (p.7) In reality, today’s so-called democracies are oligarchies that overwhelmingly shape policy to benefit their corporate class.
In the United States, the majority does not rule – at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes… When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose… Even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.
Fundamentally, US elections are a financial contest between rival factions of the ruling class over who can invest the most money to install politicians who will do their bidding. More than 90 percent of the time, the better-financed candidate wins.
Lack of democracy in the US is so obvious that 67 percent of Americans agree that most politicians are corrupt, 56 percent believe that politicians don’t care what ordinary people think, and 65 percent think the political system needs a major change or a complete overhaul.
A rules-based order?
The National Security Strategy Report insists war is necessary to defend the “international rules-based order.” There is no such thing. Those with the most power dictate the rules, and change them as they please.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine violated the UN Charter. So did the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
The 2003 Iraq invasion was as criminal an act as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the reaction on the part of the Western community was very different. No sanctions were imposed against the US, no freezing of the assets of US oligarchs, no demands that the US be suspended from the UN Security Council.
Since its founding, the US has launched almost 400 military interventions in other nations to protect US-based corporate profits.
Refusing to abide by a UN decision is “a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter and international law.” Yet every year for the past three decades, the UN General Assembly have voted to end the 60-year-long US economic blockade against Cuba. And every year, the US rejects this vote, insisting that punitive sanctions are necessary “to advance democracy.” (!)
No rules govern capitalist competition. As Thomas Dunning observed 150 years ago,
With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain profit of 10 percent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 percent profit will produce eagerness; 50 percent positive audacity; 100 percent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 percent, and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, not a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged. If turbulence and strife will bring a profit it will freely encourage both. Smuggling and the slave-trade have amply proved all that is here stated.
Nor is this war about defending Ukraine. The public are bamboozled into thinking that governments are pouring weapons into Ukraine for altruistic, humanitarian reasons, when they are doing the opposite, seeking to favorably position their own capitalist class.
The US, EU, Canada, Australia, China, and Russia are all very interested in the Lithium deposits in Ukraine, which are among the largest in the world. The outcome of this war determines which players nab the market for this key climate-change era mineral.
Coalition of the undemocratic
According to the National Security Strategy Report, the US seeks to “deepen our cooperation with democracies and other like-minded states” in order to create “a latticework of strong, resilient, and mutually reinforcing relationships that prove democracies can deliver for their people and the world.” (p.12)
Included on this list of so-called democracies are the monarchies of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which have no elections, no political parties, and no independent judicial system. Criticism of government is banned, and trade unions and homosexuality are outlawed. Israel is also included on this list, described as “a Jewish and democratic state.” (p.42).
A religious state that denies equal rights to occupants of different religions is not a democracy. The 5.5 million Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation are not allowed to vote for candidates to government or to any of the political institutions that dominate their lives.
All over the world, so-called democracies are becoming more authoritarian: increasing police powers, criminalizing migrants and refugees, and advancing far-right politicians and parties. A 2022 global survey found,
The last 30 years of democratic advances are now eradicated. Dictatorships are on the rise and harbor 70 percent of the world population – 5.4 billion people. A record 35 countries suffered significant deteriorations in freedom of expression at the hands of governments – an increase from only 5 countries 10 years ago.
War is the ultimate autocracy
Nothing is more authoritarian than war. Populations are not allowed to vote against it. Soldiers cannot refuse to fight. Workers cannot refuse to build weapons. Dissent is forbidden.
Those who question war are condemned as unpatriotic. Those who oppose war risk police surveillance, job loss, prosecution, and incarceration. During World War I, the first so-called war for democracy,
Thousands of Americans were thrown in jail for speaking out against the war or belonging to groups deemed subversive or un-American: labor unions, foreign cultural organizations, and pacifist groups. Many were tortured, several killed, and hundreds of immigrants were deported… Strikes, work stoppages, and picket-line demonstrations were suddenly seen as evidence of enemy infiltration and suppressed even more violently than before. Prominent leaders and speakers on the left were surveilled, harassed, and frequently imprisoned.
During the US war in Vietnam, American anti-war protestors were criminalized and killed, just as anti-war protestors are being criminalized and killed in Russia today.
The word security appears 162 times in the National Security Strategy Report, more than four times as often as the word ‘democracy.’ Here is a sample:
• the security and prosperity of the American people (p.2)
• to protect the security of the American people (p.7)
• to advance peace and security (p.12)
• to advance economic resilience, democratic stability, and citizen security (p.12)
How could war make people, nations, or the world more secure? According to a recent UN report,
The current war in Ukraine is causing extensive loss of life, massive population displacement and significant food insecurity and malnutrition in the country. It is also damaging critical infrastructure and disrupting food supply chains and markets. Because the war is engaging two of the world’s most important agricultural commodity market players, its effects are being felt internationally.
While neither side has published casualty figures, the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff estimated that Russia and Ukraine have each suffered more than 100,000 casualties (dead and wounded) in less than nine months of war.
To win public consent for war, the State equates corporate and national security with individual, personal security. In fact, the two are opposites.
Security for the corporate-State means the freedom to operate anywhere in the world, while blocking competitors from operating in your space. This kind of security leads to perpetual conflict over who controls what, making life more insecure for ordinary people.
Personal security requires freedom from war, oppression, deprivation, and violence.
The more nations invest in war, the less they invest in personal security. The US spends 300 to 500 times more on its military than on its medical systems, yet COVID-19 killed more Americans than any war.
Today, 41 million Americans live in dire poverty. Forty-five percent of all women and girls, 53 percent of all children, and 42 percent of all elders in the US suffer some level of poverty. In 2021, more than 53 million Americans relied on food banks.
Half of Americans struggle with housing insecurity, unable to find affordable housing for their families, cover rent increases, or protect themselves from illegal harassment and evictions… Forty-two thousand students, workers and seniors live under bridges, on sidewalks, or in shelters.
In the world’s richest nation, more than two million people lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Increasing numbers struggle with contaminated water.
An international survey of wealthy nations found that American women are most likely to skip or delay needed medical care because of cost. They also suffer the highest rate of pregnancy-related deaths, and an astonishing 84 percent of those deaths are preventable. Criminalizing abortion care will only add to this carnage.
The National Security Strategy Review brags, “America’s democratic experiment has long been a source of inspiration for people around the world.” (p.16) Yet, US life expectancy fell in each of the past two years, the largest two-year drop since the 1920s.
War cannot be contained in a global economy.
A war is always a human tragedy, and the war in Ukraine is no exception. The ripple effects of the conflict are extending human suffering far beyond its borders. The war, in all its dimensions, has exacerbated a global cost-of-living crisis unseen in at least a generation, compromising lives, livelihoods, and our aspirations for a better world.
War threatens everyone with its destructive impact on the environment. The US military is the world’s single largest consumer of fossil fuels and a top contributor to global warming. The resulting hurricanes, floods, droughts, and wildfires make personal security impossible.
More intense extreme events and long-term climate changes make it harder to maintain safe homes and healthy families, reliable public services, a sustainable economy, thriving ecosystems and strong communities.
War needs racism
Wars over territory and resources are falsely promoted as righteous battles between good and evil.
Pitching the current war between US/NATO and Russia as a battle between democracy (the good guys) and authoritarianism (the bad guys) is backed by the racist belief that the US/NATO countries are morally superior and can decide what is best for the world.
Such nationalist supremacy is based on the myth that everyone in the favored nation shares, or should share, a common ‘national identity’ and common ‘national values’ that are not shared by other people who are assumed to be fundamentally inferior.
Training in nationalist supremacy begins in school, with children singing patriotic songs or reciting patriotic pledges every morning. It is re-enforced throughout life by a mass entertainment industry that assumes ever-lasting conflict between light and dark, good and evil, good guys and bad guys.
When we read, watch, and tell stories of good guys warring against bad guys, we are essentially persuading ourselves that our opponents would not be fighting us, indeed they would not be on the other team at all, if they had any loyalty or valued human life. In short, we are rehearsing the idea that moral qualities belong to categories of people [or nations] rather than individuals.
In this mythology, atrocities committed by the good guys didn’t happen or were justified, while atrocities committed by the bad guys prove they are monsters.
Whether people living in the enemy nation approve of their leaders, have any say over their policies, or agree with their decisions, all are cast as ‘the enemy.’
During WWII, people of Japanese descent living in the US and Canada were violently removed from their homes and imprisoned in concentration camps. US President Truman justified dropping an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima with this racist comment,
The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them. When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast.
Racism against any group of people increases racism in general. During the war years, anti-Black violence surged in the US.
Nothing has changed. US sanctions against Russia for invading Ukraine have been extended to individual Russians anywhere in the world. Russian athletes are banned from international sporting events. Russian artists and musicians face similar, anti-Russian racism.
Venues across the West are shunning Russian musicians, ballet dancers and films in protest of the war in Ukraine. A Russian cellist, who performed with a Ukrainian pianist and denounced the invasion as “horrifying” and unjustified, said organizers canceled her Switzerland concert, citing her nationality.
White refugees fleeing war zones are treated much better than non-White refugees.
People of Color, especially African, Arab, and Indian international students, have reported that border guards push them to the back of lines, assault them, prevent them from boarding buses, and state that “one foreigner can leave for every hundred Ukrainians”. Refugees of color who have been able to cross borders find it more difficult to find temporary housing and assistance in European countries.
European leaders claim that their superior morals prove why they and not Russia deserve support. This is pure hypocrisy.
Sadly, we live in a world where European empathy is quite literally skin-deep. Ukrainian children get toys when they arrive; Syrian children are allowed to drown, washing up like Aylan Kurdi on a European beach.
The National Security Strategy Report makes numerous references to improving life for “the American people.”
Our strategy is rooted in our national interests: to protect the security of the American people. (p.7)
Other people don’t matter.
President Truman reported feeling “no remorse” and that he “never lost a minute’s sleep” over incinerating hundreds of thousands of people living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fifty years later, when informed that US sanctions had caused the deaths of half a million Iraqi children, the US Secretary of State replied, “the price is worth it.”
If they can live with the massive destruction and suffering they cause, they can live with risking the end of the world.
The National Security Strategy Report was followed by the National Defense Strategy, the Nuclear Posture Review, and the Missile Defense Review.
The Nuclear Posture Review states, “the United States will, for the first time in its history, face two major nuclear powers as strategic competitors and potential adversaries.” (p.4)
The irresolvable dilemma facing Western leaders is that this is a no-win situation. How can they militarily defeat Russia, when it possesses 6,000 nuclear warheads and its military doctrine explicitly states that it will use them before it will accept an existential military defeat?
Instead of backing away from potential nuclear catastrophe, the US has a “modernization plan” to upgrade its nuclear arsenal, at a cost of $1.2 trillion.
Currently, nine countries possess roughly 12,700 nuclear warheads, more than enough to obliterate life on Earth. Nevertheless, the Nuclear Posture Review affirms the following roles for nuclear weapons:
• Deter strategic attacks
• Assure Allies and partners
• Achieve U.S. objectives if deterrence fails (p.7)
That last item indicates that the US is prepared to use nuclear weapons on a first-strike basis. The following page clarifies,
We will maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent and flexible nuclear capabilities to achieve our objectives should the President conclude that the employment of nuclear weapons is necessary. In such a circumstance, the United States would seek to end any conflict at the lowest level of damage possible on the best achievable terms for the United States and its Allies and partners. (p.8) [Emphasis added]
This is a dangerous shift from the Cold War policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) to deter the use of nuclear weapons. We are assured,
The United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners. (p.9)
I am not assured, and neither are the scientists who set the Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds to midnight, before the war in Ukraine. The Doomsday Clock indicates how close we are to species annihilation.
While the United States condemned Russia for suggesting the use of nuclear weapons, the US is the only nation that has actually used them, not once, but twice. If they could justify using them then, they can justify using them again.
A temporary truce
No war moves relentlessly forward; there are always tactical retreats and temporary truces that buy time for the combatants to reassess and regroup.
When US President Biden recently met with China’s President Xi Jinping, the Washington Post reported,
Biden’s overall message was that the meeting had lowered the temperature between the countries. But the president was also careful to stress that there had been no “Kumbaya” moment.
Talks to ‘manage tensions’ and promote communication can only delay the march to war, not stop it, because the underlying conflict is not resolved.
China’s economic growth directly threatens US corporate interests. The pressure of capitalist competition compels the US to use every possible means, including nuclear weapons, to retain its global dominance.
If trade sanctions continue and the arms race continues, then war will also continue.
A world of greed or a world of need?
We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism are all tied together… you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed. We must put our own house in order. – Martin Luther King (1967)
It is useless to blame the rulers of one country or another for this war. All are responsible for upholding the system of war. War has dominated capitalist society for more than 300 years. As long as this system exists, lasting peace is impossible.
It is not enough to say no to war. We must challenge the lie that workers and capitalists have a common interest in this war. Quite the opposite.
Our enemies are not Russian or Chinese but home-grown capitalists like Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Galen Weston (Loblaws) and their political backers who profit by driving down workers’ living standards, destroying our environment, and threatening our survival. They are the ones we must battle and defeat.
There are two sides to this war. One is the war among imperial powers. The other is the war between the global capitalist class and the global working class. Both are heating up.
All over the world, workers are rising up against the rising cost of living, poverty wages, the loss of public services, and deteriorating working conditions.
To end imperial war, we must win the class war. Then we can end the artificial division of humanity into warring classes and nations. Then we can solve our common problems. Then we can share the bounty of this world as responsible stewards of the land and its resources.
Thanks as always, Susan for this terrific, essay!
Thank you Susan. A brilliant call to face the world’s crisis and build the revolutionary fight back from the working class and all the oppressed people of the world. Educate, agitate, organise!
What an eloquent and powerful text!
We ignore this at our peril. Every war has two losers.
Absolutely brilliant! Precisely points the finger! This is a must-read for anyone serious about understanding the crises we are facing.
Thanks, Susan ! Excellent essay !
Well outlined, Susan. The perils grow and human existence grows less certain. This week the US government unveiled its latest stealth bomber while also announcing there was not enough funds to cover future COVID testing. Who gets to set the priorities is the fight for our future.
Thanks for your hard persevering work, Susan. You make the load lighter for everyone concerned. When I have to walk the dark alley I want to walk with you. stay solid, shot
This is disturbing and the future does seem grim now, but informing as many people as possible about what is going on is a powerful weapon in the long term. When I plant the seed of knowledge in someone’s mind by being honest about what I am seeing in the world, eventually, they return the favor and I learn even more than I would have ever learned by myself if I kept quiet. For that reason, I hope things will get better over time as long as we continue to do the honest work.