Facing an existential crisis: the culpable West: Hugh Steadman reflects on the emerging cold war that threatens to cause a destructive confrontation.

AuthorSteadman, Hugh

'Since 1979, do you know how many times China has been at war with anybody? None. And we have stayed at war.' The U.S., he noted, has only enjoyed 16 years of peace in its 242-year history, making the country 'the most warlike nation in the history of the world.' (Quotes from a letter of advice from former President Carter to then President Trump.) (1)

This article is written with the Doomsday Clock now advanced to just 100 seconds to midnight and humanity on the point of drawing into one, or both, the twin termini of nuclear warfare and unmitigated climate change. These perils call into question the continued survival of the global civilisation and possibly even of the species. At the core of the crisis lie the economic and political ideas being pursued by two competing cultural traditions. Survival will depend not on the triumph of one of these viewpoints over the other, but in their learning to better understand both themselves and each other and, through that better understanding, work out a mutually beneficial means by which they can peacefully coexist and collaborate.

As it is a Western culture that is instigating this destructive confrontation, the questions raised in this article may offend much that many Western readers have been taught to 'know.' Before passing judgment on matters of such momentous import, readers should take time to read a selection of the footnotes accompanying this article.

In attempting to foresee the future development of the international system it is impossible to ignore the salience of the United States and its determination to retain the multiple post-Second World War privileges that accrued to it as the world's sole super-power. The future will be determined by the outcome of its struggle to maintain that privileged position in the face of the resistance to its unique dominance offered by a resurgent China and its ever-closer ally Russia.

The demise of Donald Trump's somewhat random and isolationist Republican administration has given rise to a collective sigh of relief among Western elites involved in foreign affairs and not careful about what they wish for. With the possible exception of Israel and Saudi Arabia, there is now a common perception among West-inclined nations that there will be fewer unwished for surprises; that US policy will become more predictable and that things will change for the better under a dependable, internationally-oriented Democratic administration set on re-establishing American primacy and business as usual.

Notable phenomena

One of the notable phenomena of the Trump era was the flight of prominent neo-con and neo-liberal interventionists from the Republicans to join the more interventionist Democratic Party in waiting. Consequently, Biden's foreign affairs team, though remarkably similar to Obama's, has been super-charged with a fresh intake of interventionist hawks eager to defend and advance the freedoms, the democracy and the human rights of which the United States claims to be the embodiment.

The Biden team will be more rational and more attentive to the science of climate change and pandemic. As it has plans that call for their fullest co-operation, the administration will also be more attentive to the concerns of America's allies. To reinforce the loyalty of its European allies, the new administration will probably moderate both its hostility to Iran and the fullness of its compliance with the wishes of Israel and Saudi Arabia.

That does not mean that the developing apartheid state of Eretz Israel, with its unwritten constitution and its as yet undefined borders, will not be allowed to continue its consolidation and expansion. While Trump had signed an agreement to remove all US troops from Afghanistan by end of May this year, it was done in the face of bitter Pentagon hostility. It now looks as though, as with other American legal undertakings such as the JCPOA and the Paris Agreement, the agreement with the Taliban will be unilaterally postponed. (2) So, too, will the American withdrawal from Syria.

The shift in the Pentagon's focus on the War on Terror to fresh preparations for a conventional and potentially nuclear war against Russia and China will continue and be ramped up, but less recklessly. Likewise, preparations for cyber warfare and war in space will also be boosted. That does not mean that inconsequential 'third world' civilian deaths in 'defensive' American drone and other strikes are likely to stop anytime soon. (3)

In Asia, American naval forces will continue to ensure 'freedom of navigation' of a South China Sea that they would so dearly like to blockade to the detriment of China. For the latter, the maintenance of freedom to navigate that sea is a matter of existential concern. New Zealand will come under renewed pressure to become a more enthusiastic member of the Five Eyes alliance and to join the 'Quad' against China. This is already evident in the increasing attempts to inveigle New Zealand into participating in a joint Five Eyes confrontational diplomatic role (4) and into compromising its membership of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by persuading it to be used to launch satellites on behalf of the US military. (5)

Militarised economy

These preparations for war are intended to make money for the beneficiaries of the increasingly militarised American economy. However, were war to actually break out between the United States and its allies and powerful and nuclear-armed states such as Russia and China, the cost would negate all the immense profits made in preparation for it. For this reason, there will be fresh steps taken to reapply measures designed to...

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