By Vijay Prashad
A new report comes out with a troubling headline: that annual global expenditure on weapons has gone over $2 trillion. The United States leads the pack, with its spending greater than that of the next ten countries combined. If you add in the US intelligence budget and the money that the United States spends on its nuclear arsenal, then US annual military spending by itself is above $1 trillion. This is an astronomical amount of money, a colossal waste of human resources and ingenuity.
Meanwhile, estimates of the amounts of money sitting in illegal overseas tax havens sit near the $37 trillion mark. This is the tip of the iceberg of social wealth sequestered by the billionaire class into these tax havens, wealth held in cash, in gold, and in securities. It does not include tangible assets such as art, jewellery, and real estate. If you add all these up, the amount of social wealth held by a small fraction of the world’s population is vulgar. The world’s 22 richest men have more of the social wealth than all the 325 million women in Africa. This comparison is appalling, the moral index of our times.
Reports come regularly about the terrible situation of world hunger and illiteracy as well as the regular outcomes of the great crisis of the climate catastrophe. Social wealth that could be spent to address these deep dilemmas of humanity is squandered on weapons and tax havens. The United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – to end hunger and promote peace – would require an infusion of $2.5 trillion per year. As it stands, an infinitesimal fraction of this amount is spent to address these goals, and with the pandemic and the galloping inflation, less money will go towards them and the benchmarks will slip further and further away. Hunger, the greatest dilemma of humanity, is no longer within sight of being eradicated (except in China, where absolute poverty was ended in 2021); it is estimated that around three billion people now struggle with various forms of daily hunger.
DOMINATION RATHER THAN LIBERATION
Rather than build a social and political project to address these dilemmas of humanity on a global scale, the United States and its G7 allies have pursued a strategy to maintain their domination of the planet. This dominance began in 1991 with the collapse of the USSR and the communist state system in eastern Europe as well as with the weakening of the Third World through the debt crisis. Intellectuals in the United States began to speak as if this dominance would last for eternity, with the “end of history” being pronounced against any challenge to the US order. But, the US-G7 dominion was deeply shaken by the US-G7 military overreach in the global war on terror (especially the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003) and by the great depression of 2007-08 (triggered by the collapse of the western housing markets).
The United States and the G7 countries turned to countries such as China, India, and Indonesia to provide liquidity to their desiccated banking system. For that reason, the US pledged to wind-up the G7 and to bring global decision making to an enlarged G20 that included these new financiers of the global order. However, by the time the western banking system recovered its confidence, the G20 was set aside and the G7 asserted its older role. The United States refused to acknowledge that other powers might be partners in addressing these dilemmas of humanity and could be seen as other than rivals. These partners included the G20 States, key amongst them forming the BRICS bloc in 2009. Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa pledged, within BRICS, to create new international institutions that would not be controlled by the West and that could permit a developmental agenda that would be outside the austerity agenda of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In the lead-up to the creation of the BRICS, Russia’s Vladimir Putin – till then very close to the West on many issues – went to the Munich Security Conference and made a very powerful speech. “What is a unipolar world?”, Putin asked. “No matter how we beautify this term, it means one single centre of power, one single centre of force, and one single master.” It was clear to everyone in the room that “one single centre of power” referred to the United States. Putin criticised the “almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relation” by the West. He also noted that “international law” protected the West from its own war crimes: “No one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course, such a policy stimulates an arms race”. Putin said that the United States must stop building a missile shield around Europe and should return to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the US had abandoned in 2002. US President George W Bush declined Putin’s proposal.
The United States and its allies made every effort in the second decade of the 21st century to reassert control over the planet. The 2011 NATO war in Libya sent a strong signal of western assertion, which was a prelude to the discussions about Global NATO as a platform for western military aggression from the South China Sea to the Caribbean. Sanctions against 30 countries attempted to discipline anyone who would cross the lines drawn by the United States and its allies. Finally, the IMF returned with a renewed austerity agenda, which was deepened even during the pandemic so that dozens of poor countries paid wealthy bondholders more money than they did on their own health care systems.
In 2018, the United States declared an end to the war on terror and clearly noted in its National Defence Strategy that its main problems were the rise of China and Russia. US defence secretary, Jim Mattis spoke openly about the need to prevent the rise of “near-peer rivals”; he named China and Russia as these rivals, and suggested that the entire panoply of US power be used to bring them to their knees. Not only does the United States have military bases (800 in total) that encircle Eurasia, but it has allies from Germany to Japan that provide the US with forward positions against both Russia and China. The naval fleet of the US and its allies began aggressive “freedom of navigation” exercises against the territorial integrity of both Russia (in the Arctic mainly) and China (in the South China Sea). These manoeuvres, including the 2014 US political intervention in Ukraine and the massive 2015 US arms deal with Taiwan, further threatened Russia and China. Then, in 2018, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which upset the apple cart of nuclear arms control. This withdrawal meant that the US contemplated the use of “battlefield nuclear weapons” against both Russia and China.
The US threats against Russia and China were not illusionary. They had been directly named in the 2018 National Defence Strategy document and they had been put into operation through the US withdrawal from the INF treaty. Thus far, US allies in the Asian region – such as Australia and South Korea – have not been eager to allow intermediate nuclear weapons into their territory, although these weapons could be positioned in US bases from places such as Guam to Okinawa. Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is part of this long history of threats perceived by Moscow. There was a worry that the United States might position its intermediate nuclear weapons in Ukraine, whether or not Ukraine joined NATO.
Underneath the verbiage around the war exists a simple question: will the United States and its allies allow Eurasian integration to proceed by its natural course or will the US continue to attempt to intervene in Europe and in some Asian countries to prevent this integration? There is no doubt that the war in Ukraine is partly about the US need to yoke Europe to the Anglo-American-Atlantic alliance rather than to allow Europe to be integrated with Asia, particularly with Russia and China.
Meanwhile, the great dilemmas of humanity go unaddressed. Hunger and war plague the planet. The social wealth that should go towards addressing the obstinate facts of everyday life is wasted on militarism and war.
Source: Peoples Democracy
Image: Armed with an FNMI 7.62mm M240 Machine Gun and an M-220 Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided missile (TOW), a US Marine Corps (USMC) with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines stands perimeter watch around an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team in Al Hay, Iraq, during ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’