Towards the Brink of What?

May 16, 2018

Clever people think there is going to be a nuclear war. Noam Chomsky is worried about it. American Democrats pretend to be worried about it as part of their campaign to demonise President Trump; supposedly in his childishness he might fire America’s nuclear arsenal at someone else. He has said that weapons are to be used, and no Democrat dares to point out that the words which President Trump employed are almost identical to the words used by Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton’s godmother, on much the same topic.

Which suggests that blowing up the world could be a bipartisan initiative.

American people who are depicted as clever in the American propaganda media say that a nuclear war would be a one-sided affair. They say that nobody could harm the United States except possibly the Russians; everybody else has too little weaponry to matter. In reality, the Chinese, should they wish to do so, could destroy fifty or a hundred American cities, meaning killing at least half the population of the United States. The French could do almost as much, and the British if they have worked out his to disable the safety locks on their American-made Trident missiles and control systems. (The British could also fire nuclear cruise missiles from their Tornadoes.) The Indians have a nuclear submarine capable of launching a few nuclear weapons at the United States, which would do more harm to that country than Hitler did to the USSR in three years of fighting. Even the Israelis have nuclear cruise missiles in their submarines which could probably reach the United States (the anti-submarine defenses of which have been wound down to almost nothing).

In other words, the American people depicted as clever in the American propaganda media are ignorant psychopaths trying to use the menace of nuclear war to terrify the boobs, as usual, and appear not to realise that they would also be turned into charcoal shadows on the calcined wall if anything serious were to happen.

Above that level, however, there is almost a certainty that the Americans are not so psychopathic as they present themselves (and have done so since the 1950s), that Donald Trump is not a deranged child-man bent on suicide, and therefore, that nuclear war is not very likely except as a by-product of a cold war turning hot by accident. This is the real danger, and has been growing in intensity over the past two decades.

The West’s war with Russia began in the 1990s, when the West’s allies in the Gulf offered military and financial aid to the Wahhabi rebels in Chechnya. It is for this reason, and no other, that the West pledged eternal love and admiration to those rebels; granted there is some sneaking admiration for people prepared to fight against impossible odds and appear to win, but on the other hand no Western country loves secessionists in any territory of which they approve. What is obvious is that the West was hoping that the fragmentation of the Soviet Union would be followed by the fragmentation of Russia, and Putin’s refusal to accept this, and his brutal prosecution of the war in Chechnya to prevent any further fragmentation, was the principal reason why Putin began to be demonised.

The West’s war with China began much later; it is difficult to put a finger on it. Adoration for the Tienanmen Square uprising showed the direction which things would take — China must become a satrapy of the West or else — but there was much less concern with China at that time. The British had to make nice with China in order to keep a toehold of control in Hong Kong; the Americans had to make nice with China in order to have an alternative to Pakistan in case things went bad in Afghanistan. (As they did.) Nobody else apart from the Japanese had any reason to worry about China; India’s sabre-rattling is entirely for home consumption, part of the general manipulation of foolish Hindu fanatics.

But the potential for the war was there, and the Chinese expansion into the oil-rich waters of the South China Sea was a military expansion which the Americans did their best to exploit (although since the expansion was already in place in the 1980s, the campaign twenty years later to challenge China’s position based on the Law of the Sea which the United States never ratified is both ridiculously belated and pathetically dishonest).

The NATO expansion up to the borders of Russia was annoyingly provocative, but this has probably been overstated. Much more serious was the attempt to get Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO, which the Russians correctly saw as a process of encirclement and rolling back Russian access to the Middle East and Central Asia, the two areas where Russia sees potential for reconstructing its old empire with Chinese financial aid. This was compounded by the fact that the states which NATO was backing were preposterously unstable, as was shown by the mad Georgian attempt to defeat Russia in 2008 which nearly lost Georgia its army and air force without in any way inconveniencing Russia — actions almost certainly green-lighted by the Americans.

Then came the NATO war with Syria, which the Russians immediately recognised as a carbon copy of what the West had tried to do in Chechnya, and which the Chinese speedily recognised as a close relative of what seemed to be going on in China’s Islamic far west, where Uighur gunmen and bombers were trying to push for a Wahhabi separatism, though without much success. As a result, China began to sit up and take notice, and offered some aid to the Russian efforts to block an American invasion of Syria after the initial flooding of the country with foreign gunmen failed to overthrow the Ba’ath Party.

And then, of course, came the decider; the American-sponsored coup in Ukraine aimed at bringing that country into NATO and throwing the Russians out of Crimea, their principal southern naval and air force base. As everybody knows, this was a disaster; not only did the coup bring a spectacularly incompetent government to control of Kyiv, making them remarkably unfit NATO allies, but the Russians refused to be thrown out of Crimea and instead annexed the peninsula to the cheers of the locals, most of whom were horrified at the racist shenanigans in the rest of Ukraine.

It seems unlikely that the Russians planned for the separatists in Novorossiya to take things as far as they did — Russia didn’t really want a permanent enemy in Ukraine, though obviously seizing Crimea would be a thorn for decades — but when it happened, largely as a consequence of artificially-stoked Russophobia in western Ukraine, the Russians naturally made sure that Novorossiya would not be stomped flat, and that any reunification of Ukraine would have to happen with Russian approval. And the Americans didn’t like that, so they began to use claims that the Russians were coming to fool the Western European boobs into doing whatever they were told.

Then came the “Pivot to Asia”, meaning that the Americans began bustling around the Asian continent telling everybody to have nothing to do with the Chinese initiatives to link Europe, South and Central Asia with a belt of transport and manufacturing hubs (it has been proved that you can make a belt out of hubs, so stop complaining). And what do we get out of this? asked the Asians. Why, said the Americans, sign up for our Free Trade Agreement, grant American corporations absolute control of your economies, and every Asian country can become as successful as Mexico in the next twenty years! The Asians looked thoughtfully at Mexico, looked thoughtfully at the supertanker-loads of money which the Chinese were spending on economic development throughout the Asian continent, and kicked the American envoys down the steps.

Well, that couldn’t be tolerated, so the Americans ramped up tension with China by trying to pick a renewed fight with North Korea. Meanwhile, they decided to solve the Syrian problem once and for all by sending more and better-armed Wahhabi gunmen to conquer that country, and as an afterthought, by tying the Iranians down in a quagmire in Yemen thanks to the invasion of that country by the invincible Saudi Royal Armed Forces.

All that this accomplished was to get the Russians to make a deal with the Iranians and the Lebanese to offer ground support to the Ba’ath in Syria, while the Russians provided air support and intelligence. This very nearly led to a war between Russia and Turkey, and caused the Israelis to ramp up their participation in the war, sponsoring gunmen to keep Syrian troops away from the borders of the Golan Heights and periodically bombing Syrian targets. Anything which involves the Turks and the Israelis tends to arouse the ire of the average Arab, and the fact that the Saudis were happily fighting side by side with the Israelis did nothing to reduce the tension there or encourage them to be frightened of the Iranians, who were now best friends with the Russians (while they were also major suppliers of oil to China and therefore umbilically linked).

When the Russian initiative succeeded and the Syrian government recovered great swathes of territory and incidentally demonstrated both the complicity of the West in ghastly Wahhabi massacres in the area, and the complicity of the Western media in lying about the whole context and process of the war, this did no good for the American-Saudi-Israeli cause, and meanwhile the Americans began relying so heavily on Kurdish gunmen linked to separatists in Turkey, and botched an attempted military coup in Turkey, that Turkey began tilting towards Russia. It was a huge, and hugely predictable, mess.

Having been defeated (although perhaps only temporarily) in Asia and the Middle East, losing face calamitously, the West had to fall back on lies. Hence the claims that the Russians engineered the election of President Trump and the departure of Britain from the European Union, and perhaps also the North Korean development of an intercontinental ballistic missile. These claims are ludicrous, and grow more ludicrous with every repetition as more lies and exaggerations are added, but they serve to rally the boobs behind a new cold war with Russia, and meanwhile there is also the demand that the West should punish China for unsportingly manufacturing goods more cheaply than the West can, and in far greater quantities, by slapping tariffs and fines on imports from China, thus making consumer goods in the West more expensive and scarce.

These two cold wars are dangerous, although they segue into one cold war because China and Russia are militarily and economically very close these days. The war in Syria is hot, however, and both China and Russia are involved on one side, and the West on the other. The situation in Ukraine is unstable, with Russia and the West at loggerheads. Meanwhile the aftermath of Western aggressive imperialism has left unresolved wars flaring in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, Niger, Central Africa and the Congo. Any one of these wars could lead to problems between the Sino-Russian alliance and the West, especially since China is increasingly concerned to build strategic partnerships in Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East, where the wars are happening.

So what? the purportedly clever Americans and Britons say. Yes, Western policies have driven the world closer to the brink of war than it has been since September 1939 or July 1914. But unlike those months, today nobody is ready for war. The West does not want to start a war, even though it would win, and the Sino-Russians are too weak and would not dare, because they would lose. Therefore, the central element of Western foreign policy should be to press further into the hedge around war, because it is impossible to burst through the hedge into actual war.

But what if it is? The Americans think of themselves as militarily all-powerful, but their armed forces are extremely clumsy and ineffective, especially their ground forces. Their navy is hugely vulnerable. Their air force is obsessed with the “silver bullet” and in developing ever more expensive, ever more complex, ever less reliable warplanes. Their “special forces” are little more than a global death squad. Meanwhile, Russia has developed some fairly effective basic weaponry and sold the designs to China, which is producing them in gigantic quantities, and the Chinese and Russian militaries are both much more serious and sober, and much less politicised, than the American or European militaries. Both Russia and China are concentrating on defending their local areas of influence; China on the local seas out to Japan and Taiwan and the Philippines, Russia on Eastern Europe, the Baltic, Black Sea, White Sea and Sea of Okhotsk, and they would both be difficult countries to invade.

But if war breaks out, Europe will be in danger of invasion, as will the American allies off China’s coast — Taiwan, South Korea and Japan — and without Europe and the Asian allies, the United States would face a grave economic crisis. In order to defend its Asian allies it would have to expend its navy, and unlike the Chinese, who have been turning out warships like so many sausages, they cannot replenish their losses. As for the prospects of defending Eastern Europe, it seems unlikely that anything could stop the Russians from overrunning the territories which they conquered in 1945, and then using these as bases from which to bombard America’s allies — while Russia’s formidable submarine fleet would make resupply for American forces in Europe very difficult. It would be an extremely scary and troublesome war, and the long-term prospects for American victory are not good (the United States no longer possesses a huge manufacturing base to convert to military purposes as it did in 1940).

So it seems that war is not very likely, but if it does come, the United States will lose. This, however, was also the judgement made about the Kaiser’s Germany, and in a sense about Tojo’s Japan, both countries which felt themselves encircled and threatened and decided, despite the strong position they were in, that they could only get weaker in future and that now was the moment to strike against their enemies. (Adam Tooze makes a convincing argument that this was why the Nazis went to war in 1939, contradicting both the assessments of the Wehrmacht and Hitler’s own plans laid out both in Mein Kampf and in the Hossbach Memorandum of 1937, usually represented as the blueprint for war.) In other words, it’s not so very unlikely as all that, and the prospects for the actual conduct of such a war, with all sides possessing vast weapons of mass destruction, are more terrifying than almost anyone in this day and age can imagine, remote as we are even from the genocidal conflicts of the 1980s which have been swept under the carpet.

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Doomsday Scenarios.

November 28, 2015

A mildly fascinating question: how close are we to global thermonuclear war?

This is not a jocular question. In South Africa we are obsessed with the failings and foibles of our own government (though these are often covered up by the press, who single out very specific failings and foibles and deploy them for the purposes of their controllers). We are also, sort of, aware of the potential global economic crisis, and are growing increasingly aware of the undeniable global environmental crisis. But the fact that we might be killed off by a war, either vapourised by igniting lithium deuteride or frozen in the ensuing global winter (rather ironic that it would sort out the global warming problem) is out of our consciousness.

This question is raised by the shooting-down of a Russian Su-24 strike aircraft by the Turkish Air Force over northern Syria.

Is this going to lead to a world war? Informed sources closely connected with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the countries under its ambit say, “No, the Russians wouldn’t dare” in various ways. Obviously war can only be started by Russia, since NATO countries, by definition, do not start wars — they engage in humanitarian interventions, as in Korea, Vietnam, Angola, Iraq, etc., etc., etc.

So, let’s put the question another way. Is this going to lead to a world war in the real world, as opposed to the fantasy world in which the Western politicians and their bought media live? The answer is that we really don’t know yet. It could have been said that when Kaiser Wilhelm sent the gunboat Panther to Agadir, it didn’t start a world war — but the First World War was partly provoked by French fears of German meddling in what it considered its own affairs, so yes, that action did in a sense start the world war, or at least contributed to it. So, if there’s going to be a global thermonuclear war within the next couple of decades, if there are any subsequent historians, they would certainly say that the Turkish shootdown was a major contributing factor.

What actually happened is fairly simple and clear. The Russians were giving close air support to the Syrian Arab Army, which is taking over the area between Aleppo and the Turkish border so as to cut the supply lines of the Wahhabi guerrillas who control half of Aleppo. This area is partly occupied by Turkmen guerrillas linked to the Al-Nusra Front, which in turn is part of the Army of Conquest funded by Saudi Arabia. These guerrillas are from Central Asia, and are associated with the Islamic extremist movements in that region; they were presumably recruited there and trained in Turkey, and the Turks are pretending that they are Turks (they have some ethnic connections, although the territorial links have been broken for half a millennium) and supposedly under Turkish protection.

The guerrillas in question are connected to al-Qaeda and are in an informal alliance with the “Islamic State” guerrillas, so in theory the United States is at war with them, and NATO is at war with them, and therefore, Turkey is at war with them. In practice, the guerrillas were brought there by NATO countries, and could not survive without Turkish support, including aerial reconnaissance (this was what a Turkish RF-4 was doing over Syrian territory when the Syrians shot it down) but providing aerial fighter cover for the guerrillas is a step much further than the Turks have taken before.

The big question is whether the Turks did it on their own, or whether this was part of a NATO (for which read, of course, American) project to raise the stakes in the fight.

The same question can be asked about the bomb which blew up a Russian airliner over the Sinai peninsula. This was claimed by the Islamic State, and it’s perfectly possible that the Egyptian authorities at the Sharm-el-Sheik airport were so sloppy as to allow Islamic State guerrillas to smuggle a kilogram of high explosive connected with a barometric-pressure fuse (the airliner exploded when it reached cruising altitude, exactly like the Lockerbie airliner which was bombed with a barometric-pressure fuse) on board. After all, the Egyptians are only fighting a massive war in the Sinai Peninsula, part of their massive war against political dissidents everywhere, they are only a police state, they are only utterly dependent on foreign tourism to prop up their ramshackle dictatorship — how unsurprising that the first attempt to bomb an airliner in the area should succeed!

Or else we might ask if the Saudi intelligence services, or the Israeli intelligence services, or even the American intelligence services, might have been involved, with the goal of making the Syrian intervention unpopular with the Russian public. It’s the kind of exceptionally stupid thing they would do. (Using a barometric-pressure fuse instead of a time fuse is also a hint; the Lockerbie bomb was set by the Iranians in revenge for the shooting-down by the Americans of their airliner the previous year, and the Russian war in Syria is in support of Iran, and in alliance with Iran. A message from the Godfather, like a horse’s head in your bed.)

Of course IS might have acted alone, and the Turks might have acted alone (although NATO has backed them to the hilt and denounced the Russians for having an aircraft in a place where the Turks could shoot it down, and pretended to believe all the transparent lies the Turks have provided to excuse this incredibly provocative behaviour). The point is that nobody has acted to calm the tensions (except the Russians, who responded very cautiously to the airliner downing, in contrast to the excited yelps of joy coming out of the Western media on the subject, and who have responded to the Turkish action by simply beefing up their air defenses in Syria and imposing economic sanctions against Turkey — by any standards a proportionate reaction).

The thing is that the Russians are supposedly acting in an informal alliance with NATO, and yet it was a NATO country which shot the aircraft down while it was engaged in combat with the “extremist terrorists” whom NATO politicians are forever denouncing verbally. And yet despite these denunciations, NATO countries (and their allies, such as Australia) are major sources of recruitment for these Wahhabi guerrilla forces in Syria. Somehow, thousands of young disaffected Muslims manage to leave Britain and France and Australia and travel to Syria, and nobody stops them. After they have been trained and experienced combat, some of them come back, and of those, some proceed to try to shoot up trains with automatic weapons, or shoot up concerts with automatic weapons, or blow up bars with explosive belts.

Where do they get the guns and the explosives, and how is it that the most intensive political surveillance in the world is incapable of noticing either the weapons, the training, or the willingness to use them? Or is it that the surveillance notices them and the political control behind the surveillance is quite happy to see it all happen, because it can be used politically to justify more complete political repression and panic the public into blind support for the ruling class and racist endorsement of xenophobic and imperialist policies? Or is it that the surveillance notices them and the political control encourages it all to happen?

None of this is certain, except that no NATO country can be trusted to tell the truth about what is going on. (And Syria can’t be trusted much more, and Russia only a little more.) However, one minor point is that China stands with Russia in its Syrian policy, while the Chinese are very uneasy about the Islamic fundamentalist guerrilla movement in its Central Asian provinces, and are worried that the Americans seem to be supporting this movement — so the Turkmen receiving training and combat experience in Syrian Wahhabi guerrilla forces might ultimately be used to destabilise China, as the Chechens receiving the same things in the same forces might be used to destabilise Russia. China also sent a small naval force to support Syria when the Americans were trying to invade Syria in 2013 over the fake chemical weapons crisis. It does, then, seem that some sort of global bloc is forming.

The trouble is that NATO has been on the march since it invaded Serbia in 1999, and as NATO becomes economically weaker it becomes more and more dependent on military strategies. Its leadership, to put matters politely, lives in la-la land; one of its current propaganda tropes is that the Syrian government is backing ISIS, which makes exactly as much sense as the notion that Francisco Franco was backing the Spanish anarchist movement in 1937 (the claim then made by the Stalinists).

And as a result of floating on an ocean of fantasy pumped out by their public relations consultants (some of whom go under the name of intelligence agencies) the ruling class of the NATO countries has decided to launch a cold war against Russia and China (and incidentally to promote political turmoil in Brazil and economic sanctions against South Africa — of the BRICS countries only India is exempt from assault because it is so very, very right wing that the NATO ruling class hasn’t the heart to hurt it). But this cold war hasn’t been very effective; Russia wouldn’t give up its military bases in Crimea, and wouldn’t knuckle under when sanctions were imposed as if Russia were Equatorial Guinea. And then Russia went and decided to offer support to Syria, and coordinate the military and political cooperation between Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran, far more effectively than America was able to coordinate the cooperation between Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia. And so Russia must be punished, and so the Su-24 was shot down.

But all that does is piss off the Russians and trouble the Chinese (who aren’t keen about the Americans muscling in on their turf, although the Trans-Pacific Partnership which is allegedly aimed against the Chinese will probably damage the economies of the participating countries, and the Americans are incapable of doing anything effective in the South China Sea except irritate the Chinese military and Chinese big business). It also creates the impression that the NATO countries are both heavily armed and slightly crazed, and possibly desperate.

The last time the situation was like this, in the early 1980s, everybody in the world was scared, and as we now know, the most scared people of all were sitting in the Kremlin, nibbling their nails up to the elbow and jumping whenever a fresh radar blip showed another NATO combat or missile testing their defenses. Putin and Xi don’t give the impression of being frightened — but the NATO leadership scamper in circles on a regularly choreographed basis. “The Russians are coming! The Chinese are coming! ISIL/ISIS/Daesh are coming! The anti-semites are coming! Jeremy Corbyn is coming! We officially call for public panic and amok-running!” As a result, the Russians and Chinese (and the Indians) are all boosting their militaries quite substantially.

And these maniacs, and these more measured but quite clearly worried people, are the people with their fingers on the nuclear buttons, and there is no way of snipping those fingers off, or taking the fuses out of the nuclear warheads. If we get through the next decade without mushroom clouds in all directions, we will be exceedingly lucky. Maybe the Malagassy lemurs will survive. Maybe they will make a better job of it than we did.