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.