US threatens China, Iran and the EU

ANSWER coalition protest against US aggression towards Iran

Hardly a day passes without President Trump and the US government threatening another country: North Korea, China, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Russia, Syria, Iran and the European Union (the list goes on) have all been warned. Threats are accompanied by sanctions, blockades, trade wars and military manoeuvres; either the disobedient get back in line and do what they are told – or else. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, US ruling class strategy sought to prevent any power or combination of powers challenging its dominance, either globally or regionally. With the US’s relative economic decline this proves increasingly difficult to achieve. We are witnessing the intensification of inter-imperialist rivalries. Two world wars warn us that the dangers are real. TREVOR RAYNE reports.


The US began the trade war with China in July 2018 by imposing a 25% tariff on Chinese exports to the US worth $34bn. China retaliated with tariffs on imports of US goods. The US then increased the range of tariffs against China, including 10% tariffs on $200bn worth of imports from China and threatened to raise the tariff to 25% in January 2019 if no trade deal was reached. This move was delayed while talks continued, until, on 10 May, the tariff was raised to 25%, when the US also threatened to impose a 25% tariff on a yet further $325bn worth of Chinese goods. The US government said that China had reneged on agreements to enshrine in law decisions covering intellectual property, technology transfers, competition policy, currency manipulation and US corporate access to Chinese financial services. China denied backtracking on any agreements and retaliated with 25% tariffs on 2,493 items coming from the US worth $60bn.

On 15 May, in a move intended to harm China’s technology company Huawei, President Trump declared a ‘national emergency’ and signed an executive order prohibiting US companies from using telecommunications equipment that might threaten US national security. Huawei was put on the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List, which identifies individuals, companies and other organisations considered a threat to US national security. Any US company that wants to sell Huawei semi­conductors will have to apply for a licence. Huawei has depended on US components for its equipment. On 20 May, Google suspended delivery of key Android software and technical services to Huawei. Following Google’s lead, BT’s EE and Vodafone in Britain and two Japanese mobile operators dropped Huawei handsets from their proposed 5G services. Huawei’s plans to produce its own processors were hit on 22 May when the Cambridge­based chip designer Arm said that it would stop licensing its technology to the Chinese firm. Arm said that its designs contained ‘US origin technology’, making them subject to US export controls. The US has declared its willingness to wage an all­out  technology war against China. 

The US ruling class views China’s industrial and technological advance as a threat (see ‘China: on top of the world’ FRFI 266 Oct/Nov 2018).  In 1989, on the eve of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the US had about 34% of the world’s gross domestic product and China 4%. Today the US share is below 25% and China’s is approaching 20%; on current trends China’s economy will soon overtake that of the US, and if measured by purchasing power parity it already has. The US announced its ‘pivot to Asia’ in 2011, under the Obama administration. This acknowledged China’s challenge. In recent trade negotiations the US has insisted on dictating legislation to China and demands that the Chinese state stops subsidising its industries. The Chinese government rightly views this as undermining China’s national sovereignty. The US wants to retard China’s development. Meanwhile, the US continues to send its warships through the Taiwan Straits and into the South China Sea to menace China.

The European Union

The British and German governments have, so far, defied the US and said that they will allow Huawei to provide equipment for forthcoming 5G telecommunications networks. The US government intends to stop this. On 1 May British Prime Minister Theresa May sacked Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson for leaking information about the National Security Council discussion of 5G and Huawei. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt then said that no final decision on 5G had been made. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in London on 8 May to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher becoming prime minister, attacked Britain’s proposed involvement with Huawei, saying this could allow China ‘to control the internet of the future’ and ‘divide western alliances through bits and bytes’.

Germany’s government was warned by the US ambassador that the US would reduce intelligence sharing with it if Germany did not block Huawei. On 7 May Pompeo cancelled a meeting with German Chancellor Merkel to fly to Iraq, saying that Iran was ‘escalating their activity’. The US opposes the German Nord Stream 2 project to bring Russian gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea and wants the German trade surplus with the US cut. Last year the US imposed a 25% tariff on European Union (EU) steel exports and 10% tariff on EU aluminium exports to the US. The US has threatened a 25% automobile tariff on EU and Japanese automobile exports, citing ‘national security’. This May, a group of US senators introduced a bill that would impose sanctions on vessels used to build deep sea pipelines for Russian energy export projects, and that includes Nord Stream 2.

Now, the US government has warned the EU that it must not stop US companies from participating in European military investments. The US has criticised the rules of the European Defence Fund and the Permanent Structured Cooperation, set up in 2017 for European cooperation in arms production and of national military forces. The US ruling class will try and prevent the development of a European imperialist military force capable of resisting and potentially challenging it. Nicholas Burns, former US ambassador to NATO, explained ‘President Trump does not believe that the EU is a valued ally. He believes the EU is a competitor.’  


When President Trump announced on 8 May 2018 that the US was leaving the 2015 nuclear deal agreed with Iran, he not only increased the likelihood of a military clash between the US and Iran, he threw down the gauntlet in a challenge to Europe. Threatened by loss of access to US markets, most European companies and banks have withdrawn from Iran. With the US ratcheting up its threats, Iran chastised European governments, saying it would not abide by the nuclear agreement if there were no significant economic benefits from doing so.

In April 2019 the US state designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a ‘terrorist organisation’. The US extended sanctions against Iran to cover Iran’s aluminium, copper, iron and steel exports. Trump vowed to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero. Since Trump’s May 2018 announcement, Iranian oil exports have dropped from 2.8m barrels per day to 1.3m. On 22 April 2019 the US said that it was ending sanctions waivers which allowed designated countries to buy Iran’s oil. China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey all face penalties from the US if they continue to buy Iranian oil. This is the astonishing arrogance of the US ruling class which claims the right to rule the world. China said it would continue to buy Iranian oil.

On 9 May 2019 the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike force passed through the Suez Canal and Red Sea towards the Persian Gulf, while four nuclear­capable US B­52 bombers landed at the US airbase in Qatar. The Pentagon reportedly presented a contingency plan to deploy 120,000 US troops to the Middle East and to launch a cyber­attack on Iran’s infrastructure. Trump denied that there were such plans. US National Security Adviser John Bolton said that there had been ‘indicators and warnings’ from Iran and threatened that the US would respond with ‘unrelenting force’; Pompeo spoke of ‘swift and decisive’ retaliation; not to be outdone, Trump said Iran would meet its ‘official end’ if it threatened the US. These utterances come from a US state that, along with the British state, has been bombing the Middle East ceaselessly since January 1991.

British Major­General Christopher Ghika, deputy commander of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, contradicted Bolton and said ‘No, there’s been no increased threat from Iranian­backed forces in Iraq and Syria.’ This was countered by US Central command which said there were ‘credible threats’ from Iranian­backed forces. The British government distanced itself from the Major­General, saying that he was commenting on ‘the day to day military operations and his sole focus is the enduring defeat of Daesh [IS]’. The British state then raised its threat levels for British troops on 16 May, but declined to say why. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted ‘We share the same assessment of the heightened threat posed by Iran. As always we work closely with the USA.’

However, Hunt did say that Britain was ‘very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident with an escalation that is unintended really on either side’. What worries capitalists are the impacts that war with Iran would have on the world economy. The Strait of Hormuz lies between Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman and is one of the world’s most important oil routes; through it passes almost a third of the world’s seaborne crude. Iran has threatened to close this route if attacked. On 13 May Saudi Arabia said that two oil tankers were among several vessels sabotaged off the coast of the UAE. Then two Saudi oil pumping stations on a crucial pipeline that allows Saudi Arabia to send oil abroad without using the Strait were targeted in a drone attack. The Houthi opposition in Yemen claimed responsibility. Just the possibility that tankers might be delayed en route to Europe, Asia and North America pushed oil prices up 3%.

Iran has four times the land area of Iraq and more than double the population. In 2003 the ‘coalition of the willing’ supporting the US and British­led attack on Iraq had 49 member states and 33 of them provided troops to support the occupation force. This time, so far, the US’s only backers for an attack on Iran are in the Middle East: primarily Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel. As we wrote of the Iraq war, ‘Control over oil supplies is crucial for world power; China, Germany and Japan, potential rivals to the US, all depend on oil imports. Since the 1956 Suez Crisis, the British ruling class has supported US hegemony over the Middle East and joined in the spoils’ (‘The Chilcot Inquiry: imperialists waged illegal war’ FRFI 252 Aug/Sept 2016). Opposition to the imperialist war drive is vital. Dangers are growing with inter­imperialist rivalry. In the Middle East British imperialism is the US’s most consistent supporter.



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