Five minutes to midnight – Part II / FRFI 196 Apr / May 2007

FRFI 196 April / May 2007

On 14 March the British House of Commons voted by 409 votes to 161 to replace the Trident nuclear submarine missile system with a new generation of nuclear weapons. The cost of the new system will be £65 billion over 30 years, according to the Ministry of Defence. The submarine and missile technology will be primarily US-supplied thereby preserving the ties between the British state and the US military-industrial complex. Iran’s government denounced the vote for encouraging the drive towards nuclear proliferation. In Five minutes to midnight, Part one (FRFI 195) we examined US and Israeli preparations for an attack on Iran, including the possibility of a nuclear attack. Here we explore the latest developments over Iran and North Korea and the manoeuvres of rival powers as they resist the US capitalists’ attempt at global hegemony. Trevor Rayne reports.

North Korea, Iran and the EU
On 12 February North Korea agreed to close its main nuclear weapons related facilities in exchange for large amounts of energy assistance. North Korea has no oil or gas reserves. The US government thanked China for its role in achieving the deal. China signed a mutual assistance treaty with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 1961 that requires China to come to the assistance of the DPRK if it is attacked. The Chinese state has no intention of seeing a hostile regime installed in place of the DPRK on its northeast border. Given that the DPRK receives 90% of its imported supplies from China, most significantly fuel and food, China no doubt encouraged the DPRK to talk to the imperialists.

Former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton condemned the agreement as a concession to North Korea’s nuclear threat. The removal of former US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld and of Bolton from their posts signals that the neo-conservatives and the more pro-war elements are losing their influence in the US government, in large part because of failures in Iraq.

US and Israeli bellicosity towards Iran continues. On 25 February US Vice President Cheney said, ‘It would be a serious mistake if a nation like Iran were to become a nuclear power. All options are still on the table’. The formula ‘all options’ refers to the continuing nuclear threat against Iran if it continues its nuclear energy programme. US troops are stationed in 120 countries and have bases surrounding Iran. Two US aircraft carrier fleets are in the Persian Gulf.

In January the US authorised its forces to kill or capture Iranian agents in Iraq. Five Iranian consular officials were seized by US soldiers in Erbil in northern Iraq in January. They are still being held. On 4 February a second secretary of Iran’s Baghdad embassy was seized by gunmen that Iran accused of ‘operating under the supervision of American forces’. A former senior Iranian general has gone missing and is believed to be in US hands, either as a defector or undergoing interrogation.

The head of Israeli artillery, General Oded Tira, said in January that ‘As an American strike in Iran is essential for our existence’, Israel must lobby the US Democratic Party to ensure that there is support for an attack. All three leading Democratic candidates for the Presidency, Clinton, Obama and Edwards, subscribe to the ‘all options’ formula.

In keeping with the December US Iraq Study Group proposal, US and Iranian diplomats met in Baghdad in March to discuss Iraq’s security. Angry words were exchanged: to US accusations that it had proof that Iran was arming Iraqi Shia militias, the Iranian envoy reposted, ‘Your accusations are merely a cover for your failures in Iraq’. About 90% of attacks on US forces are made by Sunni-based groups. Contradicting his government, US General Peter Pace, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the US does not have infallible evidence of Iranian government involvement in arms supplies to Iraqi militias.

US threats against Iran serve to underscore the determination of the US ruling class, with British support, to maintain control over the Middle East and its oil. They are also intended to prevent Europe, Russia or China strengthening their positions in the region. In February French President Chirac wondered aloud whether it would be such a bad thing for Iran to have one or two nuclear weapons, ‘Where would it fire that bomb? At Israel? It wouldn’t have travelled 200 metres through the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed’. Chirac was rounded on by the US media and its European counterparts.

Having imposed its own financial sanctions on Iran, the US is pressing Europe to withdraw the credits with which the country finances its imports and to discourage investment in Iran. The European Union (EU) has resisted this pressure and refuses to impose sanctions alongside the US against Iranian banks that the US claims are associated with Iran’s missile programme.

The US push for sanctions is intended to ensure that the US acts as arbiter of access to Iran. Britain is the main European supporter of the US stance, but the EU insists that Iran remains open to it. In mid March Germany objected to further US proposals to halt new credits and export guarantees to Iran.

Thanks largely to higher oil prices, Russia’s gross domestic product rose 73% between 1998 and 2006. The Russian ruling class is seeking to recover the regional influence lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union and this means repelling US encroachments. Citing a threat to the US and Europe from future Iranian nuclear missiles, the US announced its intention to station missile defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic; these countries are supposedly en-route to the US for the hypothetical missiles. Bulgaria has also signed an agreement to host three US bases.

Speaking in Munich in February Russian President Putin said that ‘illegal’ and unilateral US military action had plunged the world into an ‘abyss of permanent conflicts’. Yury Baluyevsky, Chief of Russia’s General Staff, remarked, ‘What they [the US] are doing at present, building a third missile defence ring in Europe, is impossible to justify’. Russia warned Poland and the Czech Republic that they risked becoming Russian military targets and Germany’s foreign minister criticised the US for not considering Russian worries about the anti-missile system. The Labour government has been lobbying for US anti-missile systems to be based in Britain.

With the US military floundering in Iraq we can expect more assertiveness from Russia, the EU and China where their interests do not coincide with those of the US.

China and space war diplomacy
‘The emerging synergy of space superiority with land, sea and air superiority will lead to Full Spectrum Dominance.’ US Space Command, Vision for 2020, 1997.
‘Space represents a fundamentally new and better way to apply military force.’ US Strategic Command, 2004.
‘He who knows everything fears nothing.’ Dr Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propagandist.

The Duke of Wellington said that he had spent his life guessing what was on the other side of the hill: satellites in orbit flatten the hills. The UN General Assembly voted in December 2006 on a resolution to prevent an arms race in outer-space. The Assembly adopted the resolution with 178 in favour to one against (the US), with one abstention (Israel).

Deng Xiaoping once said that China must ‘hide brightness and nourish obscurity…to bide our time and build up our capabilities’. Hosting the Olympic Games next year, China’s rulers must calculate that the time to ‘nourish obscurity’ is now past. On 11 January China successfully launched a missile to destroy one of its own weather satellites in space. This was China’s first successful test of an anti-satellite system after three previous trials. China had demonstrated that it could eliminate US satellite intelligence and could stymie the US plan to monopolise space. China did not acknowledge the operation. The US condemned it: the ‘development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of co-operation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area’. Japan and South Korea added to the condemnation.

Orbiting satellites (Global Positioning, imaging and communications) are essential to the US military. They serve to navigate ships, aeroplanes, troops, artillery, ‘smart bombs’ (such as the one that destroyed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999) and to provide real-time intelligence. US General Fogelman, then Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, expressed misplaced faith in the new technology: ‘In the first three months of the twenty-first century, we shall be capable of finding, tracking and targeting virtually in real-time any significant element moving on the face of the Earth.’ He could have added ‘and destroy it’. In August 2006 President Bush claimed the US right to ‘freedom of action in space’ with a policy to ‘deter others from either impeding these rights or developing capabilities intended to do so’. This includes the right to ‘deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests’. Whether they intended to or not, the Chinese, by firing on their own satellite in space, issued a warning to the US on the use of its military.

In thrall to its space technology advantage over the rest of the world, a key component for global domination, the US has received a symbolic strike at one of its weakest points.

During 2006 China added more electricity generating power than the entire UK national grid; about 102 gigawatts, or twice the capacity of California. (Financial Times, 7 February 2007) This expanded capacity is underpinned by fossil fuel imports. The Middle East now accounts for 46% of China’s oil supplies. China’s main oil suppliers are Angola, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia. China is negotiating oil deals worth tens of billions of dollars with Iran. Dozens of Chinese companies are investing in Iran’s infrastructure, including the Tehran metro. China’s interests in Iran do not coincide with those of the US.

China and Japan together hold over $1.7 trillion in US currency and US-based assets. The Royal Bank of Scotland noted in a February survey that the central banks of Italy, Switzerland and Sweden had made ‘major adjustments’ in their dollar holdings as the dollar weakens. US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson recently installed a ‘hot-line’ to his Chinese counterpart. Presumably the Chinese are intended to consider this an honour, but perhaps they detect a weakness in the embrace of their dollar-issuing partner. As with North Korea so with Iran; China is beginning to use its economic power to project political power.

In part three we shall examine the response of Japan and India to the US quest for global hegemony and the lethal folly of blind faith in technology in military matters.

Stop press: On 23 March, as we go to press, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards captured 15 British Royal Marines and sailors, accusing them of illegally entering Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf. Predictably, the British government said their personnel had been in Iraqi waters and were kidnapped. Both the US and Britain use this area to spy on Iran. The Iranian people have every right to defend their sovereignty. The British military, on the other hand, has no right to be in the Gulf or in the Middle East.

The militarisation of science

On 17 January the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock from seven to five minutes to midnight. The scientists explained: ‘we stand on the brink of a second nuclear age. Not since the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has the world faced such perilous choices’.

Nuclear proliferation, the US’ stated readiness to use nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapons stockpiles in the US and Russia and the threat to civilisation presented by global warming all counted in the decision to move the Clock hands towards midnight.

Science is a force of production. The development of the forces of production has the potential to assist humanity in its liberation from want, but under capitalist relations of production the forces of production are turned into means of exploitation and destruction. Just as the development of factory machines were turned into instruments of drudgery and exploitation so the combination of telecommunications, computers and satellites is turned against humanity as means of spying and warfare.

Satellite technology has the capacity to help in agriculture, to fight against disease and the threats to the environment. In the hands of imperialism science is used to locate and destroy military and civilian targets and to enrich the parasites that conduct the global financial markets.