Five minutes to midnight - Part IV

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Five minutes to midnight Part 4On a burning platform

The US ruling class’s attempt to achieve global domination following the collapse of the Soviet Union has increased the incidence of wars and likelihood of devastation in an already endangered world. In 2001 the US withdrew from the anti-ballistic missile treaty in pursuit of ‘full spectrum dominance’ on land and sea and in air and space. The US is the only state that deploys nuclear weapons abroad. On 17 January 2007 the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock from seven to five minutes to midnight. Midnight is the symbolic end of civilisation: Armageddon. The scientists explained that ‘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.’ The scientists said proliferation of nuclear weapons, the US’s proclaimed readiness to use nuclear weapons to destroy ‘time urgent targets’, the 26,000 nuclear weapons still held by the US and Russia and the ‘dire threat to civilisation’ posed by global warming weighed in their decision to move the clock hands forward. Atomic scientists know all too well about the militarisation of science. US and British soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan experience the limitations of relying on science and technology to win wars. Now economic crisis may undermine US ruling class ambitions. TREVOR RAYNE reports.

Analysing the First World War, Lenin said that ‘World domination is...the substance of imperialist policy, of which imperialist war is the continuation’. When the socialist countries and Soviet Union collapsed, the US role as military bulwark for different imperialisms was removed; henceforth each imperialist power would seek its own advantage. Of course, this is always done in the name of defending civilisation, culture and country. The US ruling class intends to use military superiority to prevent any challenge whether global or regional from Europe, Japan, Russia, China or anybody else. Treaties signed when the Soviet Union existed, restraining US force, have been disregarded or rejected. The US has declared the right to use pre-emptive attacks, including nuclear attacks, on other nations. 

Today the US has over 766 overseas bases containing a quarter of a million troops in about half the nations of the world. The US navy has 251 overseas naval bases and ports. In Iraq the US is building four major permanent bases which, when combined with Israeli forces, it judges should secure it continued domination of the Middle East. US military bases are stationed from Western Europe to the Chinese border; only Russia, Syria and Iran provide substantial zones free from US military presence. 

Part one of Five minutes to midnight (FRFI 195) examined US and Israeli preparations for an attack on Iran, including the possibility of a nuclear attack. Part two (FRFI 196) looked at China’s challenge to US attempts to gain space domination and European capitalism’s tensions with the US over Iran. Part three (FRFI 198) explored the US need to establish regional allies to ensure its global reach. Here we report on the continuing threats to Iran and weaknesses in the imperialist armour.

War drums
North Korea closed its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon in July and in return is to receive oil supplies. Discussions are planned to remove the country from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, allowing North Korea access to low interest loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. North Koreans might conclude that the country’s nuclear weapon test last year has paid dividends by ending the imperialists’ attempt to squeeze the country in to submission. However, stories circulate in the bourgeois media accusing North Korea of supplying Syria with nuclear technology. On 20 September President Bush warned North Korea against nuclear proliferation. 

On 6 September Syria accused Israel of bombing its territory. The Observer speculated that it might be a trial run for an attack on Iran, while the Sunday Times linked the incident to an attack on a Syrian nuclear weapons programme, using equipment supplied by North Korea. The media is used to ratchet up the threat against Iran and Syria. Neither Iran nor Syria has expressed any intention of building nuclear weapons, yet they are frequently accused of doing so. On 28 August the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) reported: ‘The agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of the declared nuclear materials at the enrichment facilities in Iran and has therefore concluded that it remains in peaceful use.’ Just as the IAEA’s reports on Iraq were dismissed out-of-hand in 2002-03 by the US, so the US government dismissed this report. On that very same day President Bush declared Iran to be ‘the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism’ and pledged to ‘confront Tehran’s murderous activities’ – ‘We will confront this danger before it is too late.’ Within hours of Bush’s speech a group of Iranian officials, guests of the Iraqi government, were seized in Baghdad and detained overnight by troops under US direction. The US state has said it intends to declare the 125,000 strong Iranian Revolutionary Guards, an Iranian state force, to be a ‘terrorist organisation’. This will make them a target for US attack.

British troops have relocated close to the Iraqi border with Iran. Both the US and British military accuse Iran of involvement in attacks on their forces in Iraq. The US is sponsoring and equipping groups fighting the Iranian state within Iran. US B-2 stealth bombers have recently been refitted to carry 30,000-pound ‘bunker-buster’ bombs. Specialists warn of ‘shock and awe’ writ large, with up to 10,000 Iranian sites being targeted. Noam Chomsky says the US government is ‘desperate...They might go for broke, and hope they can salvage something from the wreckage’. French Foreign Minister Kouchner said that if ‘such a bomb is made...we must prepare ourselves for the worst...That is war, sir.’ French President Sarkozy announced Iran ‘is trying to equip itself with a nuclear bomb’. This united imperialist pressure on Iran, with ever tightening financial sanctions, is intended to weaken the Iranian state and diminish its regional influence, which has grown with the imperialists’ problems in Iraq and Israel’s failure against Hizbollah in Lebanon last year. 

Reasons to pause
US and British forces are already over-stretched and Iran has warned that it will retaliate if attacked. Any assault on Iran or Syria could provoke convulsions in Middle Eastern societies as anti-imperialist trends among the masses strengthen. Furthermore, oil prices went over $80 a barrel on 13 September; attacking Iran may have dire consequences for an already fragile international capitalist economy. Disruption to oil flows from the Gulf and solidarity action from Venezuela and other oil producers could push oil prices well over $100 a barrel. This will accelerate the tendency to recession in the US, European and Japanese economies and risk turning an economic crisis for capitalism into a political crisis.

There are other factors for the warmongers to consider. This August, as Russian President Putin revived long-range bomber patrols, reversing a 1991 decision to suspend them, Russian and Chinese soldiers engaged in a joint exercise in Russia’s Ural mountains. On 2 August a submarine planted a Russian flag on the sea bed beneath the North Pole claiming the area as Russia’s. The Arctic is thought to contain 25% of the world’s oil and gas reserves plus gold, silver, diamonds, plutonium and other minerals. With the polar ice melting we can expect a scramble for these resources and control of the new sea lanes linking Europe and Asia. Russia continues to oppose US anti-ballistic missile systems being stationed in Poland and the Czech Republic. Together with China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekhistan, Russia belongs to the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation. This grouping met in August, Iran being given observer status, and the US was pointedly kept out. In the UN Security Council, Russia and China have opposed new sanctions against Iran. The combination of China and Russia with Iran has the potential to make the imperialists pause and to create a strong enough polarity to counter US hegemony. In August Russia started delivery of 50 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria; they are described as ‘extremely accurate’. 

China receives nearly 60% of its oil from the Middle East. Up to half the world’s oil is estimated to travel through the Malacca Straits from the Indian Ocean towards East Asia. The US ruling class reckons this is a choke point for the Chinese economy. In September the US led the biggest naval exercise ever held in the Indian Ocean; warships from the US, India, Japan, Singapore and Australia manoeuvred in the Bay of Bengal. Also in September, the US announced plans to sell 12 anti-submarine aircraft and 144 anti-aircraft missiles to Taiwan. The Chinese government denounced the arms sales as wanton interference in China’s ‘internal affairs’ and the People’s Daily warned of war with the US. It said the US was playing the ‘Taiwan card’ to ‘constrain or restrict China’: ‘This indicates that once the situation across the Taiwan Strait is out of control, military clashes would likely phase in and the possible clashes between China and the US cannot be ruled out entirely.’

Lessons from Rome
US additional supplements, on top of rising military budgets, to fight the ‘global war on terrorism’ will amount to $737 billion between 2001 and 2008. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are now more expensive to the US than the Korean and Vietnam wars were. The accumulated US government budget deficit between 2001 and 2006 is $1.23 trillion. US national debt is $9 trillion and interest payments on it took $406 billion in 2006. The US trade deficit exceeds $800 billion a year. US indebtedness has been funded by other countries buying US dollar denominated assets. The US needs $2.5 billion of such purchases each day. China now has $1.3 trillion worth of foreign currency reserves and is a major purchaser of the US assets. On 8 August two senior Chinese government spokespeople said that Chinese holdings of US dollars and Treasury bonds ‘contributes a great deal to maintaining the position of the dollar as a reserve currency’ and if the US were to employ sanctions against China ‘the Chinese central bank will be forced to sell dollars, which might lead to mass depreciation of the dollar’. This was a warning shot across the bows of the US ruling class. The world’s central banks, led by China and Japan, sold 3.8% of their holdings of US debt during August. Central banks and others sold off a net $9.4 billion of US Treasury and private bonds compared to net purchases of $24.7 billion in June. Since Bush came to office in 2000 the dollar has depreciated 40% against the euro. The Chinese warning must be factored in to any consideration of attacking Iran or Syria. The US ruling class is running out of the means to pay for its global appetite.

The Financial Times (13 August 2007) carried the reflections of the US comptroller general, ‘a non-partisan figure in charge of the Government Accountability Office, often described as the investigative arm of the US Congress’. ‘The US government is on a "burning platform" of unsustainable policies and practices with fiscal deficits, chronic healthcare under-funding, immigration and overseas military commitments threatening a crisis if action is not taken soon...Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire Mr Walker warned there were "striking similarities" between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including "declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government".’

FRFI 199 October / November 2007