Five minutes to midnight - Part III

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Menacing manoeuvres

In May 2007 Vice President Cheney addressed the world from the deck of a US aircraft carrier in the Gulf: ‘With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we’re sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike. We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.’ At almost the same time Russian President Putin, celebrating the anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis, said there were ‘new threats’ in the world based on ‘the same disregard for human life and the same pretensions to international exclusivity and diktat as in the Third Reich’. Trevor Rayne reports.

Those who dreamt that the Soviet Union’s collapse would result in reduced war preparations must surely have awoken. World military spending in 2005 was $1,001 billion (at 2003 prices); 3.4% up on the 2004 figure and a 34% increase on the annual average for 1996-2005. The US was responsible for 80% of the 2005 increase. In 2008 US military spending, including the costs of the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, will be $647.2 billion; the highest level of military spending in real terms since the Second World War, higher than for the Korean and Vietnam wars. This will exceed the combined military expenditure of all other countries in the world. It is 120 times what the US spends combating global warming. Far from the Iraq war discouraging them, this is evidence of the US ruling class’s determination to take advantage of the Soviet Union’s collapse to enforce global hegemony. US arms companies’ share prices have grown three-fold since the invasion of Iraq. Imperialism is militarism.

Five minutes to midnight Part one (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 the prospects of US space domination and European capitalism’s tensions with the US over Iran. Here we explore the US need for regional allies to ensure its global reach.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed in April that Iran was producing nuclear fuel at its Natanz enrichment plant in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Although the Iranian government released the 15 British sailors and marines detained in the Gulf in March, the US continues to hold five Iranian diplomats seized in northern Iraq in January. On 2 July the US military accused Iran of helping Iraqis to abduct and kill five US soldiers in January 2007. A week later Britain’s new Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that Iran ‘doesn’t have the right to set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East’ and that Britain would continue to co-operate with the US in building a missile defence shield. But it is the US and Israel that have brought nuclear weapons to the Middle East! Senior Russian general Leonid Ivashov described US intentions for Iran, ‘Nuclear facilities will be secondary targets…at least 20 such facilities need to be destroyed. Combat nuclear weaponry may be used. This will result in the radioactive contamination of all Iranian territory, and beyond.’ Shell, Austria’s OMV and Spain’s Repsol have put on hold plans to invest in Iran’s oil reserves in deference to the US Iran Sanctions Act. Iran has given French oil firm Total four months to decide whether to invest $2-4 billion in a natural gas project. Chinese and Indian interests may speed decisions along. Responding to US pressure, major Japanese banks have restricted loans to Iran and rejected an Iranian request to be paid for oil imports in currencies other than the US dollar. European importers trade increasingly with euros.

Russia, Europe and the US
Without consulting its NATO partners or the European Union (EU), the US struck bilateral agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to station missile defence systems there. The US claims it intends to protect Europe and the US from a potential Iranian nuclear missile attack. Russia’s Chief of General Staff said the real purpose was to create exclusive invulnerability of the US and that Russia was the real target of the missiles. In April President Putin suspended the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, a key agreement in ending the Cold War and reducing military deployments in western Russia and central Europe. Russia has now moved surface-to-air missiles into Belarus.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ridiculed Russian concerns: ‘The idea that somehow ten interceptors and a few radars in Eastern Europe are going to threaten Soviet (sic) strategic return is purely ludicrous and everybody knows it.’ A US anti-missile system already exists in Norway and there are plans to place similar sites in Georgia and Azerbaijan. The British Labour government has said it wants anti-ballistic missiles at Fylingdales in Yorkshire. The US anti-missile system will be linked to Alaska and California, and to planned systems in Japan, Australia, and the Philippines and sea-borne systems in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and the Pacific. Poland has requested Patriot and high altitude missiles from the US and is buying F-16 fighter jets. The impression that anti-missile systems would be insufficient against the Russian or Chinese armoury is misleading:

‘ABM systems have a dark secret: They are not supposed to stop all-out missile attacks, just mop up the few remaining enemy missiles that manage to survive a first strike. First strikes – called "counterpoint" attacks in the bloodless vocabulary of nuclear war – are a central component in US nuclear doctrine.’ Conn Hallinan, Counterpunch, 12/13 May 2007

How would the US state respond to Russia or China stationing nuclear missiles in Cuba, Mexico and Canada? History tells us the answer to that one. Russia intends to quadruple production of ballistic nuclear missiles and increase its nuclear submarine fleet.

The EU is divided over US plans for Poland and the Czech Republic. Germany criticised the US for disregarding NATO in reaching bilateral deals. Estonia recently insulted Russia and its own Russian population by relocating a monument to Soviet Second World War soldiers. Over 26 and 27 April Lithuania hosted a Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) military exercise including the US Navy. The US sees these countries of ‘new Europe’ (Rumsfeld) as allies against Russia, and counter-weights to German and French (‘old Europe’) influence. The German ruling class has no intention of allowing the US bourgeoisie to dictate its policies towards Russia. Germany gets 40% of its gas and 35% of its oil from Russia. Russian gas is expected to rise to 60% of German usage within 20 years. Germany is Russia’s biggest trading partner and German exports to Russia have grown by 20% a year for three years. Former Chancellor Schroder is now an employee of Russian state-owned gas corporation Gazprom.

The Russian state is manoeuvring to take advantage of European scepticism about US plans: at the June G8 summit in Germany and again at his July meeting with President Bush in Kennebunkport in the US, Putin proposed Azerbaijan as an alternative site to Poland and the Czech Republic for the missile shield, and that it be under joint US-Russian control with more European nations involved. The US rejected the proposal. Putin later announced that Gazprom and Italy’s Eni oil company would develop a new fuel supply route from Russia to southeast Europe, providing alternative pipelines to those through Ukraine and Turkey. Eni now collaborates with Gazprom in Siberia.

The US now looks to Japan to shoulder a greater share of the military burden of the alliance to counter China. When North Korea tested missiles in July 2006 Japanese Prime Minister Abe called for a referendum allowing the constitution to be changed, enabling Japanese armed forces to move from a strictly defensive definition of their role and, said Abe, permit a pre-emptive strike on North Korea. After North Korea’s nuclear test in October 2006 voices were raised in Japan calling for the development of nuclear weapons. Japanese Prime Minister Abe reassured China and the US that Japan would not produce nuclear weapons. Under the US-Japan Alliance the US stations troops in Japan and in return the US pledges to defend Japan, with nuclear weapons if necessary.

The Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force operates in the Indian Ocean in support of the US and NATO occupation of Afghanistan, refuelling US and British ships from which bombing raids are launched. This is Japan’s first participation in an overseas military operation since 1945. Japanese ships use Indian ports. Japan has 47 destroyers and nine frigates; 22 more destroyers than has China. The Japanese fleet is nearly equal to the combined fleets of Britain, France, Spain and Portugal. Almost all the naval equipment is US supplied. Japanese ships are part of the US-led PSI. The PSI was announced by US President Bush at Krakow, Poland in May 2003. Members include Britain, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Spain, Australia and Singapore. It was established by the US without reference to the UN. The PSI claimed to be targeted at preventing Al Qaeda receiving materials for weapons of mass destruction; its real targets were Iran and North Korea: vessels suspected of carrying such materials and missile components were to be arrested.

Japan has established a satellite reconnaissance system to spy on North Korea and says it will join the US anti-missile system. In response the China Daily commented, ‘the deployment of a missile defence system by Japan is intended to contain China and [North Korea] and lay the basis for sharing Northeast Asian dominance with the United States’. Japan has the world’s largest stockpile of weapons grade plutonium and has intercontinental missile capability. It can become a major world military power at short notice. However, China is now Japan’s biggest trading partner, having surpassed the US; two-way trade exceeds $200 billion. Japanese companies operating in China employed 1.4 million people in 2006. Economic integration and inter-dependence between the two countries is likely to weigh against Japanese militarism on behalf of the US.

US and India
India’s strategic location in the centre of Asia adjacent to the sea lanes from the Middle East to East Asia makes it a potentially valuable ally to the US. In March 2005 Condoleezza Rice said the US intended to ‘make India a global power’. Three months later the US and India signed a strategic and military cooperation agreement on joint peacekeeping missions in third countries. In September 2005 the Indian Navy carried out its biggest joint exercise with the US Navy, including practising interdiction of shipping on the high seas. India provides ports for US forces operating in Iraq and Afghanistan and favours giving the US use of Trincomalee, a deepwater port in the Tamil part of Sri Lanka.

On 18 December 2006 the US and India signed a nuclear co-operation pact allowing US firms to ship nuclear fuel and equipment to India. This allows India to divert resources to its nuclear weapons programme. India has never signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Pact and disputes terms of the December agreement forbidding it from testing nuclear weapons and reprocessing nuclear fuel. Israel is now India’s second biggest arms supplier after Russia. The US government authorised Israel’s sale of the Phalcon radar system to India, despite vetoing a similar sale to China. India supports US-led opposition to Iran’s nuclear programme and has a presence on the governing board of the IAEA, presenting the case against Iran to the UN Security Council. However, India has a gas pipeline project planned with Iran that would supply a large part of India’s energy demand. This project would force India to develop friendly relations with Iran and Pakistan, through which the pipeline would run. The US government discourages India from the project.

What we are witnessing is intensifying inter-imperialist rivalry as different powers struggle to re-divide the world. The spectre of wars to come attends their proceedings.

FRFI 198 August / September 2007