Imperialism mobilising for war

In 2022 global military spending surpassed $2 trillion for the first time in history. Per GDP military spending of the imperialist nations looks to soon overtake pre-2008 levels. The severity of the capitalist crisis is leading to a rapid intensification of inter-imperialist rivalry. Imperialism is making the necessary preparations for the coming conflicts. GEORGE O’CONNELL reports.

The collapse of the socialist bloc in 1991 provided a brief reprieve from inter-imperialist conflict. The imperialists embarked on a redivision of the new markets and profitable outlets for capital in the former Soviet Union. The result was a gradual decrease in military spending of the imperialist nations, from a height of 4% of GDP during the Cold War to remaining below 2% since 2000. This consensus of so-called peace dividends no longer exists. Competing imperialist capital is clashing more and more aggressively in the hunt for profitability. The wars characteristic of this ‘peace dividend’ period, the decimation of nations that threatened imperialist designs for dividing up the world, those in the Gulf, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, are now being replaced by increasingly direct confrontation between imperialist powers. The proxy war between NATO and Russia via Ukraine is the most immediate expression of this. Next is the pivoting towards direct conflict with China over Taiwan.

Ukraine war

Military mobilisation within Europe is approaching Cold War levels. The number of troops from NATO countries in Eastern Europe now stands at 330,000. This includes the eight NATO battlegroups stationed there which have seen their numbers increase tenfold in the space of a year to 40,000. These include non-EU soldiers from the US, Canada, and Britain. At the fall of the Berlin Wall, there were 200,000 US troops in West Germany. Total financial and military aid commitments to Ukraine in 2022 totalled $150bn. This effectively gives Ukraine the third largest military budget in the world. The balancing act lies in propping up the Ukrainian defence to keep Russian forces occupied while confronting the growing need to replenish NATO’s own dwindling stocks.

Ukrainian military forces are firing up to 10,000 artillery shells per day: the equivalent to annual US production being used up in two weeks. This holds true for most other forms of munitions including short range missiles and ammunition for air defence systems. On 13 February, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg declared ‘our defence industries [are] under strain’. Arms producers are now being mobilised across Europe and the US with billion-dollar contracts. The US is aiming to increase its artillery production to more than six times pre-war levels in the immediate future. BAE Systems took on £37bn of orders last year, taking its backlog to £59bn.

Increases in European arms production are however hampered by supply chain disruptions caused by sanctions on Russia, as well as inflated natural gas prices which remain more than double their pre-pandemic level.

German rearmament

Three days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced in his ‘Zeitenwende’ (new era) speech plans for a €100bn fund to modernise Germany’s military. Alongside plans to bring military spending up to 2% of GDP, this would amount to a tripling of military spending, by far Germany’s largest increase since immediately prior to the Second World War.

Following the 2008 crisis, German imperialism enjoyed easy access to Russian imports, primarily natural resources. This allowed the German economy to develop somewhat independently to US aims. One US aim in provoking conflict with Russia was to sever this relationship. This has now largely been achieved since the invasion, and as such, German imperialism has been particularly threatened. Whilst German industry has rebounded following its December 2022 crash, one which was particularly severe in energy-intensive sectors previously dependent on Russian natural gas imports, the German ruling class looks with apprehension towards next winter.
Importantly, the US has been able to achieve this without significant resistance because Germany’s, along with the rest of Europe’s, military capacity is totally subordinated to that of the US. The US spends 14 times more on its military than Germany and 3.5 times more than EU nations combined. German imperialism will seek to rectify this in the face of US aims increasingly antagonistic to its own. Blatant US involvement in sabotaging the Nord Stream gas pipeline, as well as protectionist US policy that threatens European industry through the Inflation Reduction Act, are further exacerbating these tensions. The German ruling class recognises that a precondition for any challenge to US imperialism is a functioning, modernised military. In 1995, it took the conflict in Yugoslavia for the German Luftwaffe to be roused for its first operations since WW2, precisely to secure German interests amidst the circling of competing imperialist powers: US, Britain etc.

NATO expansion

Many smaller European states are incapable of breaking this military dependence, and see their security tied to US imperialism. Two such nations are Finland and Sweden, who both submitted applications to join NATO on 18 May last year. Both nations have pre-existing ties with NATO: they both provided troops to NATO-led forces in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya. The two nations also share a long history of close diplomatic ties, joining the European Union together in 1995. Hence, their joint application to join NATO.

Their ascension to NATO has been opposed up to now by Turkey, which looks to lever this opportunity to build further support and legitimacy for its war on the Kurds. NATO’s 1949 constitution dictates that expansion of membership requires unanimous support from existing members. Turkish president Erdoğan has threatened to block both nations’ membership, and more recently just Sweden’s, alleging its harbouring of Kurdish activists from the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). NATO officials however maintain that it is a matter of time before both nations join.

For US imperialism, the tantalising prospect of almost complete NATO control of the Baltic Sea will be more than sufficient to grant Turkey any demands against the Kurdish people. Turkey can also leverage its control over the Bosporus Strait and subsequently the Black Sea. This is Russia and Ukraine’s gateway to the Mediterranean, and the site of Russia’s only warm deepwater ports, and as such a strategic target for US control.

90 seconds to midnight

On 24 January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set its Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been since its inception in 1947. Midnight signifies the end of civilisation. The main concern is the threat of escalation in Ukraine towards nuclear confrontation. Of the 12,705 nuclear warheads currently in existence, 11,405 of these are possessed by US and Russia, 2,000 of which are kept in a state of high operational alert. The US has some 200 nuclear warheads stationed in Europe, hosted by Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Turkey. These nations’ air forces are regularly trained in using them.

There does appear to exist some channel for communication between US and Russia to avoid crossing lines which could lead to extreme escalation. When, in November 2022, a Ukrainian missile exploded a few miles inside NATO member Poland’s border with Ukraine, it was down to the White House to promptly dispel Ukrainian claims that it was a Russian projectile. The Ukrainian, and initially Polish government’s assessment could have easily led to the triggering of NATO’s article 5, invoking a full-scale NATO response and all-out nuclear confrontation. This role being played by Ukraine and many of the European states, as well as Britain, of rabid agitation for escalation, is an extremely dangerous one.

In April 2022 US President Biden backed out of a campaign commitment to implement a ‘no first use’ nuclear weapons policy. The only country in the world to operate an unconditional ‘no first use’ policy is China. US imperialism clearly envisages a scenario where it will strike first.

Pacific theatre

Beyond the proxy war in Ukraine, we see increasing mobilisation towards confrontation with China, which US imperialism clearly now views as the single greatest threat to its hegemony. One of the bases on which this will be built is control over the Pacific.

US imperialism is looking to form and solidify alliances with Japan, South Korea, and Australia, to encircle China. One step in this process is providing Australia with nuclear capability. AUKUS, a cooperative military agreement signed in September 2021, will see the US and Britain provide Australia with the means of building its own arsenal of nuclear submarines, which will make it just the seventh such nation in the world. On 13 March leaders of the respective nations met to reaffirm their commitment to ‘enhance stability in the Indo-Pacific amid rapidly shifting global dynamics’ in the words of Biden. Over several decades, Britain and the US will provide the Australian navy with up to eight nuclear submarines, and eventually the means to produce their own. The project will require the three nations to exploit a loophole in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which was signed in 1968 and is adhered to by all nuclear capable powers other than Israel, India, DPRK and Pakistan. AUKUS’ likely violation of this has been strongly condemned by China as ‘damaging the authority and effectiveness’ of the NPT.

Britain’s shipyards in Barrow-in-Furness, run by BAE systems, will provide the majority of the construction for Britain’s contribution to the project. This will require an increase in its workforce from 10,000 to 17,000. The submarines will likely be propelled by Rolls-Royce manufactured systems. This all coincides with a pledge by Rishi Sunak on 12 March for British military spending to be boosted by £5bn over the next two years, with further aspirations for increasing spending from 2% to 2.5% of GDP.

AUKUS usurped a potential French-Australian nuclear deal, but US imperialism’s need to solidify its position in the Indo-Pacific was enough to sweep aside French interests. Another concern is the need to incorporate India in these plans. May 2022 saw the fourth leaders’ summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (US, Japan, India, Australia) since its resurrection in 2017. The US is looking to secure this alliance by exploiting India’s desire to develop its technological capabilities to close the gap with China.

Tensions between the two have however emerged over the conflict in Ukraine. India continues to be an important trade partner with Russia. Russia is now India’s third largest oil supplier; India buys 15% of Russia’s oils exports, up from 2% pre-war. India has been reluctant to condemn Russian action in Ukraine, despite prompts from the US.

China and Taiwan

On 28 January, a leaked memo from high-ranking US Air Force general Mike Minihan predicted war between US and China by 2025. Most tellingly, he asserted a direct US military response to any Chinese attempt to reunify Taiwan with the mainland militarily. Biden has now stated on four separate occasions that the US would intervene in such a case. Minihan joins a number of other US military officials who have suggested direct conflict with China will emerge over Taiwan this decade.

On 13 March, Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a speech laying out the priorities for entering his third term, restated calls for ‘national reunification’. China has repeatedly made clear its desire to reunify Taiwan peacefully, but has warned that it is prepared to intervene militarily if it sees Chinese sovereignty violated over Taiwan. Xi restated this, warning of strong opposition to ‘the external forces and secessionist activities of Taiwan independence’.

When US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August last year, China responded with several days of live-fire military exercises surrounding the island, demonstrating its capability of launching strikes from the mainland. This visit was followed by delegations from various European nations, and then even larger military drills in December. US imperialism is clearly laying the groundwork for conflict with China over Taiwan. Britain is incapable of playing an independent role as an imperialist power. It has shown within AUKUS that it will be there as the US’ eager partner in such a confrontation.