Tag Archives: Ariel Gold

the coming wars with Russia, China and Iran? why the stakes are raised in the last days of the unipolar order

While Britain’s political class is distracted by a Downing Street party, the world is at the most dangerous strategic juncture since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

These are the sobering thoughts of Daily Telegraph’s International Business Editor, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, as expressed in the opening paragraph in his latest article entitled “The West’s nightmare: a war on three fronts”.

Under the strapline “There has never been a more unsettling strategic landscape in my lifetime – we must turn our attention to the prospect of conflict”, the same piece then continues:

The West faces escalating threat of conflict on three fronts, each separate but linked by unknown levels of collusion: Russia’s mobilisation of a strike force on Ukraine’s border, China’s “dress rehearsal” for an attack on Taiwan, and Iran’s nuclear brinksmanship.

Each country is emboldening the other two to press their advantage, and together they risk a fundamental convulsion of the global order.

You have to go back yet further to find a moment when Western democracies were so vulnerable to a sudden change in fortunes. Today’s events have echoes of the interlude between the Chamberlain-Daladier capitulation at Munich in 1938 and consequences that followed in rapid crescendo from Anschluss to the Hitler-Stalin Pact.

Click here to find Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s article published on December 9th behind The Telegraph paywall.

Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, regular columnist Michael McFaul, Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a Hoover fellow at Stanford University teamed up with Oleksiy Honcharuk, former Ukrainian Prime Minister under current President Volodymyr Zelensky, and member of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center in an article headlined “The best response to Russia’s threats is a closer relationship with Ukraine”, which states:

Since 1939, the specter of an all-out conventional war in Europe between two major militaries has never been greater.

Click here to read the full article published by the Washington Post on Dec 1st.

It is quite easy, of course, to write off commentators like Evans-Pritchard and McFaul as alarmists, since what they are speculating on – even forecasting – is more or less unthinkable. War with Russia. War with Iran. War with China. War with all three simultaneously! This is absolute madness, and nothing good could possibly come from a war with any of these three rising powers.

However, if we accept Evans-Pritchard’s account this build up to the terrifying potential of full-fledged global conflict becomes very nearly inevitable, as an unavoidable response to the expansionism of Putin and Xi and/or the belligerence of the Iranians. To have stood by and done nothing, he compares directly with appeasement of Nazism – all three rivals to western hegemony duly compared to the most wicked and unassuageable enemy of humanity in modern times. Such unabashed reduction ad Hitlerum is always deemed permissible when enemies under scrutiny are ours!

Setting aside the partisanship, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is both a well-informed and (for what it’s worth) a respectable mainstream commentator and so his concerns surrounding this growing crisis and the tripartite nature of the envisioned threat surely demand our attention, even when the background he paints overlooks countless and crucial pieces that are required to the complete the picture.

When he says straightforwardly “there has never been a more unsettling strategic landscape in my lifetime” and then announces “we must turn our attention to the prospect of conflict” I don’t believe he is exaggerating purely for effect. This is not mere hyperbole. It represents an honest appraisal of the rapidly escalating geopolitical tensions and of the commensurable threat the West is at least potentially facing. Where his analysis fails, however, is in correctly apportioning blame for these crises and in his surprising lack of informed historical context.

In the case of Russia, for instance, he makes no mention of the West’s broken promise to Gorbachev that in exchange for Russia’s consent to German reunification, Nato would not move an inch eastward. Instead it has since expanded 700 miles right up to Russia’s doorstep. This is critical. Without recognising this Nato expansion eastwards, we instantly lose all sense of Russia’s justified fear of invasion – eighty years ago under codename Operation Barbarossa the Nazis launched a massive Blitzkreig attack through the Baltic States and Ukraine: an entirely unprovoked attack that laid waste to towns and cities and was beaten back at the cost of some 25 million Russian lives. The Russian people have not forgotten this.

On December 5th, The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté spoke with Richard Sakwa, Professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent, and author of Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands and just released Deception: Russiagate and the New Cold War:

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Their discussion took place shortly after UN Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had ended talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and on the eve of the Biden-Putin summit.

Richard Sakwa reminds us:

“This is the second time this year that we’ve seen a war theatre emerging with Russian troop movements, Ukrainian troop movements and so on. The immediate issue clearly is concern on both sides that there’s going to be a forcible attempt to resolve the Donbass question: that is the secessionist republics in that part of Ukraine.

“But the larger context is like a Russian doll – a Matryoshka doll – in which that conflict is nested in a larger one, which in the immediate context is the model of Ukrainian state building since 1991, where a certain Russophone population was objecting to a particular vision of Ukrainian statehood – a lot of authors have pointed this out over the years – and it came to a crunch in 2014. And so then we had the counter movement in Crimea and Donbass.

“But even bigger than that is the failure since 1991 to establish what the Russians would certainly call an inclusive and equitable security order. And that of course is what was being discussed at the OSCE Security Conference just these last few days when Blinken and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister met.” [from 0:50 mins]

Regarding Russia’s true motives, Sakwa continues:

“The idea that Putin is, as an article in the New Statesman (this week’s issue) puts it, ‘the agent of chaos’ and the fomenter of instability is the complete mistake; it’s in fact the opposite. Russia constantly wants stability; it wants a framework for order. And more than that, it is committed still to that international system, and the international law established after 1945…

“Certainly the Russians would argue that it’s the West that has become revisionist; it’s the West that wants to destabilise the order by advancing a military alliance almost to Russia’s borders. And the idea that Putin needs some sort of external adventure in order to consolidate his position at home is also mistaken.

“I think that there’s a whole stack of arguments involved here, including of course the view that what’s going on in Ukraine is a Russian invasion or Russian attack, when there’s the internal domestic – let’s perhaps not call it a civil war but civil contestation about the vision of Ukrainian statehood. It’s homemade.

“And so what we see in this second Cold War is the constant projection of internal contradictions in Ukraine, and indeed in the Western Atlantic power system, onto Russia, which leads to a very mistaken view of the dynamics and motivations of the Russian leadership today, which leads of course to mistaken policies, which leads then to the intensification of the conflict and leads us to the danger of an inadvertent war. This is why the context is just so important…

Any basic realist view would suggest that Russia has national interest, it has concerns. And any power in Moscow would be concerned about a military alliance coming up to its borders. Even if Nato doesn’t expand, as Putin has been saying over the last few months, Ukraine de facto is being armed with very offensive weapons – the Javelin and other things – which of course even Barack Obama refused to give because he warned that this would only intensify and exacerbate the conflict.” [from 5:00 mins]

Moving away from Russia and the Ukrainian crisis, Evans-Pritchard also says nothing of the West’s more recent broken promise to Iran in the form of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was painstakingly negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the European Union) and eventually signed off in July 2015.

However, within the term of the very next US administration under Donald Trump, the US unilaterally withdrew from the agreement doubtless at the behest of Trump’s great friend Netanyahu. Thus, having struck a deal that removed crippling economic sanctions by assent to a rigorous inspection regime to ensure nuclear non-proliferation, this hard-won reward was snatched away and with it the disincentive to pursue a nuclear weapons programme was lost. Nevertheless Iran is back at the negotiating table in Vienna, even while the prospect of a revised deal looks increasingly unlikely:

On Sunday {Dec 5th], amid reports that the talks might collapse, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called on the countries in Vienna to “take a strong line” against Iran. According to Channel 12 news in Israel, Israeli officials are urging the US to take military action against Iran, either by striking Iran directly or by hitting an Iranian base in Yemen. Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, Israel says that it reserves the right to take military action against Iran.

This is the assessment of Medea Benjamin and Ariel Gold, who are respectively cofounder and national co-director of Codepink, in an article entitled “Israel Is Hell-Bent on Sabotaging US Nuclear Negotiations With Iran”, that also reminds us:

Israeli threats aren’t just bluster. Between 2010 and 2012, four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated, presumably by Israel. In July 2020, a fire, attributed to an Israeli bomb, caused significant damage to Iran’s Natanz nuclear site. In November 2020, shortly after Joe Biden won the presidential election, Israeli operatives used remote control machine guns to assassinate Iran’s top nuclear scientist. Had Iran retaliated proportionately, the US might have backed up Israel, with the conflict spiraling into a full-blown US-Middle East war.

In April 2021, as diplomatic efforts were underway between the Biden administration and Iran, sabotage attributed to Israel caused a blackout at the Natanz. Iran described the action as “nuclear terrorism.”

Ironically described as Iran’s Build Back Better plan, after each of Israel’s nuclear facility sabotage actions, Iranians have quickly gotten their facilities back online and even installed newer machines to more rapidly enrich uranium. As a result, American officials recently warned their Israeli counterparts that the attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities are counterproductive. But Israel replied that it has no intention of letting up.

Obviously if the original deal had not been so rashly torn up by Trump there is every reason to presume Iran would have stayed disarmed, but instead, with so much sabre-rattling out of Israel and America, there is every incentive to follow North Korea’s lead and join the nuclear club. As the same piece points out:

Stakes are high for the talks to succeed. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed this month that Iran is now enriching uranium up to 20 percent purity at its underground facility at Fordo, a site where the JCPOA forbids enrichment. According to the IAEA, since Trump pulled the US out of the JCPOA, Iran has furthered its uranium enrichment to 60 percent purity (compared with 3.67% under the deal), steadily moving closer to the 90 percent needed for a nuclear weapon. In September, the Institute for Science and International Security issued a report that, under the “worst-case breakout estimate,” within a month Iran could produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

Click here to read the full article by Medea Benjamin and Ariel Gold published by Jacobin magazine on December 12th.

Nor does Evans-Pritchard give proper context to the question of Taiwan, which first separated from the mainland when the governing Kuomintang (KMT) and its leader Chiang Kai-shek had fled there following their catastrophic defeat to the communists. Both sides soon after advocated a “One-China Policy” although each disputed the right of the other to rule over a future reunited China. Prior to 1971, it had actually been the Taiwanese Republic of China (ROC) that held the seat on the UN Security Council.

Then, when the great reformer Deng Xiaoping came to power in the late 1970s, he proposed an updated constitutional arrangement of “One Country Two Systems”, according to which partial autonomy would be granted, permitting Taiwan to operate an unfettered free-market economy and an independent military although under mainland sovereignty. This offer was formally rejected by Taiwan, but still a “One-China Policy” has been long-standing and officially recognised by successive American presidents – at least until now.

To quote from the current Wikipedia entry:

Today, ROC is the de facto government of Taiwan; whereas the PRC is the de facto government over Mainland China. However, each government claims to be the legitimate government of all China de jure.

In short, Taiwanese independence remains a highly contentious issue on both sides of the strait.

Stepping back therefore we should acknowledge that China has both political and strategic interest in Taiwan and the sovereignty issue remains an exceedingly complex one. Likewise, Russia has historical and cultural ties to the people of the breakaway republics of the Donetsk and Luhansk, who are still embattled and fighting for independence against Ukrainian Nationalists (including neo-Nazis) in response to oppressive measures introduced in the immediate aftermath of the Maidan coup of 2014.

So although it is easy to characterise each of these conflicts as revanchist on the part of the Russian and Chinese regimes, which then in turn validates the prevailing argument that we must not repeat the historical error of appeasement, this is actually a dangerous misrepresentation of the full picture. It denies the basic fact that all nations have interests, and that some of interests are non-negotiable.

Returning to Evans-Pritchard’s cited example of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, which involved an American response to a perceived as a Soviet threat that was in turn a Soviet retaliation after the US moved its missiles to Turkey, we see that both sides considered the danger posed by the other as a just cause for nuclear brinksmanship.

In 2016, John Pilger released his 60th documentary film The Coming War on China which is embedded below. In the notes on the official website, Pilger writes:

This film, The Coming War on China, is a warning that nuclear war is not only imaginable, but a ‘contingency’, says the Pentagon. The greatest build-up of Nato military forces since the Second World War is under way on the western borders of Russia. On the other side of the world, the rise of China as the world’s second economic power is viewed in Washington as another ‘threat’ to American dominance.

To counter this, in 2011, President Obama announced a ‘pivot to Asia’, which meant that almost two-thirds of all US naval forces would be transferred to Asia and the Pacific, their weapons aimed at China.

Today, some 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and nuclear weapons. They form an arc from Australia north through the Pacific to Japan, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India. It is, says one US strategist, ‘the perfect noose’.

In secrecy, the biggest single American-run air-sea military exercise in recent years – known as Talisman Sabre – has rehearsed an Air-Sea Battle Plan, blocking sea lanes in the Straits of Malacca, cutting off China’s access to oil, gas and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.

It is largely this fear of an economic blockade that has seen China building airstrips on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea. Last year, Chinese nuclear forces were reportedly upgraded from low to high alert.

This is not news, or it is news distorted or buried. Instead, there is a familiar drumbeat identifying a new enemy: a restoration of the psychology of fear that embedded public consciousness for most of the 20th century. The aim of The Coming War on China is to help break the silence. As the centenaries of the First World War presently remind us, horrific conflict can begin all too easily. The difference today is nuclear.

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All of today’s escalating crises have been – and continue to be – inflamed, in the most part deliberately, by Western interference. The Ukrainian Maidan was initially sparked by the actions of the European Union although the violent protests that ended in the toppling of elected President Viktor Yanokovych and installation of Western puppet Arseniy Yatsenyuk were directed by Washington as a notorious leaked phone call between Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt revealed.

Having helped to orchestrate a coup, America continues to supply arms and offer military and intelligence support to the Ukrainian nationalists in their war against the peoples of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Meanwhile Nato sails its warships provocatively on the Black Sea, while occasionally buzzing the still disputed territory of Crimea. Likewise, America and Britain now regularly send their warships to the South China Sea for large-scale exercises. Why are the British and American navies patrolling waters so far from their own shores? What other purpose than provocation?

On December 1st, the German newspaper Die Welt published an opinion piece by its Chief Foreign Policy Correspondent Clemens Wergin under the headline “The West must finally treat Moscow like the pariah regime it is acting as”, in which it boldly asserts in the language of this new Cold War era that: “Moscow is trying, as in Soviet times, to force parts of Eastern Europe under its thumb.” Yet in reality, most of the former Soviet Bloc countries including Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania, are now fully-fledged members of Nato.

Richard Sakwa says:

“Ultimately the question is ‘what is the US strategic goal’? It should be peace. It should be some sort of framework in which Russia is part of the solution, instead of which being constantly externalised as an enemy… There’s a marvellous book which I’m sure you know [by] William Hill called No Place for Russia which describes how since 1991 desperate attempts by Yeltsin and then Putin to establish an inclusive security order – and indeed Medvedev with his ideas in 2008 – so the idea is that you can’t negotiate with Moscow because it doesn’t want to deal, or that any negotiation effectively is appeasement.

“It is sort of crazy talk. That means there can be no diplomacy. There can be no engagement, no dialogue, no working on common issues, though Biden of course after the Geneva Summit has established a working party on cyber issues and on strategic security, which is very welcome, and so there is talk going on, but in an atmosphere of fundamental distrust.” [from 10:35 mins]

In fact these crises are happening because the world’s superpowers are butting heads, just as they did during the first Cold War. And throughout that first Cold War the public was constantly informed about the Soviet Union’s abysmal human rights record and their tremendous eagerness to invade the West. The first claim is provably true, of course, but the follow-up claim was false; a cheap propaganda trick that instilled fear and maximised the expansion of the military-industrial complex.

Nor do the Russians or Chinese have plans to invade us tomorrow, but threatened by western expansion up to their borders, both are now preparing to defend their national interests. The latest threats of pre-emptive strikes on Ukraine and Taiwan are reactive. Thus Evans-Pritchard’s parallels with the Cuban Missile Crisis are entirely valid. And keep in mind that in 1962 the world only narrowly escaped disaster thanks to courage of Soviet submarine commander Vasily Arkhipov, who overrode a decision to launch a nuclear strike that otherwise might have ended civilisation and annihilated much of the life on this planet.

Meanwhile, the Iranians are not, as Evans-Pritchard states in his article, on the immediate brink of testing a bomb, but instead, and unlike their Israeli adversaries, lack any nuclear capability. Nevertheless another Israeli attack on an Iranian nuclear facility – especially if it is a civilian one that causes widespread radioactive contamination – might yet be the trigger that ignites a war to end all wars.

As John Pilger describes in his notes to The Coming War on China:

When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past eight on the morning of 6 August, 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more, unforgettably. When I returned many years later, it was gone: taken away, ‘disappeared’, a political embarrassment.

Another shadow now looms over all of us.

As a youth I was a member of CND and also subscribed to their in-house magazine which carried the apt title Sanity to helpfully distinguished the group’s unilateralist disarmament position from the multilateralist principle of deterrence known as ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ or MAD. Today instead of MAD we have a more frank if utterly absurd discussion that considers nuclear first-strike to be an option; crazy nonsense that mostly comes from the neo-con factions inside the US and Israel. These are the Strangeloves; not merely psychopaths, but madmen with a death wish, because adopting such a strategy is far, far madder than MAD ever was! How did our democratic systems fail so badly as to enable these certifiable lunatics ever to come to power? (That’s a question for another day.)

Writing for the Quincy Institute journal Responsible Statecraft, British policy analyst and Orwell Prize-winning journalist, Anatol Lieven, goes so far as to describe Washington’s antagonist relationship with Russia, including the tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions as “absurd and reckless”. An article published on December 1st begins:

Official U.S. behavior towards Russia is suffering from a pretty acute case of what might charitably be called obsessive-compulsive disorder. As a result of this affliction, it has often lost touch not only with basic strategic common sense, but with the overall goals and strategy of the current U.S. administration.

The latest manifestation of this has been the U.S. refusal to extend the visas of Russian diplomats in Washington, which this week naturally and inevitably led to a new round of tit for tat expulsions of U.S. diplomats from Moscow. As a result of an escalating cycle of retaliation in recent years, the U.S. embassy in Moscow is now the only U.S. diplomatic presence in that country, and the number of its staff is barely one tenth of its previous figure.

While being unwilling to seek any real compromises with Russia, President Biden and his team are clearly anxious to avoid new crises if possible; and there are the most obvious and sensible reasons for this desire. The administration has made meeting the challenge (whether real or imagined) from China the core of its entire global strategy. Any new confrontation with Russia would be a colossal distraction from this strategy, and would in fact be a magnificent strategic gift to Beijing.

In these strategic circumstances, the obvious course for America would be to carry out the “opening to China” of the 1970s in reverse, and aim for a grand strategic compromise with Russia that would neutralize U.S.-Russian tensions and split Moscow from Beijing. Even if such a move is beyond the vision and moral courage of U.S. leaders today, at the very least one would expect that U.S. policy would avoid all purely gratuitous and unnecessary gestures of hostility towards Russia, especially when these are absolutely bound to provoke an equal Russian response.

Yet since the Biden administration took office, efforts to defuse tension with Russia have been interspersed with episodes of insulting language, symbolic affronts and meaningless but deeply provocative statements. It is as if the U.S. establishment simply cannot control itself when it comes to jabbing at Russia.

Concluding:

The result is to damage or eliminate precisely those lines of communication which it is essential to keep open if minor incidents are to be prevented from escalating into major and unnecessary crises.

If these moves were part of a U.S. considered strategy, they would be deeply foolish and reckless; but at a time when the U.S. leadership actually wants to reduce tension with Moscow, they verge on the insane.

Click here to read Anatol Lieven’s full article entitled “Tit for tat diplomatic expulsions by Russia and America are absurd and reckless: At a time when Washington wants to reduce tension with Moscow, these acts verge on the insane” published in Responsible Statecraft.

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America’s long-term geostrategic repositioning through the stealth expansion of Nato directly up to the borders of Russia and China is now combined with its ever more bellicose political posturing. Repeatedly under the threat of attack, loose defensive alliances have tightened between Russia, China and Iran, so a coordinated response becomes all the more likely. Should the West or Israel (with US consent) take the decision to declare “pre-emptive” war against any one of the three sovereign powers, the realistic expectation is wider war. Given the probable magnitude of a three-pronged retaliation and the genuine potential for a thermonuclear exchange, the prospect of wars against Russia, China and Iran is therefore absolutely unthinkable.

A century ago a detached and callous ruling class led a largely innocent and unwitting generation into the bloody technological hellhole of no-man’s land to slaughter one another for the glory of king and country and, importantly, for the sake of empire. Back then and ever since, we have rightly talked of “lions led by donkeys”. Astonishingly, the donkeys are back in charge again, except that this time around besides an imbecilic and unprincipled political class, we also have an atrophied antiwar opposition, a moribund fourth estate and an endlessly diverted populous, so the worry is that we may be dealing with donkeys virtually all the way down.

So forgive me when I hammer this point: war is in the air again, and not just any old war. WAR with Russia! WAR with Iran! WAR with China! WAR with all three simultaneously!

I make no apologies for my vulgar use of capitals. We all need to shout about this. What’s the alternative?

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Under UN Resolution 2758, passed on 25 October 1971, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was recognised as “the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations, and to expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the place they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all organizations related to it.” An earlier General Assembly Resolution 1668 passed in 1961 had ensured this change in recognition had required a two-thirds majority of all voting members.

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