Fearful of losing its imperial hegemony over the world economy due to the rise of China as a major economic power, the United States is seeking to translate its military ascendancy into renewed economic domination, resulting in unparalleled dangers for humanity as a whole. In truth, it would be difficult to exaggerate the enormous perils to the world at large associated with Washington’s New Cold War projection of military and financial power aimed at stopping China’s economic rise.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken recently declared that the post-Cold War era was now over, to be replaced with a new cold rivalry, with China as the principal threat to U.S. world dominance. A classical “containment” strategy, it is argued, will not work against China. Instead, Blinken advocates what he calls a “variable geometry” in which Beijing is to be pinned down at every point through a complex functional network of military and economic alliances, alongside technological restrictions. Here the key is finding ways for Washington to use its unrivaled military power to enhance its relative economic position (Antony J. Blinken, “Remarks to the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies,” Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, September 13, 2023, state.gov).
Kurt M. Campbell, principal architect of the Barack Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia” and now the China czar of the Joe Biden administration (in his role as deputy assistant to the president and coordinator for the Indo-Pacific), is playing a key part in the development of the new U.S. imperial grand strategy. Campbell, who also strongly backed the hardening of the U.S. position toward China under the Donald Trump administration, is the founder, along with Michèle Flournoy (a board member of military contractor Booz Allen Hamilton), of the Center for a New American Security, which is funded by Northrup Grumman and dozens of other military contractors. He insists that “the ticket to the big game” in the contest with China is the projection of U.S. military power in Asia, allowing the United States to maintain and extend its control of the economic “operating system” in the Indo-Pacific and the world as a whole, while blocking the rival Chinese operating system and preventing Beijing from gaining access to critical technologies. Employing the language of empire, Campbell speaks of the new “Pax Americana of supporting the operating system of Asia.” In line with this, his efforts in the Biden administration have centered principally on the development of the Quad and AUKUS military alliances and the expansion of NATO’s role in the Asian theater in order to constrain, through a convergence of military and economic means, Chinese economic development, thus “deterring” Beijing from taking on a larger world-economic role that would compromise Washington’s hegemony (“Biden Advisor Sees Asia Trade Focus as a ‘Wake-Up Call,’” Deccan Herald, December 2, 2020, deccanherald.com; “Obama-Era Veteran Kurt Campbell to Lead Biden’s Asia Policy,” New Delhi Television, January 13, 2021, ndtv.com; Kurt Campbell, “U.S. and China Should Be Able to Compete Stably,” Caixin Global, January 23, 2021, caixinglobal.com).
A good indication of where U.S. grand strategy is headed and the accelerating dangers that this new direction entails can be seen in an article by Mangesh Sawant titled “Why China Cannot Challenge the U.S. Military Primacy,” published in December 2021 by the Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs (Air University Press), known as the “Air Forces’ professional journal for America’s Priority Theater.” Sawant argues that the United States has an overwhelming military advantage over China, providing the leverage for enhancing U.S. economic dominance. He points out that, quite apart from technological superiority, the missiles on U.S. naval warships outnumber those of the Chinese navy five to one. Washington spends “$156 billion a year on [its] 800 foreign military bases” in foreign countries around the globe (some four hundred of which surround China), an amount nearly equal to China’s total defense budget, while China itself lacks any global force projection. China’s nuclear arsenal of 410 nuclear warheads is minuscule compared to the “4,000 superior nuclear warheads” (in reality, 5,244) of the United States. In the case of a limited nuclear war, we are told, the United States would carry out the “total annihilation of China’s military and economic centers of gravity.” The U.S. Navy’s “Maritime Strike Tomahawk Cruise Missile Block V [would] destroy coastal cities like Shanghai, obliterating China’s hi-tech industries in a matter of hours,” thereby eliminating China as a world economic power. This is referred to by Sawant as the use of the “U.S. military as an economic deterrent,” capable at any moment (although this is carefully couched in terms of defense/retaliation) of bringing to an end China’s economic advance and reasserting absolute U.S. dominance over the world economy (Mangesh Sawant, “Why China Cannot Challenge the US Military Primacy,” Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs, December 13, 2021; Hans Kristensen et al., “Status of World Nuclear Forces,” Federation of American Scientists, March 31, 2023, fas.org).
Where Sawant drives his argument home, both in terms of Western military power and the economic advantages to be obtained from its utilization, is in reference to the nineteenth-century Opium Wars carried out by Britain and France against China, which led to a century of unequal treaties imposed on China. In this respect, the Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs declares that in relation to the “Opium War: Then and Now—Nothing Much Has Changed,” both with respect to overwhelming Western military power and its ability to impose its total economic dominance on China by force if necessary. In a glorified version of the First Opium War of 1839–42, Sawant states that China’s “800,000 strong military force” was defeated by a British invasion force of “20,000 troops and three dozen modern Royal Navy warships.” “The Opium Wars,” he underscores:
have military parallels for the PLA [People’s Liberation Army of China]. The wars led to the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the decimation of China’s military. The outcome of a contemporary war with the United States will be nearly identical to the political dimensions of the Opium Wars. The Tianjin Treaty of 1858, imposed by foreign powers, [economically] devastated China.… The consequences of the Opium Wars led to the Boxer Rebellion in 1899. About 80 years later, the Japanese invasion of 1937 demonstrated how vulnerable and weak China was to external naval powers.
In referring to the Opium Wars in this way, the Air Force’s Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs suggests that what is regarded as a coming war between the United States and China will eventuate in a “new American century” for the United States and a new century of humiliation and unequal treaties for China.
To understand the full significance of all of this, it is useful to refer to Xi Jinping’s speech on the one hundredth anniversary of the Communist Party of China in July 2021, six months prior to the publication of the article in the Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs, in which Xi stated, “After the Opium War of 1840, China…was gradually reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society and went through a period of suffering greater than it had ever previously known. The country endured intense humiliation, the people were subjected to great pain, and the Chinese civilization was plunged into darkness. Since that time, national rejuvenation has been the greatest dream of the Chinese people and the Chinese nation.” No doubt with this in mind, the U.S. Air Force responded only a few months later, in Sawant’s article in the Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs, that the West was militarily capable of doing this to China all over again, with the United States standing in for Britain, and with the same economic devastation and humiliation for China (Xi Jinping, “Speech at the Ceremony Marking the Centenary of the Communist Party of China,” The Governance of China [Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2022], 3–4).
Karl Marx, the greatest Western opponent of the Second Opium War of 1856–60, in which France joined Britain in invading China, remarked that “the piratical war” had resulted in “fresh humiliations heaped” on the Qing dynasty, which was forced to accept an opium trade of “colossal dimensions,” with devastating effects to its society. As Marx explained at the time, “while openly preaching free trade in poison [opium]” and using this as its justification for its war on the Chinese government, which had attempted to restrict the trade, Britain nonetheless “secretly defends the monopoly of its manufacture” in India under British colonial rule. “Whenever we look closely into the nature of British free trade, monopoly is pretty generally found to lie at the bottom of its freedom”—a monopoly normally put in place by force (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, On Colonialism [New York: International Publishers, 1972], 220, 225).
For U.S. China czar Campbell, economic or “operating system” monopolies, to be leveraged by military means, are the name of the game. He dismisses China’s rejuvenation in the face of a century of humiliation, beginning with the Opium Wars and associated with repeated invasions by the Western powers and the imposition of unequal treaties, as a particularly distorted Chinese nationalist view of history. Nevertheless, the “Pivot to Asia” that Campbell first articulated during the Obama administration has now evolved into a concerted attempt to use a combination of military-economic means to dominate the Indo-Pacific, backed by accelerated preparations for war with China, in which the Opium Wars are repeatedly referred to as a backdrop. This fits hand-in-glove with the U.S. Air Force’s notion, as expressed in the Sawant article, of using the “U.S. military as an economic deterrent” to China’s rise as a world power, pointing to nothing less than a Third World War (Kurt M. Campbell, The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia [New York: Hachette Group, 2016], 117–18, 258).
Nothing is more important in these circumstances than the creation of a world peace movement, which, in our age, will also have to be a world ecology movement aimed at sustainable human development.
Alexander Buzgalin, one of the leading Marxist thinkers in Russia, died on October 18, 2023, at age 69. Buzgalin was director of the Institute of Socioeconomics, Faculty of Economics, and head of the Center for Marxist Studies, Faculty of Philosophy, at Lomonosov Moscow State University; and chief editor of the quarterly journal Alternatives. Buzgalin had a long relationship with Monthly Review. His book Bloody October in Moscow, dealing with Boris Yeltsin’s brutal destruction of the Russian Parliament in 1993, was published by Monthly Review Press in 1994.
During the last three decades, Buzgalin and his colleague Andrey Kolganov developed a sophisticated historico-dialectical analysis of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, introducing the notion of “the trap of the 20th century” and how this affected the development of “real socialism.” The historical “trap” arose out of the objective requirements imposed on the USSR both from within and without, requiring rapid industrialism and military defense, together with the further challenge of shifting from an industrial to a postindustrial economy. In Buzgalin and Kolganov’s view, the USSR was placed in a situation akin to the Italian city-states in the fifteenth century, in which early attempts to transition to a new system (in the Soviet case, to socialism, in the fifteenth century Italian case to capitalism) led to both historic achievements and horrible mutations. The October Revolution, though of real and lasting significance, succumbed to a “mutant socialism” in the Stalin period, after which it proved incapable of internal reform and the transcendence of “relations of alienation.” Based on the experiences of the Soviet Union and China, Buzgalin and Kolganov went on to examine the relations of planning and the market, and the degree to which the former could replace the latter, essential for socialist development. (For more on Buzgalin, see Shan Tong, “The Academic Career and Achievements of Aleksander Buzgalin,” World Review of Political Economy 4, no. 3 [Fall 2013]: 410–28.)
As this issue of Monthly Review goes to the press, a genocidal military and ethnic cleansing operation in response to Al-Aqsa Flood is being carried out by the state of Israel, directed at millions of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and aimed at the extirpation of Palestinians as a people, with the full support of Washington. Daily postings on these events can be found at MR Online. These developments and their significance will be taken up in the January issue of the magazine. We at MR stand in human solidarity with the oppressed people of occupied Palestine.