Black Rhino | August 2015
The United States describe Russia, Iran and China as the current obstacles to their everlasting quest for full spectrum dominance of the world.
CHAIRMAN of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey opens the 2015 National Military Strategy of the United States of America by claiming we are witnessing the most unpredictable global security situation in 40 years.
One supposes the general is referring back to the Vietnam era, when that needless war helped sink the global economy into “stagflation.” As Dempsey trots out an array of daunting threats—ranging from belligerent nation states to Violent Extremist Organizations (VEOs to initiates)—it is also hard to ignore the nagging sense that that Vietnam was, and the new security situation is, largely the product of the United States own voracious lust for power and resources.
Namely, its unrelenting need to be the world’s sole military and economic hegemon, its paranoid beat cop, and its resource extractor par excellence. In short, its desire to be the global one percent.
Unfortunately, the report recites traditional force postures without the faintest trace of irony or suspicion that US actions may be the most menacing threat of all—or that they may be a root cause of the related hazards it now faces. Setting that lack of self-reflection aside, the new military strategy effectively nominates a new Axis of Evil that the US must counter in its pursuit of hegemony.
While a focus on Violent Extremist Organizations (VEOs) hasn’t been forsaken, it is the larger nation-states that the Pentagon perceives as exceedingly problematic “revisionist” actors on the global stage. To Washington, Russia wants to reestablish its imperial glory (Crimea being the sole flimsy instance of this supposed revanchist sentiment). Iran wants to establish its own hegemony in the Middle East (supposedly supporting terror and destabilization across the region). And China wants to assume ownership of the Pacific, both economically and militarily. (Hence the recent tempest about the freedom of the seas.)
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is but the graying visage of America’s everlasting vision quest for full spectrum dominance. But General Dempsey has at least refashioned the immediate aims of the military, for better or worse. (Interesting that no one bothers to think about what might happen if the US ever achieves “full spectrum dominance.” Perhaps the last person to consider it was Marxist Rosa Luxembourg, who suggested that once global dominion is achieved, and once the hedonistic bacchanal that follows dies down, global capitalism will implode. For a variety of reasons, not least being the lack of frontiers to conquer and new markets to fashion.)
Charging at Revanchist Windmills
The military strategy opens on a less than optimistic note. But then, we all know where this is headed. By the end of the first paragraph, Dempsey has darkly limned global “implications for the homeland.” One shudders to think. Such feverish paranoia about global threats is necessary, however, since without it the Pentagon could hardly request ad nauseum increases in the defense budget.
One can envision the Joint Chiefs rubbing their hands with rhetorical relish as they prepare to dive into the actual threat profiles of the new Axis of Evil. First, though, Dempsey must set the stage.
He begins by noting the financial implications of the new security situation. All these new threats will naturally require ceaseless military expenditures ( to “sustain the capabilities…required to prevail in conflicts”), costly theater wars (“synchronized operations”), and ever declining social spending (“institutional reforms at home”).
Once he has loosely hinted at this economic apocalypse, Dempsey launches into a soliloquy of a rather Hobbesian nature, describing the evolving dystopia of dangerous technologies, resource shortages, mass migration, and “deep social fissures.” It is from the swamp of disorder that the new Axis emerges.
First up, Russia, which is immediately accused of disrespecting the sovereignty of nations. One assumes Dempsey is thinking of Crimea when he claims that Russia has broken the “UN Charter, Helsinki Accords, Russia-NATO Founding Act, Budapest Memorandum, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.” Naturally no evidence or context is provided. But the posture is clear and the prospect of a second Cold War is surely lost on no one.
Next, Iran is said to be pursuing nuclear missile delivery technologies, despite agreement from 16 national intelligence agencies that Iran quit its nuclear program 12 years ago. The new Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) has greatly crimped Iran’s civilian nuclear program, but has done nothing to mitigate US paranoia about Tehran. For instance, Dempsey then calls Iran a “state-sponsor of terrorism,” supposedly having undermined stability in half a dozen regional nations, though no specific instances are provided.
According the strategy, Iran has undermined stability in Israel, perhaps by supporting a Hamas leadership that demands an end to Israel’s terrorist occupation. Iran is said to have also undermined stability in Lebanon, possibly by backing the Hezbollah fighters that drove Israel out of South Lebanon. Iran is said to have undermined stability in Iraq, perhaps a reference to the Shia militias protecting Baghdad from arch “VEO” ISIS. It is said to have also undermined stability in Syria, perhaps by supporting a Syrian government trying to fight off Western-backed terrorist extremists al-Nusra Front and ISIS? Finally, it is accused of undermining stability in Yemen, possibly by supply aid to Houthi rebels fighting off a brutal Saudi invasion.
It is an act of breathtaking hypocrisy, as they say, for America to accuse Iran of “destabilization” in the Middle East when the Pentagon itself is the single most potent destabilizer in the region, having replaced a stable secular Iraq with a pathological caliphate, obliterated North African security anchor Libya, and shamelessly abetted the dismemberment of the region’s major multi-confessional state in Syria.
Setting aside fantasies about the mad mullahs, Dempsey then conjures an insidious vision of China in the most daunting terms. China is swiftly accused, at least with some credibility, to be acting as its own regional hegemon in the Asia-Pacific, via its island reclamations (the Spratly Islands) where it will “position military forces astride vital international sea lanes.” Might it be that this unusually bold Chinese action comes in response to thoroughly unnecessary American efforts to massively bolster its power projection in the region as part of its vaunted Asia pivot?
North Korea is finally drudged up, a junior member of the targeted contingent, but less troubling as it has isolated itself so thoroughly and seems not to understand the value of alliances. It is said to be pursuing ballistic missile production against the wishes of the “international community,” which has demanded it cease such efforts. Curious how, in one breath, Russia has been said to have violated the sanctity of sovereign borders, and in the next, North Korea’s sovereignty is said to be subject to the caprice of its neighbors. North Korea—the state—is then accused, sans evidence, of hacking Sony.
Dempsey moves on to cover VEOs and how some have become hybrids, acting like terrorist clans but possessing military arsenals better suited to states. No mention is made of how the extremists assembled these arsenals. But it is hard not to perceive the secondary status of these VEOs when pitted against the natural geographic, energy and labor power of Russia, China, and Iran.
Why the New Axis?
This is the pivotal question. Why excavate the Cold War? Why generate needless hostility with Beijing, which seems to have little interest in military confrontation with the US Why? Because Russia, China and Iran collectively represent an evolving counterweight to American power projection—the first since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Together these nations form the nexus of a 21st century economic and security bloc centered in Eurasia. Look at what they are engineering in Eurasia.
Call it “Greater Eurasia” or the “New Silk Roads” project; the point is that these Eastern powers are cutting deals, pooling resources, and singing binding contracts in a clear gambit to stave off further American hegemony. To counterbalance the hyper-puissance of the US military. There is now BRICS-led development bank. Then there’s the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Add the Eurasian Economic Union and the growing Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and you’re looking at a set of shadow Bretton Woods institutions. This represents a direct challenge to the dollar hegemony through which the US controls much of the global geopolitical game.
On one hand, seeing the neoliberal rapacity of the IMF and World Bank replaced is a welcome development. On the other, the emergence of an almost identical structure is alarming, since it might just as easily be hijacked by self-serving ideologies such as neoliberalism, which inverted the Bretton Woods mandate and became a tool of Western exploitation in the Seventies. The charter documents of these institutions provide all the generic boilerplate about justice and equality. We’ll see. But the Pentagon has already made up its mind: these are all threats to American interests and should be treated accordingly.
Multiple Threats, Multiple Wars
Having suitably profiled revisionist states and violent extremists groups, Dempsey rolls out a rather lukewarm strategy for dealing with all of these nefarious phantoms now populating the deserts of Eurasia. The US military will evidently “deter, deny, and defeat” state actors and “disrupt, degrade, and defeat” hybrid and non-state actors. Deterring on one flank, while denying on another is little more than a plan for multi-theater warfare. This will require, according to Dempsey, the chilling “full mobilization of all instruments of national power.”
The rest of the strategy waxes prosaically about strengthening allies, having sufficient funds, and organizational reforms around leadership and troop training. It may raise a few eyebrows that so much attention is devoted to developing “integrated” operations and improving “interoperability,” fostering “joint information environments” and “interagency” collaboration. This sounds like the outlines for an even more globally integrated armed forces, increasingly blending the powers of the US and NATO into a single force, as evinced by months worth of supercharged war games across Europe, the Balkans and the Baltic and Black Seas.
Sustaining and modernizing a nuclear deterrent is also in the cards. Interesting that, aware of its status as a signatory of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the report shies away from terms like “increasing” or “producing” in favor of more ambiguous terms like “modernize” and “sustain.” These latter words may, of course, be interpreted as simply indicating the replacing of old nukes with newer ones, thus no actual proliferation has occurred.
Precisely how the US will use its modernized, more deeply integrated international arsenal to derail the new Axis and the BRICS more generally isn’t exactly clear. What is clear is that the US military is being repositioned to address a primarily economic challenge from the East. Time will tell if the West’s neoliberal imperial capitalist system will resort to “creative destruction” to unhinge its Eurasian enemies and reboot the Western economic grid.
Jason Hirthler is political commentator, communications consultant, and author of The Sins of Empire: Unmasking American Imperialism. He lives in New York City and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.