Thursday, 27 March 2014

PERPETUATING THE COLD WAR - KEEPING IMPERIAL AMERICA ALIVE

The decadence of "imperial America" has many causes and manifests itself in many forms--economic, fiscal, educational, cultural, etc., but foreign policy remains at its core. We see decadence of imperial America in failed wars in Asia and in NATO converted into a Eurasian Treaty Organization. After those resoubnding successes in Iraq and Afghanistan that cost the US more than one trillion dollars and brought the dollar as a reserve currency to its lowest levels in comparison with other reserve currencies, Imperial America is about to take the plunge by trying to stimulate its defense and energy sectors, using the Ukrainian-Russia crisis as a pretext. This is not to suggest by any means that the Russian government is not an oligarchic system immersed in corruption. However, it is the system that the US and the West promoted after the end of Communism and it is a system not very different from what exists in the Ukraine.

Openly encouraging all NATO members to spend more on defense, Obama has also asked them to become independent or Russian energy and more dependent on the US, where they would also be purchasing some of their weapons system as they upgrade as part of an effective deterrent to Russia. Anything short of a new nuclear arms race, is there an effective deterrent for Russia? And why does energy dependence on capitalist US make more sense than it does on capitalist Russia?

While the US spends roughly 4% of GDP for defense and an undisclosed amount on defense-related intelligence, NATO members have not kept to the US-dictated amounts of 4% of GDP. Of all EU members only bankrupt Greece spends 2.6%, or the highest level while wealthy Germany that exports weapons spends 1.3%.  The US has always subsidized NATO, currently to the tune of 73%, although there have been many in and outside of political circles calling for a sharp decrease of such subsidies so the US can start reducing its massive public debt. 

That defense is parasitic is well known, but the larger issue to emerge in the mainstream media in the last two decades - partly as a result of the massive corruption linked to defense contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan - is the degree of corruption involved here. The US Justice Department and the FBI have dome a somewhat better job of trying to keep up with corrupt defense contractors' schemes, but this is not the case in Europe and the rest of the world. The highest spending NATO member Greece has one of its former defense ministers and several other officials in prison for massive bribery schemes arising from contracts with companies and laundering operations in Germany, US and Russia among the larger players.

Many people outside the field do not realize that defense contractors actually design the anti-corruption policies that pertain to their companies, just like corporations design environmental policies pertaining to themselves.  Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has concluded that the more advanced capitalist countries in NATO have a relatively high degree (7 out of 10 with 0=very corrupt) of transparency, while the less developed members rank closer to Russia and China ranking around 4 in the scale. Because the profits are so enormous, the temptation to bribe is huge as well, thus taxpayers wind up paying 10% to 50% more for everything from tanks to submarines. Moreover, the product received has mechanical faults to the degree that it does not work in real battle conditions.

Clearly, the US is well aware of all this but it continues to push higher defense spending to strengthen the industry and afford itself greater leverage as an imperial power around the world. There is, however, the rather realistic question of what would the doubling of NATO defense spending do, if it were to take place against a real conflict where the weaker side - let us say Russia - would be hard-pressed to use nuclear weapons or face defeat. Given that there are conventional weapons with the firepower of small nuclear bombs, and tactical nuclear weapons (compared to strategic nuclear weapons) that can be used if the country feels pressed into a corner, one can see the dangers of escalation scenarios we had before the end of the Cold War.

But let us assume that the US wants greater defense spending for leverage against Russia. How much more leverage can NATO have, given that the US and NATO outspend Russia by twelve to one - US defense spending alone is about sevenfold of Russia's. What would the EU achieve and what would it lose under this scenario? If an attempt is made to expand the war economy at the expense of the civilian economy amid EU unemployment of 11% and well above 15% if we add the part-time (underemployment) rates. While the US will have an immediate benefit if the EU follows its imperial lead, longer term decadence will come sooner than later for both sides of the Atlantic.

Because higher defense spending has many dimensions and consequences, it is important to consider that reckless use of armed forces is one of those dimensions. In secretly recorded conversations, high level Turkish officials including the foreign minister discussed how to instigate a contained military conflict with neighboring Syria in spring 2014 for the sole purpose of securing the local elections. A NATO member, acting with the full backing of the US as a base of operations for Syrian rebels, the utterly corrupt Turkish government has used the conflict in the neighboring country and US involvement for political benefit internally, not to mention the massive bribes related to defense contracts.

If there is continued high defense spending that siphons off precious resources from the considerably weakened civilian economy, especially education, decadence is coming sooner than many of us expect. The decadence of empires, however, takes place in every sector from economic to cultural, and they are slow to recognize this because they are part of an almost organic process that goes from maturity to old age. The Romans, the Spaniards, the British realized decadence far too late, and even then they refused to change course, because hegemony is an aphrodisiac for the elites and the masses following.

How long can an empire last before it it begins to crumble? The American Empire has lasted for more than a century and that is indeed a long time, given the intense global competition for hegemony in various areas from military and economics to industry and technology. The World Bank and private institutions are predicting that China will become the preeminent world economic power in less than 15 years, a prospect that could very well translate into military preeminence. If and how China manages its economic hegemony and how it decides to link it to defense as has the US for more than a century remains to be seen. The temptation to link economic to military power will be too enticing to resist.

Despite inevitable decadence, the US will remain a "great power" like Germany, UK, France. Depending on how it decides to support (or not) higher education, it may remain a world leader in non-military-related science and technology areas. If the higher education model is to support anything defense-related, anything that corporations can use, anything government can use for PR and political purposes, then decadence will continue in higher education where US is currently a world leader. Unfortunately, the value system of the academic elites has been for sale to the highest bidder, and that means academics are partly to blame for the decadence unfolding in the American Empire.

There are very few academic voices crying out for a return to a Renaissance in higher education intended for the edification of the pupil and not the utilitarian value to government or corporate world. Boxed and packaged creativity for sale to the highest bidder--government and corporations--naturally entails limitations of the human spirit. Instead of remaining in the enticing mode of hegemony and the glory of the past, the elites of the American Empire, especially educators always quick to sell out and cheaply at that, could be taking steps now to prepare for a transition from Great Power status. However, like the Romans, Spaniards, and British they will want to go down with the empire than to surrender to a lower status.

Unless there is a diplomatic solution, the new US confrontation with Russia sends a strong signal throughout Europe and the world to raise defense spending, as though higher NATO military allocations would have made a bit of difference in Putin's decision to pursue the annexation of Crimea. What could NATO have done other than start another Crimean War (similar to 1854-56)? Other than enrich defense contractors in the larger Western countries, what exactly would more military spending do than destabilize the entire European continent and Eurasia?

Naturally, the die-hard Cold Warriors, those people resting on "the war on terrorism" in the last two decades to keep them satisfied that there is still an enemy out there to fight, those would be very happy to see a new Cold War possibly reemerging. Thank God there is still an enemy to fight and give meaning to the lives of hawkish groups. The larger picture, however, is one that the US as an imperial power is dying and it is desperately trying to keep itself alive through militarism. Unlike China that signed massive contracts with the EU on the same week that Obama was asking NATO member for defense spending increases, the US has chosen to opt for the bankrupt policy of "containment militarism" (a relic of the 1950s revived by the Reagan militarists) that has been responsible for the massive public debt of the last fifty years.Raising the US public debt and the debt of NATO members is one way to keep imperial America alive, but at what cost to the civilian economy, to the social structure and democracy?
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