Contributed by Brian Boyd
Great power rivalry is the key driver to the current threat of war and the spread of military conflict. The need for constant tension is arising from global economic competition, with increasing regularity there are media reports of war preparations.
These reports are sketchy and piecemeal. Often the sources are strategic leaks by the powers themselves in trying to manipulate various audiences both at home and abroad in a growing tit-for-tat battle on the propaganda front.
It is clear to any reader that such reports do not cover the full extent of the covert military build – up being conducted by the major powers within their specific nation states, but also within their respective spheres of influence.
The rhetoric of key world leaders is continually building the ’atmospherics’ to justify conflict. Many nations in key parts of the world are facing pressure to ‘pick sides’. Economic, political and even military pressure is rampant. So-called ‘loyalty’ is painted as a virtue in the new, evolving Cold War of the 21st century.
The essence of this rivalry is economic.
Pro-war hawk commentators spin out endless justifications for conflict. Some even predicting the inevitability of war happening.
The numerous conflicts of the 20th century saw millions and millions of people killed and injured and millions more displaced and face untold misery.
Do we allow ourselves today to resign to what the leaders of the major powers generate spin about going to war, or do we do something about it.
There is a need to have a ‘counter-narrative’ challenging the increasing propaganda about the inevitability of conflict.
The fractious geopolitical landscape of great power rivalry is even limiting the necessary co-operation required to solve the growing problem of climate change and of late, challenges such as the Covid-19 virus.
Why should Australia and Australians, be dragged into any war arising from great powers fighting amongst themselves for the sake of expanding their respective economic spheres of influence.
The Doomsday clock
Back in January 2020, the global society of ‘atomic scientists’ announced that the famous Doomsday Clock had been reset to just 100 seconds before midnight, the closest the world has been to its’ complete and total annihilation. (Midnight on the clock symbolises the end of the world, and each year, the atomic scientists decide what time it is in terms of worldwide trends.
When the clock was created in 1947, the greatest threat to humanity was nuclear war as a US and Soviet Union had commenced a nuclear arms race.)
The president of atomic scientists, Rachel Bronson, said: “we are now expressing how close the world is to catastrophe in seconds-not ours, or even minutes… We now face a true emergency-and absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or further delay”.
The atomic scientists said that the nuclear threat and increasingly climate change are the main factors, with cyber intrusions and fake news as the key enablers.
Economic cooperation or military escalation
The ongoing political deliberations within Australia concerning growing tensions between the worlds’ major power blocs, directly impacts into the stability of the Asian, Indo-Pacific region.
In particular much consideration is being given to the two main options facing Australia. That is, do we on the world stage seek the path of economic and strategic cooperation or do we explore increasing tensions in the region through enhancing military arrangements and capacity. How do we encourage the former option by promoting the necessary policies to bring it about while the global superpower, the US, is openly stating that such an approach would be incompatible with its strategic interests.
With the world’s number one superpower not interested in constructing an improved and peaceful New World order, where does that leave Australia? Being caught between two great powers-the US and China, the world’s strongest economic powers-leaves Australia in a quandary.
Much of the media is determined to make conflict the only option. Of course most people understand the great powers do things to advance their cause, the power, their influence and predominantly their economic reach. Big powers have always been competitive and aggressive.
Back in January 2020, Anne Krueger a professor of international economics at the US’s John Hopkins University and author of a book ‘international trade: what everyone needs to know’, visited Australia. In a media interview she referred to the rising costs of the “America First” policies and said her research showed that most of the costs of that campaign and its related trade war with China had fallen on the US itself.
As for the claims of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, Krueger says US company CEOs love to be able to blame other governments for their failings. To the question- ‘does China play fair?’, Krueger said: “I do not think the Chinese are angels, but I don’t think we’re angels either”. She added: “in the 1980s, when Japan was doing very well, American hysteria about Japan was about the same.”
When the US decided to pull US troops away from the Turkish-Syrian border in October 2019, and in the process deserted some of their allies in the fight against Isis, Trump blatantly said: “we will only fight where it is to our benefit…. We are 7000 miles away and will crush Isis again if they come anywhere near us!”
Back in Australia in February 2020 the Morrison government hosted a visit by the Indonesian President, Joko Widodo. One media report said the visit was specifically in recognition of China’s geo-strategic ambitions to improve its friendship and institutional links in the region.
Scott Morrison claimed that Indonesia was now playing a pivotal role in the [Australian] government’s push to diversify Australia’s economy and broaden trade and strategic partners in the region to hedge against the heavy reliance on China. “This is about securing Australia’s economic future in the Indo-Pacific economies and hedging against other growing uncertainties”, Mr Morrison said.
Major power rivalry
Over in Europe response to events in Britain and the US the remaining EU nation states were starting to aspire to a superpower status. Within the European Parliament commentary was addressing the rise of China and India, the American first policies of the US and the success of Brexit in Britain. Specifically the commentary said it was more important than ever that European countries defend their interests collectively and especially acknowledged that an emerging world order predominantly being shaped by China and the US will now be based on power rather than rules.
Other commentators poured some cold water on the idea that the EU could ever be a superpower in its own right given the EU’s lack of military muscle to back up its geopolitical ambitions.
Back in mid – November 2019, President Macron of France let the cat out of the bag when he suggested that NATO may be on the verge of redundancy and that the continent had to quickly transform itself into a geopolitical player in order to match the US and China. Macron expressed concern that the EU was facing not having any control over its destiny. He also acknowledged the menace of Russia and the consequences of Brexit.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel seemed to go one step further. In an address in Davos in late January 2020, she floated the idea that the EU may have to diverge from its NATO ally, the US, in giving some recognition to the rise of China as a geopolitical heavyweight. She said: “from a social point of view, from a political point of view, we have this very close relationship with the United States, but sometimes, for economic reasons, we may well pursue our policies in a different way”.
Chancellor Merkel floated the idea that EU-China leaders will have a summit in September 2020 in Germany as part of a bid to increase European influence and have the continent “speak with a stronger and clearer voice”. She made no secret of her wish to increase EU political weight and strategic independence. Merkel insisted that the EU needed to gain “an equal footing” with the US and China.
The pro-war hawks – pants on fire
The pro-war hawks seek to constantly inflate the ‘threat’ construct to justify creating, on a regular basis, war atmospherics. More often than not intelligence concerning such ‘threats’ is made public but only presented in a piecemeal and broad brush manner. Detailed information, specific descriptions, primary evidence about individuals, recordings, photos, names, dates and times, locations and court appearances are never provided. But a constant political advantage and a never-ending opportunity for so-called strategic commentary is presented on a regular basis to the 24-hour news cycle.
Seemingly no charges are ever laid using our very strict anti-foreign interference legislation. Undetectable leaks are presented as cold hard facts leaving the public with no real evidence to assess the veracity of the constant scaremongering. The federal government contemptuously relies on the lack of curiosity among some sections of the public, relying on a skewed misuse of loyalty and patriotism.
There is enough historical evidence of how ‘intelligence’ has been misused and abused by many governments. It should always deserve a constant critique when being served up by state power.
A False Dichotomy
The war hawks like to betray the current tensions in the relationship between the US and China as a simple- ‘whose side are you on?’ choice. Do you pick Washington or do you pick Beijing?
Many of the contributions from the handful of selected think tanks that feed into the federal government’s policy processes are regularly fed out in a sanitised form through the media. There is much comment and counter comment revolving around a simplistic debate of who is in favour of one superpower over the other.
For example the Australian strategic policy Institute (ASPI) has been described as “a US lackey” pumping out a “one-sided, pro-American view of the world”. Much of its China -related research is funded directly by the US State Department which is had it having to register on the federal government’s foreign influence transparency scheme.
Meanwhile the University of Technology of Sydney houses the Australia-China relations Institute (ACRI). This organisation has previously been described by some commentators as a conduit to “promote China’s national interest” with one of its directors at one time being called” China’s pawn”.
Anyone who suggests that it is in Australia’s national interest to help properly manage our relationship with China, especially in terms of trade and education and research links faces being pilloried by the hawks.
A group federal right wing politicians-using the name ‘Parliamentary friends of democracy’ work with the ASPI to expose any activity that could be deemed an example of ’Chinese influence’ in Australia. Originally the committee was set up to target ‘Russian influence’ but now China has become the key target for exposing so-called “political warfare’’ activities where ever it can be found.
Other parliamentarians have called these individuals out is trying to start “a new Cold War” by fermenting anti-China hysteria on behalf of the US and British governments, their departments of defence and military contractors. Nolan is disputing that the US and China superpowers are dissatisfied with the prevailing global order under looking for ways to reposition their economic interests.
For some time many commentators argue that Australia should take a middle path, suggesting peaceful dialogue rather than increasing hostility is preferable. In recent times the hawks are challenging a consensus approach from more warlike one.
More Definable Security Threats
Two issues deserving a lot more attention in terms of national security are the massive decline in our indigenous manufacturing industry and our real-time exposure to the vulnerability of our oil supplies, going into the 21st century.
Australia has 26 million people and we have the 12th largest economy in the world. Yet our economy is one of the least complex and this alone has grave implications for the nation going forward. Australia’s top 10 exports are-Coal, iron ore, gas, tourism, gold, aluminium ores, beef, crude oil, copper and education. Education is the only one that has some level of hi-tech status.
Losing the auto industry was a big mistake. It was simply wrong to get rid of that manufacturing base excepting the crudity of free-market economics stop in a similar vein the privatisation of much of the power industry has allowed electricity prices to go through the roof.
With respect to Australia’s oil supplies, these are subject to any number of international events from conflict to unilateral price rises. Australian experts have for some time warned that besides the steadily rising price of oil Australia has no emergency stocks as we have let the private companies manage the whole sector stop Australia imports 90% of its liquid fuel, and the majority that comes via refineries in Singapore.
The International energy agency estimates Australian liquid reserves are equivalent to 57 days of net oil imports (as of September 2019). As a member of the IEA, Australia is required to hold emergency oil stocks to at least 90 days and Australia is the only member country not meeting this obligation.
It should be noted that since August 2019 Australia has been in negotiations with the US to buy access to millions of barrels of US fuel reserves based in Texas. These negotiations have not been concluded as of March 2020.
The Bigger Picture
Ordinary Australians go about their lives and work every day-paying their taxes and assuming that the basic democratic structures governing their country is being done in the right way.
The truth is that much of that structure is a veneer at best and a sham at worst.
Any study of even open source material in the public domain shows that there is a whole network of politicians, big business interests, global networks and a myriad of so-called ‘strategic’ think tanks that really run any given country.
The recently revealed Panama Papers (2016) were an expose that showed worldwide (including in Australia) that big multinational companies and individual millionaire business people don’t pay any tax using tax havens. In contrast many ordinary working Australians and workers across the world pay the vast majority of tax income for their respective governments.
Recent leaks concerning the operations of spy agencies and major power militaries (e.g. WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden) show there is been no privacy in the world for years and that much of the intelligence gathering operations have been principally used to maintain status quo control in many parts of the world.
That whenever military conflict erupts anywhere on the planet, it is essentially about the major powers maintaining or extending their global economic reach-whether it’s the US, Russia, China, Britain or even emerging economic powers.
Propaganda by the major powers is in constant use to justify their respective status quo power elites and their interests. The afore mentioned Panama Papers-one of the largest data leaks in history-uncovered “a global elite” operating “by a different set of rules”. Prime ministers, dictators, big banks, arms dealers, spy agencies, governments and big business generally were all exposed.
This ‘parallel universe’ that a few good people exposed, only provided a glimpse of its very existence, so far. These forces not just undermine or weaken the already inadequate democratic frameworks that exist including the associated civil rights that many people expect, but they are actually a direct threat to these rights.
Similarly the public deserves to know how extensive war preparations are being made globally and the potential threat to Australia’s peace and stability. Clearly, even from the snippets of open source information, there are many activities afoot that could trigger a hot war. The increasing hostility and even vehemence in the current Cold War/trade war is very worrying.
There is a definite need to develop an anti-war movement as soon as possible.