AMERICA’S ADDICTIONS - and the Consequences for the Rest of the World
Unless the United States can free itself from its 75-year addiction to nuclear weapons, the inevitable fate of humanity may be global annihilation at the hands of a nation unable or unwilling to distance itself from that which will ultimately bring about its demise.[i]
America’s addictions threaten, not only the USA but the entire planet, and civilisation itself.
J. Robert Oppenheimer, who is regarded as a the “father of the atomic bomb” argued that continuing the pursuit of the bomb would set off an arms race from which no side could emerge as winner. He compared the rush to acquire nuclear weapons to “two scorpions in a bottle”, each capable of destroying the other, but only at the risk of themselves being destroyed.
In 1948, the US National Security Council declared that the decision to employ atomic weapons was to be made by the President, giving him/her sole authority to unleash nuclear Armageddon. When President Reagan met with Gorbachev in 1985, they agreed that a nuclear war could not be won and must never be fought. However, the real danger today is the risk of nuclear war starting from a mistake. Both the US and Russia have experienced a number of false alarms and giving the President sole authority to launch is the most dangerous risk of all[ii]. The authors argue that no president should have sole authority, and that sharing nuclear decision-making authority would slow the process, reducing the risk of error. The policy of sole authority remains effective to this day.
Curtis LeMay was associated with the US bombing of North Korea and in the next decade talked of bombing Vietnam back to the Stone Age. Truman knew that the Japanese were ready to surrender but he wanted more than peace with Japan. His decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki was largely motivated by his attitude (and wish to send a powerful message) to the Soviets.[iii] LeMay later said, “If the US lost the war, we would be prosecuted as war criminals.”
The Exceptional Nation
The US has enjoyed remarkable success. It has contributed to peace and stability in the world, including the Marshall Plan, the creation of the Bretton Woods system and support for the core principles of democracy.
In 1998, Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright proclaimed “If we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future.” According to John Mearsheimer (The Great Delusion), many in the US believe that there is a special covenant between God and America. Adherents to US “exceptionalism” contend that the US has a “destiny and duty to expand its power and the influence of its institutions and beliefs until they dominate the world.”
The view of US “exceptionalism” was largely put to the sword by Stephen M Walt (Professor of International Relations at Harvard University) in October 2011, writing The Myth of American Exceptionalism. As he said, “American exceptionalism” presumes that America’s values, its political system, and history are unique and worthy of universal admiration. Prominent Americans have described the US as a “shining city on a hill”, the “leader of the free world”, and the “indispensable nation”. In 2004, President Bush said, “We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom.” However, the US has been one of the most expansionist powers in modern history. America seized Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California from Mexico in 1846. During World War II it dispatched 330,000 Japanese civilians through aerial bombing. The US dropped more than 6 million tons of bombs during the Indochina War, including defoliants like Agent Orange.
The US talks about human rights but has refused to sign most human rights treaties. The idea that the US is uniquely virtuous may be comforting to Americans, but it is not true.
At the end of the Cold War the US lost an opportunity to transform its relationship with Russia. Thirty years later, the US-Russian relationship is at an all-time low. Gorbachev accepted German reunification (over which the Soviet Union had a right of veto) because he was assured that NATO would not expand after Russia withdrew its forces from eastern Europe. Gorbachev received these assurances from Pres George H.W. Bush, West German Foreign Minister Genscher, West German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, French Pres François Mitterrand, and British Prime Ministers, Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
However, in 1996, the US proposed that NATO invite Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic states to join. In 1998, George Kennan said “I think [NATO expansion] is the beginning of a new Cold War. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake.”
The prevailing wisdom in the West that the Ukraine problem is due to Russian aggression is false. The US, and its European allies were mainly responsible for the Crimean crisis, due to NATO expansion, which was part of a larger strategy to move all of Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, out of Russia’s orbit and to integrate it into the West. The West was moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests. The Ukraine serves as an enormously important strategic buffer for Russia. No Russian leader would tolerate a former enemy, which included Nazi Germany, moving into Ukraine[iv]
US Interventions and Liberal Hegemony
The Cold War resulted in a pattern of US interventionism and military overreach. Successive US administrations conducted one operation after another to overthrow foreign governments, assassinate foreign leaders, and invade foreign countries. Between World War II, and the end of the Cold War, there were 72 attempts by the US to change the governments of other nations. Each of the three post-Cold War administrations of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama pursued an ambitious grand strategy of “liberal hegemony”, seeking to spread liberal values and democratic governance. This strategy has been fundamentally flawed and has led the US into costly quagmires such as Afghanistan and Iraq, squandering trillions of dollars, and costing thousands of lives.
Liberal hegemony rests on two core beliefs: Firstly, that the US must remain much more powerful than any other country; Secondly, it should use its power to spread, liberal values throughout the world. This has proved to be an abject failure, and US efforts to shape the world have not made the US safer or richer. Instead, its foreign policies have multiplied its enemies, destabilised key regions and wasted thousands of lives and trillions of dollars in failed expeditions.
Jimmy Carter at 94 years of age said that the US was the “most warlike nation in the history of the world”[v].
During the 1990s, US military spending exceeded the defence expenditures of the next 20 largest countries combined and its military expenditure continues to this day to exceed that of any other nation. The US maintains approximately 800 military bases in more than 100 countries. These US efforts have taken resources away from pressing domestic concerns. America’s crumbling infrastructure is badly in need of repair and a 2017 report suggests an infrastructure investment deficit of almost US$4 trillion. In the meantime, China has remained aloof from most quarrels and has concentrated on its economic development and technological advances, improving the lives of its people, and gaining substantially more international influence.[vi]
John Mearsheimer, in The Great Delusion talks about the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations embracing liberal hegemony, and being involved in numerous wars which failed to achieve meaningful success. China is arguably the least interventionist power of all. Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, China is the only one that has not fought any foreign wars, away from its borders since World War II. However, many Americans believe that they have a moral obligation to support efforts to overthrow a tyrannical Communist Party system and to help liberate the Chinese people from political oppression![vii]
The Need to Remain Number One - The Unipolar
After World War II, a Bipolar order emerged and the world was dominated by two superpowers, the US and Soviet Union. US war losses were relatively low at 410,000 dead whereas Britain, France and the Netherlands were exhausted, devastated and almost bankrupt. Russia, which sided with Britain and France against Germany, suffered 25 million casualties. However, to the credit of the US, major international bodies were created including the United Nations, the World Bank and NATO.
The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989. Gorbachev and President Bush agreed to end the Cold War “with no winners and no losers”, leading to the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991. Five months later the Soviet Union disintegrated, and Russia’s economy soon collapsed. Washington chose to ignore the “no winners, no losers” arrangement claiming that America had won the Cold War. Having triumphed in the US invasion of Iraq in 1991, Bush senior claimed that in the New World Order, America would lead the world. It had become the Unipolar, the sole superpower.
The US brought about its own decline by overextending its reach and invading Iraq in 2003. Bush had inherited a budget surplus of $120 billion from Clinton but he left behind a budget deficit of $1.2 trillion contributing greatly to the Global Financial Crisis a few years later. The Iraqi invasion helped to spread radical Islam, creating a new class of terrorists[viii].
During the last 30 years, China has risen dramatically while, since the GFC the US has gradually fallen behind. For the Trump Administration, it has been open season, bashing China and spewing anti-Chinese rhetoric. The problem, according to Mearsheimer is that a liberal unipole becomes addicted to war and approaches the task with missionary zeal. The US targeted nations in the Middle East seeking to impose democracy but it failed every time, bringing killing and destruction in its wake. The US seeks to remain the most powerful state on the planet, making sure that no other power becomes a peer competitor.
However, with the rise of China, and Russia’s return under the leadership of Putin, the international system has become Multipolar – potentially the death knell for the “liberal international order”.
Containment of China
America has engaged in multiple efforts to contain China’s rise. In 2018, the Trump Administration launched a trade war with China. It imposed tariffs (which have hurt US consumers more than those in China). The US has opposed (and endeavoured to persuade its allies to oppose) China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is the greatest infrastructure project in human history. Despite US efforts, by April 2019 more than 120 countries had signed up to the BRI.
Huawei is China’s global telecommunications champion. It is arguably the most successful and most advanced technology company in the world. The combination of its smart phones, fast broadband and artificial intelligence will transform medicine in ways which are almost unimaginable. Nevertheless, the US claims, without evidence, that Huawei’s technology conceals “backdoors” enabling it to steal data from the US and its allies. The US threatens its allies to stop using Huawei’s technology but, with few exceptions US threats have been ignored, and many countries, including some European nations have ordered Huawei equipment.
The US persists in conducting “freedom of navigation operations” in the South China Sea. However, there is no historical evidence that China has ever obstructed any vessel engaged in maritime trade from traversing this waterway. The stakes for China could not be higher. The South China Sea carries some $5 trillion worth of maritime trade each year and China is the greatest beneficiary. Remarkably, whilst the US persists in conducting freedom of navigation operations, it is one of the only nations in the world which has not signed or ratified the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea.
America’s addiction to the Bomb, its pursuit of liberal hegemony and its global interventions as well as its efforts to bring about regime change and its increasingly desperate efforts to remain number one and to contain China, all taken together, represent the greatest threats to world peace.
And all this, without even considering America’s gun laws, killing thousands of innocent citizens including schoolchildren each year; a nation, once the “leader of the free world” which only six months ago elected a President from a choice between an ignorant buffoon and an octogenarian to be, who has failed in two previous attempts to attain this office; a nation whose police routinely murder black citizens, where Black Lives DO NOT Matter; a nation which relies upon a presidential impeachment process, a witch-hunt, blindly driven by overt partisan party politics; and a nation which zigzags from one Presidential election to the next, withdrawing from engagement with the rest of the world, and then announcing “America is back”!
[i] Scott Ritter, Scorpion King, 2020 [ii] WJ Perry and TZ Collina, The Button, 2020 [iii] M Pembroke, Play by the Rules, 2020 [iv] Mearsheimer, The Great Delusion, 2018 [v] Pembroke, Ibid [vi] Stephen M Walt (Prof International Relations, Harvard University), The Hell of Good Intentions, 2018 [vii] Kishore Mahbubani, Has China Won? 2020 [viii] Dilip Hiro, After Empire (The Birth of a Multipolar World) 2010