By James Petras
US Empire building on a world-scale began during and shortly after WWII. Washington intervened directly in the Chinese civil war (providing arms to Chiang Kai Shek’s army while the Red Army battled the Japanese), backed France’s re-colonization war against the Viet Minh in Indo-China and installed Japanese imperial collaborator-puppet regimes in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
While empire building took place with starts and stops, advances and defeats, the strategic goal remained the same: to prevent the establishment of independent communist or secular-nationalist governments and to impose vassal regimes compliant to US interests.
Bloody wars and coups (’regime changes’) were the weapons of choice. Defeated European colonial regimes were replaced and incorporated as subordinate US allies.
Where possible, Washington relied on armies of mercenaries trained, equipped and directed by US ‘advisors’ to advance imperial conquests. Where necessary, usually if the client regime and vassal troops were unable to defeat an armed people’s army, the US armed forces intervened directly.
Imperial strategists sought to intervene and brutally conquer the target nation. When they failed to achieve their ‘maximum’ goal, they dug in with a policy of encirclement to cut the links between revolutionary centers with adjoining movements. Where countries successfully resisted armed conquests, empire builders imposed economic sanctions and blockades to erode the economic basis of popular governments.
Empires, as the Roman sages long recognized, are not built in a day, or weeks and months. Temporary agreements and accords are signed and conveniently broken because imperial designs remain paramount.
Empires would foment internal cleavages among adversaries and coups in neighboring countries. Above all, they construct a worldwide network of military outposts, clandestine operatives and regional alliances on the borders of independent governments to curtail emerging military powers.
Following successful wars, imperial centers dominate production and markets, resources and labor. However, over time challenges would inevitably emerge from dependent and independent regimes. Rivals and competitors gained markets and increased military competence. While some vassal states sacrificed political-military sovereignty for independent economic development, others moved toward political independence.
Early and Late Contradictions of Expanding Imperialism
The dynamics of imperial states and systems contain contradictions that constantly challenge and change the contours of empire.
The US devoted immense resources to retain its military supremacy among vassals, but experienced a sharp decline in its share of world markets, especially with the rapid rise of new economic producers.
Economic competition forced the imperial centers to realign the focus of their economies – ‘rent’ (finance and speculation) displaced profits from trade and production. Imperial industries relocated abroad in search of cheap labor. Finance, insurance, real estate, communications, military and security industries came to dominate the domestic economy. A vicious cycle was created: with the erosion of its productive base, the Empire further increased its reliance on the military, finance capital and the import of cheap consumer goods.
Just after World War II, Washington tested its military prowess through intervention . Because of the immense popular resistance and the proximity of the USSR, and later PRC, empire building in post-colonial Asia was contained or militarily defeated. US forces temporarily recognized a stalemate in Korea after killing millions. Its defeat in China led to the flight of the ‘Nationalists’ to the provincial island of Taiwan. The sustained popular resistance and material support from socialist superpowers led to its retreat from Indo-China. In response, it resorted to economic sanctions to strangle the revolutionary governments.
The Growth of the Unipolar Ideology
With the growing power of overseas economic competitors and its increasing reliance on direct military intervention, the US Empire took advantage of the internal disintegration of the USSR and China’s embrace of ’state capitalism’ in the early 1990’s and 1980s..The US expanded throughout the Baltic region, Eastern and Central Europe and the Balkans – with the forced breakup of Yugoslavia. Imperial strategists envisioned ‘a unipolar empire’ – an imperial state without rivals. The Empire builders were free to invade, occupy and pillage independent states on any continent – even bombing a European capital, Belgrade, with total impunity. Multiple wars were launched against designated ‘adversaries’, who lacked strong global allies.
Countries in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa were targeted for destruction. South America was under the control of neo-liberal regimes. The former USSR was pillaged and disarmed by imperial vassals. Russia was ruled by gangster-kleptocrats allied to US stooges. China was envisioned as nothing more than a slave workshop producing cheap mass consumer goods for Americans and generating high profits for US multinational corporations and retailers like Walmart.
Unlike the Roman Empire, the 1990’s were not to be the prelude to an unchallenged US empire of long duration. Since the ‘unipolarists’ were pursuing multiple costly and destructive wars of conquest and they were unable to rely on the growth of satellites with emerging industrial economies for its profits. US global power eroded.
The Demise of Unipolarity: The 21st Century
Ten years into the 21st century, the imperial vision of an unchallenged unipolar empire was crumbling. China’s ‘primitive’ accumulation led to advanced domestic accumulation for the Chinese people and state. China’s power expanded overseas through investments, trade and acquisitions. China displaced the US as the leading trading partner in Asia and the largest importer of primary commodities from Latin America and Africa. China became the world’s leading manufacturer and exporter of consumer goods to North America and the EU.
The first decade of the 21st century witnessed the overthrow or defeat of US vassal states throughout Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil) and the emergence of independent agro-mineral regimes poised to form regional trade pacts. This was a period of growing global demand for their natural resources and commodities- precisely when the US was de-industrializing and in the throes of costly disastrous wars in the Middle East.
In contrast to the growing independence of Latin America, the EU deepened its military participation in the brutal US-led overseas wars by expanding the ‘mandate’ of NATO. Brussels followed the unipolarist policy of systematically encircling Russia and weakening its independence via harsh sanctions. The EU’s outward expansion (financed with increasing domestic austerity) heightened internal cleavages, leading to popular discontent .The UK voted in favor of a referendum to secede from the EU.
The domestic disasters of the US vassal regime in Russia, under Boris Yeltsin during the 1990″s, pushed the voters to elect a nationalist, Vladimir Putin. President Vladimir Putin’s government embarked on a program to regain Russian sovereignty and its position as a global power, countering US internal intervention and pushing back against external encirclement by NATO.
Unipolarists continued to launch multiple wars of conquest in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, costing trillions of dollars and leading to the loss of global markets and competitiveness. As the armies of the Empire expanded globally, the domestic economy (the ‘Republic’) contracted .The US became mired in recession and growing poverty. Unipolar politics created a growing multi-polar global economy, while rigidly imposing military priorities.
The Empire Strikes Back: The Nuclear Option
The second decade of the 21st century ushered in the demise of unipolarity to the dismay of many ‘experts’ and the blind denial by its political architects. The rise of a multi-polar world economy intensified the desperate imperial drive to restore unipolarity by military means, led by militarists incapable of adjusting or assessing their own policies.
Under the regime of the ‘first black’ US President Obama, elected on promises to ‘rein in’ the military, imperial policymakers intensified their pursuit of seven, new and continuing wars. To the policymakers and the propagandists in the US-EU corporate media, these were successful imperial wars, accompanied by premature declarations of victories in Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. This triumphal delusion of success led the new Administration to launch new wars in Ukraine, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
As the new wave of wars and coups (’regime change’) to re-impose unipolarity failed, even greater militarist policies displaced economic strategies for global dominance. The unipolarists-militarists, who direct the permanent state apparatus, continued to sacrifice markets and investments with total immunity from the disastrous consequences of their failures on the domestic economy.
A Brief Revival of Unipolarity in Latin America
Coups and power grabs have overturned independent governments in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Honduras and threatened progressive governments in Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador. However, the pro-imperial ‘roll-back’ in Latin America was neither politically nor economically sustainable and threatens to undermine any restoration of US unipolar dominance of the region.
The US has provided no economic aid or expanded access to markets to reward and support their newly acquired client regimes. Argentina’s new vassal, Mauricio Macri, transferred billions of dollars to predatory Wall Street bankers and handed over access to military bases and lucrative resources without receiving any reciprocal inflows of investment capital. Indeed the servile policies of President Macri created greater unemployment and depressed living standards, leading to mass popular discontent. The unipolar empire’s ‘new boy’ in its Buenos Aires fiefdom faces an early demise.
Likewise, widespread corruption, a deep economic depression and unprecedented double digit levels of unemployment in Brazil threaten the illicit vassal regime of Michel Temer with permanent crisis and rising class conflict.
Short-Lived Success in the Middle East
The revanchist unipolarist launch of a new wave of wars in the Middle East and North Africa seemed to succeed briefly with the devastating power of US-NATO aerial and naval bombardment .Then collapsed amidst grotesque destruction and chaos, flooding Europe with millions of refugees.
Powerful surges of resistance to the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan hastened the retreat toward a multi-polar world. Islamist insurgents drove the US into fortress garrisons and took control of the countryside and encircled cities in Afghanistan; Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Libya drove US backed regimes and mercenaries into flight.
Unipolarists and the Permanent State: Re-Group and Attack
Faced with its failures, unipolarists regrouped and implemented the most dangerous military strategy yet: the build-up of nuclear ‘First-Strike’ capability targeting China and Russia.
Orchestrated by US State Department political appointees, Ukraine’s government was taken over by US vassals leading to the ongoing break-up of that country. Fearful of neo-fascists and Russophobes, the citizens of Crimea voted to rejoin Russia. Ethnic Russian majorities in Ukraine’s Donbass region have been at war with Kiev with thousands killed and millions fleeing their homes to take refuge in Russia. The unipolarists in Washington financed and directed the Kiev coup led by kleptocrats, fascists and street mobs, immune as always from the consequences.
Meanwhile the US is increasing its number of combat troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria to buttress its unreliable allies and mercenaries.
What is crucial to understanding the rise and demise of imperial power and the euphoric unipolar declarations of the 1990’s (especially during the heyday of President Clinton’s bloody reign), is that at no point have military and political advances been sustained by foundational economic building blocks.
The US defeated and subsequently occupied Iraq, but it also systematically destroyed Iraq’s civil society and its economy, creating fertile ground for massive ethnic cleansing, waves of refugees and the subsequent Islamist uprising that over ran vast territories. Indeed, deliberate US policies in Iraq and elsewhere created the refugee crisis that is overwhelming Europe.
A similar situation is occurring during the first two decades of this century: Military victories have installed ineffective imperial-backed unpopular leaders. Unipolarists increasingly rely on the most retrograde tribal rabble, Islamist extremists, overseas clients and paid mercenaries. The deliberate US-led assault on the very people capable of leading modern multicultural nations like Iraq, Libya, Syria and Ukraine, is a caricature of the notorious Pol Pot assaults on Cambodia’s educated classes. Of course, the US honed its special skills in ‘killing the school teachers’ when it trained and financed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980’s.
The second weakness, which led to the collapse of the unipolar illusion, has been their inability to rethink their assumptions and re-orient and rebalance their strategic militarist paradigm from the incredible global mess they created
They steadfastly refused to work with and promote the educated economic elites in the conquered countries. To do so would have required maintaining an intact social-economic-security system in the countries they had systematically shredded. It would mean rejecting their paradigm of total war, unconditional surrender and naked, brutal military occupation in order to allow the development of viable economic allies, instead of imposing pliable but grotesquely corrupt vassal regimes.
The deeply entrenched, heavily financed and vast military-intelligence-police apparatus, numbering many millions, has formed a parallel imperial state ruling over the elected and civilian regime within the US.
The so-called ‘deep state’, in reality, is a ruling state run by unipolarists. It is not some ‘faceless entity’: It has a class, ideological and economic identity.
Despite the severe cost of losing a series of catastrophic wars and the multi-billion-dollar thefts by kleptocratic vassal regimes, the unipolarists have remained intact, even increasing their efforts to score a conquest or temporary military victory.
Let us say it, openly and clearly: The unipolarists are now engaged in blaming their terrible military and political failures on Russia and China. This is why they seek, directly and indirectly, to weaken Russia and China’s ‘allies abroad’ and at home. Indeed their savage campaign to ‘blame the Russians’ for President Trump’s election reflects their deep hostility to Russia and contempt for the working and lower middle class voters (the ‘basket of deplorables’) who voted for Trump. This elite’s inability to examine its own failures and the political system’s inability to remove these disastrous policymakers is a serious threat to the future of the world.
Unipolarists: Fabricating Pretexts for World War
While the unipolarist state suffered predictable military defeats and prolonged wars and reliance on unstable civilian regimes, the ideologues continue to deflect blame onto ‘Russia and China as the source of all their military defeats’. The unipolarists’ monomania has been transformed into a provocative large-scale offensive nuclear missile build-up in Europe and Asia, increasing the risk of a nuclear war by engaging in a deadly ‘game of chicken’.
The veteran nuclear physicists in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published an important description of the unipolarists’ war plans. They revealed that the ‘current and ongoing US nuclear program has implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the US ballistic missile arsenal. These new technologies increase the overall US killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces threefold’. This is exactly what an objective observer would expect of a nuclear-armed US unipolar state planning to launch a war by disarming China and Russia with a ’surprise’ first strike.
The unipolar state has targeted several countries as pretexts for launching a war. The US government installed provocative missile bases in the Baltic countries and Poland. These are regimes chosen for their eagerness to violate Russia’s borders or airspace and insanely willing to invite the inevitable military response and chain reaction onto their own populations. Other sites for huge US military bases and NATO expansion include the Balkans, especially the former Yugoslav provinces of Kosovo and Montenegro. These are bankrupt ethno-fascist mafia states and potential tinderboxes for NATO-provoked conflicts leading to a US first strike. This explains why the most rabid US Senate militarists have been pushing for Kosovo and Montenegro’s integration into NATO.
Syria is where the unipolarists are creating a pretext for nuclear war. The US state has been sending more ‘Special Forces’ into highly conflictive areas to support their mercenery allies. This means US troops will operate (illegally) face-to-face with the advancing Syrian army, who are backed by Russian military air support (legally). The US plans to seize ISIS-controlled Raqqa in Northern Syria as its own base of operation with the intention of denying the Syrian government its victory over the jihadi-terrorists. The likelihood of armed ‘incidents’ between the US and Russia in Syria is growing to the rapturous applause of US unipolarists.
The US has financed and promoted Kurdish fighters as they seize Syrian territory from the jihadi-terrorists, especially in territories along the Turkish border. This is leading to an inevitable conflict between Turkey and the US-backed Kurds.
Another likely site for expanded war is Ukraine. After seizing power in Kiev, the klepto-fascists launched a shooting war and economic blockade against the bilingual ethnic Russian-Ukrainians of the Donbass region. Attacks by the Kiev junta, countless massacres of civilians (including the burning of scores of unarmed Russian-speaking protesters in Odessa) and the sabotage of Russian humanitarian aid shipments could provoke retaliation from Russia and invite a US military intervention via the Black Sea against Crimea.
The mostly likely site for starting World War III is the Korean peninsula. The unipolarists and their allies in the state apparatus have systematically built-up the conditions to trigger a war with China using the pretext of the North Korean defensive weapons program.
The unipolarists’ state apparatus has gathered its allies in Congress and the mass media to create public hysteria. Congress and the administration of President Trump have fabricated the North Korean missile program as a ‘threat to the United States’. This has allowed the unipolarist state to implement an offensive military strategy to counter this phony ‘threat’.
The elite have discarded all previous diplomatic negotiations and agreements with North Korea in order to prepare for war – ultimately directed at China. This is because China is the most dynamic and successful global economic challenger to US world domination. The US has ’suffered’ peaceful, but humiliating, economic defeat at the hands of an emerging Asian power. China’s economy has grown more than three times faster than the US for the last two decades. And China’s infrastructure development bank has attracted scores of regional and European participants after a much promoted US trade agreement in Asia, developed by the Obama Administration, collapsed. Over the past decade, while salaries and wages have stagnated or regressed in the US and EU, they have tripled in China.
China’s economic growth is set to surpass the US into the near and distant future if trends continue. This will inevitably lead to China replacing the US s as the world’s most dynamic economic power…. barring a nuclear attack by the US. It is no wonder China is embarked on a program to modernize its defensive missile systems and border and maritime security.
As the unipolarists prepare for the ‘final decision’ to attack China, they are systematically installing their most advanced nuclear missile strike capacity in South Korea under the preposterous pretext of countering the regime in Pyongyang. To exacerbate tensions, the US High Command has embarked on cyber-attacks against North Korea’s missile program. It has been staging massive military exercises with Seoul, which provoked the North Korean military to ‘test’ four of its medium range ballistic missiles in the Sea of Japan. Washington has ignored the Chinese government’s efforts to calm the situation and persuade the North Koreans to resist US provocations on its borders and even scale down their nuclear weapons program.
The US war propaganda machine claims that Pyongyang’s nervous response to Washington’s provocative military exercises (dubbed “Foal Eagle’) on North Korea’s border are both a ‘threat’ to South Korea and ‘evidence of its leaders’ insanity.’ Ultimately, Washington intends to target China. It installed its (misnamed) Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) in South Korea .An offensive surveillance and attack system designed to target China’s major cities and complement the US maritime encirclement of China and Russia. Using North Korea as a pretext, THAAD was installed in South Korea, with the capacity to reach the Chinese heartland in minutes. Its range covers over 3,000 kilometers of China’s land mass. THAAD directed missiles are specifically designed to identify and destroy China’s defensive missile capacity.
With the THADD installation in South Korea, Russia’s Far East is now encircled by the US offensive missiles to complement the build-up in the West.
The unipolar strategists are joined by the increasingly militaristic Japanese government – a most alarming development for the Koreans and Chinese given the history of Japanese brutality in the region. The Japanese Defense Minister has proposed acquiring the capacity for a ‘pre-emptive strike’, an imperial replay of its invasion and enslavement of Korea and Manchuria. Japan ‘points to’ North Korea but really aims at China.
South Korea’s deeply corrupt and blindly submissive regime immediately accepted the US/THADD system on their territory. Washington found the compliant South Korean ‘deep state’ willing to sacrifice its crucial economic links with Beijing: China is South Korea’s biggest trading partner. In exchange for serving as a platform for future US aggression against China, South Korea has suffered losses in trade, investments and employment. Even if a new South Korea government were to reverse this policy, the US will not move its THAAD installation. China, for its part, has largely cut its economic and investment ties with some of South Korea’s biggest conglomerates. Tourism, cultural and academic exchanges, commercial agreements and, most important, most of South Korean industrial exports face shut down.
In the midst of a major political scandal involving the Korean President (who faces impeachment and imprisonment), the US-Japanese military alliance has brutally sucked the hapless South Korean people into an offensive military build-up against China. In the process Seoul threatens its peaceful economic relations with China. The South Koreans are overwhelmingly ‘pro-peace’, but find themselves on the frontlines of a potential nuclear war.
China’s response to Washington’s threat is a massive buildup of its own defensive missile capacity. The Chinese now claim to have the capacity to rapidly demolish THAAD bases in South Korea if pushed by the US. China is retooling its factories to compensate for the loss of South Korean industrial imports.
The rise and fall of unipolar America has not displaced the permanent state apparatus as it continues to pursue its deluded strategies.
On the contrary, the unipolarists are accelerating their drive for global military conquest by targeting Russia and China, which they insist are the cause of their losing wars and global economic decline. They live on their delusions of a ‘Golden Age’ of the 1990’s when George Bush, Sr. could devastate Iraq and Bill Clinton could bomb Yugoslavia’s cities with impunity.
Gone are the days when the unipolarists could break up the USSR, finance violent breakaway former Soviet regimes in Asia and the Caucuses and run fraudulent elections for its drunken clients in Russia.
The disasters of US policies and its domestic economic decline has given way to rapid and profound changes in power relations over the last two decades, shattering any illusion of a unipolar ‘American Century’.
Unipolarity remains the ideology of the permanent state security apparatus and its elites in Washington. They believe that the marriage of militarism abroad and financial control at home will allow them to regain their lost unipolar ‘Garden of Eden’.
China and Russia are the essential new protagonists of a multipolar world. The dynamics of necessity and their own economic growth has pushed them to successfully nurture alternative, independent states and markets.
This obvious, irreversible reality has driven the unipolarists to the mania of preparing for a global nuclear war! The pretexts are infinite and absurd; the targets are clear and global; the destructive offensive military means are available; but so are the formidable defensive and retaliatory capacities of China and Russia.
The unipolarist state’s delusion of ‘winning a global nuclear war’ presents Americans with the critical challenge to resist or give in to an insanely dangerous empire in decline, which is willing to launch a globally destructive war.