At the beginning of 2024, the world finds itself at an unprecedented juncture in history. A world war is underway, but it is unlike the previous ones. It is not called a world war and might not even be perceived as one. It was not officially declared and gave rise neither to a general mobilization nor to large-scale pitched battles. It has neither a trigger date nor the prospect of a conclusion. It is a long-term, permanent, and new type of world war that the peoples of the world, popular movements and progressive currents must understand, in order to thwart it and avoid being its victims.
By Samir Saul and Michel Seymour
We will start by highlighting the characteristics of the current situation to identify these new features, their causes and their effects. We will then proceed to an examination of appropriate means to ward off the perils towards which the warlike spiral is leading the world.
US hegemony at a crossroads
Imperialism is operating at full capacity, with one country trying to impose itself on all the others. The dominant power of recent decades, the United States, aspires to global imperialism, bringing the entire world under its sway. The whole process is concealed under the term “globalization” and we already written about it. They want to establish a “rules-based world”, that is to say a world in which their will has the force of law, capitalism is king, English is the lingua franca, neo-liberalism is the norm, the US dollar is the reserved currency and everyone’s natural resources are at the disposal of globalized capital, that is, first and foremost, their own.
It is also a world in which the US acts as a policeman with its 800 military bases and a budget devoted to the military-industrial complex reaching $900 billion per year. It is a world in which countries that do not comply with US “rules” are subject to “sanctions” and in which military intervention is the continuation of economic warfare by other means. It is a world in which military interventions, coups and financial support are authorized when the hegemonic interests of the US are called into question.
Any claim to sovereignty must be suppressed through military intervention and/or “color revolutions.” Subject to varying degrees of satellization, developed and less developed countries would be integrated into a hierarchical and pyramid-like structure, with the US at the top. Production would take place in regions where labor is cheap, while the US would print dollars to import a lot, export little in return and live as rentiers consuming beyond their means and at the expense of the rest of the world. Recently, under the effect of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the US understood that it is risky to have to import massively. But reindustrializing is not profitable for US companies that have relocated. This is why the American government is forcing German industry to migrate to the US by depriving it of Russian gas.
The ultimate guardian of this system is a military force characterized by bombers, missiles, aircraft carriers, alliances, local proxies and bases scattered across the world. This is the system put in place at the beginning of the 1980s. It boils down to a forced transfer of world wealth to the US, and represents the pinnacle of imperialism in its updated form adapted to the configuration of contemporary capitalism. It reached its peak between 1990 and 2008. An era of America-centered globalization, unipolarity, exceptionalism and the “end of history”, demagogically concealed by the smokescreen (not reality) of spreading “democracy” (according to the Western definition), human rights and Christian-inspired ethics, seemed to be established for eternity.
However, eternity turned out to be shorter than the advocates of the “end of history” had anticipated. Financialized globalization revealed its intrinsic flaws during the severe economic crisis of 2008, which almost tipped the world into a calamitous depression. The sustainability of this system, characterized by the decompartmentalization of financial institutions, the deregulation of finance and a stateless oligarchy, is no longer secured; its supporters are on the defensive. On another level, the international “order” that subjects humanity to the goodwill of the US is faltering. Its short-lived prominence was due to the stupefaction that followed the end of the Soviet system and the dismemberment of the USSR. In the ensuing disarray, both the countries of the East and those of the West, those of the North as well as those of the South, lined up as subordinates behind the US.
When this moment passed, they came to their senses, raised their heads and planned to regain their lost independence. This is the case, in particular, of Russia and China, but of most of the South as well. The status of auxiliaries of the hegemon has become unbearable for them. The time has come to demand the replacement of unipolarity by multipolarity, respect for national sovereignty, the application of international law (not the “rules” dictated by the US and changeable according to their current needs), the end of impunity and the creation of a genuine international community that would take into account the interests of others by the US. On three fronts US imperialism is in question: first, its foundations are weakened economically, then the international organization which supports it is contested politically; finally, its ideological hold, which feeds the “clash of civilizations”, is loosening.
The imposition of the American “order”
US imperialism is global. The whole world must be subjected to it. It does not tolerate any refusal to be part of it, any attempt to carve out one’s own space, even a non-hostile one. Force was necessary to impose it, including during the years of total hegemony. This is the reason for the series of endless wars waged by the US since 1990 against Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, as well as “color revolutions” to destabilize or effect regime changes and install servile successors, for example in Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Belarus, Kazakhstan, etc. The wars had certain characteristics: 1) they were of the colonial variety, against weaker countries; 2) after the failed US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the US replaced its troops with local proxies to give preference to proxy wars (Albanians against Serbia, jihadists and Kurds against Syria, Ukrainians against Russia, etc.); 3) the wars and coups were geographically on the perimeter of Russia, indirectly targeting it and conducted near its borders, especially in the Middle East and the south of Russia.
A new phase began in 2011 with Obama’s “pivot to Asian”. The weakening of US hegemony and the strengthening of China lead to a transition from colonial wars to confrontations between great powers. The primary targets of the US openly became Russia and China. The coup in Kiev in 2014, in which the United States installed a Russophobic government, put the country on the trajectory of a war that broke out out in Ukraine in 2022. In 2016, Trump campaigned against China, and frictions in the China Sea around Taiwan increased. In the US, the ruling factions are torn apart over priorities: taking down Russia first for the neoconservatives associated with the Democrats, leaving Russia until later and going after China first for the Trumpists. The most warmongering believe they can provoke everyone at the same time. The debate concerns the orientation of US imperialism. The fight at the top is fierce and unprecedented since 2015; it will continue to be intense, whatever the result of the 2024 presidential election, because the US’s increasingly rejected domination can only be maintained by force.
An unforeseen third front
American leaders were also forced to turn once again to the Middle East. They certainly no longer have the same interests as before. This region is no longer a key source of oil supplies as the US has now become increasingly self-sufficient. However, if the region remains important in their eyes and if Israel is the bridgehead for imposing their regional control, it is, in the current situation, largely to counter the phenomenon of dedollarization. The role played by Saudi oil as a resource sold in petrodollars, and therefore the status of the US dollar as the de facto global reserve currency, are no longer assured. This is a key issue because US financial domination fundamentally depends on maintaining the dollar as an international reserve currency.
Mohammed Bin Salman’s refusal to lower the price of a barrel of oil for Europe, as a replacement for Russian oil, was a first humiliating snub in the face of Biden who had taken the time to pay a visit to Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately for the US, Saudi oil purchased by China is now paid for in yuan and Saudi Arabia, likely to soon become a new member of BRICS, has just normalized its relations with Iran, which is Washington’s sworn enemy and competitor in oil production. Let us recall that the war that had been provoked by the Western camp against Syria coincided with the decision taken by Bashar al-Assad to favor the Iranian pipeline project over the Qatari project. Let us also note that in addition to guaranteeing control of resources coming from Iraq through a continuous military presence of the US on this territory and also being militarily present in Syria where there are oil ports, the US is counting on Israel to bomb oil terminals at Lebanese and Syrian ports. It is also necessary to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia in order to keep alive the development of Saudi oil as a source of supply for the West and to compete with China with the India-Middle-Europe Economic Corridor project (IMEC).
The surprise operation of October 7, 2023, and, more generally, the resumption of fighting in the Middle East, unanticipated and undesired by Washington, complicated matters. It revealed the true issues that are at stake in the region as well as being symptomatic of the faltering of the American empire. We are witnessing both a rebellion against the oppression exercised by Israel over the Palestinian people and the exacerbation of the blank check policy adopted by the United States which led Israel to carry out genocidal actions in Gaza. Netanyahu saw the October 7 attack as the perfect opportunity to raze Gaza to the ground and resume colonization over this territory. The destabilization of the established order, however, took place on several fronts. Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis (Ansar Allah) in Yemen and the resistance in Iraq form the axes of this opposition to Israel which is forcing Washington to bog down in this conflict. Israel is already certain of losing the war against Hamas. The Israeli government has given Israel a lasting international reputation as a genocidal state and, at the same time, lastingly tarnished on a global scale the reputation of the Western allies who provide it with cover and grant it impunity.
A third world war of a new type
The conditions are in place for a world war, but not like those of 1914 and 1939. Today’s situation is very different. The most obvious one is the emergence of nuclear weapons since 1945, and the huge arsenals built up by Russia and the US (90% of the world total). Each has enough megatons to wipe the other out several times over, and a good part of the world too boot. The destruction of both is guaranteed, no matter which one triggers the apocalypse. All understand that the declaration of frontal and total war, as in 1914 and 1939, can only be the last of the last options. It is worth noting how carefully the US and NATO, though massively committed to Kiev’s side, are trying to keep a “low profile” and limit direct attacks on Russia: being on the front line (where Kiev is trying to put them) would officially make them belligerents and legitimate targets for Russia; direct NATO-Russia confrontations could escalate into a nuclear clash between the US and Russia. As for Russia, it also lends itself to this interpretation and avoids touching the countries that supply Kiev.
The presence of nuclear weapons as well as the political importance of avoiding American deaths explain why proxy war has become for the US the most popular way to undertake conflicts. This is demonstrated by the wars in Syria, Yemen and Ukraine. In fact, the mobilizations of regular armies and formal declarations of war, with determined beginning and end, have become things of the past. For all that, the world is not pacified yet. War is now permanent (24/7/365), of “low intensity” and of all types (“hybrid”), that is, comprising subversion, sabotage, putsches (“revolutions”) and staged events, carried out by special forces, local clients and infiltrated henchmen. Wars no longer end with treaties and returns to peace; they persist, rot and continue to be fuelled from the outside, as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya.
The present world war is of a new type because it borrows heavily from the “hybrid” wars waged since 1990 and because it applies these methods against Russia and China. Inaugurating a new kind of world war, the conflict in Ukraine is both peripheral and direct since it takes place on the border of Russia and is directed against it. The same scenario is emerging around Taiwan. Destabilization, disorder, pseudo-revolutions, regime overthrows, collapses from within, etc., remain the preferred methods. One might think that those responsible for these provocations will want to stick (for their own survival) to “hybrid” proxy wars. But as they approach Russia and China, these wars can spiral out of control and mutate into direct confrontations involving nuclear dangers. What will the US do following its defeat against Russia in Ukraine? What would Russia do if it were truly threatened by the US, NATO or Kiev? Playing with the matches of limited wars at the doorstep of great powers is comparable to pyromania. The new type of world war currently underway may degenerate into an old type of world war… and be the last.
What to do about world war?
Above all, it is important to understand the mechanisms of “hybrid” proxy warfare. It is a war that must be camouflaged by a bombardment of propaganda to the effect that it is a “popular” struggle against hateful tyrants, that the US has nothing to do with it, that it must even fly to the rescue of “protesters” and “rebels”. According to it, there are no geopolitical motivations (destroying and taking control of an insubordinate country) and no imposition of American imperialism. Rather it is the promotion of Western “values”, missionary work for democracy, and a defense of trampled human rights. The role of the group carrying out the task on behalf of the hegemon must be carefully camouflaged; they are made out to be heroes fighting in the name of noble principles. These tales (“narratives”) are ready-made, immediately released to the public, and repeated day in and day out so that they become “the truth”. The public must believe that the operation is justified.
Under the guise of providing credible information, mainstream media plays a vital role as a disseminator of the official government line, vector of a single interpretation, and slanderer of all criticism (labeled “conspiratorial”, “hateful”, “worshiper of a hated country”, “on the payroll of a demonized foreign leader”). The conflict in Ukraine took the system to its climax by seeking to ban any comments that deviated from the patented ruling doctrine, adding delusional McCarthyism and a witch hunt to disqualify and silence all criticism. Collective hysteria was duly activated. This was exactly what happens during wartime, and it provided an additional clue showing that a world war is currently underway. The regimentation of media, think tank institutes, research centers and “experts”, leading to monolithic thinking and the intoxication of the public are commonplace in wartime.
Wars can be expected to remain “hybrid” and by proxy for as long as possible, and as long as cannon fodder is available. Predictably, they will continue and just as predictable they will pose the risk of a confrontation. Opposition to war is best carried out by political organizations enjoying popular support. The weakening of the left leaves only a few organizations able to assume this responsibility. Those that are active, often under unfavorable conditions, must be strengthened and concentration should be on dismantling the justifications put forward by the warmongers.
Every war is surrounded by lies and deception, and “hybrid” and proxy wars need them more than others. Opposition to war must succeed in breaking down the wall of propaganda erected by their sponsors. It must counter misinformation and indoctrination. It must react as quickly as possible before the poison of disinformation does its work and becomes irremovable. The real reasons for these wars are impossible to admit; they cannot withstand the light of day. Succeeding in cutting through the jumble of propaganda to expose their ins and outs is a major step in the effort to stop them, and perhaps to make it more difficult to launch them.
Refusing the false “clash of civilizations”
The West is more and more isolated and forced to acknowledge its minority status in the world because the South no longer follows it. Its strong point, however, lies in its ability to maintain in place the illusion of the superiority of Western civilization. The “clash of civilizations” outlined by Samuel Huntington may well be based on simplistic stereotypes. It nevertheless draws all its strength from convictions anchored in people’s minds. Russophobia, Sinophobia, and Islamophobia form its core.
Russophobia. It is based on Western pride in democratic values, without admission of the possibility that a country might want to favor, as is the case of Russia, the model of an “authoritarian democracy”, to borrow an expression from Emmanuel Todd. Could it be that Russian society truly wants to ensure lasting political stability within the country through the presence of a political authority embodied mainly in a person, responsible with his entourage for planning long-term economic, social and cultural development of the country, particularly to maintain control over the oligarchy present on its territory? The philosopher John Rawls, for example, admits two radically different models of distributive justice: liberal socialism (respecting civil and political rights and freedoms) and property-owning democracy (generalizing the cooperative model which is opposed to the concentration of capital, means of production, and decision-making powers under the control of a stateless oligarchy).
Sinophobia. The West also relies on the quasi-religious belief in the supremacy of individual rights under which they are the only fundamental rights. It cannot accept the idea of a society like China which, conversely, asserts the supremacy of the collective rights of the nation, hence Beijing’s unwavering support for the right to self-determination of peoples. In addition to being a settler state having violated the collective rights of indigenous peoples, the US has intervened militarily 215 times around the world since 1991, each time violating the collective right to self-determination of peoples. In contrast, the last Chinese interventions occurred in 1950, during the Korean War, and in 1979, during a conflict with Vietnam. Universalism is possible, but international organizations and international law must recognize that the right to self-determination of peoples is part of universal principles. The European Union, which could have served as a model in this regard, was built on a bureaucracy that ignored the constituent power of peoples (imposing the Lisbon Treaty while the constitutional treaty, which was perfectly identical to it, had just been rejected by France and the Netherlands). The EU has also ignored the right of people to equal development by allowing disparities to widen between peoples of the North and peoples of the South of Europe. It is also responsible for breaching the principle of solidarity between peoples in the treatment reserved for Greece following the economic crisis of 2008.
Islamophobia. Even if religious belief and practice have for all intents and purposes disappeared in the West, Christian ethics can still act imperceptibly in mentalities. They contribute to maintaining in our time the conviction in the superiority of the Judeo-Christian religion over other religions, and in particular over Islam. There is also the conviction that religion is a subjective matter, experienced only at the individual level, and related to our private life. All this takes place because the West has lost confidence in itself, in its founding principles and in its future. The fight against community practices of religion, crystallized in the ban on the headscarf, the fear of the “great replacement” of whit people and the threat that some see weighing on republican values reflect above all the projection of the West’s distress onto others. Added to Western geopolitical calculations, they prevent the international community from trying to stabilize the Middle East, either by imposing the two-state solution or by imposing a binational federal state solution in which both peoples would have collective rights to internal self-determination.
The stateless oligarchy uses the “clash of civilizations” as an ideological smokescreen having a soporific effect on populations that it hopes to keep in a state of apathy and to manipulate easily. To defuse the crisis of the West, draped in democratic, individualist and Christian virtues, inspiration must be found in Antonio Gramsci and a fight waged against cultural hegemony. In this sense, there must be recognition of several kinds of democracies (formal and material), several kinds of fundamental rights (individual and collective) and several relationships with religion: namely several postures (atheist, agnostic, believer), several sorts of religion (Christian, Muslim, Judaic, animist, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.) and several ways of experiencing religion (privately, in association or in community). Thinking on these various issues will allow warding off the false thesis of the “clash of civilizations” and neutralizing the ideological support that Western political elites seek to achieve within the population, as they seek to successfully attain the geopolitical objectives that would quench US thirst for world domination.
In the present circumstances, it would be desirable to find ways to act at the vital level of information: to create as soon as possible and on an international scale a network of centers of critical thinking capable of providing credible information and producing relevant analyses that can counter the avalanche of rubbish falling on the public and sustaining the warlike atmosphere. This would already be quite an achievement. Pressenza is well positioned to undertake this task.