War, Instability and U.S. Militarism

A Paper by Sara Flounders, Principal Leader, International Action Center, delivered at the 12th Rhodes Forum on September 27, 2014

Peace and Security in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America or within the United States is the one thing that we cannot expect in the period ahead. It is war, instability and brutal austerity ahead for us.

This is because the largest capitalist state – the U.S. economy – is in crisis and decline.

The U.S. economy has lost its dominant position in production, trade, investments, also in Technology, communications and even in media. Only its undisputed military position remains. What could be more dangerous?

The problems of the U.S., as a global empire, are systemic and incurable.

They are based on the crisis in the capitalist system itself, which is chaotic, unstable and at a dead end. The present crisis far more serious than cyclical crisis of past.

What I would like to discuss today in brief is:

It is the capitalist economic crisis that is driving the U.S. empire to military adventures around the world and to attacks on the working class at home. I'm going to discuss the impact of U.S. militarism specifically on West Asia, here in Greece, in Ukraine, and on workers in the United States.

It is important to acknowledge that while U.S. militarism is very dangerous to the world, but it has been unsuccessful in securing victories for the U.S. ruling class.

I want to stress that the best way to combat U.S. militarism is to build solidarity among the peoples and to consciously link together what seem to many divergent struggles.

Technology today is so massively productive that each cyclical start up almost immediately leads to a glut of overproduction. Only a massive bailout of the banks with federal funds squeezed from every social program, speculative bubbles and new wars provide short up-tick that keeps the U.S. economy lurching forward.

In this period U.S. militarism is totally interwoven with the state apparatus. The enormous Pentagon budget has been used for decades to prop up and protect the dominant U.S. industries – the military and oil corporations.

In desperate efforts, to avoid economic collapse, the U.S. empire is thrashing about and setting in motion forces that it cannot control politically and militarily.

This is true whether we look at the rise of ISIS - Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or the reckless expansion of NATO to the borders of Russia. The U.S. support for the fascist coup against the elected government in Ukraine, or the support of the military coup against the elected government in Egypt or the support of Israeli onslaught against Gaza generate one world crisis after another. The "pivot to Asia", the plans to encircle China, pulls in Philippines, Korea and Japan.

There is no rational plan to maintain U.S. global domination. There is a huge military apparatus with competing command centers and numerous intelligence networks contending for position.

They are driven to sow division, racism, Islamaphobia and fear and to increase repression at every level as the only way to hold a decaying system together. 

The over riding danger is that as the U.S. empire loses its grip and its ability to control events, it may risk all, in a mad adventure to recoup its past position.

Despite trillions of dollars spent and massive destruction Wall Street has not achieved its goal in wars in Afghanistan or Iraq or in Syria, Libya or Ukraine. These setbacks to its plans for complete dominance of the region lead to even more dangerous adventures.

The erratic U.S. demands on every country to participate in destabilizing economic sanctions on Iran and now in growing sanctions on Russia are helping to fuel interest in developing new economic blocs of trade and finance.

The BRICS is more than a growing trade bloc among 5 emerging powerhouses. It is one of the clearest examples of slip in U.S. hegemony. It is a protective umbrella for many developing countries.

The Looting of Greece

This conference is taking place in Greece.

If we want to grasp how U.S. militarism can loot a whole economy and destroy the lives of millions, then Greece is today the world’s best example

The term “austerity” takes its most brutal form right here in Greece where pensions were cut by 40% and 60%. Youth unemployment in 2012 is the highest in Europe - 57.6%.  Since economic crisis hit in 2009 unemployment has doubled to over 20%.

Hospitals have closed; health programs lack the most basic supplies

The United States is by far the world's biggest arms exporter. It aggressively uses its military dominance, with 1,000 bases around the world, and it's command of NATO to impose bankrupting weapons purchases on its allies and dependent client states.

Greece has been Europe’s main military spender in relative terms for most of the past 40 years.

Greece with fewer than 11 million people, from 2002 through 2006, was the world’s fourth largest importer of armaments.  As a proportion of its GDP, Greek defense spending is nearly double that of any other EU member.

Yet the people of Greece were told that the problem was that the people lived far beyond their means, workers were paid too much, had too many social programs and pensions were too generous. Now the bankers must be paid.

Greece would not have any debt if it were not for the decades of massive military spending.

The United States, then Germany, are the largest Greek arms suppliers and they were two of biggest proponents of austerity, and the main creditors of the IMF austerity budget. When Greece could not pay its loans they refused to allow Greece to cancel or postpone military contracts or cut military spending.

The only option Greece was given was to honor its weapons contracts and slash every one of its social programs to the bone.

The continuing U.S. demand, made again at this past NATO meeting in Wales was that every NATO member spend 2% of its GDP on military. Of course that would be a huge gift to U.S. and German military industries.

Spain’s military expenditure increased 29% between 2000 and 2008, due to massive weapon purchases. Spain also faced huge problems repaying its debts for its unnecessary military programs. Again social programs were the first things on the chopping bloc.

No Peace or Security within the U.S.

In the U.S. we feel the impact of this monstrous expenditure in every city. Ever since the economic crisis of 2008 the urban deterioration cannot be hidden.

Only the military budget grows. It is more than half the published Federal budget.

The growth of the military budget every year means cuts of almost 10% a year in federal funds to states and cities, in order to balance the budget. This cut is bankrupting city and state budgets. Bankrupt cities means bank demands to cut pensions city services, fire departments, parks, schools.

Nothing is more destructive of peace and security.

The city of Detroit, previously Motor City, is a frightening example. Detroit was the city with largest Black home ownership in the U.S. and now lost more than 1/3 of population. Hundreds of thousands have lost their homes because the banks refused to refinance home mortgages in a city in crisis. Economic shock therapy is racist and it is ruthless. Austerity is imposed by unelected officials, who are appointed by the largest banks.

The attack go even deeper. For late payment on water bills 3,000 homes a week this summer were having water shut offs. The cuts will leave 300,000 peoples without water. This is a step in privatizing the city water system.

Entire cities, in what is now called the rust belt are being gutted of industries and millions of homes foreclosed. Essential services are cut without notice or appeal.

The gap between the super rich 1% and the great majority of the population is greater than at any time in history and this gap is escalating wildly.

In New York City, where I live, is a city with the highest rents. It is home to Wall Street, major banks and corporate offices. It is the center of art and culture. Yet over 20% of the population lives below the poverty line. 30% of families with children rely of food pantries, soup kitchens, and free food programs.

But while the need has grown the austerity budgets bite deeper. This past year, the federal government cut funding to New York City's food pantries and soup kitchens by forty percent. The same cuts were imposed in cities across the country.

The battle in the US is increasingly between hundreds of billions of dollars to military corporations and the trillions to bail out the banks versus the drastically shrinking funds for every social need.

As Martin Luther King warned 45 years ago: THE WARS DO COME HOME

Corporate power in the US knows that this bankruptcy of every city will arouse resistance. Their response is a criminalization of youth. The largest prison population in the world by far - 5 to 10 times size any other country.  1 in 3 Black men will be in prison in their lifetime.

Police shooting of another African American youth in Ferguson, Missouri last month brought days of angry demonstrations and exposed to world the militarization of police forces with in the United States today.

Even the smallest cities and towns are equipped with tanks, armored personnel carriers, night goggles, and new gas weapons.

Incredibly while teaching staff is cut, even school police departments across the US have taken advantage of free military surplus gear.

There are national protests to demand that both local police and school police hand back in weapons and gear, from free machine guns and grenade launchers, M16 rifles to mine- resistant armored vehicles, obtained under Pentagon schemes to dispose of older equipment.

This is certainly an issue of peace and security.

The NATO Meeting

At the NATO Meeting in Wales this month several of the most aggressive demands of Washington were rebuffed, even by this U.S. commanded military alliance. The meeting opened with U.S. charges of a Russian invasion of Ukraine and a demand that every country join in harsher sanctions on Russia.

President Obama claimed Russian combat forces with Russian weapons in Russian tanks have crossed into Ukraine.

NATO backed up Obama’s statements with satellite images that claimed to “show Russian combat forces engaged in military operations inside the sovereign territory of Ukraine”. 

But then a usually a compliant group, the Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission, publicly countered these fear scenarios and reported that they “have registered no troops, ammunition or weapons crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border over the past two weeks” this was a stunning expose.

The EU then jumped on board to support Putin ceasefire proposal.

In the same week as the NATO meeting, the 5+1 negotiations with Iran were continuing on Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy. Suddenly new U.S. sanctions on 25 Iranian oil and banking corporations were announced.

What is behind these increasing demands for sanctions? Wall Street is desperate to tie the major European powers closer to US needs. Normalized trade and cultural exchanges with Russia, China and Iran can lead to more independent EU policies.

Washington once again demanded of all 28 members of NATO must expand military expenditures to 2% of GNP. This demand did not gain much traction.

Incredibly during these same meetings in Wales, the U.S. was trying to push through NATO support for new war in Iraq and Syria. Obama had to settle for a new form of the Bush “Coalition of the Willing, to sign on for new war in Middle East.

War on ISIS is the pretext to resume war in Iraq and most dangerously assert a pretext for bombing Syria.

U.S. wars 2 decade of war in Iraq and 3 decades of war in Afghanistan, its bombing of Libya, the funding of fanatical forces in Syria are massively destructive efforts to gain decisive control of oil and resource markets. But the wars have each failed totally in their original plan.

However they have succeeded in dividing populations socially, culturally along the most destructive sectarian lines. U.S. policy has also reinforced the most reactionary, sectarian, divisive and repressive regimes on the planet in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE.

The Pentagon and Climate Change

In discussing Peace and Security I should at least touch on the global threat of climate change and the floods, famines, draughts and daily insecurity.

We need to focus global attention on the most dangerous polluter on planet.

The Pentagon, the U.S. military machine, is the largest user of petroleum products on earth.

Yet by U.S. demand, since Kyoto Conference in 1998, all U.S. military operations worldwide and within the U.S. are exempt from measurement or agreements on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions calculations. The environmental movement worldwide must make this toxic pollution a focus of their demands.

The decades of war, the many bombing campaigns, even the vast amount of jet fuel used in global surveillance, the aircraft carriers, destroyers, 1,000 military bases overseas, along with all the NATO operations,  are all exempt from international carbon emissions calculations.

Breaking with Dangerous Illusions 

Personally I am not based in a university or academic environment. I come from grassroots activist movements. I deeply feel that fundamental change comes from below. Clear demands and focus are essential.

Regardless of whether a Republican or Democratic in office, Washington's policies are set by Wall Streets' needs and the Pentagon’s drive for world dominance. It is not just bad policies or bad advisors. The system is driven to make war. Its deteriorating global position exacerbates this drive.

It is important to dispel illusions about U.S. policy pronouncements or hopes that a change in administration will mean any fundamental change.

While President Obama's election was a historic step against racism and he was elected on a "peace" platform and was optimistically awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, drone strikes have increased 8 fold. There are Special Forces operations in at least 134 countries, twice as many as under Bush. There is the largest military budget since WWII. That is the reality.

Stand with Resistance

Today’s corporate rulers no longer live in a time when they alone have the only access to and understanding of technology.

Resistance today can take new and surprising forms and can connect instantaneously around the world.

Of course the 1% want to use their military technology to reinforce the image that they are all powerful. Because the old order is being challenged on many levels we should consciously act to reinforce resistance.

International solidarity with Palestine is one example where international grass roots activism plays a vital role - whether it is mass demonstrations, demands for war crimes prosecution, blocking ports and shipments or supporting for the Boycott, Divest Sanction movement.

Every U.S. supplied Israeli bomb, the ever-present drones, the all-pervasive surveillance is meant to send a message of dominance and fear.

But thousands of tunnels, homemade rockets, thousands of weapons smuggled under most difficult conditions expose that U.S. and Israeli technology is not all seeing or all powerful.

Gaza was a victory for armed resistance under the most difficult conditions imaginable. This resistance over decades has rich lessons in exposing the limits of US supported Israeli power,

The destruction in Gaza was horrendous. A third of housing destroyed, along with the electric grid and water pumping severely damaged. The civilian casualties more than 2,000. But Israel FAILED to divide or disarm the Palestinian armed resistance

This continuing Palestinian resistance once again confirms that peoples’ movements have great resilience.

Peoples resistance in Ukraine put a halt to a U.S. supported fascist coup and to what seemed an inevitable expansion of NATO.

Of course the U.S. Sate Department, the EU and the media that serves them wants to write it all off as Russian invasion and Putin’s interference. The fact that Ukrainian anti fascist resistance has Russia at their back is certainly helpful.

But it is crucial to acknowledge the peoples' resistance in cities across East Ukraine. It was local activists who seized and held government buildings for months, set up road blocs, armed themselves and made an orderly evacuation of children and many seniors. Most important was they organized a massive referendum on autonomy and their right to form a federation.

This organized peoples movement that sprung up, in response to the U.S. funded fascist threat, changed the calculation. Suddenly NATO and the Ukrainian oligarchs didn’t look so all powerful. For the first time in 20 years NATO expansion was halted.

This was not Russian tanks. This was people power.

Final Point

We are opposed to U.S. imperialism because it is the enemy of all humanity. It has nothing progressive to offer humanity.

Look at the wars of just the past decade. Contrast it to the many promises that Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya would be rebuilt – after the destruction. This is an impossible task.  A war machine based on profit is only capable of destruction and it naturally aligns with the most reactionary and corrupt local forces.

Is there any Framework to tie together an understanding of so many different struggles and movements??

The ruling class that rides the world is tiny, far less than 1%. But they have been able to exploit the whole world, based on their sophisticated divide and conquer tactics.

Unity and solidarity can become a material force of resistance.  We desperately need to build conscious political movements that take sides in this struggle. We cannot be neutral observers.

This is our anchor. Otherwise every new propaganda barrage would knock us over. That is its purpose. To overwhelm everything we already knows in our bones

We need to build a unified movement that stands with the most oppressed within the  US – and always stands with oppressed countries around the world against U.S. domination.

We need a movement that opposes racism at home and opposes racist demonization of the leaders and the accomplishments of developing nations around the world. A movement rooted in understanding national oppression can make an enormous contribution.

The more we are able to link the movement against endless wars and the giant subsidies to the military to the fight against deadly cuts in social services and the more movement here links up to global movement the more it will take on the working class character that it needs to survive.

We are partisans, we mobilize, we organize others. And yes, we do take sides.

The People United Will Not be Defeated!