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Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is a dangerous provocation

On 2 August, United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island of Taiwan in a dangerous provocation of China. The visit by Pelosi – the third-highest ranking US official in order of presidential succession – is the most significant trip to Taiwan by a U.S. official in 25 years, when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich visited the island.

Intended to encourage separatist forces on the island, Pelosi’s visit is a flagrant violation of the one-China principle. This principle, which recognises that Taiwan is part of China, has been adopted by the United Nations for over fifty years and forms the basis of diplomatic relations between the US and China. Today, 180 of the 193 UN member states recognise Beijing’s sovereignty over Taiwan. 

This is a red line issue for China. Pelosi’s visit has been rightly condemned by the international community, and was even opposed by the US military, for threatening to escalate tensions between the US and China into a military conflict.

The United States must abandon its rogue foreign policy agenda and adhere to the international consensus. Failing to respect the territorial integrity of other countries leads to war – we are witnessing this in Ukraine, a war provoked by NATO’s decades-long expansion up to Russia’s border. The world does not need any more conflict, we need peace and cooperation to resolve the urgent crises facing humanity.

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Briefing: The world does not want a global NATO

The new Cold War is rapidly heating up, with severe consequences for people around the world. Our series, Briefings, provides the key facts on these matters of global concern.

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In June, member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) gathered in Madrid, Spain for their annual summit. At the meeting, NATO adopted a new Strategic Concept, which had last been updated in 2010. In it, NATO names Russia as its ‘most significant and direct threat’ and singled out China as a ‘challenge [to] our interests’. In the words of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, this guiding document represents a ‘fundamental shift’ for the military alliance, its ‘biggest overhaul… since the Cold War’.

A Monroe Doctrine for the 21st Century?

Although NATO purports to be a ‘defensive’ alliance, this claim is contradicted by its destructive legacy – such as in Serbia (1999), Afghanistan (2001), and Libya (2011) – and its ever-expanding global footprint. At the summit, NATO made it clear that it intends to continue its global expansion to confront Russia and China. Seemingly oblivious to the immense human suffering produced by the war in Ukraine, NATO declared that its ‘enlargement has been a historic success… and contributed to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area’, and extended official membership invitations to Finland and Sweden. 

However, NATO’s sights extend far beyond the ‘Euro-Atlantic’ to the Global South. Seeking to gain a foothold in Asia, NATO welcomed Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand as summit participants for the first time and stated that ‘the Indo-Pacific is important for NATO’. On top of this, echoing the Monroe Doctrine (1823) of two hundred years ago, the Strategic Concept named ‘Africa and the Middle East’ as ‘NATO’s southern neighbourhood’, and Stoltenberg made an ominous reference to ‘Russia and China’s increasing influence in [the Alliance’s] southern neighbourhood’ as presenting a ‘challenge’.

85% of the World Seeks Peace

Although NATO’s member states may believe that they possess global authority, the overwhelming majority of the world does not. The international response to the war in Ukraine indicates that a stark divide exists between the United States and its closest allies on the one hand and the Global South on the other.

Governments representing 6.7 billion people – 85% of the world’s population – have refused to follow sanctions imposed by the US and its allies against Russia, while countries representing only 15% of the world’s population have followed these measures. According to Reuters, the only non-Western governments to have enacted sanctions on Russia are Japan, South Korea, the Bahamas, and Taiwan – all of which host US military bases or personnel.

There is even less support for the push to close airspace to Russian planes spearheaded by the US and European Union. Governments representing only 12% of the world’s population have adopted this policy, while 88% have not.

US-led efforts to politically isolate Russia on the international stage have been unsuccessful. In March, the UN General Assembly voted on a nonbinding resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: 141 countries voted in favour, 5 countries voted against, 35 countries abstained, and 12 countries were absent. However, this tally does not tell the full story. The countries which either voted against the resolution, abstained, or were absent represent 59% of the world’s population. Following this, the Biden administration’s call for Russia to be excluded from the G20 summit in Indonesia was ignored.

Meanwhile, despite intense backing from NATO, efforts to win support for Ukraine in the Global South have been a complete failure. On 20 June, after several requests, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the African Union; only two heads of state of the continental organisation’s 55 members attended the meeting. Shortly thereafter, Zelensky’s request to address the Latin American trade bloc, Mercosur, was rejected.

It is clear that NATO’s claim to be ‘a bulwark of the rules-based international order’ is not a view which is shared by most of the world. Support for the military alliance’s policies is almost entirely confined to its member countries and a handful of allies which together constitute a small minority of the world’s population. Most of the world’s population rejects NATO’s policies and global aspirations and does not wish to divide the international community into outdated Cold War blocs.

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Briefing: Is the United States preparing for war on Russia and China?

The new Cold War is rapidly heating up, with severe consequences for people around the world. Our series, Briefings, provides the key facts on these matters of global concern.

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The war in Ukraine demonstrates a qualitative escalation of the United States’ willingness to use military force. In recent decades, the US launched wars on developing countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Serbia. In these campaigns, the US knew it enjoyed overwhelming military superiority and that there was no risk of a nuclear retaliation. However, in threatening to bring Ukraine into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the US was prepared to risk crossing what it knew to be the ‘red lines’ of the nuclear armed state of Russia. This raises two questions: why has the US undertaken this escalation, and how far is the US now prepared to go in the use of military force against not only the Global South but major powers such as China or Russia?

Using Military Force to Compensate for Economic Decline

The answer to ‘why’ is clear: the US has lost in peaceful economic competition to developing countries in general and China in particular. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in 2016 China overtook the US as the world’s largest economy. As of 2021, China accounted for 19% of the global economy, compared to the US at 16%. This gap is only growing wider, and, by 2027, the IMF projects that China’s economy will outsize the US by nearly 30%. However, the US has maintained unrivalled global military supremacy – its military expenditure is larger than the next nine highest spending countries combined. Seeking to maintain unipolar global dominance, the US is increasingly substituting peaceful economic competition with military force.

A good starting point to understand this strategic shift in US policy is the speech given by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on 26 May 2022. In it, Blinken openly admitted that the US does not seek military equality with other states, but military supremacy, particularly with respect to China: ‘President Biden has instructed the Department of Defense to hold China as its pacing challenge, to ensure that our military stays ahead’. However, with nuclear armed states such as China or Russia, military supremacy necessitates achieving nuclear supremacy – an escalation above and beyond the current war in Ukraine.

The Pursuit of Nuclear Primacy

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the US has systematically withdrawn from key treaties limiting the threat of use of nuclear weapons: in 2002, the US unilaterally exited  from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; in 2019, the US abandoned the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty; and, in 2020, the US withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty. Abandoning these treaties strengthened the US’ ability to seek nuclear supremacy.

The ultimate aim of this US policy is to acquire ‘first strike’ capacity against Russia and China – the ability to inflict damage with a first use of nuclear weapons against Russia or China to the extent that it effectively prevents retaliation. As John Bellamy Foster has noted in a comprehensive study of this US nuclear build up, even in the case of Russia – which possesses the world’s most advanced non-US nuclear arsenal – this would ‘deny Moscow a viable second-strike option, effectively eliminating its nuclear deterrent altogether, through “decapitation”’. In reality, the fallout and threat of nuclear winter from such a strike would threaten the entire world.

This policy of nuclear primacy has long been pursued by certain circles within Washington. In 2006, it was argued in the leading US foreign policy journal Foreign Affairs that ‘It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike’.  Contrary to these hopes, the US has not yet been able to achieve a first strike capacity, but this is due to development of hypersonic missiles and other weapons by Russia and China – not a change in US policy.

From its attacks on Global South countries to its increased willingness to go to war with a great power such as Russia to attempting to gain first strike nuclear capacity, the logic behind the escalation of US militarism is clear: the United States is increasingly employing military force to compensate for its economic decline. In this extremely dangerous period, it is vital for humanity that all progressive forces unite to meet this great threat.

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Briefing: The United States has destabilised the world economy

The new Cold War is rapidly heating up, with severe consequences for people around the world. Our series, Briefings, provides the key facts on these matters of global concern.

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The International Monetary Fund has announced that the global economy is entering a major slowdown, downgrading the growth prospects of 143 countries. At the same time, inflation rates have reached historic levels. Around the world, hundreds of millions of people are falling into poverty, particularly in the Global South. Oxfam has sounded the alarm that we are ‘witnessing the most profound collapse of humanity into extreme poverty and suffering in memory’. What is producing this immense human suffering?

An Economic Crisis ‘Made in Washington’

On 13 April, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen claimed that this global economic deterioration was due to the Russian war in Ukraine. This is factually incorrect. Although the conflict has worsened the situation, the key driver which has destabilised the world economy is the massive inflationary wave that had already built up in the United States and has now begun to crest on the world. Prior to the war in Ukraine, US inflation had already tripled in recent years from 2.5% (January 2020) to 7.5% (January 2022) before accelerating further to 8.5% (March 2022) after the war broke out. 

‘This isn’t Putin’s inflation’, the Wall Street Journal editorial board noted. ‘This inflation was made in Washington’.

The US consumer market absorbs a fifth of the world’s goods and services; as the demand for these goods outstrips the global supply, the tendency for US inflation to spread around the world is very high. The average Commodity Research Bureau Index, a general indicator of global commodity markets, has risen astronomically: as of 25 April, year-to-year prices have soared for oil (60%), palm oil (60%), coffee (56%), wheat (45%), natural gas (139%), and coal (253%). These price increases have sent shock waves through the global economy.

This instability is inseparably connected to US economic policy. Since 2020, the United States has increased its budget by $2.8 trillion. To finance this budgetary expansion, the US government increased borrowing to 27% of the gross domestic product (GDP), and the Federal Reserve Bank increased the money supply (the quantity of money issued) by 27% year-on-year. Both of these increases are the highest in US peacetime history.

These huge US economic packages were generated to put cash in the hands of consumers. The US government focused on the economy’s demand side by putting money into circulation for consumption, but it did not increase spending on the economy’s supply side by putting money into investment. From 2019–21, 98% of US GDP growth was in consumption, while only 2% was in net investment. With a large increase in demand by consumers and almost no increase in supply, a huge inflationary wave grew in the United States.

Investing in Guns or People?

Inflation in the United States, which has global implications, is a by-product of its economic priorities. For the past half-century, US governments have not used the country’s social wealth to make substantial social investments in areas such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure, nor have they invested in the manufacturing sector to increase supply. Instead, to manage inflation the government has chosen to push an agenda which cuts demand. These cuts in demand have already lowered living standards; for instance, real wages in the United States have fallen by 2.7% in the past year. 

Instead of making social investments to prevent such economic downturns, the US government has prioritised its military, which receives a budget increase every year. In 2022, the Biden administration proposed a military budget of $813 billion, a 9.2% increase over the military budget in 2021 – larger than the next eleven highest spending countries combined. To justify this massive expenditure, the Biden administration, like the Trump administration before it, has invoked the need to ‘combat threats’ posed by China and Russia.

A reduction in US military spending would free up government funds to invest in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and manufacturing. However, this would necessitate a shift in US foreign policy, which does not appear to be on the horizon. Until that time, the people of the United States and other countries will have to sustain the costs of Washington’s new Cold War.

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Briefing: World hunger and the war in Ukraine

The new Cold War is rapidly heating up, with severe consequences for people around the world. Our new series, Briefings, provides the key facts on these matters of global concern.

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The war in Ukraine, along with sanctions imposed by the United States and Western countries against Russia, have caused global food, fertiliser, and fuel prices to ‘skyrocket’ and endanger the world food supply. This conflict is exacerbating the existing crisis of global hunger and imperils the living standards and well-being of billions of people – particularly in the Global South. 

War in the ‘breadbasket of the world’

Russia and Ukraine together produce nearly 30 percent of the world’s wheat and roughly 12 percent of its total calories. Over the past five years, they have accounted for 17 percent of the world’s corn, 32 percent of barley (a critical source of animal feed), and 75 percent of sunflower oil (an important cooking oil in many countries). On top of this, Russia is the world’s largest supplier of fertilisers and natural gas (a key component in fertiliser production), accounting for 15 percent of the global trade of nitrogenous fertilisers, 17 percent of potash fertilisers, 20 percent of natural gas.

The current crisis threatens to cause a global food shortage. The United Nations has estimated that up to 30 percent of Ukrainian farmland could become a warzone; in addition, due to sanctions, Russia has been severely restricted in exporting food, fertiliser, and fuel. This has caused global prices to surge. Since the war began, wheat prices have increased by 21 percent, barley by 33 percent, and some fertilisers by 40 percent.

The Global South is ‘getting pummelled’

The painful impact of this shock is being felt by people around the world, but most sharply in the Global South. ‘In a word, developing countries are getting pummelled,’ United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently remarked.

According to the UN, 45 African and ‘least developed’ countries import at least a third of their wheat from Russia or Ukraine – 18 of those countries import at least 50 percent. Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, obtains over 70 percent of its imports from Russia and Ukraine, while Turkey obtains over 80 percent. 

Countries of the Global South are already facing severe price shocks and shortages, impacting both consumption and production. In Kenya, bread prices have risen by 40 percent in some areas and, in Lebanon, by 70 percent. Meanwhile, Brazil, the world’s largest producer of soybeans, is facing a major reduction in crop yields. The country purchases close to half of its potash fertiliser from Russia and neighbouring Belarus (which is also being sanctioned) – it has only a three month supply remaining with farmers being instructed to ration.

‘The United States has sanctioned the whole world’

The situation is being directly exacerbated by U.S. and Western sanctions against Russia. Although sanctions have been justified as targeting Russian government leaders and elites, such measures hurt all people, particularly vulnerable groups, and are having global ramifications. 

‘They’re preventing fertilisers from getting to producing countries,’ said Antonio Galvan, president of the Brazilian national soybean farmers association, Aprosoja. ‘How many millions are going to starve to death because of the lack of these fertilisers?’ 

Nooruddin Zaker Ahmadi, director of an Afghan import company, made the following diagnosis: ‘The United States thinks it has only sanctioned Russia and its banks. But the United States has sanctioned the whole world.’

‘A catastrophe on top of a catastrophe…’

The war in Ukraine and associated sanctions are exacerbating the already existing crisis of world hunger. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation found that ‘nearly one in three people in the world (2.37 billion) did not have access to adequate food in 2020.’ In recent years, the situation has worsened as food prices have risen due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and related disruptions.

‘Ukraine has only compounded a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe,’ said David M. Beasley, the executive director of the UN World Food Program. ‘There is no precedent even close to this since World War II.’

‘If you think we’ve got hell on earth now, you just get ready,’ Beasley warned.

Regardless of the different opinions on Ukraine, it is clear that billions of people around the world will suffer from this hunger crisis until the war and sanctions come to an end.