Famously, Albert Einstein defined common sense as “the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.” When viewed from the prism of the perspective of the apologists for capitalism, Einstein’s condescending approach to conventional wisdom belied much of the Western prevailing orthodoxy up to the events in New York on September 11, 2001.
The prevailing view, particularly among a large swath of intellectuals, was one in which capitalism was seen as the bedrock of society underpinned by an economic booster model of globalization that supposedly limited the scope for war and conflict. Intellectual proponents of this worldview understanding of capitalism included Third Way ideologues such as Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck. For them, globalization was reshaping liberal democracies into states that transcended the need for “enemies”.
The limitations of this thinking was brought sharply into focus following George W Bush’s proclamation of a global state of war on September 20, 2001: “Americans should not expect one battle”, he said , “but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen.” To accept the notion that the capitalist system is shaped purely by economics that under the guise of globalization ameliorates the pressures among states to go to war with one another, is to grossly misunderstand the nature of the beast and what the main catalyst is that drives the war machine forward.
In truth, the system is underpinned by “competitive processes that involve not merely the economic struggle for markets, but military and diplomatic rivalries among states.” In other words, capitalism embraces geopolitics as well as economics. This was first understood during the early 20th century when the expansion and intensification of capitalism began to make its mark. It was during this period that economic rivalries among firms began to take the form of conflicts which spilled over national borders.
Consequently, combatants called upon the military support of their respective states to protect them. Thus, the close and complex interweaving of economic and security competition became geopolitical in nature which was to develop into the tragic era of inter-imperialist war between 1914 and 1945.
The notion that diplomatic and military conflicts among states reflect the more general process of competition that drives capitalism on, is the basis of the classic theory of imperialism formulated by Nikolai Bukharin during the First World War. It’s a theory that provides the best framework for understanding the contemporary American war drive and, pertinent to this article, its ongoing South China Sea dispute with China which the staging of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in the U.S a few days ago is implicit.
The main purpose of the summit, from a U.S perspective, is to advance what the Obama administration calls its Rebalance to Asia and the Pacific, popularly known as the Asia Pivot which reflects a shift in U.S policy towards China which intimates more of a belligerent approach as opposed to one based on constructive rationality. This is highlighted by the projected deployment of 60 percent of U.S submarines to the region, the purpose of which is to undermine Chinese economic development by limiting its maritime access to markets.
Much has been made about how the U.S wants to “cooperate” with China and to maintain friendly relations. But at the same time, President Obama proposes to undermine bi-lateral relations in the region while China wants to enhance them on an individual basis in much the same way that it would with any other country outside the region.
Another indication that the U.S is not prepared to cooperate, was the summit agenda’s domination by the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This was in addition to the dispute regarding contested maritime territorial claims and so called “freedom of movement” issues. What the U.S has sought to do is to stifle the development of the South East Asia region in relation to China and therefore seek to undermine the trade agreements China already has in place with various other S.E Asian countries in the bloc – agreements that were formulated at an international level through the auspices of forums like ASEAN.
The crux of the conflict between the U.S and China essentially revolves around the contenting claims and the influence each player is able to exercise in relation to ASEAN. The U.S is attempting to use economic and political leverage to isolate or economically encircle China as a way of counteracting what they perceive to be the expansion of China’s political influence.
The false impression given in much of the Western corporate media is that sovereign nations in the region are under threat from an expansionist and belligerent China and that these nations are necessarily looking to the United States for assistance. How the U.S would likely respond if China were to build military bases throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean or the Pacific coast off California is not a question the Western media seem to want to ask.
By reversing the roles, we can begin to understand the situation from the Chinese perspective, particularly given the painful and tragic history it has had over the last two centuries in relation to Western colonial domination of its territory. The contextual reality that underlies the Chinese position is that having emerged from a very dark period in their history, they are looking to assert their sovereignty by creating a regional sphere of influence.
Contrary to Western media propaganda, this doesn’t necessarily involve the domination of their neighbours. The perspective coming from Beijing is an insistence that the U.S respect China’s growing influence as a major political and economic power. This call, however, appears to be largely falling on deaf ears, particularly among the decision makers in Washington that really matter. What A. J. P Taylor called “the struggle for mastery” among the Great Powers is understood by Realists within the sphere of international relations in America. However, their views don’t hold significant enough sway within the corridors of power to influence policy.
The signing of the TPP to the exclusion of China, as well as the arm twisting by the U.S administration, appears to be intended to prohibit its European partners from joining the Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank (AIIB) which arguably has the potential to rival the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The dominant force in Washington is one which remains orientated towards greater competition which entails the possibility of greater conflict, not because the U.S wants war with with China, but because they are pushing the envelope which potentially can lead to unintended consequences.
While on the one hand, America pushes for its control of the regional trade and commerce framework through ASEAN, on the other, China is pushing to expand it’s so-called One Belt, One Road policy. This is predicated on growing Chinese economic penetration throughout the entire Eurasian land mass stretching from the Chinese coast on the South China Sea all the way to the Atlantic coast of Europe.
China is increasingly moving towards land-based commerce through Russia and central Asia and into the European space. This must be alarming to many of the strategic planners and paid-for corporate politicians in Washington. Underpinning the conflicts in the China Sea regarding disputed territory and the fomenting of others by the U.S involving China and its neighbours, is the larger geopolitical chess match, what Zbigniew Brzezinski famously referred to as The Grand Chessboard.
In exposing the real motives behind the Clinton administrations stated multilateralist strategy, Brzezinski who was one of the main architects of Nato expansion, presented The Grand Chessboard as one facet of a much broader approach to maintain American dominance over Eurasia through a continent wide policy of divide and rule. Brzezinski openly used the language of imperial power:
“America’s global supremacy is reminiscent in some ways to earlier empires, notwithstanding their confined regional scope. These empires based their power on a hierarchy of vassals, tributaries, protectorates, and colonies, with those on the outside generally viewed as barbarians. To some degree, this anachronistic terminology is not inappropriate for some of the states currently within the American orbit.”
The hosting by the U.S of the latest ASEAN summit, their TPP agenda and their attempts to contain China through the Asian Pivot, represents a worrying trend akin to the clash of imperial interests which led to the conditions from which the carnage of the First and Second World Wars emerged.