Category Archives: War Games

Three Cheers for Trump’s Peace Trifecta

In the short space of five days, June 8-12, President Trump took three steps that upended the old post WWII global order and moved us a few steps toward a more peaceful world.  Two of those steps are undeniable; the third is perhaps not so obvious.

The Singapore Summit

The Singapore Summit comes first, because it rocked the world.

In this bold and unprecedented meeting President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un, of the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK), started down a path to Détente, aiming toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, an intractable problem or so the pundits informed us.  But as Melania warned us with a bemused smile sometime back, “Donald always shakes things up.”

The historic meeting produced more than words; concrete steps were taken:  The DPRK went first, terminating the testing of nuclear warheads, IRBMs and ICBMs and even closing its nuclear test site – all done before the summit. Leading up to the summit, Trump cut back on the extent of annual joint South Korea-US military exercises.  These have been roiling the East Pacific since the 1970s, frightening the North Koreans since these “war games” could abruptly turn into a real invasion as in the Korean War.  At summit’s conclusion Trump went further and terminated those exercises planned for late summer, labeling them “provocative,” as the North Koreans have long described them, and “expensive,” cost always being a big item in the Trumpian mind.  These exercises are also costly for the DPRK since they come at a time of year when agricultural labor is needed and hundreds of thousands of men must be diverted from the fields to join the armed forces in case the war games turn into a real invasion.  This hurts the agricultural output of the DPRK, and one suspects it is designed to do so.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Singapore Summit is the biggest step toward peace on the Korean Peninsula since President Dwight Eisenhower lived up to his 1952 campaign promise to “go to Korea” and end Truman’s deeply unpopular war, which had claimed millions of Korean lives, 1 million Chinese lives and tens of thousands of American ones. Ike ended that genocidal war, which had slaughtered 20% of the population of North Korea primarily by bombing and the use of chemical weapons.  An armistice was negotiated quickly and so the killing stopped, but a formal treaty of peace proved politically impossible.  (Ike, the peacemaker, was criticized by the media for being inarticulate and stupid and for spending too much time on the golf course.  And he had a mistress.  Sound familiar?  But he brought peace.)

Quite rightly the world greeted the Kim-Trump breakthrough with jubilation – save for the US elite and its press, including the interventionist Democratic Party leadership all of which were quite glum or downright enragedThe admirable and effective President Moon of the Republic of Korea (ROK) who himself was a key figure in making the summit possible, gave Trump much credit, and the South Korean people gave Moon’s Party overwhelming victories in the municipal elections on the day after the summit, putting the very political existence of the hawkish leadership of the rival party in question.  There was great celebration in North Korea and even the Japanese PM Shinzo Abe hailed the agreement since it removed a perceived threat.  Needless to say, China and Russia who have long pushed for denuclearization of the peninsula were very pleased; the cessation of US war games in exchange for ending DPRK testing of nukes and rockets was just the sort of first step they had advocated for some time.  And the majority (71%) of the American people approved of the summit. The Monmouth poll taken just after the summit and before the media had time to spin its demented take on events reported:

Most Americans (71%) say that the recent meeting between Trump and Kim was a good idea, including 93% of Republicans, 74% of independents, and 49% of Democrats. Only 20% say it was a bad idea. This positive feeling is somewhat higher than in late April, when 63% said the prospect of having such a meeting was a good idea.

Would it not be correct to say that the Singapore Summit is a move toward a world of peace by Trump and Kim? If so, should not all peace-loving forces support and praise it as a way to protect it from attacks of domestic hawks and to encourage similar steps in foreign policy? Have we?

This is not an academic question. The opposition to this and the policies listed below is large and building as can be seen from the reaction of the press. When Jimmy Carter tried to reach an accommodation with the DPRK and remove US troops and 700 nuclear weapons from the ROK, he was ultimately stopped by the forces we would now call Deep State, as chronicled here.  And similar forces are already organizing to stop Trump. If the peace movement does not do all in its power to back these and the initiatives outlined below, then we will bear part of the blame if those initiatives fail. What side is the peace movement on here?  To this writer the answer is unclear and the clock is ticking.

Let Russia Join the G7, says Trump

Let’s turn to achievement number two over those five days in June.  It came leading up to the G7 meeting in Charlevoix, Quebec.  Trump announced beforehand that Russia should be invited back into the G7, a move opposed by all the other members but for Italy’s new government.  The U.S. press went berserk, of course, with many declaring as they do many times daily that Trump’s strings were being pulled by – who else? – Putin.

Putin himself responded to the disagreement at the G7, thus:

As for Russia’s return to ‘the seven,’ ‘the eight’ [G7, G8] – we have not left it. Our colleagues once refused to come to Russia due to well-known reasons. Please, we will be happy to see everyone in Moscow.

Putin made that statement at a press conference in Qingdao, China, at the conclusion of the meeting of the SCO, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization with its present 8 member states: China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyryzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – with Iran, currently an observer, backed by China to become a full member.  Putin went further in this press conference; and it was reported by RT.com as follows:

The SCO gathering concluded just shortly after the G7 summit, and Russia enjoys the format of the now-eight-member organization after India and Pakistan joined. Putin believes the SCO trumps the G7 in certain aspects. For example, the member states have already overtaken the G7 in purchasing-power parity, the Russian leader said, citing IMF data.

If we calculate… per capita, the seven countries are wealthier, but the size of the SCO economies [combined] GFP is larger. And the population is, of course, much bigger – half of the planet.

That is, the combined gross GDPs of the SCO 8 are larger than the combined economies of the G7 by the PPP-GDP metric used by the IMF and World Bank (and CIA) as can be seen here.  It is noteworthy that Russia’s GDP is about equal to Germany’s, and not the basket case that it is made out to be in the Western press.  In fact, the G7 has only 3 of the world’s 7 largest economies the same number as the SCO-8.  The G7 are really nothing more than the ex-colonial and now neo-colonial countries whose time may be running out with the rise of the economies of the once colonized nations of East and South Asia.

In calling for Russia’s readmission to the G7, Trump was turning his back on the old Cold War alliances and looking to the economic realities of the 21st Century exemplified by the SCO.  He was opting to create an atmosphere of dialogue which would include Russia.  As he later said, the G7 spends 25% of its time discussing Russia- so why not have Russia present and try to work out problems together.

Trump’s appeal to readmit Russia to the G7 is simply a repeat of his call to “get along with Russia” a promise made in the campaign of 2016.  Is this not a good idea?  Is the recognition of new realities not part of creating a peaceful world?

Would it not be correct to say that this move of Trump’s is a move toward a world of peace? If so, should not all peace loving forces support and praise it as a way to protect it from attacks of domestic hawks and to encourage similar steps in foreign policy?  Have we? Again this is not an academic question because the outcome depends in part on our support or lack thereof.

Mercantilism over imperialism and hegemony

The third move in Trump’s weekend trifecta is not so much an action of his in and of itself but the revelation of a mindset behind that action.  Trump has set in motion the imposition of tariffs on countries that he views as unfair in trade with the US.  My point is not to argue whether such tariffs are good or bad or even whether the US has been treated unfairly.  (One might think, however, that the need to impose them is the sign of a trading power in its infancy which needs to protect its key enterprises – or of one in decline which can no longer prevail by virtue of the quality of what it produces.  But that is not of significance for this discussion.)

What is unusual is that Trump did not limit his economic attacks to an official adversary like China.  No, he is also directing them at our “allies,” from NATO all the way to Japan on the other side of the world.  In so doing he shows that commerce is more important to him than alliances that facilitate military actions aimed at domination and hegemony.  It might fairly be said that Trump is putting mercantilism over imperialism – if by mercantilism we mean economic nationalism.  Most of those at the G7 meeting who were aghast at the tariffs are NATO allies.  This action taken without regard to “the alliance” reminds us of Trump’s assertion during the campaign of 2016 that “NATO is obsolete.”

Trump’s stance was criticized by Canada’s PM Trudeau on this very basis, saying:

Canadians did not take it lightly that the United States has moved forward with significant tariffs on our steel and aluminum industry…. For Canadians who…stood shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in far-off lands and conflicts from the First World War onward…it’s kind of insulting. (Emphasis, jw).

Is fighting in the useless and criminal WWI something to be proud of?  Let’s pass over the many other murderess conflicts that have engaged the US and the G7 in the last 25 years, let alone the past 70 plus years.  Trudeau encompasses all this criminal behavior in the single word “onward.”  The alliances that have made this possible are indeed “obsolete,” in fact, retrograde and dangerous.  Trudeau is simply saying that the G7 have been willing allies in the imperial crimes of the US.  So they expect due economic consideration in return.  Trump is saying no more; now the business of America is business first and foremost.

This does not mean that economic nationalism is the answer to the world’s problems.  But Trump’s action does represent a move away from the “entangling alliances” that have been employed to further the hegemonistic policies of the US.

Would it not be correct to say that favoring competition in trade over cultivating alliances for military hegemony is a positive development? Should not all peace loving forces praise the move away from our “alliances,” away from NATO which has been the agent of so many criminal wars of the last quarter century?

The flies in the Trumpian Ointment

At this point in the conventional treatment of matters Trumpian, it is compulsory to launch into psychobabble about the man, with cries of indignation about his narcissism or vulgarity or some other imagined personality disorder.  This writer is not a mind reader, nor do I have much have faith in the “science” of psychology.  Such anti-Trump disclaimers are more often than not simply inoculation to protect the writer from the wrath of the legions of Trump-haters and Respectables.  Such disclaimers also represent a cheesy substitution of pop psych for political analysis.

In reality none of Trump’s actions outlined above should have been a surprise.  They are fully consistent with what he promised in 2016.  Likewise the war of words between Trump and Kim earlier in the year was simply a way to protect them both from charges of being weak on their adversary by their own hardliners.  Trump himself has admitted they were a charade, and there may have been more to the charade than he admitted.  Kim too had his hardliners although not so numerous or powerful as Trump’s.

That said, the beginnings of Trump foreign policy has not taken us from a quarter century drive toward US unipolar hegemony, which began with the Clintons, to a nirvana of peace in the space of 18 months.  Since the US Empire is the last of the 500 years of European Empires, successor to them all, it would be absurd to even expect such an outcome.  Likewise, it would be easy to google all the things that are wrong with US foreign policy and even growing worse – and there is a cottage industry devoted to just that.

But one of the current problems, US policy toward Iran, looms large and deserves special mention.  Because Iran has support from Russia and because it lies so close to Russia, conflict with Iran is likely to destroy Trump’s desire for Détente with Russia and could therefore drag the US into military conflict with a great nuclear power, even a World War.  Such a thing would be catastrophic for humanity – so it is a very big deal.  Fundamentally Trump’s position on Iran is dictated by Israel which maintains its stranglehold on US foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).  By necessity, given Israel’s power in US politics, and by his conviction as well, one suspects, Trump’s brain is Israeli occupied territory.  And the same malign influence contributes to the criminal US support of the Saudi atrocities in Yemen.  Perhaps discussions with Putin can help Trump on this matter.  But right now Israel poses one of the greatest obstacles to a new and enlightened foreign policy in a key area for all of humanity.

Finally let’s return again to the Singapore Summit.  Please, dear reader, immerse yourself in the jubilation it generated worldwide.  It jumps out of the screen right here Gangnam Style. Be sure the sound is on at the lower right of the screen– and join the dance for joy.

• This article first appeared on Antiwar.com

Cold War Mentality Alive and Well in Australia

Writing in The Australian newspaper under the headline “Red Threats to Render White Paper just about Passé” (18 May 2018) ANU emeritus professor Paul Dibb offers a commentary that exemplifies much of what is wrong with Australian strategic thinking. The problem is all the more acute because Dibb is regularly quoted in the mainstream media and his views are considered influential. In this latest article he calls for a re-evaluation of the premises underlying the Foreign Policy White Paper released only six months ago.

That White Paper was certainly flawed, although not in the manner that Dibb suggests in underestimating what Dibb calls “an aggrieved and newly assertive Russia, as well as an aggressive rising power in China.”

The White Paper failed to grasp the realities of a newly emerging multipolar world, and in particular failed to perceive how Australia might best respond in a manner consistent with both its national security and economic interests.

That challenge is not assisted by Dibb’s contribution, which is full of faulty assumptions, factual errors, and grievous misinterpretations, not only of post-World War II history, but the current inevitable realignment away from the singularly dangerous exercise of hegemonic power by the United States.

Dibb quotes United States Secretary of Defence James Mattis with evident approval, saying “China and Russia wanted to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian models.”  China is alleged to be seeking “regional hegemony and the displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.”

The “evidence” Dibb cites for these assertions are China’s buildup of its military capabilities in the South China Sea; Russia’s territorial expansionism in Crimea and Ukraine; Putin’s aggressive attitude in defending Syria and its use of chemical weapons; and Moscow’s State sponsored assassination attempts in Britain reflecting Putin’s contempt for the sanctity of State borders. He even cites the “reports” of Beijing seeking to develop a military base in Vanuatu.  That the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of Vanuatu and also the Chinese government have denied the latter report is of little consequence to Professor Dibb.

There is much more in Professor Dibb’s commentary in this vein, but those examples illustrate not only the fact free environment that strategic advisors such as Dibb operate in, but also are reflective of “strategic thinking” in the Australian defence, foreign policy and defence establishments.

In the cited example of China’s buildup of its military capabilities in the South China Sea there are several components of this allegation that put it in a different context from the viewpoint usually advanced in the Australian media. The so-called Nine Dash Line within which China has made unspecified claims was, in fact, the first formulated in 1946 by the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai Shek. That government’s successors now rule Taiwan, and the Taiwanese government makes the same South China Sea claims as does the PRC.

Taiwan similarly rejected the findings of the UNCLOS Tribunal they ruled on a complaint by the Philippines1, a con complaint incidentally that was arguing exclusively by American and British lawyers.

It is correct that the PRC has fortified some of the eight artificial “islands” it has constructed in the South China Sea, but so has Vietnam, about which Dibb is silent. Taiwan has also fortified Taiping Island in the Spratly Group, more than 1000 km to its south.

Dibb makes no attempt to analyse why China should be taking steps to increase its military presence in the South China Sea. Those reasons would include China’s defensive reaction to being encircled by 400 US military bases; the US declaring that China is a major threat to the US, as it did and last year’s National Defence Strategy document; and the carrying out of provocative military exercises by the US in the South China Sea.

Australia, along with the United States, carries out a regular joint military exercise (Operation Talisman Sabre) which practices blocking the narrow (2.5km) Malacca Straits through which more than 80% of China’s oil imports currently pass.

Dibb claims also that Russia engaged in “territorial expansionism” in Crimea and Ukraine. Crimea is an example of consistent misrepresentation in the Australian media. It was for centuries part of Russia until 1954 when Soviet leader Khrushchev unilaterally “gifted” Crimea to Ukraine without consulting anyone, least of all the Crimean people.

Following the US organized and financed coup against the elected government of Ukraine in 2014, the Crimean people, who are predominately Russian speaking and culturally aligned with Russia, held a referendum. More than 90% of Crimeans voted in that referendum, and more than 90% of them voted for reunification with Russia. Crimea’s request to Russia for reintegration into the Russian Federation was in due course voted on in the Russian Parliament.

People’s right to self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter, and was recognised by the West, for example, in supporting the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. Quite apart from illustrating the extraordinary demonization of Russia, the treatment of the Crimea question is a classic illustration of western hypocrisy.

There is zero evidence of any Russian territorial expansionism in Ukraine. There is obviously profound concern about Ukraine’s treatment of its Russian speaking eastern region of Donbass. An attempted resolution of the Donbass problem brokered by Germany, resulting in the Minsk Accord of 2015, has been repeatedly violated. According to the OSCE, more than 80% of the violations of the Minsk II Accord have been by the Ukrainian government. This is a government where neo-Nazi elements have undue influence, a fact of obvious legitimate concern to the Russian government given the history of 26 million Russian deaths at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

Dibb also refers to Putin’s “aggressive attitude in defending Syria and its use of chemical weapons.”  This is simply bizarre. It was Russia who negotiated Syria relinquishing its chemical weapons and the OPCW has verified that the disarmament of chemical weapons by Syria is complete.

The alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government have been comprehensively debunked by independent experts.2

Dibb does not mention it, but Russia is in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate sovereign government of Syria. Thanks to Russia’s intervention in 2015 the US-Israeli-Saudi Arabia backed terrorists are on the verge of being completely defeated.

Russia is acting entirely within international law in their support of the Syrian government, unlike the United States and its ally Australia who have no legal justification for being in Syria at all. It is an illustration of the United States’ imperial agenda that they have set up military bases in Syria where they are neither invited nor wanted.

Dibb is completely unable to recognise that the greatest sponsor and perpetrator of terrorism in the world is the United States. Since 1945 it has been almost continuously engaged in warfare against self defined “threats” and “enemies;” has bombed, invaded, or overthrown the governments of more than 70 nations; and killed more than 30 million people in the process.3

In many of these activities, for example, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, it has been actively supported by Australia, whose “joined at the hip” alliance with the United States is arguably Australia’s most dangerous and counter-productive foreign policy.

Dibb further claims “Moscow’s state-sponsored assassination attempts in Britain reflects Putin’s contempt for the sanctity of state borders.”  This is presumably a reference to the recent Skripal case, although with Dibb’s casual and sweeping defamatory denunciations one cannot be sure.

If it is the Skripal case to which he refers, then not only have the United Kingdom claims been both ludicrous and overblown in their multiple variations, there is absolutely zero evidence of Russian involvement and considerable evidence of motivations by other actors.

Since the admission to hospital and now with the discharge of both of the Skripals the British government has refused to permit consular access by Russian officials. This is a direct violation of, inter alia, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and a separate treaty between Russia and the United Kingdom. The British are also in violation of the International Convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance (23 September 2005). The United Nations Human Rights Committee has also held that for persons to be held incommunicado for 15 days or more constitutes a violation of human rights law. In Dibb’s world these factors never rate a mention.

As for Mr Putin’s alleged contempt for the sanctity of state borders, he might like to compare the respective records of Russia since 2000 (when Putin first came to power) and his US counterparts over the same period.  There is simply no contest.

What Dibb and similar commentators in Australia fail to recognise is that the American dominated unipolar world order of the past 70 years is rapidly being transformed into a multipolar world.4

Australia’s adherence to the Pax Americana view, however, is potentially greatly to Australia’s detriment, economically and politically. If the new Cold War policies being pursued by the Trump administration deteriorate to a hot war, which is far from unrealistic, the devastation wrought upon Australia will be, to borrow Trump’s phrase, fire and fury like in the world has never seen.

  1. Shannon Tiezzi, Taiwan: South China Sea Ruling ‘Completely Unacceptable‘, The Diplomat, 13 July 2016.
  2. Dr. Theodore Postol, “Assessment of White House Intelligence Report About Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria“, Global Research, November 18, 2017.
  3. William Blum, Americas Deadliest Export: Democracy, Zed Books, 2013.
  4. Alfred W. McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century, Haymarket Books, 2017.

Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution

The inevitable stop, start and stuttering of the Korean peace process was bound to manifest itself soon after the hugs, expansive smiles and sympathetic back rubs.  Dates have been set – the Kim-Trump summit is slated to take place in Singapore on June 12, though there is much time for disruptive mischief to take place.

One field of possible disruption lies in air exercises between the US and South Korea known as Max Thunder.  Such manoeuvres have been of particular interest to the DPRK, given their scale and possible use as leverage in talks.

The latest irritation was occasioned by claims in Pyongyang that the US had deployed B-52 Stratofortress bombers as part of the exercise despite denying that this would take place.  This was construed, in the words of Leon V. Sigal, “as inconsistent with President Trump’s pledge at President Moon’s urging to move toward peace in Korea.”

The position against using such nuclear-capable assets had been outlined in Kim Jong Un’s 2018 New Year’s Day address.  The South, he insisted, should “discontinue all the nuclear war drills they stage with outside forces,” a point reiterated in Rodong Sinmun, the Party newspaper, ten days later: “If the South Korean authorities really want détente and peace, they should first stop all efforts to bringing in the US nuclear equipment and conduct exercises for nuclear warfare with foreign forces.”

While these matters were unfolding, President Donald Trump’s national security advisor was being his injudicious self, doing his bit for global insecurity.  Never a diplomat in the true sense of the term, John Bolton remains a traditional head kicker for empire, the rustler of discontent.

Bolton, history teacher incarnate, wants to impress upon the North Koreans certain jarring examples.  A favourite of his is the so-called Libyan solution. How well that worked: the leadership of a country maligned but convinced in its international rehabilitation to abandon various weapons programs in the hope of shoring up security.  More specifically, in 2003, Libya was convinced to undertake a process US diplomats and negotiators parrot with steam and enthusiasm: denuclearisation.

“We should insist that if this meeting is going to take place,” claimed Bolton on Radio Free Asia with characteristic smugness, “it will be similar to discussions we had with Libya 13 or 14 years ago: how to pack up their nuclear weapons program and take it to Oak Ridge, Tennessee.”

The problem with this skewed interpretation lies in its false premise: that US threats, cajoling and sanctions has actually brought North Korea, tail between legs, to the diplomatic table.  Being firm and threatening, according to Bolton, has been rewarding.  This reading verges on the fantastic, ignoring three years of cautious, informal engagement.  It also refuses to account for the fact that Pyongyang made firm moves in Washington’s direction after the insistence on firm preconditions was abandoned by Trump.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also been rumbling on the issue of a firm line, suggesting that he, like Bolton, has a preference for the stick approach.  Despite speaking about “warm” and “substantive” talks with Kim, he claims that any agreement with Pyongyang must have a “robust verification program” built into it.

The suggestion of the Libyan precedent was enough to sent Pyongyang into a state, given their developed fears about becoming the next casualty of unwarranted foreign intervention.  Libya did denuclearise, thereby inflicting what could only be seen subsequently as a self-amputation.  As missiles rained down upon Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, launched by the British, French and the US ostensibly for humanitarian reasons, a sense of terrible regret must have been felt.  Soon, the mad colonel would be butchered, and his state torn asunder in a sectarian reckoning.

As the air assault was taking place, the North Korean foreign ministry identified the problem: the bargain between Libya and the western powers to surrender its nuclear weapons program was “an invasion tactic to disarm the country”.  The intervention “is teaching the international community a grave lesson”.

The state news agency KNCA took note of Bolton’s remarks, issuing an official rebuff highlighting the status of the DPRK as a true, fully fledged nuclear weapon state: the “world knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq, which have met a miserable fate.  It is absolutely absurd to dare compare the DPRK, a nuclear weapon state, to Libya, which had been at the initial stage of nuclear development.”

The DPRK’s vice foreign minister, Kim Kye Gwan, was unequivocal in warning.  “If the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-US summit.”  Bolton received specific mention: “We do not hide a feeling of repugnance toward him.”

The Trump White House preferred to give different signals.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders is claiming that the president will be his own man on this, though Trump’s own reading of the “Libya model” has proven confusingly selective.  In any case the leverage brought by US ultimatum to disarm without genuine concessions is hardly likely to gain traction. The response from Pyongyang will be simple: resume missile testing and further enlarge the arsenal.