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US backs war funds to protect power bloc

The US integrated liberal capitalist states into a bloc under its leadership and has sought to make this global
Issue 2902
US speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson

US speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson’s foreign aid bills passed

When the United States’ House of Representatives finally passed the bill voting over £49 billion in military aid to Ukraine last Saturday, Democratic Congresspeople cheered and waved the Ukrainian flag

But the passage of this long-stalled piece of legislation was about a lot more than Ukraine. Three other bills were also passed. They gave military aid of £21 billion to Israel and £6.5 billion for US allies in the Indo-Pacific region, especially Taiwan, and, absurdly, banning TikTok unless its Chinese owners divest.

Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman gave a lucid explanation of how Western liberals see the votes. “Together they offer a clear sense of how America—and its key allies in Europe and Asia—now see the world,” he wrote. Collectively all of this money is intended to push back against four countries that General Chris Cavoli, the commander of US forces in Europe, describes as an ‘axis of adversaries’—Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.”

This doesn’t just involve Nato, but also Japan, South Korea, and Australia. As Rachman explains, “The ‘western alliance’ is now, in reality, a global network of allies that sees itself as engaged in a series of linked regional struggles. Russia is the key adversary in Europe. Iran is the most disruptive power in the Middle East. North Korea is a constant danger in Asia. China’s behaviour and rhetoric are becoming more aggressive, and it can marshal resources that are not available to Moscow or Tehran.”

So what exactly is it that this “axis of adversaries” is disrupting? The answer is the so-called “rules-based international order” that the US constructed after the Second World War. It integrated the liberal capitalist states into a bloc under its leadership and has sought, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-91, to make this global. 

It’s certainly true that both Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are opposed to this US-dominated order. They tend to describe their alternative as “multipolarity”—an international system with no centre or hegemonic power. The jailed Russian Marxist Boris Kagarlitsky has written a critique of “multipolarity”, which he describes as a “war of everyone against everyone”. 

In reality, China and Russia are becoming the leaders of a rival imperialist bloc. It’s also true that the “rules-based order” is in trouble. This is partly because the US now faces a really powerful challenger in the shape of China.

But it’s also because this bloc’s claim to legitimacy is collapsing. The Western imperialist powers’ support for Israel as it slaughters the people of Gaza has exposed the hollowness of their claims to moral superiority over their “autocratic” rivals.  The real significance of the Congressional votes is that they represent the liberal imperialists’ response. Rather than make serious concessions, they are digging in. 

One could call this “war liberalism”. This doesn’t just involve military measures, for example a closer security agreement between the US and Japan. Nor does it involve the cooperation of the US, Britain and France in defending Israel from Iranian missiles and drones. The US and the European Union are taking an increasing number of protectionist measures against Chinese exports and investments.

Rachman correctly points out Joe Biden isn’t actively seeking war. “Washington is also grappling with how to strengthen deterrence without getting the US directly involved in a war with any of the axis of adversaries. In practice, this has often meant providing America’s frontline allies with new military aid, while simultaneously trying to restrain their actions.” 

One example is the apparently successful efforts by the US to dissuade Israel from responding to the Iranian bombardment in a way that could provoke all-out war. But ramping up the military response carries enormous risks, especially in Ukraine.

The slogging match there could easily turn into a more mobile and even deadlier war as the possibility of a Ukrainian collapse encourages both sides to take risks. Biden and his allies are gambling with the future of the planet.

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