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War threats flow from logic of imperialism

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Issue 2549
The USS Carl Vinson
The USS Carl Vinson has been sent to the Korean peninsula (Pic: United States Navy/Wiki Commons)

The world has moved closer towards a deadly military catastrophe in the last week. It’s an utterly chilling prospect.

After the Syrian dictatorship’s latest atrocity last week, US president Donald Trump fired 59 cruise missiles onto an airbase.

The assault hasn’t been followed up, but the Trump administration is clear that it wasn’t just a one-off shot across the bow.

US ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Nikki Haley reiterated that “regime change in Syria is something that we think is going to happen”.

The Syrian regime’s patrons Russia and Iran promised to bolster its military capabilities and “respond to any aggression”.

And tensions aren’t only rising in the Middle East.


After the missile strike, Trump dispatched a naval task force—including supercarrier USS Carl Vinson—to the Korean peninsula.

This was a warning signal to China, the US’s main rival in the South China Sea and the world.

While Trump is more unpredictable than previous US presidents, he isn’t just some “mad man” on the loose. Just like his predecessor Barack Obama, Trump’s aim is to maintain US imperialist influence in the world.

His deadly war games flow from the logic of imperialism.

Imperialism is a global system. It’s not just about who’s the biggest bully on the block at any particular time.

Competition between rival firms is at the heart of capitalism. As capitalism developed, this also took on the form of competition between rival capitalist states—and that rivalry spills over into war.

At the end of the Cold War the US was the world’s sole superpower. But it began to face increasing economic competition from states like China.


The US tried to overcome this economic weakness with brute military force. It hoped that a swift victory in Iraq in 2003 would assert its dominance over a key choke point in the world economy.

The opposite happened—and encouraged the US’s rivals to assert themselves more.

Obama tried to deal with defeat and decline by patching together regional alliances, such as the ones fighting in Iraq and Syria.

Now the Trump administration wants to go back to those “go it alone” policies.

As Republican senator Tom Cotton proclaimed, “With our credibility restored, the United States can get back on offense around the world.”

Such bellicose declarations won’t overcome US decline, they make dangerous confrontations more likely.

These rising tensions show how those at the top of society are willing to risk millions of lives for the sake of their system.

We can have a world without this danger—but that means getting rid of the capitalist system that breeds it.

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