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War in Ukraine increases grip of imperialist blocs

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Conflict is pushing states to sort themselves into opposing strategic groups. Nick Clark investigates how the Ukraine war is reshaping the world 
Issue 2803
a picture of flags of Nato members illustrating an article on Ukraine

Imperialist nations jostle for influence over Ukraine (Picture: Nato on Facebook)

The war in Ukraine is making the whole world a more ­polarised and dangerous place. The longer it goes on, the more it becomes a clash of major global powers, between which smaller countries have to choose. The process is pushing states into two solidifying rival blocs. And they’re arming themselves to the teeth. British foreign secretary Liz Truss said this openly in a major speech last week outlining her strategy for the West.

She celebrated the fact that allies of the US had united to send arms to Ukraine and force sanctions on Russia. Tellingly, she all but ­admitted that this effectively means Britain is already at war.

“The war in Ukraine is our war,” said Truss. Truss added she wants this new “tough approach” from the West to extend “to the threats that are emerging beyond Ukraine”—Russia and China. In other words, she wants the West on a permanent war footing.

This of course means ­strengthening the US’s military alliance Nato in ­eastern Europe, and increases the flow of weapons into the region. But she also wants Nato to operate in the Indo-Pacific—in direct challenge to China. Doing this means building a ­“network of strong partnerships” involving countries outside of Nato to prop up and project Western ­military power. That process has already begun.

More than 40 countries joined a US-convened meeting of defence ministers at its Ramstein airbase in Germany last week. US defence secretary Lloyd Austin repeated at the meeting what he’d said just days before—that his aim in Ukraine is to weaken Russia. This process has the effect of ­solidifying a growing rival bloc behind the US’s main enemy, China.

Even before the war began, US president Joe Biden pushed for Western governments to side with him as he ramped up arms spending against China. He also even met Russian ­president Vladimir Putin as recently as June last year. It was a bid to draw him closer to the US, and slow down growing ties between China and Russia.

But now the war has pushed the two closer together on the basis that they share a common rival in the US. It’s a relationship that China says has “no limits”. And China’s refusal to condemn Russia along with the West is pushing it and the European Union—which it looks to for trade—apart.

On the other hand, Western ­governments are trying desperately to win over India, which also relies on trade with Russia and refused to condemn the invasion. They fear a three-way relationship between China, Russia and India. 

So the US has promised India ­military support to play on its rivalry with China. For people like Truss, this is all fits in to the plan. The war in Ukraine for those at the top an opportunity to rebuild a world where the West and its allies are “assertive and in the ascendant.”

For ordinary people it should be terrifying.

States spending billions more on weapons across the globe

Even before the war, the looming clash between the US and China was driving up military spending. Data published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) last week revealed that global arms spending reached an all-time high in 2021 at $2 trillion (£1,600 billion). It said this was a real-terms rise of six percent.

The US’s military spending, it said, had actually fallen slightly since the year before.  But it had thrown more money—an increase of 24 percent—on researching new weapons. This is because “The US government has repeatedly stressed the need to preserve the US military’s technological edge over strategic competitors.”

Eight European Nato countries hit the alliance’s defence spending target of 2 percent. This is one less than last year, but two more than in 2014. Sipri researcher Diego Lopes da Silva said he expected European arms spending to continue growing. Ukraine’s military spending has increased by 72 percent since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Russia increased its military spending by nearly 3 percent since 2020 to £52 billion. And China—the world’s second largest arms spender—increased arms spending to £233 billion, up 4.7 percent. The West’s allies in the Pacific, Japan and Australia, raised arms spending by 7 and 4 percent respectively.

Germany now sends in tanks

Before the invasion, attitudes among some European Union countries towards Russia weren’t always totally aligned with the US’s. Germany in particular ruled out sending weapons to Ukraine, and warned against economic sanctions. 

This wasn’t out of any commitment to peace. It was because Germany’s ruling class wanted to avoid anything that would hurt its economic interest. It especially wanted to keep Russian energy exports to Europe flowing, and get the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany up and running.

But after the war killed the pipeline deal, and Western sanctions sought to close off Russian gas exports, Germany has fallen increasingly in behind the US.

So having begun the war reluctant to arm Ukraine, Germany’s defence minister told the Ramstein conference of plans to send Gepard anti‑aircraft tanks.

Israel offers new arms help

Israel began the war posing as an intermediary between Ukraine and Russia, mostly because it wants Russia to keep looking the other way whenever it bombs Syria. But with its entire economy and political system tied to the needs of US imperialism, Israel has also been pulled into line. So a week before the Ramstein meeting its president Benny Gantz announced that Israel too would begin sending military aid to Ukraine.

Out of decades of US military aid, Israel has built a high-tech weapons industry that it now exports back to the West.  A top Israeli military source told the Al‑Monitor news website Israel has become “a real pilgrimage” for foreign security officials since the war began.

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