By supplying advanced tanks and other weaponry to Ukraine, additionally pressuring Germany (with high-tech Leopard-2 tanks) and other nations to follow, America is fighting a proxy war against Russia, a war of attrition in which combat casualties and property losses continue to mount. That devastation is borne by Ukrainians, not us, as both sides keep escalating. Each day of conflict adds carnage. Each time an onslaught’s repelled another part of the country gets devastated. Despite its heroic resilience, the longer the war continues, the worse it will be for Ukraine. Thoughts that prolonging the war will improve Kyiv’s negotiating position ignore this rising toll. In recent months, unlike earlier stages of Putin’s invasion, Russia’s deployed the kind of “shock and awe” assaults the Pentagon uses, a wholesale destruction of an opponents’ infrastructure. That kind of William T. Sherman/ Curtis LeMay “total war,” which Carl von Clausewitz predicted, deliberately inflicts punishment on noncombatants by taking out transportation systems, drinking water, communications and energy, whatever is critical to basic societal functions and human needs. Now, as the Kakhovka dam disaster and heartbreaking Dibrova zoo tragedy make clear, Russia is doing what we did in Bagdad, engaging in a U.S.-style infrastructure demolition with local and global impacts. Among the more generational and far-reaching are major curtailing of critical grain imports on which many of the world’s hungry depend, and ecological catastrophes stretching from inundated national parks to ecosystems reaching the Black Sea. Thousands of fish were left gasping on mud flats. Fledgling shorebirds lost food and their nests. Countless flora and fauna were drowned.
Each new day of war adds to the threat of nuclear escalation, power plants taken offline to avert meltdowns and, paramount, prolonged European reversals of steps taken to mitigate anthropogenic climate change and global warming. Because of the war, new oilfields are being opened, and the EU is resorting to higher carbon emissions for energy. Awash in profits, fossil fuel companies are extracting even more coal and oil due to the war, putting organized human society and the biosphere at risk. If climatologic tipping points get exceeded because of this myopic fog of war, life on Earth will face even higher jeopardy. Because we’ve wasted four decades failing to address the reality of a troposphere on broil, our “time of useful consciousness” is just about up. Unimaginably, thanks to military demands for petrochemicals, even as we approach and trigger irreversible feedback loops synergizing climate change, fossil fuel companies are boosting their production not lowering it.
Make no mistake. Vladimir Putin inexcusably and criminally violated international law by launching an assault on neighboring Ukraine when peaceful resolutions to Russia’s grievances were possible. Despite Ukrainian rights to sovereignty, independence and self-governance, western provocations of the Kremlin can’t be overlooked. George H. Bush, based on archived National Security documents on the internet, unequivocally assured Mikhail Gorbachev that if the Soviet premier agreed to the unification of Germany and its inclusion into NATO, NATO would not be expanded further east. In other words, Poland and Ukraine were off limits. Ignoring that promise, Bill Clinton, in order to bolster his domestic political support from Polish and eastern European ethnic groups (or so he admitted to Boris Yeltsin), dangled NATO memberships east of the Poland-German border. George W. Bush then made overtures to Georgia and Ukraine, invitations strongly opposed by France, Germany, and U.S. foreign affairs and diplomatic corps, even hawkish Defense Secretary Robert Gates. After the Ukrainian uprising in 2014, the U.S. kept hinting, despite Russian objections, at future integration of the newly established nation into NATO, even conducting mock military maneuvers nearby. Our Indo-Pacific naval exercises with Australia and Japan (a.k.a. saber-rattling over Taiwan) bear similar modus operandi.
Let’s not forget that during WWII Ukraine’s open plains topography proved irresistible to Hitler’s mechanized Wehrmacht, ill-advisedly advancing on Moscow and St. Petersburg. Scars from that vicious invasion still remain. Nevertheless, the Biden administration offered enhancements to Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Alliance. Having already retaken Crimea to solidify its Black Sea bases, Russia could have hammered out a ticklish but peaceful resolution to those tensions by exploring President Macron’s last ditch overtures for peace. Instead, Putin took Biden’s bait, violated international law and invaded his western neighbor, defying blowbacks ranging from global wrath to economic sanctions. Handed that geopolitical gift, the United States has barely broached the idea of negotiations, despite heavy casualties to both Russian and Ukrainian forces. Why not? For chump change out of America’s gargantuan military budget supporting Ukrainian defenses, our only real military adversary in the world is getting pummeled, knee-deep in pyrrhic quagmire. India, Brazil and many other countries, seeing this bloodshed for what it is ─ first, a courageous and praiseworthy fight for independence; second, a proxy U.S. v. Russia war shouldered by Ukraine ─ aren’t buying–in. Japan, for instance, is supporting Ukraine’s defense, but continues to work closely with Russia on Siberian energy projects. Putin, once reportedly amenable to Ukrainian demilitarization, neutrality and Minsk Agreement autonomy for its eastern Donbas region, now seems determined to incorporate the Donbas into Russia. Before losing so many lives and resources against Ukrainian defenses and counteroffensives, Putin might have settled for a self-governing, predominantly Russian-speaking Donbas within a federated Ukraine, similar to Switzerland or Belgium. Volodymyr Zelensky was not likely to agree of course. But, what seemed highly improbable at the start of the bloodshed now seems impossible.
Putin’s blunder has other ramifications as well. Europe’s German-based industrial system has completely forsaken the “Third Force” independence Charles de Gaulle and Willy Brandt prescribed by severing ties to its most logical trading partner, resource-rich Russia. Mikhail Gorbachev, in fact, with collapse of the Soviet Union, called for a “common European home” extending from Portugal to Vladivostok, with neither military alliances nor hard-and-fast boundaries, enjoined by a moderate social democracy. Putin’s brutish invasion has so strengthened NATO, the U.S. in a recent summit meeting actually invited Indo-Pacific nations South Korea, Australia and Japan to the North Atlantic gathering. The intent, of course, is to surround and contain China’s development, slowing its competitive ascent and non-militarist, yet pre-imminent, global stage role. By extending NATO to the Indo-Pacific, the U.S. isn’t only breaking eponymous precedent. Its courting discord with China by insisting South Korea, Japan and other of our allies stop being trading partners with the Chinese.
Just as discourse in America seems all about supporting Ukraine in war and nothing about brokering peace negotiations, negative rhetoric about China keeps escalating as if China were an enemy, not merely a competitor. While China does some nasty things internally and we should protest them, hypocritically, repressions by allies, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, elicit little or no concerted response. While the U.S. remains the world’s major producer of fossil fuels, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates remain number 2. Once behaving as if it were a U.S. colony as it had been Great Britain’s, the region is moving away from the West, aligning more frequently with China and Russia, and undermining regional reliance on the dollar. Much of the world is also opposed to U.S. sanctions. Sanctions against Iran are especially onerous, punishing Iranians because the U.S. unilaterally pulled out of its nuclear deal. Even the EU, which generally conforms to and executes America’s playbook, considers many of our sanctions invalid.
Among Noam Chomsky’s many spot-on observations about U.S. foreign policy is how, invariably, it’s predicated on stopping others, China particularly, and how blatantly transparent financial and militarily-induced hard sells now appear, losing global traction. The current strategy, using money and weapons as incentives, is to encircle China with sentinel-allies in an effort to limit Beijing’s technological development instead of competing against it by upping our game and making positive international contributions. So lacking are constructive U.S. policies abroad, GOP legislators in Congress pathologically agreed to President Biden’s limited infrastructure restoration and improvement legislation only after it was called a “China Competition” bill. Why the paranoia over China? China is considered a threat because it doesn’t genuflect to U.S. orders or concede to American hegemony the way Europe does. China, having endured western gunboat diplomacy and interventionism in the 19th century, usually with negative results (the Opium Wars a classic example), simply ignores U.S. dictates and directives. Whereas UN-based international order is unacceptable to America because it’s antithetical to our self-serving foreign policies, explicitly prohibiting use of force to impose a nation’s will, for instance, China operates well within those bounds. Because the UN bans non-defensive use of force in international affairs, the U.S. prefers its own hegemonic international rule-based order, one in which America sets the rules, limiting constraints. China doesn’t accept the latter, especially when American influences hit close to home.
Much of our national deterioration and ongoing societal collapse in America is because we shifted from being an industrial power to a financial power in the 1980s, part of Reagan-era policies that concentrated wealth within fewer and fewer hands while the rest of society suffered. Lack of social services other countries provide (e.g., health security), increased mortality rates within our working classes, gun madness and mass killings several times a week are all symptomatic of a country with only one strength ─ a hyper-gigantic military. Having fallen into the trap about which Dwight Eisenhower warned in his farewell address (I-17-1961), gluttonous U.S. militarism and financial sectors can’t compete with state-of-the-art Chinese productivity. Although U.S.-based multinational corporations control about half the world’s wealth, that brand of capitalism runs counter to democracy, egalitarianism and cutting edge advances which keep societies viable.
Major global powers, especially the U.S. and China, have to come together to work on the climate crisis or prospects for our species’ and the biosphere’s future are bleak. The biggest issues of our time are global warming and climate change, nuclear weapons, and the on-going mass extinction caused by anthropogenic pollution, habitat destruction and species diversity losses that proceed. Pandemics and antibiotic resistant bacteria also make the list as will artificial intelligence in the very near future. There are no borders for these problems. If a strain of virus evolves as lethal as Ebola and as contagious as Omicron, a large swath of humanity could be culled by that pandemic and die. Instead of bloated military spending and $50 trillion of capital going to the upper-crusted (i.e. 1%) in recent decades, we should be pouring our resources into addressing these issues with America in a leadership role working closely with China. When we foolishly left the Paris Accord, recklessly maximizing production of fossil fuels, it was a deleterious blow to future generations and vacuum for Beijing to fill. As long as we have political entities willing to retain power and maximize profits at any cost, rational discourse about self-preservation and the future of the living planet is impossible. That’s why the greatest threat to the United States and the biosphere is internal. Manipulated hatred has riveted our attention on a global empire of military bases and war without end, penny ante politics and culture tussles, and gas prices…not existential threats. Despite our disagreements, we must stop revisiting the McCarthy Era by demonizing China and work closely with Beijing from now on.
Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.