American aggression needs to be reined in for the good of Asia and the world

Jun 7, 2022
Two wrecking balls one with US flag and the other the Chinese flag hitting each other.
Biden’s comments brought into clear focus Washington’s fearful obsession over the rise of China. Image: iStock

Decades of exceptionalism, ideological obsessions and a deep-rooted sense of superiority is catching up with the United States.

The world needs to appreciate the rapid shifts in the global order arising from the US’ toxic domestic situation, and how its political elite distracts people from its decline with an aggressive foreign policy anchored in outdated doctrines

US President Joe Biden visited Asia last week and triggered panic across the region when he spoke out of turn and unproductively about war with China.

At a time when the world is reeling from the effects of the war in Ukraine and when so much of the region is still trying to recover from the pandemic, including the economic fallout, Biden chose not to speak about peace and collaboration but instead deliberately fuelled tensions. This is unconscionable.

It is high time for leaders of the region to no longer remain passive to such bullying and reckless behaviour, or worse, exude subservience in the presence of Western leaders by outsourcing the management of regional issues and differences to them, including bilateral tensions.

Biden’s comments brought into clear focus Washington’s fearful obsession over the rise of China, which is an unprecedented challenge to its assumed role as global leader. This challenge is made much more uncomfortable for the US and its Western allies by the fact China is a non-Caucasian civilisation, and its rise upturns 400 years of Western dominance of world affairs, often referred to as the “rules-based” global order.

But the truth is that decades of exceptionalism, ideological obsessions and a deep-rooted sense of superiority is catching up with the US. There exists a major frontline within the nation that is tearing it apart but about which its leaders remain in full denial.

As soon as Biden returned to the US after his warmongering mission to Asia, he was greeted by the latest in an ongoing tragedy at home – 21 people, including 19 children, killed by a domestic terrorist armed by America’s home-grown merchants of death, the gun industry.

Biden’s response was to scold the nation, by lamenting, “When are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” A plea of a helpless man, coming from supposedly the world’s most powerful leader.

What, therefore, gives Biden the right to posture as the leader of the so-called free world? His statements are primarily based on an outdated reliance on projecting America’s military might and apparent willingness to go to war to defend the world against the US version of the “bad guys”. This is despite its defeat in all the major wars it has triggered over the last half a century, from Vietnam and Iraq to Afghanistan. All examples of people seeking to be free of foreign occupation.

The long-held fear across Asia of a reckless militaristic empire starting a war here is quickly being replaced by a new realisation and awakening: that all of these machinations are the desperate throes of a nation that is entirely unwilling to share power with others, and is internally wracked by conflict and social decline.

A nation that cannot protect its children from such wanton slaughter is immoral and has no right lecturing the world about values, human rights or democracy

The US thus desperately seeks refuge or even reassurance in its self-appointed role as leader of the “free world”, driven by a desperate desire to retain its privileges by projecting aggression across the world.

Much of this hinges on the leveraging of fig leaves, such as leading the fight against authoritarian states, defending democracy or standing up for universal values and providing security guarantees for the nations of the world.

But in reality, the US is seemingly incapable of protecting even its children. So, Biden came to Asia, spoke and war mongered but he did not conquer. People across the world have begun to see through the veneer of American exceptionalism, as the bullying and intimidation has persisted for too long.

The hypocrisy is far too obvious to explain away. This is a tipping point, as formerly colonised populations around the world – subservient through centuries of indoctrination – are now beginning to see the emperor with no clothes on.

To understand the implications of the decline of the US on the rest of the world, one has to understand the true nature of the broken state of affairs. This means looking well beyond the supposed might of the American economy.

The reliance on economic performance indicators to assess the strength of the US and amplify its power, glosses over deep-rooted structural failings, and this is a grave mistake – and even a form of denial. These are wholly superficial and inappropriate indicators of a society’s well-being and resilience.

A true reflection of the realities in the US would include the following indicators:

  • The unabated gun violence and the killing of its children, to which a corrupt political system has been unresponsive. A nation that cannot protect its children from such wanton slaughter is immoral and has no right lecturing the world about values, human rights or democracy.
  • The continuing large-scale systemic discrimination of black people, including killings such as the one in Buffalo.
  • An entrenched industrial military complex (IMC) that thrives on selling and exporting guns, weapons and war.
  • A growing right-wing white supremacist movement now led by the former President who only last week sharing a post speaking about an impending civil war – incitement?
  • Extreme and growing inequalities, yet a completely detached belief among the majority that a “thriving economy”, which in reality serves the very rich, represents success and progress. This is worsened by the degree of idolisation in American media.
  • The widespread and slow death being inflicted on millions of Americans by the nature of their consumption habits, abetted by the structure of the US’ unfettered capitalist economy – in particular the stranglehold of the junk food and pharmaceutical industry. The Covid-19 pandemic further exposed the severity of this underlying health crisis.
  • A public that is inured to foreign conflict and has scant regard for the death and destruction inflicted on non-Americans by the country’s never-ending wars.

This is not to say other countries do not have some of these issues. But none exist on this scale. Most importantly, no other country with these large scale internal challenges borne out of political failure and societal fissures seeks to relentlessly occupy the higher moral ground and impose upon or dictate to others in order to maintain economic dominance; not even China.

The world, and especially a fast-growing Asia, needs to appreciate the rapid and fundamental shifts in the global order arising from the US’ toxic domestic situation, and how its political elite distracts the world and Americans from its decline (and obvious lack of moral authority) with an aggressive foreign policy anchored in outdated doctrines. Their recklessness threatens all of us. This dangerous trend will reach a potentially catastrophic tipping point far more significant than those expressed at the World Economic Forum last week in response to the war in Ukraine.

It is time for the world, perhaps led by the large nations of Asia, to demilitarise the world of the American Military Industrial Complex (AMIC) by developing a 21st century doctrine of security and peace that is not tethered to the war machine that is the AMIC.

It is an oxymoron to talk about peace and security guarantees and expect to be led by a nation that has been at war for 93 per cent of the time since its independence and has the world’s largest defence spend – more than the next nine countries combined. With so much capital, the door is wide open for vested interests, and the defence industry has dangerously become a significant player in the US economy.

Europe is only beginning to understand, albeit rather late in the day, the consequences of outsourcing its security to a war industry with such interests, given that the AMIC now appears to have seen an opportunity to prolong the conflict in Ukraine and serve its interests.

The AMIC poses an existential threat to world peace because it has partially captured the political economy of the most powerful country on the planet.

Five of the nation’s biggest defence contractors spent a combined US$60 million to lobby the US government in 2020. The media worships military people – who have investments in defence stocks – and have them on their payroll. Many politicians have stakes in the military industrial complex, and the tech and finance industries are embedded in it.

For this reason, the US is believed to be one of the biggest threats to world peace. The military industrial complex has become so large that it does not care about winnable wars. It simply needs wars, period.

Overcoming the challenge presented by the AMIC can be compared with the task of decarbonising the world through a move towards more non-fossil fuel energy sources. It will be a long march, but the world did not start by asking the fossil fuel industry to come up with solutions, and nor does the world ever expect the sector to be fully supportive.

Instead, new frameworks and doctrines have been created for a new major transformation of our energy future. We need the same to tackle the AMIC and its natural penchant for war.

This is a massive industry with tentacles everywhere in the US, including among lawmakers, media groups and the tech and financial industry. Overseas it is omnipresent, with an unknown number of subsidiaries around the world, aided by corrupt governments who are clients.

It is no secret that defence budgets in most developing countries are where large-scale corruption is most prevalent. It is a money spinner just like the fossil fuel industry, and taming it will require bold new approaches about shaping the future of the world.

It will need to start with a revolution of the mind among Asian leaders, including the complete rejection of their subservience to the US and its Western alliance. Asian leaders should recognise that by curbing their need to emulate or seek guidance or legitimacy from America in foreign policy affairs, they will reduce opportunities to feed the AMIC and thereby sow the seeds for a less risky future based on regional self-determination.

This is the first step towards rebuffing the confrontational ideologies of the USA and it Western allies and for building a new framework that will once and for all toss the tensions of the past into the dustbin of history, which have been so expertly used by Western powers to continue to divide the nations of Asia.

This will allow for regional heavyweights like China, Japan, Korea, India, Indonesia to come together and map a new future for the region rather than continue to be actors in a divide and rule, neocolonial geopolitical theatre marshalled by the US.

It will compel a rising power like China to honour its commitment to a peaceful rise as the demilitarisation of the AMIC becomes an enabling doctrine for a new regional peace and security pact. This outcome is not a far-fetched undertaking, as the example of Asean has proven.

While far from perfect, Asean has slowly and surely built a doctrine of its own that has allowed for peaceful coexistence in a way that also works to improve the livelihoods of its people. It has, most importantly, avoided war despite the presence of the AMIC.

The behaviour of the Korean and Japanese leaders during the visit of the US president was awkward to watch and not befitting of these two great nations and their cultures and seemed to belong to a bygone era. Imagine a peace and security treaty involving China, Japan and Korea that does not involve current day security guarantees by the US and its Western allies, which to date have only served to divide and heighten tensions.

Asian leaders need to realise that a post-Western world is being born, and that means drawing new lines of alliances and steering a new course, which will be a departure from the highly dangerous drivers of US and Western intentions in the region, rooted in preserving an old archaic and even imperial order.

Ideally, Europe will be a willing partner, but it now seems unlikely as the war in Ukraine and the billions of dollars of US military aid flowing in is only going to make Europe behave like client states of the US, Nato and the AMIC.

Chandran Nair is the founder of the Global Institute for Tomorrow and member of the Club of Rome. He is also the author of ‘Dismantling Global White Privilege: Equity for a Post-Western World’ and ‘The Sustainable State: The Future of Government, Economy and Society’.

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