Trump's new Cold War

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There is little doubt that the most warlike nation on the planet is the United States. The country outlays about half the world's total military expenditure, it has over 800 military bases to maintain its influence, and, this century alone, it has mounted, or aggressively supported, wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Since its creation in 1776, America has been at war for 222 out of its 239 years. It used to be said that the business of America is business, but it is more the case that the business of America is war.

Chris Johnston cartoonThe nature of the war mongering, however, seems to be changing under President Trump, who came to office vowing to have better relations with competing superpowers and to bring American soldiers home. Those promises are yet to be fulfilled, but he is clearly shifting America's aggression to the economic sphere.

It has been postulated that there are three types of war: kinetic (the physical killing or destroying), informational and economic. Kinetic war between the superpowers has mercifully been limited because of the terrifying potential of the weaponry. Most of the military conflicts tend instead to happen on the fringes against weaker countries. Millions have been killed or wounded, but the toll would be much higher if the superpowers turned their arsenals on each other.

America has been losing its kinetic conflicts in the Middle East and recently has escalated its informational war, propaganda. The accusations against Russia, for example, are reaching comic proportions, with the country accused of weaponising anything in sight. My personal favourite is the report in The Express that a 14 legged killer squid has been found two miles beneath Antarctica and may be being weaponised by Vladimir Putin. Another gem was the BBC's report that Putin is weaponising humour (don't laugh, that's what he wants you to do).

Yet in many ways the informational war is a sideshow, a performance to keep domestic audiences fooled about what is really happening (it works: bizarrely the only institution whose reputation in the west is improving is the military). The more significant move is Trump's introduction of an entirely new level of economic warfare. It will reshape the world; in prospect it is a repeat of the Cold War division between the US and its allies, versus Russia, China and countries considered enemies by the US.

The favoured weapon with economic warfare is sanctions, and America under Trump has started to use them to an extreme degree. The favoured targets at the moment are Iran and Venezuela.

The latter country has suffered the equivalent of a medieval siege as America and its allies seek to unseat a democratically elected leader and grab the oil — all the while blaming Venezuela's leadership for the very problems that they are creating. (According to a book written by the former FBI head Andrew McCabe — not necessarily a reliable source, it has to be said — in a 2017 Oval Office meeting, Trump said Venezuela is 'the country we should be going to war with. They have all that oil and they're right on our back door.' If that is true, he has been good to his word.)

 

"America is effectively saying that it sets the economic and business laws for all countries, and will punish anyone who disagrees."

 

This tactic is stark enough, but the efforts to extradite the Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou to America from Canada take the imposition of sanctions to an entirely new level. An extraordinary move, the charges are based on the claim that Huawei failed to abide by American sanctions against Iran. Yet such activity was not illegal under Chinese law.

America is effectively saying that it sets the economic and business laws for all countries, and will punish anyone who disagrees, even if they are acting legally according to their own nation's laws. The same kind of aggression can be seen with the threats from the Trump administration against Germany over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines from Russia. America's economic interest is to be considered paramount, and even allies must do as they are told. Germany is not cooperating.

As many commentators have observed, this strategy represents an attack on the post-World War II international order, whose basic assumption is that a just international order must be a multi-polar one. It is bad enough that America unilaterally declares Venezuela's president to be invalid, to be 'replaced' by their stooge Juan Guaidó (an illegitimate move that Australia, although not New Zealand, disgracefully supported). The technique is now being used against the biggest economies.

An even more deadly form of warfare is financial. Here, the stakes are getting very high. America has a unique form of financial leverage that no other country enjoys. Since the removal of the gold standard in 1971 by President Richard Nixon, the US dollar has been the most trusted form of global money. Daily, more than $US4 trillion is transacted in US dollars. That means America can pretty much spend whatever it wants without suffering any penalty.

America also controls the SWIFT system for international transfers, which is the technological architecture of world finance. There have been a number of reports that America intends to remove Russia from SWIFT, and it has already used the threat of penalising any company that deals with Iran by banning them from SWIFT. America under Trump is weaponising the global monetary system, where it enjoys an unassailable advantage, at least for now.

China, Russia and Europe, realising the threat, are moving to create their own systems for international transfers. But this will take time. At least for a while, America can bully anyone who does not bow to its dictates.

Trump, who now is suffering from the usual paralysis on the domestic front after losses in the mid-term elections, is likely to look for his so called 'greatness' in the international arena. This fits the pattern; there has been no American president that can be called a 'peace time president', and Trump is no exception.

This time, however, the main attacks will be economic and financial, rather than military. They are weapons that Trump, a businessman, understands. It may result in fewer deaths and injuries, but it will create havoc and lead to a more divided world.

 

 

David JamesDavid James is the managing editor of businessadvantagepng.com. He has a PhD in English literature and is author of the musical comedy The Bard Bites Back, which is about Shakespeare's ghost.

Topic tags: David James, United States, Donald Trump, militarisation

 

 

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In 2014 the UK, not the US, threatened blocking Russia from the SWIFT banking network over Ukraine. Trump promised better relation with Russia, but within 24 hours of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 defeat, Democratic strategists schemed to blame her defeat on Russia. A compliant mainstream media (90% anti-Trump) bought that narrative. The Russia-Trump dossier containing salacious smears against Trump was sourced from Russian intelligence by former British spy, Christopher Steele, and paid for by Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. James Comey’s corrupt FBI used that dossier to get a judge to grant a FISA warrant so they could spy on the Trump campaign. CIA director John Brennan confirmed that the phoney dossier formed the basis of the Muller investigation into possible Trump-Russia collusion. Democrats assured the public that Muller would get to the bottom of the collusion. But after two years Muller appears to have unearthed no collusion. So Democrat Adam Schiff—who in 2017 was conned by Russian pranksters promising him nude photos of Trump and Russian model Olga Buzova—has now hired an MSNBC hack to continue investigating Trump/Russia collusion. It’s the Democrats, brazenly prepared to slander Russia for political gain, who have started the new Cold War.
Ross Howard | 10 March 2019


Having travelled internationally for a number of years I can attest to the power of the American dollar. Really, all the strategies of superpowers are about...power. Power likes to devour and to destroy freedom of thinking and speaking. It would be refreshing to observe the US elect a President who didn't care about the trappings of success. Russia may then feel free to do likewise. China too. Even Australia.
Pam | 10 March 2019


Thanks David. For the first time, to my knowledge, a commentator has pointed out the insolence of the United States in its demand that one of Huawei’s executives be charged for breaking one of its, the US’s, laws. The silence from world leaders, their failure to condemn this flagrant abuse of power, is dumbfounding. Since when have US laws governed the rest of the world and how long do the cretins occupying the White House think that China will tolerate this perversion of the “rule of law”? Perhaps when China begins arresting business executives from some of the US’s allies said allies might start putting pressure on the White House’s chief cretin.
Tom Brennan | 10 March 2019


It's ironic the despots around the world spend their illicit gains purchasing western world assets : Australia, Britain, Canada, UK, USA. Its ironic they send their kids to our universities and their ailing parents to our hospitals for treatment. Democracy and the rule of law is the reason the USA holds its place as a reserve currency. A market system that consistently reinvents itself again and again and again. Listen to this article from National Public Radio about American Superconductor. It details the systematic theft of American ingenuity and invention by the Chinese and the reselling of this technology in the market place. The conclusion by the CEO is that America has been at war for decades but Trump has been the only one willing to take on the fight with the Chinese as they systematically steal their inventions and technology. Also, your detail of the Huawei extradition is lacking. Meng's misrepresentations to US banks about subsidiaries meant that US banks were funding a regime on which the US government has imposed economic sanctions. Really, listen to this great podcast from NPR https://www.npr.org/tags/599579618/american-superconductor
Patrick | 11 March 2019


This is remarkably unbalanced analysis given the appalling behaviour of the kleptocracy totalitarian dictatorships that The US is confronted with! In spite of Trump the US carries the banner of liberal democracy and.indeed Western civilisation.
Eugene | 11 March 2019


An excellent article! America needs a 'cold war' to maintain it's economy because 60% of their GDP is derived from the military industry. This dependence is the reason for the bullying culture of American diplomats to force European countries, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Japan to spend more money on defence and the subsequent support of big business in America.
Mark Doyle | 15 March 2019


Sorry, Eugene. Donald Trump, who increasingly reveals his dictatorial narcissism, is actively engaged in the process of diminishing the US’ ability to function as a liberal democracy. And just listen to his most recent threats about using the police, military and….for heavens’ sake, “Bikers for Trump”…. against his fellow citizens! I am in no doubt that he has no idea of what citizenship means…in a liberal democracy. The US is currently in a struggle for its constitutional life and integrity.
Stephen K | 18 March 2019


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