The West cannot relinquish the sense of itself at the centre of the Universe, albeit no longer in a racial sense, Alastair Crooke writes.
A strategic aim would require a unitary purpose that could be succinctly outlined. It would require additionally a compelling clarity about the means by which the aim would be achieved and a coherent vision about what a successful outcome would actually look like.
Winston Churchill described the aim of WW2 as the destruction of Germany. But this was ‘platitude’, and no strategy. Why was Germany to be destroyed? What interest did destroying such a major trading partner achieve? Was it to save the imperial trading system? The latter failed (after ‘Suez’) and Germany went into a deep recession. So, what was the end result intended to be? At one point, a completely de-industrialised, pastoralised Germany was postulated as the (improbable) endgame.
Churchill opted for rhetoric and ambiguity.
Is the English-speaking world today any clearer about its strategic aims with its war on Russia than then? Is its strategy really that of destroying and dismembering Russia? If so, to what precise end (as ‘the jump-off’ to war on China?). And how is Russia’s destruction – a major land-power – to be accomplished by states whose strengths are primarily naval and air power? And what would follow? A Babel Tower of clashing Asian statelets?
The destruction of Germany (an ancient dominant cultural power) was a Churchillian rhetorical flourish (good for morale), but not strategy. In the end, it was Russia that made the decisive intervention in the Second War. And Britain ended the war financially bust (with huge debts) – a dependency, and hostage to Washington.
Then, as now, there were muddled, conflicting aims: From the era of the Boer war, the British Establishment feared losing its ‘jewel in the crown’ of trade in the natural resources of the East to Germany’s putative ambition to itself become a trading ‘empire’.
In short, Britain’s aim was the maintenance of hegemony over the raw materials derived from Empire (one-third of the globe), that then, were locking-down Britain’s economic primacy. This was the primordial consideration within that inner circle of Establishment thinkers – together with intent to enlist the U.S. to the conflict.
Today we live a narcissism that has eclipsed strategic thought: The West cannot relinquish the sense of itself at the centre of the Universe (albeit no longer in a racial sense, but through its substitution of victim politics requiring endless redress, as its claim to global moral primacy).
Yet at bottom, the strategic aim of today’s U.S.-led war on Russia is to maintain America’s dollar hegemony – thus striking a resonant note with Britain’s struggle to maintain its lucrative primacy over much of the world’s resources, as much as to explode Russia as a political competitor. The point is that these two objectives do not overlap – but may pull in different directions.
Churchill also pursued two quite divergent ‘aspirations’ – and in retrospect, achieved neither. War with Germany did not consolidate Britain’s hold over global resources; rather, with continental Europe in ruins, London lay itself open to the U.S. destroying, and then assuming to itself, its former empire, as the principal consequence to the UK becoming an impoverished war-debtor.
Here today, we stand at the inflection point, (short of a nuclear war, which neither party seeks), that Ukraine cannot ‘win’. At best, Kiev can mount periodic special forces type sabotage operations inside Russia that have disproportionate media impact. Yet, these sporadic actions do not change the strategic military balance which overwhelmingly now is tilted to Russia’s advantage.
As such, Russia will impose the terms of Ukrainian defeat – whatever that will mean in terms of geography and political structure. There is nothing to discuss with western ‘colleagues’. That ‘bridge’ was burnt when Angel Merkel and François Hollande admitted that western strategy from the Maidan ‘revolution’ onwards – and including the Minsk Accords – was a feint to mask NATO preparations for a proxy-war on Russia.
Now that this subterfuge is out-in-the-open, the West has got its NATO-led proxy-war; but the sequellae to these deceits are that Collective Putin and the Russian people now understand that a negotiated end to the conflict is off-the-table: Minsk now is ‘water under the bridge’. And since the West refuses to understand Ukraine’s essence as a smoldering civil war which they deliberately ignited through their avid espousal of ‘far out’ anti-Russian nationalism, Ukraine now represents a genie long escaped from its bottle.
As the West toys with a ‘forever’ proxy-war against Russia, it has no clear strategic advantage from which to mount such a course of attrition. The western military-industrial weapons base is depleted. And Ukraine has haemorrhaged men, armaments, infrastructure and financial resources.
Yes, NATO might mount an expeditionary NATO force – a ‘coalition of the willing’ into western Ukraine. That force might acquit itself well (or not), but it will not prevail. What therefore would be the point? The Ukrainian ‘humpty dumpty’ has already fallen from its wall and lies in pieces.
By its total control of media and tech platforms, the West can keep its populations from learning of the extent to which western power and pretensions have been punctured for a while longer. But to what end? The ensuing global dynamics – the facts from the battle sphere – ultimately will ‘speak’ the louder.
So, will Washington begin to prepare the public? (i.e., John Bolton’s Western Weakness Could Still Allow Putin to Snatch Victory from the Jaws of Defeat) replaying the neocon narrative on Vietnam: ‘We would have won if the West had shown the strength of its resolve’. And then quickly ‘move on’ from Ukraine, leaving the story to fade away? Maybe.
But was the destruction of Russia always the main strategic U.S. aim? Is the objective not – rather – to ensure the survival of the financial and associated military structures, both U.S. and international, that permit huge profits and the transfer of global savings to accrue to the western security ‘Borg”? Or, simply put, the preservation of the dominance of U.S. financial hegemony.
As Oleg Nesterenko writes “this survival is simply impossible without military-economic, or more precisely, military-financial world domination. The concept of survival at the expense of world domination was clearly articulated at the end of the Cold War by Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. Under Secretary of Defence, in his so-called Wolfowitz Doctrine, which viewed the United States as the only remaining superpower in the world and whose main goal was to maintain that status: “to prevent the reappearance of a new rival either in the former Soviet Union or elsewhere that would be a threat to the order previously represented by the Soviet Union””.
The point here is that though the logic of the situation would seem to demand an U.S. pivot from an unwinnable Ukraine war to a ‘move’ to another ‘threat’, in practice the calculus is likely more complicated.
The celebrated military strategist Clausewitz, made a clear distinction between what we now call ‘wars of choice’ and what the latter termed ‘wars of decision’ – the latter being existential conflicts, by his definition.
The Ukraine war generally is assumed to fall into the first category of ‘a war of choice’. But is this right? Events have unfolded far from as expected in the White House. The Russian economy has not collapsed – as smugly predicted. President Putin’s support stands high at 81%; and collective Russia has consolidated around Russia’s wider strategic objectives. Furthermore, Russia is not isolated globally.
Essentially, Team Biden may have indulged in jaundiced thinking – projecting onto today’s very different, culturally Orthodox Russia, opinions that they formed during the earlier era of the Soviet Union.
May it be that Team Biden’s calculus then, has had to shift with the dawning understanding of these unforeseen outcomes. And especially, the exposure of the American and NATO military challenge as being inferior to its reputation?
This was a fear Biden actually exposed in his White House meeting during the Zelensky visit before Christmas. Would NATO survive such candour? Would the EU remain intact? Grave considerations. Biden said he had spent hundreds of hours speaking with EU leaders to mitigate these risks.
More to the point, would western markets survive such candour? What happens if Russia, over the winter months, brings Ukraine to the verge of system collapse? Will Biden and his strongly anti-Russian administration simply throw up their hands and concede victory to Russia? Based on their maximalist rhetoric and commitment to Ukrainian victory, that appears unlikely.
The point here is that markets remain highly volatile as the West stands at the cusp of a recessionary contraction that the IMF has warned likely will cause fundamental damage to the global economy. That is to say, the U.S. economy resides poised at the most sensitive of moments – at the edge of a possible financial abyss.
Might not Biden ‘going explicit’ that sanctions on Russia are not likely to be reversed; that supply-line disruption will persist; and that inflation and interest rates will be heading higher, be sufficient to push markets ‘over the edge’?
These are unknowns. But the anxiety touches on U.S. ‘survival’ – that is to say, the survival of the dollar hegemony. As Britain’s war on Germany did not reaffirm or restore the colonial system (quite the reverse) – sotoo Team Biden’s Russia war has failed to reaffirm support for the U.S.-led global order. On the contrary, it has ignited a wave of defiance directed at the global order.
The metamorphosis in global sentiment risks the beginning of a vicious spiral: “The loosening of the petrodollar system could deal a significant blow to the U.S. Treasury bond market. Falling demand for the dollar in the international arena automatically will cause a devaluation of the currency; and, de facto, a fall in demand for Washington treasury bills. And that in itself will lead – mechanically – to an increase in interest rates.
In such choppy waters, might not Team Biden prefer to keep western audiences from learning the uncertain state of affairs, by continuing the ‘Ukraine is winning’ narrative? One primary purpose always was that of managing down inflation and interest rate expectations – through holding out the hope of a collapse in Moscow. A collapse that would return the western sphere back to the ‘normal’ of abundant cheap Russian energy and cheap abundant raw materials.
The U.S. has extraordinary control of western media and social platforms. Might the White House staffers be hoping to keep a finger plugging the crack in the dyke, holding back the deluge, in the hope that inflation might somehow moderate (via some undefined Deus ex Machina) – and that America be spared Jamie Dimon’s warning in New York last June, when he shifted his description of the economic outlook, from stormy to hurricane force?
Attempting both aims of a weakened Russia and keeping intact the dollar global hegemony, however, may not be possible. It risks achieving neither – as Britain discovered in the wake of WW2. Britain instead found itself ‘scuppered’.
The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.
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