While ordinary people respond to the war in Ukraine with horror, the leaders of the major powers are already preparing for the next conflict.
The world is dominated by the system of imperialism. At the apex of this system are major powers such as the US, China, Germany, Britain, France and Russia, all bar Germany armed with nuclear weapons.
Beneath them are a range of sub-imperialist powers jostling for power in their region, nations such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Iran, India, Pakistan and Australia.
The ability to project military power gives powerful states the ability to bully smaller nations and exploit their resources, dictate the terms of trade and thereby defend and increase the profits of their capitalists.
But this system is never static. The imperialist powers are not just in conflict with weaker states—they are constantly competing with other imperialists for the share of the spoils.
As Lenin wrote of colonial conquest in 1917: “For the first time the world is completely divided up, so that in future only redivision is possible.” The repartition of the world’s resources was, he concluded, inevitable.
These inter-imperialist tensions led to the First and Second World Wars and have fed into dozens of regional conflicts and proxy wars since.
The war in Ukraine has re-sharpened those tensions and led to debate in the West about how best to contain both Russia and China.
An article in the US publication Foreign Affairs gives an insight into establishment thinking.
“Putin’s aggression has created a window of strategic opportunity for Washington and its allies. The democracies must now undertake a major multilateral rearmament program and erect firmer defenses—military and otherwise—against the coming wave of autocratic aggression …
“The invasion of Ukraine signals a new phase in an intensifying struggle to shape the international order. The democratic world won’t have a better chance to position itself for success.”
Concretely this means a huge increase in military spending, robbing resources from the fight against poverty and the climate crisis.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, from the Labor Party-style SPD and backed by his coalition partners the Greens, has promised to almost double Germany’s military spending to 2 per cent of GDP.
Denmark will hold a referendum to abolish a provision that prevents it joining European Union military operations. Switzerland has abandoned its historic neutrality to join the economic war of sanctions on Russia.
In the US, Congress allocated $1087 billion to the military, about $51 billion more than President Joe Biden had requested. No Democrats opposed the decision.
Congress also voted through almost $19 billion in aid for Ukraine. After Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Congress, Biden tossed in another billion to sweeten the deal, including 800 sets of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and 7000 anti-tank weapons on top of the weapons already supplied.
The imperialist rivalry fuelling the drive to war is prompting talk of new global military alliances.
Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt has floated the idea of expanding NATO far beyond the North Atlantic nexus that gives it its name.
“NATO has to be reformed into a defence alliance of big continental organisations, a European one, a North American one, an Asian one, so like a triangle … including current non-member Western countries and existing partners like Australia.
“I see a reform of NATO in a World Trade Organisation sort of way—a world defence community defending liberal democratic values, far better than we do it now,” he said.
This would build on existing collaboration. Australia supported NATO-led efforts in Afghanistan as one of the top non-NATO troop contributors and is involved in NATO’s mission in Iraq.
Defence of “liberal democratic values” is code for containing and, if necessary, confronting Russia and China.
The Scott Morrison government has responded to this ratcheting up of war talk by announcing $10 billion for an east coast submarine base, $3.5 billion for howitzers and $38 billion to increase the number of uniformed military personnel by a third to 80,000.
But the biggest initiative by far is the purchase of nuclear-powered submarines from the US or Britain through a new military agreement, AUKUS. It’s not just the cost—estimated at $170 billion and rising—but the fact that the fuel for the submarines could be repurposed for nuclear weapons.
The Morrison government, dutifully supported by Anthony Albanese and Labor, is responding to the growth in imperialist tensions by trying to spend its way to greater influence.
While our rulers prepare to fight the next war, we need to organise against AUKUS and Australia’s imperialist agenda.
By David Glanz