'The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.'
Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks.
A quiet meeting in mid-May, held between the German Chancellor Merkel and a discreet journalist, is perhaps the best place to begin. Much must be left to the imagination of course - the absence of video or even a transcript conveying the rare solemnity and discretion of the occasion in our media-dazed age. I imagine her uneasy, strangely nervous before the last European elections in a long career of swindling. For the German - nay, the European - future is growing dark. Storms are already snapping at the continent's edges.
This much, the Chancellor is certainly clear upon. Indeed, she was even candid in this regard:
'There is no doubt that Europe needs to reposition itself in a changed world. The old certainties of the post-war order no longer apply. They [Russia, China and - notably - the US] are forcing us, time and time again, to find common positions. That is often difficult given our different interests.'
In essence, therefore, Merkel has grasped the essential thread of contemporary historical development. The long-standing alliance between particularly European, British and US imperialism, known as the transatlantic alliance, is under pressure like never before. The relationships between its dominant members are again falling into antagonism. The enormous rise in the scale and power of the Chinese economy and the increasing belligerence of a waning US are throwing into question every alliance and certainty of over 70 years of imperialist history.
Though the tensions between the EU imperialist bloc and US imperialism certainly illustrate the profound depth of the crisis today facing imperialist society, they are by no means the most dangerous expression of this crisis. An obvious example is the emergence of a severe trade war between China and the US, with the US raising the tariffs applied to China in 2018 on 10 May and a vigorous campaign against the Chinese tech company, Huawei. However, it is on Europe's frayed edges - in the Black Sea - where the clearest expression of imperialism's trajectory can be found.
Between 5 and 13 April, NATO held naval drills in the Black Sea. Led by Romania, the drills saw the participation of 6 NATO members (Romania, Bulgaria, Canada, Greece, the Netherlands, Turkey) alongside Ukraine, deploying 20 warships and 2,200 troops. At the same time, Russia conducted its own military drills in the sea, with the Russian Defence Ministry stating that its Black Sea fleet had been activated in the event it needed to make an 'emergency response' to NATO. Tensions in the region continue to escalate, with the US Navy's guided missile destroyer - USS Ross - entering the Black Sea on 14 April - the fourth US destroyer to "visit" in a year.
We must be clear: the degree to which tensions between particularly the US and Russia have escalated threatens war - not in the distant future, but imminently. On 15 April 2019, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister — Alexander Grushko — stated that the nation had ceased any co-operation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in an interview with state media. The previous day, former US military officers made clear that they believe the tensions between the US (or the NATO alliance) and Russia could lead to nuclear war 'by mistake or miscalculation'.
In our first feature film, History is Marching, we argued that what is at the root of this escalation is an international crisis of imperialism, politically and economically similar to that which predicated the world wars. Rather than a "new Cold War", as it is frequently portrayed, the escalation of tensions between the US, Russia, China and the EU signifies that imperialism requires a third re-division of the world between competing "great powers". US imperialism's strategy of 'great power competition' (adopted in January 2018), therefore, must be understood as a declaration of imperialist competition. As we said in the film:
'It is clear to see that US imperialism is pursuing a strategy of aggressive competition and confrontation against Russia and China. However, sober analysis reveals that a further confrontation — that between the US and Europe — is today a reality of imperialist society. The centrality given to this conflict in this film is intended to demonstrate the depth of the crisis facing this society. That this alliance, which has subsisted since 1945, is today falling into ruin is a clear indication that the imperialist crisis is forcing a third re-division of the world between great powers. The conditions for world war are clearly forming. Whilst it is uncertain how the alliances of such a war may fall, its fundamental basis is today undeniable.'
This article series is intended as an update of this analysis, covering some of the more significant developments since the film's release. This will not be presented in chronological order, but as it pertains to the topics discussed for greater ease in discerning between the myriad of processes this period encompasses. It is recommended that readers first watch the film, as the series will draw heavily upon it without covering the same material. This, the first article in the series, will consider imperialist world war as an active process - a living reality. The second article will look at significant political and economic developments since History is Marching's release, and the third will consider Marxism in the context of extinction.
For a shorter summary, our recent short video, An Atlantic Tide, covers some of the key developments discussed in this article.
Lock and load
Late in the October of 2018, the US President Donald Trump announced that he intended to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), claiming that Russia is in violation of the agreement. Despite opposition from Europe's imperialists over the matter, Trump went ahead with the move and suspended the US' participation in the Treaty on 1 February, 2019. Russia responded the following day, also suspending its participation.
It necessary to illustrate a little of the INF's history in order to grasp the significance of this move. In 1976, at the height of the so-called "Cold War", the Soviet Union deployed a new missile system across Europe, code-named the SS-20 by the US. Each system was capable of delivering three nuclear warheads within 400 metres of its targets from deep within Soviet territory, but did not contravene the ranges prohibited by either of the pre-existing SALT treaties on intercontinental missiles. It is important to note that the USSR was, in fact, responding to pressures from US imperialism, which refused to include nuclear-capable aircraft within the SALT treaties.
The result of these moves was the proliferation of intermediate-range nuclear systems throughout the 70s and 80s. This pile up of warheads peaked in the later half of the 1980s, with over 70,000 warheads held by states across the world. Europe itself was covered in such systems - the front-line of a global stand-off. Under increasing economic pressure from this military burden, the Soviets looked to disarm. The result was the INF, signed on 8 December, 1989. The treaty was upheld following the overthrow of the Soviet world by imperialism in 1991.
Whilst the number of nuclear arms eliminated by the Treaty (around 2,000 Russian missiles and 800 US missiles) is not terribly significant relative to overall nuclear stockpiles, it carried significant weight as an agreement. The INF was the first arms treaty in history to eliminate an entire class of nuclear missile - that is, ground-based mid-range nuclear weapons. This class of arms are particularly useful as offensive weapons, as they are easy to conceal and, thus, the risk of a retaliatory strike before a nuclear launch is lessened considerably. Whilst mid-range nuclear arms were still deployed at sea or on aircraft prior to the US withdrawal, these deployments are not so easy to conceal. The significance of the US withdrawal from the INF is, therefore, a return of land-based, offensive nuclear arms. Perhaps more significantly from the perspective of international relations is that the US' decision firmly locates any conflict between it and Russia as occurring within Europe - the only deployment location prohibited by the INF.
Before turning to consider the EU imperialist bloc's reaction to the withdrawal, we shall spare a brief moment on the reasons the US has given for terminating the Treaty. The first - that Russia was already in violation - has no evidence behind it. Whilst possible, it seems considerably unlikely given that Russia is, in fact, cutting its military budget. The second reason provided - that China is building a nuclear arsenal, unrestrained - is incredibly overstated and has nothing whatsoever to do with the INF, to which only Russia and the US were signatories. The US' "reasons" thus amount to excuses. Its withdrawal from the INF treaty is an aggression.
Europe's response has been that of opposition to the US, albeit at the pace of a slow crawl. Following Trump's initial threat to withdraw from the INF, both the French President Macron and the German Chancellor Merkel offered their support for the creation of a European army 'to defend against Russia, China and the US' (Macron's words). With the US now having taken the step to withdraw, this commitment is in the process of becoming a reality. Building on the Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defense (PESCO) agreement - which allows co-operation on joint military projects for 25 EU member states, established through the Lisbon Treaty in December 2017 - the European Commission provisionally agreed the founding of a €13 billion European Defence Fund (EDF) in February. This is to allow joint research and development projects for European companies. Though no formal agreement is to come into effect until November this year, it is already known that the fund will exclude both post-Brexit Britain and the US.
Despite Trump's belligerence in repeatedly demanding that European nations - particularly Germany - are able to fund their "defence" without the support of the US last year, the US response to PESCO and the EDF represents a further escalation of the antagonisms within the transatlantic alliance. On 1 May, a letter authored by Ellen Lord (US Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics) and Andrea Thompson (US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security) was delivered to Federica Mogherini, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. It outlines the US' opposition to both projects, due to the exclusion of US capital, argues that the moves undermine the NATO alliance and threatens sanctions on EU firms if the projects go ahead. Although the letter frames these sanctions as a "reciprocal" move, the EU is essentially excluded from US research and development funding already, with intellectual property transfers already banned by the US and a meagre 0.17% of such US funding awarded to European companies in 2016. In addition, neither PESCO nor the EDF forbid European procurement of US arms. Around 81% of international contracts in Europe are awarded to US firms. The EU responded on 16 May, telling the US not to concern itself with Europe's defence plans and citing both of these facts to emphasize what the US stands to lose by continuing in this belligerence.
Whilst the EU imperialist bloc is certainly correct in its assessment that the US is escalating tensions over PESCO and the EDF, its presentation of these developments as politically neutral in intent is absurd. That the EU feels the need to develop its own structures for military co-operation is a clear expression of the waning of the transatlantic alliance. The US' globe-trotting campaign to maintain its dominance over the course of 2018 has repeatedly shown that it already considers the EU as a competitor. Where Europe's imperialists may have once hoped that the end of Trump's Presidency could see a reconciliation with the US bourgeoisie on more advantageous terms, such hopes have been shown to be nothing but a fantasy. On 13 November 2018, a biparitsan panel for the US Congress issued a report stating its approval of the Trump administration's pursuit of great power competition. The fight is on, no matter who takes the White House.
The EU imperialist bloc's tentative steps toward the formation of a European army represent a (largely tacit) response the US' hostility. Europe does not intend to let itself become simply a battlefield in a period of renewed imperialist competition; it intends to assert itself as a competitor. The fruition of the demand for a European army in legislation therefore expresses that a growing faction of Europe's imperialist bourgeoisie recognise that they must build a military apparatus which allows them to stand apart from their traditional alliance with the US. It is a military expression of a broader reality.
The process of achieving this is, however, by no means a simple matter for the EU imperialist bloc. In reality, Europe is still reliant upon the US in military matters - a point made clear by, for example, the dominance of US firms in international contracts or the US' role in NATO. Accordingly, the EU is (to some degree) split upon the US' INF withdrawal, with key US allies Britain and Poland offering their unwavering support for the move. Whilst disagreement in Europe over the Treaty itself is small, this reflects broader splits within the EU imperialist bloc, more evident in regard to trade and inter-European political discussions. More significantly in military terms, the US' dominance over Europe's military capacity means that Europe requires both time and new alliances if it is to stand on its own feet. Europe is now waking up to this.
These tendencies become clearer still when considering the German response to the US' INF withdrawal - that is, the response of the EU's dominant imperialist power. Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) - a minor party in the nation's coalition government - followed the move by announcing that it is beginning a process to review its commitment to the "nuclear shield" agreement, which allows the US to station nuclear warheads on German soil, and committing to blocking the purchase of 45 Boeing nuclear jets crucial to maintaining the agreement in its modern form. Without the US' arms, the nation would require its own nuclear missile systems. This gap is to be filled by new hypersonic weapons - modeled on weapons produced by Russia. The first tests are not expected for three years, emphasizing Europe's need for time. That the need for new alliances is understood can be seen in Merkel's response, with her asking China to sign the INF as a component of a multilateral response to the US. More than this, China and Germany are now engaged in concrete military co-operation, with China deploying armoured vehicles on German soil for joint drills on 11 July. At the same time, the potential for realignment with the US is also contained within the German approach. For example, the nation is considering sending a warship through the Taiwan Strait, escalating tensions with China and easing them with the US. As Trump is so fond of saying, 'all options are on the table'.
Europe's particular predicament is instrumental in demonstrating the distinction between today's period of great power competition and the so-called "Cold War" in a militaristic sense. Although competition between the US and Europe's imperialist powers subsisted during the "Cold War" (for example, the numerous clashes between the US and France under the Presidency of Charles de Gaulle), the alliance between the western imperialists was ostensibly solid. The threat posed by the socialist bloc and the socialist-leaning non-aligned movement was not simply that of a re-division of territories dominated by capital, but the destruction of capital itself and the end of imperialism, a point underscored by the victories of the anti-colonial struggles of this period. This forced an alliance between imperialist powers. As such, the conflict between the Soviet Union and the imperialist world was, largely, a "bipolar" struggle. This allowed a relative stability of military doctrine, with clearly demarcated lines and alliances. That its political character was that of a struggle between the world's masses and the imperialist bourgeoisie cannot go ignored. It fundamentally defined the whole period's outlines, forcing this relative stability, with roughly a third of the world (the socialist camp) capable of making decisions according to logic divorced from the accumulation of profit, and a further third (the non-aligned movement and anti-colonialist masses) increasingly turning toward socialism. The world's people held imperialism at bay.
Today, reality is considerably different. This much is very clear even in US imperialism's explicit articulation of the character of our period in its national defence strategy, which defines not one, but three fronts: Russia, China and a 'weakening, post-WWII international order' (p.2, italics in original). This clearly identifies the present moment as a "multipolar" struggle, something evidently more militarily complex than the "Cold War". The political character of the moment can only deepen this complexity further. Rather than a confrontation between empire and people in two relatively hegemonic blocs, today's confrontation is that of a fight between competing empires. Europe's attitude to the US' belligerent attempts to mark it out as a battlefield in withdrawing from the INF emphasise this point dramatically. Germany, with its plunder of the PIIGS nations (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain); France, which extracts 85% of 14 African countries' foreign reserves as colonial debt annually; Britain, which holds usury capital to the tune of 560% of its GDP, a global parasite of inordinate appetite; the US, which marches blood across the globe wherever its feet fall - what are these if not imperialists? And as one can plainly see, they are squabbling. The creep of this uncertainty represents a creeping instability.
The historical parrallel to observe in view of this context is thus patently not the "Cold War". It is the lead up to the first world war. The economic parrallels are clear: the US' dominance is waning, as Britain's did in the latter half of the 19th century and a scant fourteen years of the 20th; this wane is occurring in the context of rising competition - then from Germany and the US, now from the EU (headed by Germany) and Japan, Russia and China; the overaccumulation of capital is at an all time high, necessitating immense devaluation. Equally, the political parrallels are striking. Prior to the outbreak of the war, whilst the general context and principles of increasing competition were generally acknowledged, no-one could have predicted how the war's alliances would fall. Case in point: the Triple Entente (the Allied Powers during the war) included Britain, France, Russia and Japan, all powers which had frequently engaged in hostilies which one another (for example, the numerous Anglo-French wars in the 1700s, the Peninsula War, Napoleonic campaigns and Crimean War in the 1880s, or the Russo-Japanese War in 1907). The period before the war was thus defined by uncertainty, and increasing instability as British hegemony faltered. This uncertainty expressed itself in rapid changes in alliances and shifting geopolitical interests. A tinder box was formed. A match was lit one summer's day in Sarajevo.
It would be wrong to take this comparison as an exact parallel. To do so would be to cloak our period in an historical context which is not its own. The economic conditions are similar, but of a far greater scale and, thus, a deeper crisis. Whilst the uncertainty of alliances seen before the first world war is present within our geopolitical landscape, it is expressed within certain boundaries which have built up under the US' unique historical domination - principally NATO, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the hegemony of the dollar and its relationship to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cartel, and the EU - culminating in the formal illusion of a "rules based order". The existence of uncertainty in the imperialists' alliances is thus expressed in the disintegration of these structures, shifting loyalties in difficult, tense and slow negotiations. The example of NATO is pertinent here, as it is clear to see how the US' belligerence in attempting to direct European strategy could undermine the functionality of the alliance. The other examples we shall return to in the next part of this article series.
This is to say that what may be derived from the historical parallels between our period and that preceding the imperialist war of 1914 is the cause and political character of the conflict, as well as its fundamental direction. Of course, its route shall differ. We are sat upon our own tinder box. What's worse - no-one really knows what's inside.
Invisible bullets over a terrain of flesh:
on the historical significance of "hybrid warfare"
In the wake of the Skripal poisoning in March 2018, the NATO General Secretary, Jens Stoltenberg, accused Moscow of 'blurring of the line between peace, crisis and war' using 'hybrid tactics". Quite from a new-fangled technique of Putin's design, Stoltenberg's phrase - 'blurring... peace, crisis and war' - is perhaps the best description of a particular strain of contemporary military theory and doctrine known by a variety of trendy phrases: "hybrid warfare", "grey zone conflict", "postmodern warfare", "competition short of conflict", "new-generation warfare", or "smart power" to name but a few examples. The difficulty in naming the trend is representative of something about its character. This is further emphasised by criticism of the notion, with former US military advisor and military educator, Michael Kofman, and former Deputy Director of the Carnegie Endowment's Russia and Eurasia Program, arguing that it has no value as a military concept, NATO debating if it even exists, and many critics arguing that it is not distinct from "Cold War" perception-based, cultural warfare. To put this bluntly, "hybrid warfare" lives and dies, exists and does not, in ambiguity.
The essential premises of "hybrid warfare" root its pursuit in what is often termed the "grey zone" - that is, the space between war and peace. What defines this space is entirely contextual and often bureaucratic. A few examples: cyber war maneuvres generally fall into the "grey zone" as there are no treaties regulating their use, thus no clear definition of what constitutes an act of war (largely owing to the attitude of US imperialism, it must be noted); proxy forces and private, for-profit armies blur the line between war and peace as they are not accountable to any nation state; trade wars, whilst clearly acts of antagonism, do not constitute war maneuvres - again, the boundaries are blurred. Whilst such maneuvres alone do not constitute a "hybrid war", nor are they unique to it, they are integral to the concept. When combined with traditional military assets and non-conventional tactics, a "hybrid war" campaign is formed. The ambition of such campaigns, rather than decisive victory in a military sense, is to gain asymmetrical advantage over an opponent, to stimulate chaos and division within their society, thus reducing their capability in the face of a more "traditional" campaign, or leading them to collapse from internal pressures.
Whilst an extensive discussion of "hybrid warfare" is beyond the scope of this article, it is here necessary to examine the concept's fundamental significance. This cannot be achieved by simply the observation of military tactics. Those bourgeois critiques of the concept as all but useless are not incorrect from a strictly military perspective. Aside from the use of cyber warfare as a fundamental tenant of "hybrid warfare", none of its constituents, nor their combination, are authentically new. As Kofman and Rojansky put it, the term "hybrid" 'simply denotes a combination of previously defined types of warfare, whether conventional, irregular, political or information. Even those who have put forward such a definition must admit that the combination of war across domains is not new, but in fact is as old as warfare itself' (italics mine). As such, to understand what is "new" in "hybrid warfare" is a task of politics and history, not military theory. To begin to approach the matter in this way, we must understand a little of its emergence and, perhaps more importantly, its popularisation in discussion and practice.
The earliest use of the term "hybrid warfare" dates at 2005, merely a year before it was first used to describe actions taken in a real conflict - that is, tactics employed by Hezbollah in Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon. Analysis of this example tends to focus upon how Hezbollah were able to form a "hybrid" campaign, using an assortment of tactics, which was capable of successfully seeing off what was in material terms a far superior military force. Again, the tactics employed by Hezbollah are not "new", but simply a reconfiguration of tactics 'as old as warfare itself' on a modern stage. As such, the term emerges as what is, essentially, an over-theorisation of why imperialism has been unable to secure complete victory over a people; it comes into being as an excuse for defeat. This character is retained in much of the term's early use - for example, its application to Hamas. It is notable that, despite the US' and its allies frequent combination of strategies in a "hybrid" manner, the literature surrounding the term in this period all but never approaches the notion of imperialist nations using the tactic.
The context of the term's deployment notably shifts following the 2014 partition of Ukraine. Following Russia's annexation of Crimea - itself a response to the US and EU orchestrated coup in Kiev - western literature surrounding the term "hybrid warfare" increasingly focuses upon Russia's geopolitical strategy. The instance of Crimea very clearly saw Russia deploy such tactics, from the use of "little green men" to the use of cyber warfare alongside conventional diplomatic pressure, propaganda and military positioning. However, what this discussion misses is that the western imperialists deployed, and continue to deploy, a "hybrid war" of their own in Ukraine - backing fascist forces in Kiev, organising cyber "security" with these forces, positioning its military around Russia and Ukraine with the Enhanced Forward Presence NATO line, and repeatedly engaging in diplomatic and economic "combat" with Russia over the matter. In their partition of Ukraine, both sides utilised "hybrid war".
The significance of this is inordinate. The increased interest in and deployment of the term "hybrid war" is concomitant with the advent of what is, bluntly, an active war between "great powers" in the so-called "grey zone". As such, the term's utility prior to 2014 is no longer relevant. Rather than an excuse for failure, post-Ukraine uses of the term describe what is perhaps best understood as a conscious recognition of the necessity for imperialist competition, the theorisation of how such a competition may be waged by the imperialist bourgeoisie and, most importantly, the opening moves of this competition. To put this in another way: "hybrid warfare" is the military doctrine of the first phase of great power competition. Historically, it is made possible by the disintegration of the post-war world order, and the "grey zone" created by this disintegration. Its pursuit tells us that, rather than a looming possibility, global imperialist war is already a reality. It is actual.
Before concluding on the fundamental significance of "hybrid warfare", it is necessary to spare a moment to consider something of one of its fundamental tenants: cyber warfare. Whilst, as we have seen, the political and historical content of "hybrid war" is a reaction to the realities of the imperialist crisis, its form as a mode of war is, in no small part, the result of cyber war's development. In particular, cyber warfare has opened new terrain for the imperialists' contest. This terrain is best expressed simply: it is all of us, the human species.
Whilst it would be wildly incorrect to conclude that cyber warfare is limited to the sphere discussed here - a point we shall return to shortly - its present use as a form of combat between "great powers" most often takes the form of ideological warfare. Of course, we have all seen the hysteria around "Russian bots" in the western bourgeois media. Whilst there is certainly an element of truth to this - Russia is certainly engaged in a cyber-propaganda war with the western imperialists, particularly Britain and the US - the intent of framing the matter in this way is to obscure a simple fact: not a single player on the board is innocent of such efforts. This much is easily demonstrated:
- The US' cyber warfare unit was formed in 2009, becoming its own department in 2018. The NSA has been engaged in mass surveillance of its own population for years;
- US imperialism is engaged in continuous cyber disinformation campaigns. Its efforts in this realm are forerunners of Russian efforts;
- On 5 September, 2018, British imperialism confirmed in The Times that it was engaged in cyber warfare maneuvres against Russia, and that it would be escalating them;
- The British Integrity Initiative is engaged in disinformation campaigns in continental Europe. Notably, its 'most important target' is German imperialism, which it intends to force to sever ties with Russia;
- German imperialism, a latecomer to the new game, is preparing to dramatically increase its cyber war capacities;
- Since November 2018, French imperialism has adopted an offensive cyber warfare doctrine;
- China is engaged in cyber and informational war maneuvres.
What emerges from this brief portrait is a clear reality: not only are digital triggers being pulled across the globe, these triggers are attached to digital machine guns. Moreover, the example of British imperialism's informational war against Germany illustrates that there are no limits to whom any individual player will target. In the realm of cyber warfare, alliances count for naught. Particularly its informational form, it is an active realm of combat between all the "great powers" of contemporary imperialist society. The conduct of "hybrid warfare" is inseparable from this development. The principal form it has presently adopted is impossible without cyber warfare.
To summarise what has been discussed here: at present great power competition is being fought via "hybrid warfare". This form of war, allowed and necessitated by the combination of political context (that is, the imperialist crisis and the disintegration of post-war world order set in motion by this crisis) and more crudely material developments (cyber warfare), is necessarily veiled and secretive. It relies heavily upon active ideological combat which, whilst by no means new, has today transformed human beings into terrain for conquest proper. "Hybrid warfare" is thus the first phase of great power competition - that is, the third world war. It is happening now.
All that now remains for our present purpose is to show that, in fact, "hybrid warfare" is a passing phase - that is, to demonstrate that the imperialists' war cannot remain in the so-called "grey zone". This is not difficult. Firstly, as we have said, the capabilities of cyber warfare extend well beyond informational war. US imperialism has already demonstrated this clearly twice in 2019 alone, with cyber warfare attacks on Venezuela's electrical grid and Iranian missile systems. Yet these cases are but tests compared to what is coming, with the New York Times revealing that the US is launching cyber attacks on Russia's power grid on 15 June. This constitutes an act of war by the US' own definition. Not only is this cyber war escalating, so are more traditional areas of combat. For example, British imperialism authorised the use of special forces against Russian "little green men" on 22 June. Under the banner of "hybrid war", nation states are now engaging in open combat.
All this is to say that, not only will "hybrid warfare" inevitably lead to escalation, this escalation is already in progress. With it, the "grey zone" is dissolving and the illusion of such a war's long-term possibility fading to dust. Whilst there is no way of knowing how long "hybrid" warfare shall last, it is undeniably giving way to a rather more visible phase of "great power competition". What this next phase shall look like is anyone's guess, but the evidence suggests that the biblical rapture may not be a bad comparison.
The "Atomic Football" is a small, strange object, somewhat reminiscent of Pandora's Box. It is a small, black suitcase, carried at all times by a delegated aide of the US President. Its contents are known only in abstract: the means by which to launch a US nuclear strike, from anywhere in the world. The assumption of the imperialist world, at least since the collapse of the Soviet Union, is that the "Football" will never be used. The lesson of Pandora is presumed to have been learnt. No-one shall unleash the satchel's evil upon the world.
Of course, this is not true. US imperialism is today making this clear.
On 11 June, 2019, the Pentagon published its first update to the US' nuclear doctrine in 11 years. Entitled Nuclear Operations, the document reveals the true extent of the poison seeping through Washington's veins, the depth of its depravity. Put bluntly: US imperialism is considering the use of nuclear weapons to maintain its dominance - not as a last resort, but even as the 'minimum use of force' (p.I-2.).
The contents of the document paint this nightmare in clear terms. At every level of its nuclear policy, the US is raring to go. In 'Chapter V: Nuclear Operations', the manner in which the US now considers nuclear weapons is made clear. Rather than a catastrophic and thoroughly monstrous form of weapon, nuclear arms are considered as useful in providing a 'return to stability' (p.V-1.). The rationale behind this is contained in 'Chapter III: Planning and Targetting', which begins with a quotation from Herman Kahn, the most extreme of the US' nuclear theorists during the "Cold War" and the model for the Doomsday Machine in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964).
'My guess is that nuclear weapons will be used sometime in the next hundred years, but that their use is much more likely to be small and limited than widespread and unconstrained.'
Herman Kahn, cited p.III-1.
Plainly, the US now believes that a nuclear strike would not cause a global nuclear exchange. In consequence, it has its finger on the trigger, and nuclear doctrine implemented at every stage of its military planning: 'The spectrum of nuclear warfare may range from tactical application, to limited regional use, to global employment by friendly forces and/or enemies. [...] Integration of nuclear weapons employment with conventional and special operations forces is essential to the success of any mission or operation.' (p.V-3. Italics mine.) Accordingly, the President is to be provided with nuclear options 'early in the planning process' (p.III-3.). The message is clear: the US will not give up its dominance without setting the whole world ablaze.
In context, the publication of the document is no accident, but a step toward another phase - that is, another type - of combat between "great powers". The infrastructure for its use in even Europe is already laid by the US' withdrawal from the INF. Moreover, the US is not alone in this thinking, with British imperialism actively planning for what it terms "post-nuclear warfare". Though it may seem unthinkable, we are on the verge of a nuclear war. Imperialism is a runaway train, headed for the abyss.
And so we must picture the scene. It has been a long day at the White House - the press aflutter with threats of impeachment, insults and taunts. Europe is no longer taking orders, China won't bow, and Russia is enraged by a cyber attack. The military guys have told Trump that "hybrid warfare" just isn't working. Here are the options. Weary, pissy and full of ego, the President sits and weighs up the choice. He calls for the "Football". MAGA.
The next part of this article series will consider significant economic and political developments since the release of History is Marching including, but not limited to, the disintegration of the WTO, the trade wars forming among the world's largest powers, the role of the dollar, OPEC and INSTEX, and the EU's internal politics. It will be released shortly.