The Strategic Conflict of the 21st Century and its Effects on Latin America

Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein
On February 25, only 31 days after assuming the highest office of his country, Joe Biden ordered a bombing of Syria. The argument was “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” in the face of actions by Shiite militias against U.S. targets. Thus, once again, the imperial language that is expected by a large part of the bipartisan establishment in the United States, always eager to increase its income from the sale of arms and drugs, no matter how much blood is shed to achieve its objectives, was manifested.

Biden’s performance surprised naive and ignorant people who assumed that the Democratic president was different and that his coming to power would bring relief to the convulsed humanity battling the pandemic by covid-19. Contrary to those spurious hopes, even before taking office, Biden began the war games that foretell an immediate future of extreme tension on the planet. In this context, the main theater of conflict is the South China Sea and the People’s Republic of China, the main enemy of the United States’ hegemonic ambitions.

This definition was expressly established in a document released by the Pentagon on December 17 last year, when Biden was already president-elect, and in which it is stated that China is the only strategic threat to the global dominance of the United States, adding that Russia also represents a danger in terms of war.

The document called “Advantage at Sea”[1], published by the U.S. Naval Institute, was defined as the country’s maritime strategy based on the integration of naval power in all domains and under joint coordination of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

The brief begins by characterizing the United States as a maritime nation, which is why its security and stability depends on the oceans. For this reason, since the end of World War II, together with its allies and partners, it set about the task of designing rules to structure the international system that is now at risk.

It is this consideration that has led to the need to design “Advantage at Sea” as a “tri-service maritime strategy that focuses on China and Russia, the two most important threats to this era of global peace and prosperity”. From this analysis, competing with China has been prioritized because of what they call its growing economic and military strength, its aggressiveness and its “demonstrated intent to dominate its regional waters and remake the international order in its favor.”

Therefore, the U.S. naval forces are issuing an ultimatum intended to force China to act on terms acceptable to the U.S. power, since failure to do so would make it a complete threat to the United States, its allies and “all nations that support a free and open system”.

According to the document: “China’s aggressive actions are undermining the rules-based international order, while its growing military capabilities are eroding U.S. advantages at an alarming rate”. But as Panamanian researcher Julio Yao says: “The United States unilaterally assumes responsibility for guaranteeing maritime traffic in these global areas without even signing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea!”[2].

According to the document, therein lies the real problem: the U.S. armed forces themselves recognize that they are losing the military advantages that allowed them to impose their hegemony and dominance. This situation is what determines that the naval forces must “act with urgency, clarity and vision to take the bold steps necessary to reverse these trends”.

This analysis is the concretization of the policy of the last three U.S. presidents, who, knowing that China’s greatest weakness is the need to meet its commercial demands, particularly energy demands by sea, have continued for more than 20 years to transform the waters adjacent to China, particularly the South China Sea, into the epicenter of the global conflict of the 21st century.

China’s response to “Advantage in the Sea” came from the National Institute of South China Sea Studies. In an article under the title “Chinese Assessment of the New U.S. Naval Strategy”[3], signed by Shi Xiaoqin and Liu Xiaobo former officers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), researcher the former and director the latter of the World Naval Research Institute, outlines the Asian giant’s view to the U.S. threat.

They note that it is striking that the document considers China and Russia as opponents, which marks a clear difference with respect to the naval opinion that the United States had in 1982, at the height of the Cold War. To that extent, “Advantage at Sea” would come to be “the first maritime strategy document issued after the inauguration of the Sino-U.S. strategic competition.”

From it it can be deduced that there is an effort to unify the thinking of the different U.S. naval forces, which shows that its naval strategy has become obsolete and that it must change it to seek new ways of confronting and winning for the control of the seas. As for the assessment of its two strategic opponents, they note the United States’ acceptance of the loss of its military advantage “at a staggering rate”, making it imperative to take measures to reverse this trend.

According to Chinese analysts, it is novel that to the traditional idea of fighting for control of the sea, this strategy adds fighting in a “gray zone” that “includes operations that fall below the intensity of war and operations that seek incremental gains, such as weaponizing social networks, infiltrating global supply chains, and engaging in space and cyber conflicts, etc.”

Unlike similar documents produced in 2007 and 2015 that laid out the possibility of global cooperation on the seas-despite differences-by powers during the 21st century, this new version aims to fight for sea dominance, which Shi and Liu assert is an expression of a “principled realism” that “emphasizes taking advantage and using traditional military power to safeguard international order.” The danger is not only that China and Russia are identified as strategic opponents but also that the document proposes that the United States take charge of “freedom of navigation, port security, control of maritime bottlenecks, fighting for command of the sea and strengthening alliances.” In short, the idea is to give strategic scope to the Sino-U.S. maritime competition. The detail is that this competition is only fought in the seas adjacent to China, since there is not a single ship of that country’s navy in the vicinity of the U.S. coasts.

However, in all of the above, Chinese researchers warn that behind this idea of diminishing U.S. advantage over China at sea, an attempt is being made to give an idea of weakness that is not there, with the aim of seeking to increase military spending. It should be recalled that during a testimony before Congress in 2019, the Commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davidson, delivered a speech entitled “Regaining the Advantage”[4], aimed at demonstrating that China is catching up with the United States in terms of naval power, which has become the consensus of strategists in Washington.

Shi and Liu argue that the new U.S. strategy has a major flaw: it does not touch on the most relevant strategic element of how to simultaneously confront two major naval powers, China and Russia, because, however powerful their naval contingents may be, they do not yet know how to distribute their forces in such a broad naval war scenario that includes the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. I would add the Arctic Ocean. Likewise, if China and Russia form an alliance, the United States has not solved the problem of how to conduct the confrontation in the East and West at the same time.
Ships of the navy of the People’s Republic of China. (Photo: File / Media)

The “Doctrine of Permanent Dominance” (DDP) launched in 1992, which did not clearly establish which would be the rivals of the American power once the bipolar world had been eclipsed, gave way to the “theory of constructive chaos” during the administration of George W. Bush, with which Washington tried to assert its hegemony after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. At that time, the need to “encircle” China was already being enunciated[5].

5] Thus, the maritime route redoubled its primacy, reaching a level of priority number one when President Obama formulated his “Asian Pivot” doctrine, which aimed at deploying military facilities and combat means to prevent and/or limit China’s energy supply by sea in the event of an escalation of the conflict. From there, there was only one step to President Trump’s misnamed “trade war” that further escalated the conflict.

The “Advantage at Sea” strategy is what explains the increased U.S. naval presence in the seas adjacent to China with the aim of conducting operations under the subterfuge of “protecting navigation rights in those maritime spaces.” According to Chinese researchers, in the face of this inexorable challenge, Beijing has to make a superior effort to control U.S. provocations through four ways. First, maintain strategic restraint, urging the United States to reduce its hostility. Second, maintain the smooth operation of strategic communication channels and crisis control mechanisms. Third, make efforts to ensure regional unity to guarantee peace and security of the environment and Fourth, promote global and regional maritime governance to curb the U.S. intention to militarize the seas.

In this perspective, a few months ago, on the eve of the IX Conference on International Security, which was held in Moscow between June 22 and 24, Colonel General Alexander Fomin, Deputy Minister of Defense of Russia, declared in an interview for RT that “the formation of a new world order” could be observed. In support of his point of view he argued that there was a tendency to take the world into a new Cold War and a new bipolarity.

The Russian deputy minister asserted that “a systematic destruction of the established system of international relations [and] security architecture” was currently taking place, while at the same time “the role of international organizations as tools for collective decision-making in the field of security” was diminishing. With concern, he pointed out that new weapons were appearing that radically altered the balance of power on the planet, taking conflict to a different terrain from the traditional one, which included the consideration of space and cyberspace as theaters of war, forcing a change in the principles and methods for its execution[6].

These statements, made by the second in command of one of the most powerful armed forces on the planet, should be taken into account with great attention. Although they point to a long-term analysis and were made only a few weeks before the US and NATO hecatomb in Afghanistan, it should be noted that this fact has begun to generate a series of interesting trends in the global international dynamics that should be studied in terms of conjuncture, without forgetting that they could also have an influence from the strategic point of view.

The “earthquake” in Afghanistan has caused shock waves that, contrary to the trends of recent years, seem to be pointing to a more positive atmosphere on the planet. Without wishing to “declare victory” or “throw out the bells”, the analysis should not overlook certain positive events in the international scenario which, if they become a trend, could point to a different direction for humanity, provided that China and Russia continue to assume their responsibility as guarantors of world peace and stability.

It seems that the greatest impact of this development has been in Europe. The abrupt flight from Afghanistan has been compounded by the creation of the AUKUS alliance (Australia, United Kingdom and United States) and the breaking of an Australian contract with France to manufacture submarines, which was replaced by another signed with the United States, adding fuel to the fire of inter-European confrontation over the future of security and defense.

On September 3, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, urged the countries of the bloc to create a rapid reaction military force capable of intervening in events such as those in Afghanistan. Arguing that a stronger European defense has never been more evident, Borrell pointed to the imperative of creating an autonomous European rapid reaction military force to act outside the borders and reduce dependence on the United States[7].

As we are talking about extravagant facts, the response to Borrell came from none other than NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who two days later opined that the creation of a rapid reaction force could “divide Europe”. Stoltenberg was in favor of enhancing European defense instruments, but without “overtaxing the scarce resources” of NATO allies. His argument is based on the fact that while it is valid for Europe to make greater efforts for its defense, these will never replace NATO, so the old continent should make sure that it remains united with the United States[8].

The revival of the De Gaulle doctrine, which opposes Europeanism to NATO’s Atlanticism, highlights the major contradictions afflicting the European elites, foreshadowing a debate of unforeseeable consequences. On the other hand, the completion of the construction and early start-up of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that will send gas from Russia to Europe through the Baltic Sea bypassing Ukraine, without the United States having been able to prevent it despite the sanctions and the brakes to bring the project to a successful conclusion, has become another point of conflict in the Western power structure. The project will double the supply of Russian gas that Europe receives, increasing it to 110 billion cubic meters per year at a time of energy crisis in Europe that has even led to a tripling of energy prices.

In this context, it is worth highlighting the statements made by General John Hyten, Vice Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who in a videoconference last Tuesday, September 14, for the Brookings Institute, pointed out that the objective of his country should be to avoid a war with Russia or China, since, otherwise, the devastating consequences would not only be felt in the countries involved, but in the entire planet. In this sense, he informed that the United States is conducting “strategic stability talks with Russia” to keep up to date on the nuclear and space sectors. The U.S. general also considered it extremely important to engage in this type of dialogue with the Chinese side. He stated that, “As different as we are, we have a fundamental mutual goal: never to go to war with each other.”[9] Perhaps, the telephone conversation that the US general had with the Chinese side was not the most important one. Perhaps, the telephone conversation that President Biden made to his Chinese colleague and Xi Jinping last September 10 is part of this logic of seeking such “strategic stability”.

Assessing that a war against China and Russia could lead to defeat, or at least to “devastating consequences”, inaugurates a new era in the traditional war-mongering and triumphalist discourse that has characterized the Pentagon’s high command in recent decades and signals a change – at least rhetorically – in its warmongering imprint. While it is true that these manifestations of détente in the scenario of global confrontation between the powers should be welcomed, the countries of the South should remain alert because these statements are related to the attempt to prevent a direct confrontation between world powers, as well as to open certain spaces for negotiation and cooperation between them. However, the aggressive mood of the imperialist and colonialist countries has not changed and especially in Latin America they continue to show their interventionist, bellicose and quarrelsome condition.

Our region is, unfortunately, the most backward and retrograde of the planet in terms of integration. While other continents are advancing by building various integration mechanisms that have even reached the status of Union in Europe and Africa, Latin America is characterized by division and dispersion. The cause stems from the disastrous role played by the local oligarchies that took control of the nascent independent republics at the beginning of the 19th century.

Their colonialist and subordinate attitude to the imperial powers -which still persists today- has been an obstacle and a brake on stimulating the spirit of integration of our peoples. The history of the international relations of the Americas is the history of the confrontation between the Pan-American-Monroist thinking, based on an integration subordinated to the United States, and the Bolivarian idea, our American idea, based on the vision of José Martí, which is an integration among equals regardless of their geographical dimensions, their population and the size of their economy. This diatribe is still unresolved today.

And as long as it is not resolved, it will be difficult for us to present ourselves to the world as a cohesive bloc with presence and decision-making power in the world of tomorrow. The Spanish-American integration proposed by Bolivar and warmly welcomed and promoted by Mexican President Guadalupe Victoria, which had its first step in the Congress of Panama in 1826, could not be continued as the leaders of the time had proposed in Tacubaya, here in Mexico, as had been agreed in Panama. The oligarchies had already begun their sapping work.

The Bolivarian idea of integration was stopped in time after the death of the Liberator in 1830, it seemed that it was totally defeated and that it could no longer have a place in our continent. This idea, which assumes that Latin Americans and Caribbean people of all latitudes should be united, disappeared from the projects for the future of our region. However, already in the 19th century and part of the 20th century there were attempts to prolong Bolivar’s idea; in the years 1847-48, an American congress was held in Lima which was followed by two others in 1856-1857 in Santiago de Chile and in 1864-1865 in Lima, in which participants from different countries met to not let the Bolivarian dream die and to retake the ideal of unity.

The Monroist idea that materialized in 1889-1990 in the first Pan-American conference held in Washington under the aegis of the United States had more strength and resources. This proposal, which was followed by nine regular conferences and three special conferences, gave way in 1947 to the creation of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance and in 1948 to the Organization of American States as the structural realization of the integration model subordinated to Washington. Note that first the military and then the political instrument was created as weapons of subjection of the countries of Our America to the United States.

I am not going to talk about this scenario and what it has meant for almost three quarters of a century for our peoples. But I will say that the Bolivarian paradigm that had been detained in history had a new impulse since the coming to power of Commander Hugo Chávez in 1999, which was followed by a pleiad of men and women who, with a superior Latin American identity, took on the task of retaking the ideals bequeathed to us by our founders.

Thus, Unasur, Alba, Petrocaribe and Celac were born, the latter as an umbrella covering all the peoples of the region. It was precisely in Mexico, in the Mayan Riviera, where in 2010 the mechanisms that had existed until then were unified so that the following year the first Celac Summit would be held in Caracas. What stopped in Tacubaya, Mexico, continued in the Riviera Maya, Mexico. What was started by the most illustrious Venezuelan, the Liberator Simón Bolívar, had continuity and concretion under the presidency of the most illustrious Venezuelan of modern times, Commander Hugo Chávez.

In a few years, CELAC obtained the recognition of the major global powers. In July 2014 in Brasilia, a meeting of Chinese Heads of State and Government with the Quartet of the Community of Latin American States was held, giving rise to the China-Celac forums which gave recognition by the Asian giant to the new organization. A similar meeting was held in Sochi, Russia, in November 2016 between the Celac quartet and the Eurasian power. At that event the Russian Foreign Minister stated that: “We are united by the understanding on the lack of alternative to the democratization of international life and the coordinating role of the UN, as well as the inadmissibility of interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states” ((Russia and CELAC, together for a multipolar world order at https://www.eleconomista.net/actualidad/Rusia-y-la-CELAC-juntas-por-un-orden-mundial-multipolar-20161114-0067.html ). Previously, the I Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States and the European Union had already taken place in Santiago, Chile, on January 26 and 27, 2013.

In this way, the Celac and the integration of our region were making their way in the global scenario in which, for the first time in history, our region was beginning to have its own voice, recognized by the global powers, with the sole exception of the United States, which not only did not accept it, but also torpedoed it with all the force of its financial, political, military and diplomatic resources. Once again the oligarchies conspired to paralyze the process and turn back history.

And so it was for some years, but if 25 years passed from the coup d’état in Chile and the heroic death of President Allende to the victory of Comandante Chávez; now, in only 4 years, Peronism returned to power in Argentina, the MAS recovered the government usurped by a fascist minority supported by the OAS for a year, at the same time that the arrival of Andrés Manuel López Obrador to the government of Mexico, energized the integration processes, gave oxygen to democracy and propitiated a new rapprochement of the peoples. President López Obrador, faithful continuator of Guadalupe Victoria, resumed Mexico’s leading role as the big brother of Latin American integration. We should all applaud and thank him.

Other leaders of the region have joined the process, Pedro Castillo in Peru and Philip Joseph Pierre in Saint Lucia, the latter as an expression of the integrationist will of that unredeemed Caribbean that neither sells out nor allows itself to be carried away by the imperial siren songs that have managed to temporarily attract some colonial-minded leaders. But, I must say it without any arrogant ambiguity, but with a pride that overflows me, everything has been possible also because of the decision to fight and the unlimited resistance of the peoples of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela without which we would not even be here.

There are historical, political and geopolitical reasons to understand the U.S. unbridled display of hatred and aggression against these three sister countries. The first, the historical reason, is given by the role that Simón Bolívar, Venezuelan, José Martí, Cuban and Augusto C. Sandino, Nicaraguan, played in unmasking the imperial, quarrelsome and interventionist character of the United States in the region. Nicaragua and Cuba inflicted the first military defeats on the United States in the region in 1933 and 1961. The political reason is based on the popular processes of defense of national sovereignty and self-determination that their peoples initiated in 1959, 1979 and 1999, under the leadership of Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega and Hugo Chavez. Finally, the geopolitical reason comes from the fact that these three countries are the only ones in the region that are equipped with Russian weapons, which makes them autonomous from the United States in security and defense matters, independent and original in the definition of their military doctrines.

Thus, in this convulsive world we live in, in this planet that seems to shudder at every imperialist shock, which has in the confrontation between the United States and China the most relevant conflict of the 21st century, Latin America and the Caribbean must speed up the pace of their integration that in the most recent times this beautiful and beloved Mexico where we are today has pointed out to us.

The first task of our peoples is to conquer the government and hopefully power, to build from there the ideal of integration and give continuity to the truncated dream of the Liberator. We are on the right path and we are going to achieve it, especially from 2023 when Lula will be president once again and for the first time in the history of a little more than 200 years since independence, the two great nations of the region, Brazil and Mexico, will be in the same trench, pointing the way and tracing the route under the watchful eye of Bolivar and those who gave us homeland and freedom. This is everyone’s task and we must all be part of it; it is the duty of each one of us to make it happen.

This text reflects the author’s presentation at the International Seminar “Political Parties and a New Society”, organized by the Partido del Trabajo de México and held in Mexico City from October 21 to 23, 2021.

REFERENCES

↑1 U.S. Department of Defense “Advantage at Sea. Prevailing with Integrated All-Domain Naval Power,” at https://media.defense.gov/2020/Dec/16/2002553074/-1/-1/0/TRISERVICESTRATEGY.PDF.
↑2 Yao, Julio “It’s America, not China” at http://www.redescristianas.net/es-estados-unidos-no-chinajulio-yao/
↑3 Shi Xiaoqin and Liu Xiaobo “Chinese Assessment of New U.S. Naval Strategy” at https://news.usni.org/2021/02/19/chinese-assessment-of-new-u-s-naval-strategy
↑4 “Dusk: The Failure of U.S. Control and the Multipolar Future” at https://thetricontinental.org/es/dossier-35-ocaso/
↑5 See Rodríguez Gelfenstein, Sergio. “From Bush to Trump. From the war on terror to the “trade war”. Acercándonos Ediciones. Buenos Aires, 2021.
↑6 “Russian Deputy Defense Minister warns that ‘a new world order’ is being formed in which “countries are being dragged into a new cold war” at https://actualidad.rt.com/actualidad/394084-viceministro-defensa-ruso-decir-formarse-nueva-orden-mundial
↑7 “EU. Borrell insists on a European rapid force for greater autonomy in crises like Afghanistan” at https://www.europapress.es/eseuropa/noticia-ue-borrell-insiste-fuerza-rapida-europea-mayor-autonomia-crisis-afganistan-20210902180307.html
↑8 “European Army could “divide Europe,” asserts NATO secretary-general” at https://actualidad.rt.com/actualidad/402932-stoltenberg-ejercito-europeo-dividir-europa
↑9 Rodríguez Gelfenstein, Sergio, “Towards a new world order?” at https://ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/opinion/hacia-un-nuevo-orden-mundial/