Perpetual War is Capitalism’s Hope for Surviving the 21st Century

Rainer Shea
The ideology behind capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism is based around the idea that competition, rather than cooperation, is the natural state of humanity. That the species is destined to eternally be at odds with itself, both on an individual and civilizational level. This was the claim put forth by a faction of academic thinkers, along with their adjacent pundits and political leaders, during the last years of the second millennium: that human beings are incompatible with peace, and that our political decisions should stem from this assumption. This view was called the “clash of civilizations.”

An endless clash

These thinkers came out with this view following the end of the Cold War, and the inception of the final spike for U.S. hegemony that some of their peers considered the final victory for capitalism. The “end of history” is what this perception was called. If these two ideas were to be accepted —as much of the liberal ruling class had done and still does—they form a vision for a future where capitalism will rule forever, despite the numerous threats to capitalism which have emerged since the USSR’s collapse. This is because the “end of history” view claimed not that there would never again be any variables in history’s development, but that capitalism’s demise had been eliminated as one of those variables.

If the “clash of civilizations” implies an endless rivalry between the different cultural or geopolitical blocs, then the “end of history” accommodates this expectation by implying the imperialist powers will never go extinct within the eternal competition. The pro-U.S. bloc could undergo losses, as it has throughout the last half-century, but it will never cease to exist. It’s apparent that the pro-U.S. bloc and its intelligentsia accept these two ideas because despite Pentagon analysts themselves acknowledging the unprecedented decline U.S. influence has undergone in the last twenty years, it’s still seen as a given that the empire will go on. The Pentagon is still laying plans for wars that it implies as happening many decades from now.

If the “clash of civilizations” and the “end of history” are the dual beliefs which inform how the empire has operated for the last generation or so, the state of perpetual war which the empire has been in since 9/11 is seen as only natural. So does the prospect of the wars continuing into the end of the century, if not far longer. From the perspective of wanting to preserve the U.S. sphere of influence, unending war is part of the unavoidable order of things.

During the stage of crisis that capitalism has been in since the perpetual war era started, constant conflict is the only way to keep the system intact. It’s instrumental not just for preventing a multipolar world and another wave of Global South revolutions, but for maintaining profits. As profits have declined since World War II, and especially since the 70s economic crash, the ruling class has only been able to maintain its capital by siphoning wealth upward through neoliberal policies. These policies have been reinforced by militarism—which diverts resources away from social services—while facilitating ways to make war increasingly profitable.

Ever more, the imperialist powers lean onto the war economy, and during the new cold war they’ve heavily incorporated Big Tech into this. As Silicon Valley expands its power by assisting the Pentagon, it sets itself up to assume the central role behind capitalism’s preservation during the 21st century. Should the forces of labor not triumph over capital within any major imperialist countries, after the current long depression there may arise new growth and investment, where the capital that survives finds new ways to exploit the world. The high-tech sector’s innovations make it prime to become this new era’s great monopoly. Only the perpetuation of war, both for the sake of stopping revolution and for the sake of solidifying Big Tech’s capital, can carry the sector through to this outcome.

When the U.S. boycotted this year’s Winter Olympics by refusing to send its diplomats to the event, it further solidified this project. The protest, made against the games being held in Beijing over supposed “human rights” concerns, has divided the world by showcasing which countries are most loyal to Washington’s struggle against the multipolar order. So far the U.K., Canada, and Australia have joined in the diplomatic boycott, which is unsurprising given that the “Five Eyes” imperialist intelligence alliance consists of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S.

While New Zealand is the outlier, it’s militarily maneuvering against China in lockstep with the others. This month New Zealand’s Defense Ministry put out a report declaring that “strategic competition” and global warming “pose a threat to New Zealand’s sovereignty and other key national security interests.” It said this calls for a “predominantly reactive risk management-centred approach” so that the country can shift to a more “deliberate and proactive strategy.”

In this way, Washington’s manipulations of the politics of the Olympics have had their full desired results. The imperialist powers are united in the mission of militarily building up against China, Russia, Iran, and the smaller powers which defy U.S. hegemony. They’ll go on with this mission for as long as China remains a socialist republic, for as long as Russia is willing to challenge Washington, and for as long as former neo-colonies like Iran haven’t yet been recolonized. Since these criteria will in all likelihood never be met, the empire will never stop waging war.

This intent for permanent conflict is made clear from examining the goals behind what Washington is doing in its key warfare areas, which all pertain to the great-power competition that’s emerged with China. Washington is involved in Afghanistan so that it can prevent the expansion of China’s Belt and Road Initiative into the country. Which will require generations-long intervention projects.

Sowing chaos

The intervention tactics alternate depending on the moment, but the overall strategy remains the same: holding back the influence of Washington’s rivals by rendering the given country or region hostile towards development, investment, and diplomatic cooperation with the countries challenging U.S. hegemony. In 2021, Washington’s tactic for this in Afghanistan shifted from direct military occupation to the backing of proxy forces. It could change back if Washington’s sanctions on Afghanistan succeed at destabilizing the country and deposing the Taliban government, but the empire’s campaign towards sowing chaos will remain consistent whatever the outcome.

The campaign will continue to encompass not just Afghanistan itself, but the region as a whole. This is the crucial part of the strategy for holding back significant BRI investments in Afghanistan. Because even if the Taliban suppresses the terrorist groups Washington has been activating in the country since the troop pullout, China will still be deterred by the attacks on their workers elsewhere. In Pakistan, Chinese nationals are frequently killed by militants while trying to complete development projects, which Washington’s own think tanks (like the Council on Foreign Relations) observe to be a decisive factor behind why the BRI will keep stalling within Afghanistan. Washington’s bombings and drone warfare within Pakistan and other places are as essential to sowing terrorism as the covert backing of these militant groups. Without these provocations, which overwhelmingly kill civilians, the local populations couldn’t be radicalized into becoming militants.

The same tactics of terrorist backing, economic sabotage, and “counterterrorism” warfare are being used to prevent China from rebuilding Syria, which Assad desperately needs after a decade of war. Due to Syria’s economic crisis caused by Washington’s proxy war, and to the ever-tightening imperialist sanctions against Syria, China is being held back from committing to investment in the country. For as long as the costs of investing within these places remains so severe, China won’t be assured that it would see benefits in return. So is the case in Yemen, where Washington continues to back the Saudi offensive due to its viewing Yemen as a ground for proxy warfare with Iran—and as another front in the campaign against the BRI. Washington needs to bring and perpetuate instability within these countries in order to keep a multipolar world from fully emerging.

The imperialists are especially concerned with bringing this model for sabotaging the BRI to south Asian countries like Myanmar, where the military government has been implementing Chinese development projects. Washington is sowing terrorism in Myanmar, and in other countries throughout the region, with the hope of reversing their progress. Of making them as compromised as Afghanistan, Syria, or Yemen.

For this reason, Washington’s proxy war on Lebanon is focused not just on getting the anti-Zionist Hezbollah out of the country’s government, but on wresting away China’s influence. The public relations campaign that imperialist leaders like Emmanuel Macron carried out following last year’s Beirut explosion shows the U.S. bloc is willing to exploit any tragedy within the country in order to get its way. The same destabilization tactic is now being applied to Iraq as the U.S. ends its combat operations within the country; due to the conditions the Iraq invasion created, Iraq is teetering on the edge of civil war, which the U.S. sees as a favorable route for stopping the spread of Iranian and Chinese influence.

This desire for chaos applies even more to Ethiopia, which has been developing towards economic independence through the BRI. With Ethiopia being a highly influential country in the horn of Africa, destroying this progress is a top priority for Washington. Which is apparent from its backing of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front—a terrorist group that started its 2020 insurgency during harvest time so it could sabotage crops, has been hoarding food aid, and uses the country’s famine as a propaganda tool for vilifying the Ethiopan and Eritrean governments.

The ideal end goal in the region would be a military intervention, but Washington will be satisfied merely if its proxy succeeds at creating a Libya-esque failed state. Through its meddling, Washington has already brought much of the rest of the horn of Africa into such disarray. And as Latin America increasingly embraces China, Washington is applying such destabilization measures to countries like Haiti, which has been subjected to a preemptive counterrevolution via this year’s Colombian-perpetrated assassination of its previous president.

Latin America’s anti-imperialist countries are targeted more severely, with sanctions being perpetually tightened against Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela while the U.S. sows mercenary subversion within their borders. Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia are being attacked in more subtle ways, involving the backing of their internal bourgeoisie and of their reactionary militant factions. Honduras has joined them now that a leftist has again been elected as its president, and Chile also just became a target after electing a candidate who aims to dismantle neoliberalism.

Especially in Latin America, U.S. Cyber Command is part of these destabilization campaigns. This goes both for attempts to recolonize countries that have broken free from imperial control (like when the U.S. sabotaged Venezuela’s electrical grid during the 2019 coup attempt), and for attempts to hold onto neo-colonies (like when Colombia experienced internet outages while protesters were trying to expose this year’s police brutality within the country). Israel uses the same communications and infrastructure sabotage tactics against Gazans.

In accordance with the hidden nature of modern imperialism, where the imperialist powers are portrayed as being economically independent despite their constant drive to enforce a sphere of influence, all of these hybrid wars are covert. It’s never acknowledged by the U.S. that the electrical and internet outages are Cyber Command’s doing. And the CIA creates a layer of plausible deniability between itself and the terrorists it backs, with this concealment sometimes involving funding the terror through CIA front groups like the National Endowment for Democracy. This was the case for the NED-funded Hong Kong riots of 2019, which then got replicated in other south Asian regime change targets like Thailand. The U.S. sanctions on Sri Lanka and Cambodia are to prepare them for similar subversion efforts. Extensive ties to China are what these three countries have in common.

The hybrid wars depend on regional U.S. puppet states, which themselves conceal or deny their roles behind the destabilization operations. When Pakistan reports that India is backing terrorists within its borders, India portrays these reports as disinformation. When Yemeni officials say their country has been a victim of Israeli destabilization schemes, the Israelis continue portraying themselves as agents of peace who are being targeted by malicious propaganda. Because Colombia’s foreign operations (such as the Haitian assassination) are carried out by the country’s mercenaries, it can claim to not be culpable, even though Colombian mercenaries have long been integral to U.S. foreign policy.

Sacrificing the most vulnerable 

These proxy warfare countries themselves intertwine in their warfare operations. Colombia is a major benefactor of Israel’s military technology, which has allowed for the testing of the “Plan Colombia” anti-guerrilla military operating model. While this model has been embraced as an imperialist route for putting down insurgencies worldwide, Israel has further exported its innovations in militarism by sending weapons to Ukraine. This has had consequences parallel to the atrocities committed by Colombia’s death squads and armed forces.

Because U.S. foreign policy elites are operating off of the beliefs that conflict is unavoidable, and that liberalism’s triumph must be ensured at all costs, they accept that these cold war maneuvers will come at an extreme human toll. During the last era of great-power competition, millions of lives were lost to Washington’s military interventions, proxy wars, sanctions, and installations of genocidal dictatorships. So it’s always been a given that the inhabitants of the formerly colonized world, as well as those caught within cold war fronts like Ukraine, will bear the main costs of the new geopolitical clash.

It’s in Ukraine where this has been most viscerally apparent. Within half a year after the coup that the U.S. orchestrated in the country in 2014, the new fascist regime retaliated against the successful referendum for Russian annexation by surrounding the city of Luhansk, then subjecting it to constant shelling for several months. During this time, water and electricity were cut off, and no supplies were allowed in or out. The siege, whose purpose was effectively to punish the locals for voting to join Russia, overwhelmed the city’s infrastructure while leaving 200 dead. It took seven years to recover the bodies from the mass grave, since the war continues to this day and the site has remained chaotic.

The victims were killed not by the Russians, but by the Ukrainian Army, which also facilitated war crimes in the neighboring villages by assigning Nazi militias to violently occupy them. As the country has descended into failed state status, with the pandemic accelerating the process by overwhelming an inadequate healthcare system, these militias have filled the power vacuum. Which has allowed for more persecution of dissidents, journalists, Jews, Romas, and the LGBT community, all under the guise of deterring “Russian aggression.” These paramilitary atrocities are participated in jointly with the official armed forces, which regularly shoot refugees along the Belarusian border.

The parallel abuses that the region’s other NATO-backed reactionary regimes Poland and Lithuania commit against refugees serve the same purpose: picking off the individuals who’ve become disposable within the global order that the imperialists have created. These refugees are fleeing to inner Europe, both from the countries to the south and from within Belarus itself, because NATO has rendered these places largely unlivable. Washington is now using the humanitarian fallout to drive this destabilization further, imposing more sanctions on Belarus for allegedly weaponizing the migrant crisis. NATO and the E.U. won’t rein in the region’s far-right regimes, because they’re crucial assets in the military buildup against Russia. Arms budgets have been surging in the Baltic states since Russia again became a challenger to Washington, while Poland and Ukraine have become Washington’s key allies in the region.

This sacrificing of those who flee the destruction imperialism causes has been intensifying in correlation with the decline of U.S. hegemony since the USSR’s fall. When the Berlin Wall came down, there were six physical walls along borders or in occupied territories worldwide. Now there are at least sixty-three. This exponential growth has partly been a byproduct of the new cold war’s military buildup; as places like Scandinavia have joined the drive towards militarization, they’ve tightened their borders, with Norway having built a border fence with Russia in 2016. (Which is only a correlation, but is still an echo of the last cold war.) It’s also been caused by the tightening of U.S. immigration laws that started in the 90s, and the founding of Immigration Customs Enforcement during the first years of the “War on Terror.” These have produced the country’s ever-growing migrant detention centers, as well as the heavy militarization of U.S. border policy, which has seen troops stationed along the southern border since 2018 with no end in sight.

Washington’s militarization of the lands these migrants are fleeing furthers the humanitarian cost of the war the empire is waging. Imperialism’s role behind the refugee crises goes beyond the sanctions, the proxy wars, and the invasions. Since 2007 with the introduction of AFRICOM, the U.S. has been intensifying its military buildup throughout Africa, Latin America, Oceania, and southern-to-western Asia. The military occupation has been the most destructive in Africa, facilitating drone strikes which frequently kill civilians and enabling U.S.-friendly despotic regimes like Uganda’s dictatorship. In Somalia, the warfare AFRICOM facilitates has settled into a self-perpetuating cycle where Washington cultivates terrorist groups, “fights” those groups through drone strikes which mainly kill non-combatants, then brings further terrorism by giving propaganda ammunition to the jihadists.

Washington’s militarization of these other regions has brought similar consequences. SOUTHCOM’s cooperation with the Bolsonaro regime has made another dictatorial coup within the country more likely by fortifying the country’s internal militarization. And Washington has been propping up India’s brutal BJP regime due to India being vital in countering China. The BJP’s colonial occupation of Kashmir and genocide against Muslims are simply seen as more costs of perpetuating the war. Washington’s anti-Chinese military adventurism surrounding India, and use of India as a regional proxy warfare tool, wouldn’t be possible if the U.S. didn’t court the regime.

Entrenching an arms race

This cold war military buildup is where the empire is pivoting as it pulls out of the so-called “Middle East.” Its resources are being diverted to building up AFRICOM, and to thickening the direct military encirclement of China. It’s why right after the U.S. has supposedly made a major step towards ending the wars by officially withdrawing from Afghanistan, the country’s military budget is being further increased by the billions. The decrepitude of U.S. infrastructure and the economic deprivation of the country’s people throughout the pandemic aren’t deterring this trend either; imperialism’s 21st century role has called for militarism to be not just redirected, but continuously expanded.

The new arms race paradigm will solidify, expanding into the Arctic as global warming makes the region more open to international contestation. This applies to the nuclear aspect in addition to the conventional aspect. The military budget’s ongoing rise indicates as such. It remains to be seen whether the Biden administration will in any way reverse Trump’s plans for a drastically expanded nuclear arsenal throughout the next decade, and its decision will depend on how it judges the nuclear reduction actions of its rivals—which will obviously be skewed.

The empire will never listen to the warnings from scientists, who judge today’s nuclear tensions to be more dangerous than the ones from the previous cold war. Perpetual brinkmanship is the only route it will pursue, and this is clear not just from its military buildup but from its growing rejection of de-escalation measures. Throughout the War on Terror and the new great-power competition, Washington has engineered a decline of diplomacy, fostering a culture within its own foreign policy bureaucracy which focuses more on military maneuvers than on diplomatic statecraft.

The effects of this show through in that unlike during the last cold war, Washington is now essentially uninterested in detente. U.S. officials can only envision more arms buildup, and they see even the warming of the planet through the lens of grand warfare tactics. Further militarizing the Arctic and the Pacific is now viewed by foreign policy elites as a top priority in the face of the climate crisis, which they regard as an opening for China and Russia to gain geopolitical leverage.

The more entrenched the arms buildup paradigm grows, the more this orthodoxy of militarization being crucial for responding to the environmental crisis proliferates within Washington’s sphere of influence. NATO 2030, the plan to effectively assimilate Japan, south Korea, Australia, and New Zealand into the treaty organization, is facilitating this process. It’s not enough to get these U.S. allies within China’s hemisphere to build up their militaries, which they’ve already been doing. They have to be officially absorbed into the rest of the bloc.

In these countries, NATO 2030 will establish a role for NATO that’s more involved in their internal policies, and that’s particularly focused on their climate responses. This comes from the view NATO has adopted that global warming is a “threat multiplier,” which serves as a rationale for the interventions the Pentagon aims to carry out in the coming decades. These interventions will target countries which are both especially vulnerable to climatic catastrophes, and have been seeing BRI benefits. Bangladesh fits both of these categories, and was consequently named in a 2019 Pentagon report about where the U.S. might intervene in response to the climate crisis.

NATO 2030 is about creating a narrative precedent for these future wars by waging warfare simultaneously under the guise of climate “humanitarianism,” and to advance the imperialist bloc’s interests by sabotaging the BRI. Both of these goals fit with the “threat multiplier” view towards global warming, since global warming is seen as a warfare tool by Washington’s adversaries. The empire can further its geopolitical maneuvers, while claiming to be advancing “human rights.” Which are already viewed as synonymous goals, due to Washington’s cultivated image as the upholder of global human well-being.

With this regionally expanded version of Washington’s Cold War alliance, all of the new cold war’s tactics—destabilization, occupation, exploitation of humanitarian crises, proxy warfare, paramilitarism, brinksmanship, drone strikes, bombings, scorched earth invasions, blockades—get solidified as the measures the imperialists invest in. They’ll continue with these activities until proletarian revolutions sweep the formerly colonized world, and then become capable of reaching the core imperialist countries. Throughout this transitional process, the imperialists will fight ever harder to reverse history’s progression, all while claiming that their decrepit neoliberal paradigm represents the future.