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William Astore, Red Storm Rising — Again

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We — all of us on this planet — now live in one world and only one. Somehow, this remains hard for so many of us to grasp. Yet it’s been true since at least August 6, 1945, when a single atomic bomb obliterated the city of Hiroshima and, lest there were any doubts, three days later, a second one did the same thing to Nagasaki. From that moment on, no one should have doubted that we were, or would at least soon be, capable of obliterating not just two cities, but the whole planet. In the years since, as nuclear arsenals have been built to gigantic proportions and such weaponry has spread to nine countries, we’ve learned more about just how devastating such a conflict between great (or even regional) powers could be. After all, a significant regional nuclear exchange would create not just staggering global death and destruction but a nuclear winter of almost unimaginable proportions for all of us.

More recently, of course, it’s become apparent in a second way that all of us exist on one all-too-destructible orb in space. As 2022 begins and the news arrives that the last seven years have been the seven hottest in recorded history; as the planet’s oceans continue to absorb the equivalent in heat terms of “seven Hiroshima atomic bombs detonating each second, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year”; as U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are once again rising, not falling; as the damage from flooding, heat, fire, and drought only increases, both immeasurably and measurably, it shouldn’t be that hard to grasp that the climate emergency we face is the potential equivalent of the wholesale nuclear destruction of the planet, just on a vastly different time scale.

And yes, as the so-called leaders of this world of ours in Washington, Moscow, and Beijing become absorbed in who controls Ukraine and in an intensifying replay of the Cold War of another age in Asia; as nuclear arsenals are built up, not down; as the changeover to alternative energy systems goes all too slowly, it’s obvious that we’re a distinctly self-destructive species. It’s in that context that you should read the latest from former Air Force lieutenant colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore, who now runs the Bracing Views blog, on his own once-upon-a-time military encounter with doomsday and what might be drawn from that grim experience. Tom

Only Fools Replay Doomsday

The Cold War, Reborn and Resurgent

In the early 1960s, at the height of America’s original Cold War with the Soviet Union, my old service branch, the Air Force, sought to build 10,000 land-based nuclear missiles. These were intended to augment the hundreds of nuclear bombers it already had, like the B-52s featured so memorably in the movie Dr. Strangelove. Predictably, massive future overkill was justified in the name of "deterrence," though the nuclear war plan in force back then was more about obliteration. It featured a devastating attack on the Soviet Union and communist China that would kill an estimated 600 million people in six months (the equivalent of 100 Holocausts, notes Daniel Ellsberg in his book, The Doomsday Machine). Slightly saner heads finally prevailed -- in the sense that the Air Force eventually got “only” 1,000 of those Minuteman nuclear missiles.

Despite the strategic arms limitation talks between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the dire threat of nuclear Armageddon persisted, reaching a fresh peak in the 1980s during Ronald Reagan's presidency. At the time, he memorably declared the Soviet Union to be an “evil empire,” while nuclear-capable Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles were rushed to Europe. At that same moment, more than a few Europeans, joined by some Americans, took to the streets, calling for a nuclear freeze -- an end to new nuclear weapons and the destabilizing deployment of the ones that already existed. If only...

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Alfred McCoy, An Epochal Decline in American Global Power

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Wow! I’m amazed when I look back on the weeks since I first urged you to contribute to TD in return for a signed, personalized copy of historian Alfred McCoy’s new history of empires, To Govern the Globe! I knew he was popular and happen to think the world of his work myself. Still, I never expected that he would have to sign quite so many copies. Now, here we are in 2022 and below is his latest piece. He’s still willing to sign and personalize more copies of that remarkable book of his for anyone willing to give this site at least $100 ($150 if you live outside the U.S.). So, if the urge strikes you in this new year, just visit our donation page as always — and many thanks!  Tom]

Honestly, I wonder why (other than Covid-19) Americans aren’t out in the streets protesting. Oh wait, given that we’ve just “celebrated” the anniversary of January 6th and our world is alive with talk of coming violence against the government in those very streets, not to speak of rising extremism in the U.S. military and potential civil war, let me amend that slightly. I meant something else entirely. After all, like the Trump administration before it, the Biden administration (with the Pentagon and Congress cheering it on) only continues to hike up the pressures for an ever-intensifying new Cold War with China, as Michael Klare reported at this site last week.

And yet here we Americans are, ready to fight it out over masking mandates and a “stolen” election, but not ready to offer a peep of protest as, for the second time in this century, this country heads off into the world all too aggressively armed to the teeth and ready for battle. And just in case you’ve forgotten, the last time around — you know, that Global War on Terror that involved the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq — didn’t turn out particularly splendidly, did it? So why expect a new Cold War with China, the rising power on an endangered planet, with that old cold warrior Russia thrown in for good measure, to turn out any better?

Of course, when there’s so much else to argue about here in an ever more armed fashion, why even bother to consider this country’s global stance, no less protest as our collective fate is being decided elsewhere? However, if you do happen to have a passing few moments in this mad American world of ours, take a little break and check out the latest piece by TomDispatch regular and historian Alfred McCoy, author most recently of To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change. It offers an all-too-vivid look at an imperial American world on its way to hell in a handbasket, while Americans myopically pick at our wounds at home. It may be a new definition of what the end of empire really means in the twenty-first century (if we all even make it long enough to find out). Tom

Eurasia’s Ring of Fire

The Epic Struggle over the Epicenter of U.S. Global Power

Throughout 2021, Americans were absorbed in arguments over mask mandates, school closings, and the meaning of the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Meanwhile, geopolitical hot spots were erupting across Eurasia, forming a veritable ring of fire around that vast land mass.

Let’s circle that continent to visit just a few of those flashpoints, each one suffused with significance for the future of U.S. global power.

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Michael Klare, Welcome to the New Cold War in Asia

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For a moment, imagine an upside-down military world. Instead of U.S. guided-missile destroyers and other ships regularly carrying out “freedom of navigation operations” near Chinese-claimed islands in the South China Sea and such destroyers no less regularly passing through the Strait of Taiwan between that disputed island and the People’s Republic of China, consider how any administration would react if Chinese naval vessels were ever more provocatively patrolling off the coast of California. You know that official Washington would quite literally go nuts and we’d find ourselves at the edge of war almost instantly.

Or, in a similar fashion, imagine that Russia had moved nuclear weapons close to the southern Mexican border, was selling advanced weaponry and offering other military aid to Mexico, and acting as we’ve been doing in relation to Ukraine. Washington would be up in arms, again all too literally. Don’t misunderstand me: I hold no torch for either Chinese President Xi Jinping or Russian President Vladimir Putin. (And I suspect, by the way, that if Putin were foolish enough to invade Ukraine he might find himself involved in an updated version of the Soviet Union’s disastrous Afghan War of the 1980s in a far more explosive part of the world.) I’m merely pointing out that the American urge to be militarily anywhere it wants to be on this planet in any fashion it chooses might not be quite what’s needed these days. A new Cold War on an ever hotter and more pandemic planet?  Just what we really (don’t) need.

And by the way, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, author most recently of All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, points out, one of the other wonders of our moment is that, in a country where Republicans and Democrats can essentially agree on nothing — certainly not on spending money on the American people — the subject never in question is what’s still called “defense” policy. Unfortunately, globally speaking, such spending of your tax dollars couldn’t be more offensive in every sense of the word. In this, fierce as the Biden administration has proved in Cold War terms, Klare makes it clear today that Congress is proving even fiercer.

I mean honestly, on a planet in deep doo-doo, where the major powers should be cooperating big time, having a post-Trump administration (with, admittedly, an old cold warrior as president) so ready to return us to a Cold War-style world seems, to say the least, both a tad out of date and a bit reckless as well. Tom

None Dare Call It “Encirclement”

Washington Tightens the Noose around China

The word “encirclement” does not appear in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law by President Joe Biden on December 27th, or in other recent administration statements about its foreign and military policies. Nor does that classic Cold War era term "containment" ever come up. Still, America’s top leaders have reached a consensus on a strategy to encircle and contain the latest great power, China, with hostile military alliances, thereby thwarting its rise to full superpower status.

The gigantic 2022 defense bill -- passed with overwhelming support from both parties -- provides a detailed blueprint for surrounding China with a potentially suffocating network of U.S. bases, military forces, and increasingly militarized partner states. The goal is to enable Washington to barricade that country's military inside its own territory and potentially cripple its economy in any future crisis. For China’s leaders, who surely can't tolerate being encircled in such a fashion, it's an open invitation to... well, there's no point in not being blunt... fight their way out of confinement.

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