'My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,' writes General Mike Minahan, head of the United States Air Force’s (USAF) Air Mobility Command.
The General has sent a memorandum to the leadership of the 110,000-strong USAF, with the unambiguous title, 'February 2023 Orders in Preparation for – The Next Fight'.
That fight, in the view of this key military leader, will be against China. Minahan’s belligerent tone is set with his order for personnel to 'consider their personal affairs' and if that was not blunt enough, to 'fire a clip into a 7-meter target, with the full understanding that unrepentant lethality matters most. Aim for the head'.
The Pentagon offered what was intended to be a more diplomatic position:
“China is the pacing challenge for the Department of Defense and our focus remains on working alongside allies and partners to preserve a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The Chinese, for their part, have difficulty seeing the placatory Pentagon remarks as being all that soothing.
The flashpoint remains Taiwan. The sabre rattling between China and the U.S. and its allies goes on. Kevin McCarthy, the new U.S. Republican House Speaker has formalised his position as a continuation of the drum-thumping posture of Nancy Pelosi.
“There is bipartisan consensus that the era of trusting Communist China is over,” McCarthy said. McCarthy has indicated that he intends to visit Taiwan. Nobody is in any doubt as to how Beijing will view such a visit.
The rhetoric has never been more threatening. The "doomsday clock" has been reset at just 90 seconds to midnight. War and potential nuclear destruction have never been so close at hand. The planet is threatened. The economies of the capitalist world are on the brink of catastrophe. The U.S. seems hell-bent on ignoring all rational behaviour, but their allies, rather than offering sane counsel, are vying with each other to stoke the fires.
Less than 12 months ago, the then-British foreign secretary, and soon-to-be short-lived prime minister, Liz Truss, made an incendiary speech that called for the "globalisation" of NATO, as part of the push against China. The wheel turns, but ever so slightly. Truss is gone, but British select committee chair, Tobias Ellwood, has been less than diplomatic, insisting that he wants to see AUKUS and the Quad merge.
He sees this as a "NATO-lite" structure. Such a move would see the UK more closely engaged in the region. This can only further destabilise a part of the world that is so much on edge at the best of times.
At the same time, Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong are in Europe, talking up relationships with the UK and France. They did not get the chance to get the ear of NATO chief, Jens Stoltenberg, who was visiting South Korea and Japan. Not meeting with the NATO Secretary General is hardly a problem, as all are focusing on the perceived China threat.
Stoltenberg, for his part, has hardly been mincing his words. NATO once had little direct interest in this part of the world. After all it is the "North Atlantic Treaty Organisation".
But he now states that:
We have come a long way when it comes to China… we are very clear that China poses a challenge to our values, to our interests and to our security. China and the rulers in Beijing, they don’t believe in democracy, freedom of speech, our democratic values… and then China, with its rising capabilities, with its coercive behaviour not least in the South-China Sea and lack of respect for the values that we believe in, is an increasing challenge to our values, our security, to our interests.
The "interests" that are spoken of so reverently by all western leaders are, in the final analysis, economic ones. The U.S. cannot conceive of a rival economy that will surpass it as the global hegemon.
War between the world’s two leading economies would completely destroy an already corpse-like global capitalist structure. But war is not simply being considered in the abstract, but in the concrete. Time Magazine recently wrote of China’s obvious attempts to mend fences, both at the Davos talks and in Xi Jinping’s New Year address. Even so, the drums of war are being beaten ever more loudly.
China is engaging in a significant arms build-up. Whether this is defensive or offensive is neither here nor there. The Chinese naval capacity is set to grow by nearly 40 per cent by 2040. Its nuclear arsenal is also growing.
The U.S. spends more on its military than the next nine countries combined and that includes the spending by China. Its military budget for this year, a year marked by a global economic downturn and recession has hit a record-high figure of $858 billion. This is only part of the story, as the U.S. is working tirelessly to see that its regional allies in the Quad and AUKUS continue to "pull their weight". Joint U.S.-Australian developments in Australia continue. A new base on Okinawa is in the pipeline. Negotiations are also underway to allow the U.S. access to Philippines bases.
The head of the Marine Corps, Commandant David Berger, during his visit to Australia in late January, added one final worrying note when he stated that “we can’t slow down, we can’t back off, we can’t get comfortable with where we are because the risk then is the other side moves a half step and we’ve lost the deterrent value”.
Nobody with eyes to see can take such a statement at face value. The U.S. and its allies have moved far beyond any "deterrent" tactics. General Minahan and his "gut" has said it all.
Dr William Briggs is a political economist. His special areas of interest lie in political theory and international political economy. He has been, variously, a teacher, journalist and political activist.
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