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Democracies against Autocracies

by Conrad Schuhler
"We are striving for close transatlantic coordination in China policy and are seeking cooperation with like-minded countries in order to reduce strategic dependencies. Indeed, relations with China must be 'shaped in the dimensions of partnership, competition and system rivalry'."
"Democracies against Autocracies" - the New Formula of the Imperialist Claim to Hegemony
by Conrad Schuhler
[This article posted on 1/26/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.isw-muenchen.de/2023/01/demokratien-gegen-autokratien-die-neue-formel-des-imperialistischen-hegemonieanspruchs/.]

Pre-publication from the author's new book, Germany in Economic Warfare, Papyrossa Verlag, March 2023.


1. the totalitarian claim of the US government

President Biden, in his introduction to the "National Security Strategy," formulates its main points as follows (National Security Strategy. http://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/8-November-Combindes-PDF-for-Upload/pdf):

The world is at a turning point. How the United States responds to the enormous challenges and unprecedented opportunities of today will determine the direction of the world and the security and prosperity of the American people for decades to come.

We are in the midst of a strategic struggle over the future of the international order. Working most closely with our partners and all who share our interests, we will fight to ensure that our values prevail - we will not surrender our future to those who do not share our vision of a free, open, and secure world.
This is a fight the United States will lead. "The need for American leadership is as great as it has ever been...No nation is better positioned to lead with strength and clear purpose than the United States of America."
Adversary No. 1 is the People's Republic of China, which "has the intention and, to an increasing degree, the capacity to reshape the international order in such a way as to shape the global playing field in its favor." Opponent No. 2 is Russia, which he said has destroyed peace in Europe with its attack on Ukraine and is spreading instability everywhere. "Autocrats are working overtime to undermine democracy and export a model of government whose hallmarks are repression on the inside and coercion on the outside."
The U.S. has laid around the globe an unprecedented network of alliances and partnerships to win this argument. "Core alliances" listed for Europe are NATO - "is stronger and more united than ever" - and for the Indo-Pacific, AUCUS (Australia, UK, US). Further enumerated are EU, the Indo-Pacific Quad, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, and the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity for Latin America.
Autocrats are mistaken if they believe democracies are weaker than autocracies. Domestic politics is part of this struggle. We will continue to invest in America's global competitiveness and attractiveness and "draw to us the dreamers and the strivers from around the world." And "we will continue to show how America's enduring leadership is rising to the challenges of today and tomorrow. "Biden's introduction concludes, "I am more convinced than ever that the United States has everything it takes to win the 21st century contest.
There is nothing beyond our capabilities."

"Ruin" Russia, then all pipes on China

This megalomaniacal assessment of the "chosen people" that the U.S. political elite has seen Americans as since the founding days runs throughout the document. Interesting and dismaying are the clarifications of the president's solemnly formulated imperatives. For the international system, "countries must freely determine their own foreign policy." Ultimately, it is a matter of "the global economy being on a level playing field and providing opportunities for all." (p.6) States do not have to be or become democratic themselves, but they must be in the camp of "democracies."

That there are other fundamental problems besides bloc rivalry, such as "climate change, food insecurity, infectious diseases, terrorism, energy shortages, or inflation," is readily stated to be immediately embedded in the militant bloc strategy: "We must see clearly that these challenges must be addressed within the international competitive environment." The "geopolitical competition...makes cooperation increasingly difficult and requires us to think and act in new ways." Humanity's problems also place the "security concept" under the goal of "defeating our rivals." Russia, he said, poses "an imminent threat to the free and open international system, as demonstrated by the brutal war of aggression against Ukraine." "By contrast, the People's Republic of China is the only competitor with both the intent to transform the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to move toward that goal." (p. 8) The detailed affirmation of the President's words - that is the mantra of this "security concept": "ruin" Russia, as Ms. Baerbock dutifully parrots, then all the pipes on the People's Republic of China, which has what it takes to break the Western world's dominance of the international system.

The concept expresses sympathy for concerns "in some parts of the world that are uncomfortable with competition between the United States and the world's largest autocracies." The United States also did not want a "world of rigid blocs." It was just a matter of all countries being able to make a free choice in their own interest, he said. A free choice, of course, for a "free world" of which the U.S. sees itself as the leader. "This is the crucial difference between our vision, which aims to preserve the autonomy and rights of the less powerful states, and that of our rivals, which does not." (S.9). This needs to be explained again in more detail to the peoples, those of Cuba, Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, Yugoslavia, Aghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen - so that they know how the U.S. bombs on their country were really meant.

"Lines" and "pillars" of the new U.S. strategy.

To achieve this world "free of aggression, coercion and intimidation," the U.S. is pursuing "three lines of effort:
1) invest in the sources and instruments of American power and influence;
2) build the strongest possible coalition of nations that strengthens our collective influence in the global strategic environment and addresses common challenges; and
3) modernize and strengthen our military so that it is equipped for the era of strategic competition with greater powers.

Total mobilization of all forces for global confrontation "builds on several pillars":
1) The U.S. is erasing the dividing line between foreign and domestic policy. Shared prosperity at home must go hand in hand with shaping the international order "in accordance with our interests and values." Private sector innovation must therefore be combined with a modern industrial strategy that places special emphasis on cutting-edge technologies such as "microelectronics, advanced computer technology, biotechnology, clean energy technologies, and state-of-the-art telecommunications" (p.11),
2) Alliances and partnerships around the world "are our most important strategic asset and an indispensable element of the contribution to international peace and stability." Particularly important is the growing cooperation between partners in the Indo-Pacific and Europe. "We recognize that they are mutually reinforcing and that the fates of the two regions are intimately intertwined ... If one region descends into chaos or becomes dominated by a hostile power, it will fundamentally affect our interests in the other." (S. 11)
3) It is emphasized that the People's Republic of China "is America's most consequential geopolitical challenge." Russia is an immediate and ongoing threat to stability, "but it lacks the comprehensive capabilities of the People's Republic of China." There are other "smaller autocratic powers also working toward aggression and destabilization." Iran and North Korea are mentioned. (p.11f.)
4) However, the U.S. does not want to "see the world only through the lens of strategic competition" but also to work for regional zones of peace and prosperity. The Middle East, Africa and Latin America are singled out. Especially in the latter region, the U.S. wants to "advance economic resilience, democratic stability, and citizen security" (p.12).
5) Globalization has brought immense benefits to the U.S. and the world, "but an adjustment is now needed to take on dramatic global changes such as widening inequality within and among countries, the emergence of China as both our logical competitor and one of our largest trading partners, and emerging modern technologies outside the regulatory frameworks now in place." That's why the U.S. wants to form new economic arrangements beyond the traditional free trade agreements, closer links of the respective national economies with the U.S. economy as in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF); a global minimum tax to be established so that all companies pay their fair share of taxes wherever in the world they are based; the Partnership for Global Investment and Infrastructure (PGII-the late and smaller U.S. counterpart to China's Belt & Road Initiative), targeting low- and middle-income countries; modernizing the rules governing advanced technologies, trade, and business in general; and ensuring that "the transition to clean energy opens economic opportunities and creates good jobs around the world" (p. 12)

In conclusion, "The world is at a turning point. This decade will be critical."

Let's summarize the essence of this concept:

The U.S. is the one indispensable nation at the head of the bloc of "democracies." Opposing this are the "autocracies" headed by China, with Russia behind.
In this decade it will be fought out who will determine the international system. There can be only one winner, the USA bloc.
This victory will not be easy to achieve. All forces must be mobilized, economically, politically, militarily. The economy must win in economic competition, it must be set up from the point of view of global rivalry. Alliances must be organized under this very orientation. The military must be expanded, war is by no means excluded, it is part of the planning. Including nuclear war, which the U.S. also has the Bundeswehr practicing in Europe.
The problems of mankind such as global warming, pandemics, nuclear accidents or wars must also be tackled under the condition of the global struggle of the system.
In the final analysis, what matters is not "our values," but whether a country is committed to the West's "rules-based order." If so, it is welcome in the U.S. bloc.
But actually, the U.S. says, it doesn't want a bloc at all. They are forming a system around the globe in which they are the undisputed supreme power in every single regional alliance. The explicit goal is to combine the partial elements into a firmer, unified formation. In truth, the U.S. makes little effort to disguise the fact of forming a bloc of the West of which it is the undisputed supremacy, demanding strict discipline from "partners" and dependents.

2. neoliberal globalization is at an end

The official strategy of the United States is based on the realization that the previous concept of neoliberal globalization has failed. The unipolarity of the world, the dominance of the U.S. would ensure that "free trade" would export "Western values" everywhere and that the lagging emerging economies would take over the labor-intensive production sections complementary to the advanced Western countries, which would concentrate on the most advanced, highly productive parts of the global production chains. As they industrialized, emerging economies would become Western democracies (Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat, New York 2007). Initially, both seemed to work out in the central example of China. Millions of jobs disappeared from the U.S. and were newly created, primarily in lower-cost China. There, the share of private capital became larger and larger. But this changed when the Xi team took over the leadership of the Communist Party and the state. In recent years, the share of state ownership grew again and, above all, the state's grip on capitalist enterprises became tighter. The political system did not develop at all toward "Western values", but quite the opposite, 15 times Marx and only 3 times market, as the attentive observer in the service of German capital could observe during Xi's speech at the last CP Party Congress. But the expectations of Western globalization strategists were not only fulfilled in the political field, but also in the economic field. Indeed, China did not stick to its role as a cheap labor supplier for the less productive parts of production, but quickly became an international competitor even for some of the most modern products. China has more international patent applications than the six largest European countries combined, and its pace of innovation is ten times faster than that of the United States. (Conrad Schuhler, The U.S., China, the EU, and World Peace. How far to war. Cologne 2020, p. 64) Jobs now being relocated by multinationals also include state-of-the-art production processes. Apple, the communications industry giant, has not only its largest market in China, but also its largest production site. (Thomas Fazi, The deglobalization we need. Macroscope Jan. 11, 2023. https://www.makroskop.eu/02-2023) The same is true for Volkswagen, which is more of a Chinese company than a German one in terms of production and sales.

The Biden administration is targeting this shift as it seeks to surpass the protectionist policies of Trump's predecessor.

Today, when many advanced countries are moving toward "place-based economies," toward decoupling from global supply chains, they are doing so not only as a result of international tensions and uncertainties, but also because skill levels between "North" and "South" are converging for some key countries. And because, as a result, the balance of power in the international system has changed and continues to change. The USA and the West can no longer dictate the "terms of trade", the conditions of trade and exchange, they would have to adjust to international cooperation, to multilateralism. Then they would have to accept or even strive for international cooperation, which is about the common advantage for all and not about outdoing and "outmaneuvering" the other.

Yet, at a historic moment that demands a turn toward close and determined cooperation among all nations to jointly address humanity's universal problems, the U.S. wants to use all human and natural resources from the standpoint of antagonistic global competition. They are calculating the possibility of nuclear war; President Biden recently said we are facing Armageddon, the final earthly battle against the forces of evil. Even if nuclear catastrophe did not occur, realizing this concept - directing all forces toward global rivalry - would mean the end of human civilization. "The loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, disruption of the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, loss of land cover, dwindling freshwater resources, and chemical and radioactive pollution are examples of processes that have the potential to set in motion an unstoppable chain of events that will radically change the world as we know it." (Anders Sorensen, The Only Answer to Humanity's Crises. Junge Welt, Jan. 14, 2023) Whether it is climate change or successive pandemics, poisoning of the environment or overcoming hunger and poverty, all are problems that can only be solved by humanity cooperatively and not in antagonistic competition. Driving the developed Western countries into high armament and militarization threatens their future, because their policy should be directed towards social balance and fair exchange with others instead of further separation into a few rich and many poor, should aim at transformation into solidary, sustainable, civil science-intensive societies and cooperation in a world to be managed and cared for together. Domestically and internationally, this is the order of the day. The U.S. strategy seeks to force partners and rivals in precisely the opposite direction.

3.The Adoption of the Concept by Germany, the EU and NATO

The Biden administration's strategic concept had already been laid down by Biden and his team before the Ukraine war. The "Guidances," which basically express the same goals, had been published a week before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Already in the 2020 election campaign, Biden had made "democracies versus autocracies" his basic foreign policy formula. It could therefore come as no surprise that the new German government almost assiduously repeated the main lines of the U.S. concept in its coalition agreement. (https://www.spd.de/fileadmin/Dokumente/Koalitonsvertrag/Koalitionsvertrag_2021-2025.pdf)

The central paragraph in the section "Foreign Affairs, Security, Defense, Development, Human Rights" reads: "We want to increase Europe's strategic sovereignty. The goal is multilateral cooperation in the world, especially in close connection with those states that share our democratic values. This also involves system competition with authoritarian-ruled states and strategic solidarity with our democratic partners." (p. 113) The German coalition parties reaffirm the division of the international order into two blocs; by "multinational cooperation" they mean a greater weight for Europe vis-à-vis the U.S. in the "rules-based international order" (p,114). But so that Big Brother USA does not misunderstand, they add: "We are striving for close transatlantic coordination in China policy and are seeking cooperation with like-minded countries in order to reduce strategic dependencies. Indeed, relations with China must be "shaped in the dimensions of partnership, competition and system rivalry" (p,124). Germany warns China that "a change in the status quo in the Taiwan Strait (must) only be peaceful and by mutual agreement." Here Taiwan is interpreted as an equal counterpart of the People's Republic of China, while the "One-China-Policy", which is given by international law, says exactly the opposite: Taipei/Formosa/Taiwan is part of the People's Republic , which autonomously practices the relationship with the breakaway island within the framework of international law. Provocatively, the coalition parties go one better and demand the "participation of democratic Taiwan in international organizations" (p,124). They also want "the principle of 'one country, two systems' to be reasserted in Hong Kong. But this principle has just been abolished by the treaty of Great Britain with China for the transfer of Hong Kong to independence and return to the People's Republic. Hong Kong is now part of this People's Republic of China, where there are not two systems but, to the chagrin of Western observers on the ground, only one, with "more Marx than market" (see Chapter 7).

Since the Ukraine war, there has been no mention of Europe's timidly put forward "strategic sovereignty" in any of the Western documents. In NATO's new "2022 Strategic Concept," the whole world is declared a potential area of operations. "Strategic competition, persistent instability and recurring shocks define our broader security environment. The threats we face are global and interconnected." (Nato 2022 - Strategic Concept. Nato Summit in Madrid, June 29, 2022. https://nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/2022/6/pdf/290622-strategic-concept.pdf, p. 3) The dichotomy of the world as dictated by U.S. strategy is seamlessly adopted. "Authoritarian actors challenge our interests, values, and democratic way of life... These actors are also at the forefront of a deliberate effort to undermine our multilateral norms and institutions and promote authoritarian models of governance." (p. 3) NATO also sees it exactly the same way as the Washington beatmaker when it comes to the main enemy: "The People's Republic of China's stated goals and coercive policies challenge our interests, security, and values. The People's Republic maintains a wide array of political, economic, and military tools to expand its global footprint and extend its power, while its strategy, intentions, and military buildup remain opaque. Its malign hybrid and cyber operations and confrontational rhetoric target allies and violate alliance security...The deepening strategic partnership between the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation and their mutually reinforcing attempts to undermine the rules-based international order are against our values and interests." (S. 5)

The two "rogue states of the first order" have been named, what is missing is the good in the global contest: "NATO is the unique, essential, and indispensable forum for consulting, coordinating, and acting with one another on all matters related to our individual and collective security." (p. 3) This is the opposite of the "brain death" of NATO, as noted by France's President Macron three years earlier. NATO is more united than ever, with U.S. leadership as unquestioned as in the days of the first Cold War.

Since this new Cold War is being waged at all levels, war and economic war always belong together and interact, Nato has issued a joint declaration with the EU, in which the mantra of the new "security strategies" is retrieved word for word: " Authoritarian actors oppose our interests, values and democratic principles by using different means - political, economic, technological and military. We live in an era of growing strategic competition. China's growing assertiveness and policies present challenges that we must address."
(Joint Declaration on EU-NATO Cooperation, Jan. 10, 2023)

The German government, the EU, NATO have so far followed the broad line set by Washington. How long this allegiance to the U.S. leading power will last will depend on the further costs that wars and economic wars will impose on the people and economies of the "allies and partners" of the U.S.; and on the resistance of those affected - the close connection of the social, the environmental and the peace issue is clearly evident. It is high time that the forces, the movements, which stand up for the humane side in these fields, finally find each other.
Conrad Schuhler
Economist, Author
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