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Table of Contents - Num. 195 April 2018


1)  Strategic Surprise and New Global Cycle

2)  US Tax Cuts a Weapon in the Contention

3) Workers Who Do Not Vote

European News
4) Merkel and Macron in a Race Against Time

5) An Assertive Russia at the Polls

6) Missiles and Twitter in the Korean Negotiate

7) Trump Puts the WTO in Check

Pages from the History of the Labour Movement
8) The Final Crisis of the Communist League

The Large Groups in China
9) From the Paddy Fields to the Great Agro-Food Industry

The World Automobile Battle
10) Cars and Electronics

Europe’s defence and war industry
11) The Rush to Autonomy in Space Rearmament

12) Publications


Strategic Surprise and New Global Cycle

«Coping with Surprise in Great Power Conflicts». This is the title of a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, report; on the cover a photo of the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941. The word «avoiding» is crossed out in the title; for the author, Mark Cancian, «surprise» is inevitable; it has always been part of the nature of conflicts, but becomes «highly likely» now that great power conflict has returned. There are three reasons why the United States is vulnerable: «the rise of China and Russia as competing great powers that can challenge the U.S.» after a generation of U.S. global military dominance; the «long peace between great powers», seventy years that have induced a fallacious sense of «perpetual security»; and the changes in war fighting technology that «have transformed the conduct of battle» since the last world war. It is impossible not to note the alleged «long peace»: it has actually cost millions of deaths in dozens of proxy wars, but the CSIS point of view is limited to the absence of large-scale conflicts that have involved the U.S. directly.

As often occurs with these kinds of American source, the material at a conceptual level is disappointing, dominated by a range of possible «surprises». One crucial question is «political/diplomatic surprise», i.e. «the unexpected realignment of countries or political factions that has a major effect on the balance of power», but the author himself admits these discontinuities are «rarely considered» in military planning, since they are considered the competence of civilian policymakers. U.S. strategic culture has never felt at ease with Clausewitz and his conception of war as «the continuation of politics by other means».

It is interesting to note the CSIS report’s contiguity with the National Security Strategy report, the document on strategic directives just declared by the presidency; it is significant that the Trump administration’s assertive theses are also echoed in traditional bipartisan circles. The notions according to which «great power conflicts» are once again possible and China and Russia are the new threats are completed in it with the thesis that «surprise» may come precisely from Moscow and Beijing.

The notion of «strategic surprise» is carefully considered by the Marxist science of international relations. Arrigo Cervetto wrote about a dynamic of balance resulting from «strategic manoeuvres» and «objective unpredictable events» and about a «regular novelty» in the battles of the contention. Let’s make three observations at a theoretical level. The first is that strategic surprise has its objective reasons in uneven economic and political development. Borrowing from geology the dynamic of plate tectonics that cause earthquakes, we can describe the change in the inter-power relations of force that accumulates huge underground tensions along fault lines until it suddenly unleashes them in a sudden rift. It is impossible to know the precise moment, place or intensity of the shock, but that it will occur is certain: in this sense surprise is a regularity.

The second observation is that the political and military terms of surprise belong to the movement of states and the systems of states, precisely «strategic manoeuvres» that are translated into «unpredictable» events. There is no identity between economic change and political-military movement; there is a specific dimension of international relations that is the task of Marxist science to investigate; every battle in the contention will always be a multiform combination of factors.

The third observation is that surprise also derives from the intrinsic ambivalence of alliances and strategic positions. In the unity-scission dynamic – the unitary interest of all the imperialisms to guarantee the conditions for the production and circulation of goods and capital and the division among the same powers in competition for their share-out – the two moments coexist. On the political level, every agreement envisages its break, every   alliance   its   revision every relationship each one’s attempt to take advantage of the other contracting party and, above all, every power relationship contains within itself those two movements of convergence and contraposition at the same moment. Whence the regularity of strategic surprise when the contention obliges that ambivalence to break into open conflict: the change in relations of force becomes an international crisis and war; both alliances and the breaking of alliances can pave the way for open conflict.

For some time now we have recognised that the world order is faltering: now it is the powerhouses of the ruling class that are foretelling the return of «great power conflicts». It is probably not yet time for a major strategic surprise, but a fifteen-year period that makes the conditions for this more probable has undoubtedly begun. Meanwhile, if it is true that tensions in the system of states and alliances are increasing, each relationship still maintains its ambivalence.

Xi Jinping’s China has given itself strengthened powers to deal with internal restructuring and external multipolar contention; the second half of the new imperialist contention has begun. The European countermovement reveals the unity-scission dynamic in three episodes.

For about a year now Germany has been raising its voice against China; a catalyser of this U-turn were the agreements of the so-called 16+1, Beijing’s initiatives in Europe’s peripheral marches, in the east, the Balkans and the Mediterranean. In the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, Friederike Böge laments the lack of a plan on Europe’s part, while Xi Jinping is defining his expansionary directions with strengthened powers. The “FAZ” writes that it is Germany that has so far benefited the most from China’s rise: this is why it had few incentives to try to «close ranks» with the other Europeans. In the medium term, however, Germany has the most to lose: China is becoming an «industrial superpower» in sectors that are the «backbone» of the German economy. The question, we observe, is also the implicit stake of the announcement of protective tariffs loudly propagandised on TV by Donald Trump. Washington wants to hit the high-tech industrial policy plans Beijing has predisposed for 2025, or at least to tie them to the opening up of the Chinese market; the attempt to unite Europe and Japan in an anti-Chinese front can also be glimpsed.

In “Global Times”, Li Chao, a researcher at the CICIR Institute for European Studies believes he has seen an «about-face» in the position of Angela Merkel, who is now sustaining «open competition» with China as a priority of her government. Has Germany really resolved to renounce the Asian card, a crucial face card in its balancing game? Four days later, it was “Global Times” itself that reported the opposite: «China, Germany can use global influence to fight rising tide of US protectionism». According to “China Daily” Ms Merkel has told Xi she will back the Silk Road, «regarded as a strategic bridge for Eurasia».

We think pressure on China for «reciprocity» in opening up markets will long go hand in hand with haggling over the strategic relationship between Europe and China. Moreover, the EU is also seeking a «transatlantic reciprocity» with Washington, according to Wolfgang Schäuble’s formula: it is in its interest both to keep its Asian card in the face of an America that has become unpredictable and to use the Atlantic relationship against Beijing. When there is the surprise of a Europe that is no longer strategically ambivalent, the world will be well aware of it.

The second episode regards precisely the question of Europe’s foreign policy in Asia. At the beginning of March, on a trip to New Delhi, the French President Emmanuel Macron agreed upon military co-operation in the Indian Ocean with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi: the Indian navy’s military ships will be able to have access to French naval bases in the region. «Against China, India Counts on Macron’s Help» was the “Le Monde” headline; furthermore, if Modi defines the Indian Ocean as «our maritime home», «France is also living in that home», with 1.7 million inhabitants on the islands of Mayotte and Réunion. France is also the only EU country with a «permanent military presence in the region» and also has two bases in Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates as well as its Territories. France, Raja Mohan goes so far as to argue in “Indian Express”, could even be «India’s new Russia», replacing Moscow as its international partner, and its alliance with Paris may open the doors to a closer relationship with the whole of the EU.

On the surface, the Macron-Modi initiative seems to bear the same stamp as the Indo-Pacific strategic line pursued by India and the USA to balance China. It is Mohan himself, however, who reports the debate in India about the need «to reset relations with Beijing»: the current of «realists» wants to bring down the rising temperature of tensions with Beijing. India’s difficulties in the face of its Chinese rival have «structural» reasons; the overarching reality is that «China’s absolute and relative power vis-à-vis India (and all other powers in the world) has dramatically risen», thanks to forty years of economic reform and sustained high growth rates. This leaves New Delhi with a set of «policy imperatives that are at odds with each other»: India must strive to retain its «strategic space» amid the expansion of «the Chinese footprint» and at the same time avoid «the escalation of differences into disputes».

Rakesh Sood, a former Indian ambassador to Paris, adds a revealing nuance to weighing up the Franco-Indian «Memorandum of Understanding». For India naval co-operation with the USA has always been easier through the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) which covers the region from China to the Bay of Bengal, rather than through the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) which includes a «special relationship with Pakistan». Hence to a certain extent France, and by extension, the EU, embodies a counterweight and counter-insurance also against the USA and its well-established relations in Pakistan. Potentially, therefore, the French move gives a measure of strategic autonomy to both Europe and India, and is not solely linked to their balance strategy towards China. For this reason, too, the real question, and the potentiality of strategic surprise, regards France in the European Union: will this French network of relations, in its capacity for multidirectional influence, succeed in being organically centralised in a European strategy?

Finally, the historic sharp turn of the Vatican, which is about to conclude with Beijing the agreement about the appointment of bishops and the status of Roman Catholics in China. Monsignor Paul Gallagher is the equivalent of a Vatican Foreign Minister; the bishops’ daily “Avvenire” reports his speech at a convention in Rome that makes a real political exchange explicit. According to Gallagher, China’s new protagonism is not to be feared. China is insisting «on its own identity through the economic, political and cultural model that seeks to impart “Chinese characteristics” to globalisation»; the Chinese Roman Catholic community, rooted in China’s «historical dynamism», but also part of the Church’s universality, with its «natural opening up to all peoples», can contribute to this «dialogue effort».

Stated at a moment when Xi’s new powers are at the centre of heated international debate, this is a line that reveals very high stakes for the Vatican. In fact, the more Jorge Maria Bergoglio’s Papacy draws near to that truly historic about-turn, the more the resistance to the line of a «multipolar Church» on the part of some currents, not by coincidence American and European, seems to become open. Perhaps the political surprise of a China accompanied by the Holy See in its global upthrust is imminent. However, the claim to interpret the moment of the unity of the global dynamic will not avoid the tensions of scission.

Lotta Comunista N° 571, March 2018




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