Chinese balloon flying over Montana, US Chinese balloon flying over Montana, US. Photo: Chase Doak / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Lindsey German on the growing militarism and escalation of war

It shouldn’t really come as a shock to the US government that other countries also run state surveillance. The US has after all taught the world a great deal of what it knows on the subject. The US itself has around 800 bases worldwide, one of whose main functions is spying and surveillance. Here in Britain, the Yorkshire base at Menwith Hill is a sinister looking collection of domes used for spying. In the 1960s, US pilot Gary Powers was shot down over Russia in his ‘spy plane’. All the major powers, including the US and China, have sophisticated satellites for spying, and no one is remotely surprised by this.

This should be the context in which we place the shooting down of a Chinese ‘spy balloon’ off the coast of South Carolina after it had traversed from the Aleutian Islands near Alaska over Canada and then the US from Idaho to the Atlantic. It is impossible to know exactly the background to the voyage, but it seems unlikely that the balloon posed a major threat to US security.

But this is not what is most important about the latest standoff: it highlights the growing danger of war between the US and China. A US air force general recently predicted that such a war would begin in 2025. Perhaps, perhaps not, but it is certainly getting much closer. In the past couple of years we have seen the development of the Aukus Pact, which brings Australia into much closer military alliance with the US, the commitment by Japan to double its military spending, and a new military agreement between the UK and Japan, repeated military manoeuvres in the Pacific by the Nato powers and an increased Nato presence in the Indo-Pacific.

Tensions centre on Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory, as witnessed during the intentionally provocative visit by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi last year. However as the balloon incident demonstrates, these tensions can arise over any issue. They come at a time of growing militarism and conflicts worldwide.

The Ukraine war, approaching its first year later this month, has helped to accelerate this process. The background to the war itself reflected conflict, most notably over the relentless expansion of Nato across eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War. The war was sparked by the Russian invasion, but this was the background to it, and it is obvious that the war is not simply a war between Russia and Ukraine, but a proxy war between Russia and Nato.

Nothing makes this clearer than increased militarisation across the Nato powers, and the supply of arms from those countries to Ukraine. When the invasion began a year ago, those of us who opposed sending arms were denounced as Putin apologists, and we were told they would be defensive arms only, and that there was no possibility of their being used to attack Russia or in a wider war.

That’s not true today. The pressure put on Germany to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, to be joined by US Abrams tanks and British Challengers, marks a major escalation in the war. The instant that the tanks were agreed, Ukraine’s president Zelensky was demanding fighter aircraft, as were his allies internationally. Both US president Biden and German Chancellor Scholz have firmly rejected that proposition, since it would mean direct attacks on Russia, but they also rejected sending tanks until two weeks ago. Indeed, Biden claimed last year that sending them could lead to World War 3 – a consideration he obviously feels is no longer worth worrying about.

We can expect the pressure to continue. Boris Johnson was in Washington at the weekend urging further military support for Ukraine, following his recent ‘unofficial’ trip to meet Zelensky where he was hailed as a hero, rather than the charlatan that he actually is. Israel’s recent attack on Iran was also linked to the Ukraine conflict as well as about who controls the Middle East.

The world is in a very dangerous place, and it’s not easy to see how it is going to become less dangerous without mass opposition internationally to this war drive. Advances for Russia in Ukraine – as we are now seeing round the key town of Bakhmut in the east of the country – will lead to even more pressure for weapons, training and other logistical support. The losers in this war already have overwhelmingly been Ukrainian troops and civilians, and Russian troops in what has become a long war of attrition. This will continue unless there is a ceasefire and peace talks.

The weekend of 24-25 February is seeing international action across Europe calling for peace and an end to the war. In Britain, Stop the War and CND have a London demonstration and it is vital to build the movement for peace. Otherwise we can see from the latest conflict over China, this war can spread dramatically, and all of us will be the losers.

One reason Johnson and other warmongers want to talk up the need for weapons and more military spending is because they face recurrent domestic crises, not least the very big strike wave which saw half a million stopping work last Wednesday and demos and rallies in hundreds of towns and cities across the country. The projections for the British economy are very weak, there is still a major labour shortage, an obvious failure of public services across the board, and we are still mired in a cost-of-living crisis, as witnessed by the furore over the disgusting practice of the energy companies forcing entry into houses of the poor and vulnerable to effectively disconnect their power supplies.

In these circumstances, a divided, weak government will look to distractions and various means of garnering support from an otherwise disaffected working class. They are using the supposed ‘small boats’ crisis to whip up racism against refugees and asylum seekers. They also use jingoism and war to try to pretend that our interests are the same as our rulers. They want us to see others as the enemy, whereas our main enemy is at home.

There are major strengths and weaknesses of the latest strike wave, but one particular problem in sections of the trade union and labour movement is the insistence on separating domestic and international questions. We can’t: if we strengthen the government on questions of war and peace, that will come back to bite us on trade union rights, pay rises and working conditions.

This week: strikes all week, of nurses, paramedics, civil servants and lecturers. I’ll be on my picket line Thursday and Friday, and hopefully visiting a couple more, talking about the 20th anniversary of the Iraq war demo for a news pre-record, and joining the Assange night carnival on Saturday.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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