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A Return to Containment: Kennan and the Responsible Use of Power – Part 3

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A Return to Containment: Kennan and the Responsible Use of Power - Part 3


Written by Stewart J. Melanson PhD exclusively for SouthFront


Part 3: The United States Military-Industrial Complex

Executive Summary of Parts 1 and 2

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 left the US as the sole remaining superpower and so began the era of US global hegemony.  In the absence of a major adversary, there was no longer any urgency in:

…cultivating allies and neutrals who, if neglected, might defect to the other side… Multilateral consultation diminished steadily during the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton… because the practice seemed less necessary than it had during the Cold War. LINK

 Without the counterbalancing role of the Soviet Union, unrestrained US foreign policy became not only more unilateral, but also increasingly outside the norms of international law; such as the NATO bombing campaign in the Balkans under Clinton and Bush’s invasion of Iraq – neither had UN sanction and were illegal.  However, Bush took things much further.  On Oct. 20, 2001, President Bush outlined in a public address to Congress, a nightmarish vision of world tyranny:

Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. [FULL TRANSCRIPT]

There will be no middle ground, no neutrality and no higher law than the hegemon, being exempted from the rules applied so vigorously to others. LINK The US constitution specified separation of powers across three branches; legislative, executive and judicial as a safeguard against tyranny, but Article II, Section 3 places authority over conduct of foreign relations firmly with the executive branch giving wide latitude to its head – the President.  Thus, the Constitution was technically not violated when President Bush rolled out his tyrannical ‘us versus them’ foreign policy. LINK

But the lawlessness of Bush’s foreign policy has had far-reaching consequences.  Over time, the intoxicating use of unchecked power corrupted the international system to the point of its destruction, and proved fatal to maintaining US global hegemony:

George W. Bush’s administration …intensified unilateralism [and] tactless diplomacy …. led to an unprecedented loss of support throughout the rest of the world for the United States … The view seemed to be emerging that there could be nothing worse than American hegemony if it was to be used in this way LINK

If there is nothing worse, then nations have little to lose by standing in opposition to the global tyrant – and mounting opposition would eventually bring an end to US hegemonic supremacy when in 2017 the US military announced return to great power rivalry. LINK (Page 1 Version 2.0) Despite the end of global hegemony, the US maintains superpower status and has engaged in superpower rivalry with China:

The American military contest with China … will define the twenty-first century. And China will be a more formidable adversary than Russia ever was… The United States and China will be locked in a contest for decadesLINK

Has the US stumbled its way into a New Cold War or was it by design?  If by design, a prime suspect would be the US military establishment (MIC) which has the power to influence US policy.  The stability of an international system under US hegemony would lead to public pressure to cut military spending and possibly general global disarmament.  In contrast, the first Cold War was characterized by the need for large military expenditures over decades.  From Eisenhower’s January 1961 farewell address:

… we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions…  This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual-is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development… LINK

The need to contain Soviet expansion justified large military budgets to preserve a stable international system; war without war, a ‘Cold War’.  Thus, my premise is that the US military intentionally destroyed its own hegemony in order to engage in a New Cold War superpower rivalry.  Such a development is even desirable according to Kenneth Waltz, architect of the Realist branch of Defensive Realism:

With the relative decline of US, China and America can enter into bipolar relationship much like the US and the USSR during the Cold War… Waltz …posits bipolarity as the most stable of international configurations… balancing between the US and China brings the international distribution of power into an equilibrium and averts the risk of war. LINK

The first Cold War was a struggle between competing ideologies – democracy, open society and free markets versus communist authoritarianism, closed society and command economy.  And the New Cold War is already shaping up to be much like the first Cold War, a war of ideologies.  China fits the role well given the ideology of the ruling CCP has similarities to communist ideology of the Soviet Union. Russia has embraced a ‘third way’; Eurasianist ideology. LINK China is second to the US in military and economic power and identified as the primary threat to the US by Defence Secretary Mark Esper’s 2020 update of the 2018 NDS:

…the priority… is to focus the Department [of Defence] on China… to drive integrated action on China first, then Russia…  A vital part of that action is the training and education of personnel across the U.S. Armed Forces. Our future leaders must understand how China thinks about war …and how they fight – the way our past leaders… were once required to understand Soviet systems and doctrine. LINK [pp 1-2]

To have a deeper understanding of the perspective of the US military establishment, we need to examine MIC self-interest and its basis of power to influence US policy.

A Return to Containment: Kennan and the Responsible Use of Power - Part 3


The US military-industrial complex (MIC)

Internal power arrangements matter when trying to understand the policies and actions of nation states.  The influence wielded by the U.S. military is derived from the MIC (military-Industrial Complex) which is the basis of power to influence US policy.  Although the power of the MIC is substantial, there are limits to its influence over policy.

With the end of the Cold War, the US possessed a supreme military but the Soviet Union was no more and China was not yet a threat.  In fact, no one was a threat.  Having ‘won’ the Cold War, the public expected a ‘peace dividend’ (LINK) putting Congress under pressure to slash defence spending and in the end, the military budget shrank 15% – the reduction was to be larger but the MIC was able to convince Congress to soften the blow. LINK

Even with a 15% cut to military expenditures, the US Military outspent the next nine top ranking nations in military spending combined, a military dominance that continues to this day although China has very rapidly risen in the ranks to 2nd place – below are the 2019 top six countries by military spending (USD):

A Return to Containment: Kennan and the Responsible Use of Power - Part 3

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Source: LINK

**   China’s military spending is officially $178.6 billion, but Western analysts believe actual spending is 1.5 times higher.

The US is a global power with global commitments and so the US does not and cannot direct all of its military power to countering China.  There is also the historical trajectory of China showing its steady rise to dominance in East Asia:

East Asian spending has increased from $92.8 billion in 1990 to $363 billion in 2019. Much of this growth in expenditure has been driven by China. In 1990, China constituted 23.6 percent of total East Asian expenditure. As of 2019, this number stands at 70.5 percent… in the broader regional context, the Chinese military… constitutes 52.2 percent of the total cumulative spending across all of Asia (including those in the Middle East). LINK

Other nations that are deepening their military relationship with the US in confronting China are: Japan, South Korea, Australia and Taiwan – and are major buyers of US armaments as the region becomes increasingly militarized. LINK

 The Global Arms Trade: US Domination

The USA has further solidified its position as the world’s leading arms supplier,” says Dr Aude Fleurant, Director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. LINK

2020 is turning out to be a banner year for US arms exports as concerns grow among China’s neighbors of CCP intentions:

The US State Department cleared $83.5 billion in Foreign Military Sales (FMS) for the fiscal year 2020. This amount is the highest in a single year for the Trump administration and is an increase of $15 billion from the 2019 fiscal yearJapan was Washington’s top customer for 2020, with five cases worth an estimated $27.9 billion… a significant increase in Japan’s military spending LINK

The US from 2009-2018 increased its market share from 30% to 36%, likely now even higher given Trump’s strong support for expanding arms export markets including China’s neighbors (LINK) and now the primary arms supplier to India. LINK The top 6 arms exporters by market share for 2018 are:

  1. United States: 36%
  2. Russia: 21%
  3. France: 8%
  4. Germany: 4%
  5. China: 2%
  6. United Kingdom: 2%

China has been increasing its arms sales at a blistering pace, having recently overtaken the United Kingdom to take 5th place, and china is expected to further increase its share of the global arms trade. LINK

The Global Arms Trade: Geographic Market Diversification and Economies of Scale

US military manufacturers seek export growth to achieve greater economies of scale to drive down costs-per-unit and can address the issue of demand volatility due to reliance on the US as sole buyer. LINK

Growing US military sales to the far east could offset geographic risk due to most prior export growth having come primarily from the Middle East (LINK) which currently accounts for half of all arms exports. Low oil prices have forced OPEC nations to reduce expenditures that will likely end the spending spree on advanced military systems – Saudi Arabia has already cut military expenditures by 14% since 2018. LINK

Arms manufacturers can be expected to aggressively seek out new export markets not only for reducing unit costs and diversifying risk, but also to increase influence since increased exports means greater military related economic activity in congressional districts enhancing influence over lawmakers.  However, there are issues that arise over what nations are recipients of US arms exports.

A Return to Containment: Kennan and the Responsible Use of Power - Part 3

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The Political Economy of Human Rights and the Global Arms Trade

One issue is exporting weapons to highly repressive regimes.  Arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been highly controversial given their track record on human rights and involvement in the war in Yemen – home to the world’s number one humanitarian crisis:

[US Senator] Menendez laid out a case for why the Riyadh’s activities of recent months are against America’s interests and values, and that the Trump administration has jeopardized “America’s moral leadership on the world stage” by favoring Riyadh. LINK

There is growing bi-partisan Congressional opposition to the Trump administration’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and bypassing Congress.  In an August 2020 report by the State Department’s Inspector General it was found:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo followed the law in declaring an “emergency” to push through an $8.1 billion weapons deal to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab EmiratesThe IG’s office did not examine whether there was a true “emergency” – because the federal law at issue, the Arms Export Control Act, gives the secretary of state broad discretion in making that determination. LINK

And Pompeo countered an ‘idealistic’ Congress by accusing “lawmakers of “caterwauling” about Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record and ignoring the kingdom’s pivotal role in helping the U.S. counter Iran.”  There is an interplay between Idealism that defines the boundaries of what is legitimate action and Realism that filters out what is not feasible or bears unacceptable risks.

Properly balanced, Idealism and Realism together bring clarity and purpose to both the formulation of policy and how it is put into practice.  With respect to armaments exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Pompeo’s position is that failure to do so bears unacceptable risks to the security of the US and allies.  However, a 2018 poll found 70% of Americans believe selling weapons to other countries makes the U.S. less safe, opposing sales to Saudi Arabia and Syria (LINK):

  • In 2018, U.S. selling weapons to Saudi Arabia; 21% supported, 54% opposed, 25% unsure
  • In 2016, U.S. and allies sending arms to anti-government groups in Syria; 25% supported, 67% opposed, 9% unsure

Another 2018 survey, conducted by YouGov and commissioned by the International Rescue Committee relief group, highlighted how unaware Americans nationwide were about the Yemen conflict:

58 per cent said they did not know the US sells arms and provides intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition and 64 per cent did not know about civilian casualties. LINK

Since 2018, the public has become more knowledgeable about the sales of arms and its role in the Yemen conflict that has prompted Congress to more aggressively challenge the Trump administration. For example, the US Senate made three attempts to override Trump’s presidential veto of three Congressional resolutions to block his administration from “bypassing Congress to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates”. LINK

The issue of arms sales has also been playing out on the world stage where the humanitarian crisis in Yemen has attracted media coverage of human rights abuses and alleged war crimes in Yemen – the United Nations has been vocal in its criticism of the belligerent parties in Yemen and weapon suppliers:

…the Human Rights Council … found “reasonable grounds to believe that the parties to the conflict have committed and continue to commit serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law. Some of which may amount to war crimes” …

 We are particularly concerned with the fact that third States continue to supply arms to the parties to the conflict in Yemen… There are a few leading players … United States, France, the United Kingdom and this year we added Canada...” LINK

Although Pompeo argued bypassing Congress was in the best interests of US national security, the Trump administration has been focused on the economic benefits of arms exports, particularly in job creation.  This plays to fulfilling Trump’s campaign promises and to the interests of lawmakers whose districts stand to benefit from increased hires by weapon manufacturers.   The focus on economic considerations is unusual, representing:

a fundamental change in American foreign policy under Mr. Trump that often elevates economic considerations over other ones. Where foreign arms sales in the past were mostly offered and withheld to achieve diplomatic goals, the Trump administration pursues them mainly for the profits [and jobs] they generate… with little regard for how the weapons are used. [note that the Obama administration was also very pro-arms exports]

In April 2018, Trump issued National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM-10), which updated the Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) Policy, instructing that domestic economic concerns be given greater weight than had been the case in the past.  The problem is the lack of guidance on how to weight the economic component against other criteria such as security risks.

CAT policy made arms sales decisions depend on US diplomatic relations with …the national security implications of …and the human rights performance of the purchasing country. [The policy does not] provide an explicit prioritization of these various concerns… [Trump] changed many parts of the process, attempting to streamline CAT and focus more upon the implications of third-party countries’ potential arms exports to the same purchasing country…

Perhaps the most significant change …is that it added “economic security” as a criterion to the arms transfer decision-making process Combined with … streamlining reforms, the change may on balance make the United States, already the leading arms exporter in the world, even more competitive. LINK

The consideration of “third-party countries’ potential arms exports” makes sense given US refusal to sell armaments often results in a less scrupulous nation to step in and make the sale.  The concern here is a ‘race to the bottom’ where anything goes.  Economic benefits have been exaggerated by an order of magnitude – recent arms-deals with Saudi Arabia have been estimated to create up to 40,000 jobs in contrast to Trump’s multiple claims to the media of 450,000 to 600,000 jobs created. LINK

However, there is risk in drawing attention to new jobs to manufacture weapons used against women and children in far away lands – which may explain why Pompeo focused on national security to justify arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.  Still, in rewriting policy the Trump team have shown creativity:

The new policy also says that consideration should be given to minimizing civilian casualties. That could potentially justify sales of “smart” bombs, which are easier to direct to specific targets. LINK

I return to the question of balancing Realism and Idealism in policy formulation and actions.  CAT policy in regard to the purchasing nation involves balancing concerns of national security, human rights, diplomatic relations and economic security in the decision process.  Given none of the four are given any priority over the other, the decision is subjective with implication for US national security and for other nations, as is the case for Yemen.  It is important then to understand who are making the decisions:

American arms makers who sell to the Saudis say they are accountable to shareholders and are doing nothing wrong. And because weapon sales to foreign militaries must be approved by the State Department, the companies say they don’t make policy, only follow it. LINK

The problem with this argument is that the arms manufacturers have their former executives and lobbyists planted in important positions in the State Department, the Whitehouse and the Pentagon.  And it goes both ways with high ranking government officials taking lucrative positions with the arms manufacturers.  Thus, the arms manufacturers have influence over both policy formulation and the decision process.  Given the vague priorities in CAT policy, those with ties to the arms makers are unlikely to prioritize human rights, and even national security – which is a concern that has been frequently raised in the combat-ready challenged F-35 Program.

The revolving door of personnel to and from the government and weapons makers is, when adding Congress, referred to as ‘The Iron Triangle’.

The Iron Triangle

Economies of scale to reduce per unit cost is a big issue in ramping up production of the expensive budget-buster F-35 Joint Strike Fighter:

The Joint Strike Fighter program [is] the most ambitious aircraft development effort in the Defense Department’s history. One company would oversee design and production of three different versions of an aircraft that could be operated by the United States Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps as well as America’s allies, who would help offset the development costs. The project would result in a technologically superior plane that would be manufactured in such large quantities that the jets would cost no more than the older planes it would replace. LINK

That one company is Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defence contractor, and what looked good on paper became a nightmare. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is the most expensive, and behind schedule, military program ever attempted by the Pentagon and exemplifies the problematic nature of the ‘Iron Triangle’ – discussed in William Hartung’s How the Military-Industrial Complex Ate America:

Just as Boeing benefited from its former Senior Vice President Patrick Shanahan’s stint as acting secretary of defense, so Raytheon is likely to cash in on the nomination of its former top lobbyist, Mike Esper, as his successor. Esper’s elevation comes shortly after another former Raytheon lobbyist, Charles Faulkner, left the State Department amid charges that he had improperly influenced decisions to sell Raytheon-produced guided bombs to Saudi Arabia …

Fifty years ago, Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire identified the problem …the movement of high-ranking military officers into jobs with defense contractors and the reverse movement of top executives in major defense contractors into high Pentagon jobs is solid evidence of the military-industrial complex in operation. It is a real threat to the public interestLINK

Also, arms manufacturers buy the loyalty of politicians through generous campaign donations to those with a voting record favorable to arms manufacturers, enhancing their re-election chances.  Further, the economic benefits of military contracts are spread across many Congressional districts, which along with donations creates a powerful MIC friendly voting block that can thwart legislation unfriendly to the MIC:

Why do President Trump and Congress continue to funnel money into these unnecessary Department of Defense projects? Because the companies benefiting from those contracts with the DoD surround legislators with lobbyists and channel money into the campaigns of supportive candidates through their PACs. LINK

Over time, rewarding supportive lawmakers to increase their re-election chances while punishing unsupportive lawmakers can preserve and strengthen the pro-MIC bloc, stacking the deck further in favour of arms manufacturers – i.e. the ‘unwarranted influence’ Eisenhower warned about. While this may be good for the MIC, it is not so good for US national interests.

A Return to Containment: Kennan and the Responsible Use of Power - Part 3

ILLUSTRATIVE IMAGE: Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, F-35 Demonstration Team pilot and commander performs a high-speed pass in an F-35A Lightning II during the Heart of Texas Airshow April 7, 2019. (Senior Airman Alexander Cook/U.S. Air Force)

The F-35 program has been praised as an effective weapons platform to meet future threats, however “the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has determined [the F-35] may never be ready for combat”. LINK  The problems with F-35 combat readiness is the focus of an article in the National Interest critical of the Pentagon’s intention to stick to the full production roll-out schedule:

The lack of standardization among vendors for the F-35’s various subsystems is one of the main drivers of problems with the Electronic Equipment Logbook feature. The outsourcing of subcontracts to about 1,500 vendors all over the country has helped buy the program widespread Congressional support, but compounds ALIS data errors, slows parts deliveries, and increases costs to the program

 the operational testers should complete the original stringent testing plan agreed to by the services, the F-35 program office, and DOT&E, without succumbing to powerful political pressure to sacrifice combat-realism for expediency. Only then will anyone know if the F-35 will actually work in combat. LINK

The F-35 program has been so problematic that Boeing has stepped up to provide an upgraded legacy fighter – the F-15EX, but this too has been problematic:

The F-15EX deal is not without controversy. In 2019, people inside the Pentagon raised questions about alleged statements by the then-Deputy Secretary of Defense and former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan promoting the F-15EX deal to Air Force officials. The Defense Department’s inspector general investigated allegations that he “took actions to promote his former employer, Boeing, and disparage its competitors, allegedly in violation of his ethical obligations.” The inspector general ultimately cleared Shanahan of all wrongdoing but the incident underscored …the problems and potential conflicts that come with appointing a former defense industry executive to such an influential Pentagon post. LINK

Here is the problem:

… it doesn’t matter whether weapons are used (or usable), as long as they are bought”.  LINK

Can anything be done about this unfortunate state of affairs?  Although the public has struggled to find their voice in the political sphere, Eisenhower believed it would be the people to reign in the MIC:

President Eisenhower’s proposed counterweight to the power of the military-industrial complex was to be “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry.” And there are signs that significant numbers of individuals and organizations are beginning to pay more attention to the machinations of the arms lobby. LINK

Counter-balancing Power of Public Opinion

In Democracies, public opinion matters which is why the obsession with polling and during Eisenhower’s administration the public reigned in a dangerous nuclear doctrine.  Secretary of State Dulles worried about American public attitudes towards nuclear weapons, and in a National Security Council meeting (Feb. 11, 1953), Dulles said: “in the present state of world opinion, we could not use an A-bomb, we should make every effort now to dissipate this feeling”. LINK These discussions were classified at the time but willingness to use nuclear weapons was soon made known.

When the People’s Republic of China (PRC) started shelling the Nationalist Chinese occupied islands of Jinmen and Mazu in Aug. 1954 (first Taiwan Strait Crisis), and after months of bombardment, President Eisenhower held a news conference and told the American public “in the event of war in East Asia, he would authorize the use of tactical nuclear weapons against military targets ‘exactly as you would use a bullet’.” LINK

The American public had strongly supported Eisenhower’s hardline approach towards China, but after Eisenhower threatened use of tactical nuclear weapons, public support dropped dramatically to 10%. Oliva, Mara, Eisenhower and American Public Opinion on China, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, see p.149, Fig. 5.1

Dulles got his answer – a resounding ‘NO’.

Researchers published a study Opinion: A Powerful Predictor of U.S. Defense Spending (October 1993) where for the years 1965 to 1989, a strong relationship was found between public opinion and changes in defence budget allocation:

Public opinion survey responses regarding the desirability of changes in defense spending can be compressed into a single variable, the public opinion balance, which, when accompanied by a control variable measuring the proportion of responses in the “residuum” (no opinion or keep the status quo), permits an accurate prediction of subsequent changes in the rate of change of defense outlays from the mid-1960s through the 1980s… One is not justified, however, in regarding public opinion as entirely autonomous or spontaneous. There occurs a ceaseless contest over the determination of public opinion… LINK

The period of study is during the Cold War when the MIC had an official enemy to point at to justify high military outlays.  Despite this advantage and “a ceaseless contest over the determination of public opinion”, there were stretches of time when public opinion of the military soured followed by significant reductions in military expenditures – particularly as the Vietnam War dragged on – like the ‘War on Terror’ which resulted in major cuts to the military during Obama’s second term:

The problem appears not only in the difficulty of finding a winning strategy in the long war against acts of terrorism but having to face economic constraints that loom large in the public debate. In addition, the global financial crisis and recession have highlighted the trade-off between spending to protect against external threats and spending to provide jobs and income for citizens at home. LINK

Congressional Research Report, taken from report summary

MIC concern is when there is a push to rebalance expenditures to the detriment of military spending.  Although the MIC has itself become a significant part of the US economy, lawmakers face a difficult task in selling big military budgets to the American public and efforts may fail, despite the potential negative economic effects on their congressional districts.  For the US military establishment, the solution was to destroy US hegemony and instigate a New Cold War.

A Return to Containment: Kennan and the Responsible Use of Power - Part 3


The sharp pivot from Russia to China bashing is to condition Americans to see China the same way Americans saw the Soviet Union during the first Cold War – a major military and ideological threat requiring the US to field military assets on a large scale to maintain credible conventional and nuclear deterrence.  However, compared to the Soviet Union, China poses a greater economic threat to the US and so, “China will be a more formidable adversary than Russia ever was…”.

Finally facing a credible threat to US power, for the military establishment, “it will matter whether weapons are used (or usable) when they are bought”.

A New Cold War Requires a New More Efficient and More Capable US Military

Inefficiencies and corruption in military procurement and new system development programs can result in public scandals that lower support for the military as well as undermine military forces readiness and capabilities – for example, the F-35 program.  There is also the danger of selling advanced weapon systems that underdeliver on performance and overdeliver on costs.  Nations facing a real threat, such as China, will expect US weapon systems to be timely delivered and actually work; hence Trump’s streamlining of the CAT Policy and Esper’s prioritizing efficiency and accountability in the 2018 NDS.

If the intent is to enter into a New Cold War such that the “United States and China will be locked in a contest for decades”, then the MIC will want to avoid a hot war in the same way a hot war was averted during the decades long first Cold War – sometimes referred to as the ‘long peace’.  During the ‘long peace’, large military budgets were needed to deter the Soviets until the Soviet collapse where US ‘victory’ proved a disaster for the MIC – without a big bad evil adversary, how were large military budgets going to be justified?

Similarly, the MIC wants a decades-long Cold War with China and not a hot war.  This means it is unlikely the US military will initiate a Bush style ‘pre-emptive defence’ to halt China’s rise – it would also be very costly to do so at this late stage in China’s development.  To prevent war with China is to prepare for war with China – i.e. maintain a credible deterrent, peace through strength.  In a speech to the RAND Corporation, Mark Esper outlined:

how the Pentagon was continuing to implement the National Defense Strategy to restructure its capabilities and readiness to deter a war against China – but fight and win if necessary. LINK

The US military will need to put those large military budgets to good use and take seriously Mark Esper’s commitment he made in the 2018 National Defence Strategy to “reform the Department [of Defence] for greater efficiency and accountability”.  If China believes they could win a fight, there probably will be a fight if we are to believe statements (warnings) that have come out of china:

In 1994, when he was China’s leader, Deng Xiaoping, …said: “We must bide our time and hide our capabilities.” What could he have meant? Possibly this as stated by Gen. Chi Hoation, China’s minister of defense in 1999: “War with the United States is inevitable … the Chinese armed forces must control the initiative … we must make sure that we would win this modern high-tech war that the mighty bloc headed by the U.S. hegemonists may launch to interfere with our affairs.” LINK

But as I have said, it is unlikely the US will intentionally initiate war with China, if there is war, it will be a war that China initiates.

Concerns and Questions for the US to Consider Going Forward

In 2015, Xi Jinping asked senior officers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to prepare an assessment on the likelihood of a successful invasion of Taiwan based on current PLA capabilities.  The assessment concluded that the PLA was ill-prepared and an invasion of Taiwan would likely fail.

Xi acted on the assessment by commencing a massive purge of the senior ranks of the PLA.  Initially, Western analysts viewed the purge favourably, on the assumption the PLA would be demoralized and weakened by the gutting of their senior ranks.  However, consensus soon emerged that the purge will actually enhance PLA combat readiness and capabilities by restructuring into theatre commands and addressing technological innovations such as cyberwarfare and autonomous weapon systems. LINK

Xi’s purge was part of his plan to bring the PLA into the 21st century with the capability to invade Taiwan by 2020.  Although the window to invade Taiwan in 2020 has closed, the threat of invasion will once again loom large over Taiwan come Spring 2021.  Xi has made clear that Taiwan accept it “must and will be” reunited with China even if that means use of military force.  However, Taiwan is unwilling to accept reunification terms offered by Beijing based on the Hong Kong model of “one country, two systems” formula LINK, especially so given Beijing’s draconian measures in breach of the agreement with Britain on the hand-over of Hong Kong.

The possibility of conflict between China and Taiwan is further increased as a consequence of Xi’s purge of the PLA following what was an honest assessment of PLA capabilities to invade Taiwan.  Analysts are concerned that Xi is now unlikely to get honest advice on prospects of military confrontation with neighbors such as Taiwan and any expected US response.  More likely is PLA generals will tell Xi what they think he wants to hear and this is dangerous.

It is unlikely the US military will retreat and instead will be “unwilling to budge from the coastal shelf of the Asian mainland.”  It is in the interests of the MIC to maintain global scope in power projection since larger military expenditures are needed to fulfil global military commitments compared to regional commitments only – and a larger MIC wields more influence.

With the likelihood that the US will remain committed to containing China in a New Cold War, just as the Soviet Union was contained in the first Cold War, there is the question of what will be the respective spheres to be accepted and understood?   Establishing mutually understood spheres that are to be respected was a crucial element of Kennan’s Policy of Containment that prevented superpower conflict.  In the case of China, establishing mutually agreeable spheres will be much more problematic than was the case with the Soviet Union.

Taiwan present a very difficult choice for the US.  The US is touting likeminded Democratic ideology as a natural bond in forming ‘Pacific NATO’ just as the shared ideology of members of Atlanticist NATO also provided a natural bond – and this was recognized early in 2012 under Obama:

NATO is a political-military organization based on democratic values and able to act on them—a fact that is very attractive to democracies in the Far East. For these politically like-minded nations, NATO offers a relationship that complements to their… links with the United States. LINK

Trump has often referred to Taiwan as a vibrant Democracy and his administration has initiated closer ties that include major arms sales of sophisticated weapon systems – and as expected, strongly condemned by Beijing. LINK

The Trump administration has been edging the US towards greater strategic competition with China since 2017. The Taiwan card has thus become more relevant to the US strategic elites once again — moves such as increasing the frequency and amount of US arms sales to Taiwan, increasing the number and diversity of Taiwan-related bills in Congress, and emphasising Taiwan’s strategic importance in US Asia-Pacific strategy have all proceeded at a pace rarely seen since 1979. LINK

Analysts believe that under a Trump or Biden administration, deepening ties with Taiwan are expected to continue although, establishing formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan is more likely with Trump should he win a second term – there is uncertainty though around allegations that Biden is compromised regarding China, will have to see how that plays out.

If the US does stand by Taiwan and continues to deepen ties, such a development presents a very serious risk of a future superpower conflict.  This ends Part 3 and I encourage reader comments on the Taiwan dilemma.

Stewart J. Melanson PhD

Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Email: sjm@melansonwire.com


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Porc Halal



The misconception is to calculate the military expenditure in nominal usd. It might be ok for Saudi Arabia, to certain extend to India as well. But most in the top 6 are producing their equipment themselves. For 1 USD number of bullets produced in US and China is not same.
Military expenditure should be calculated based on PPP. Also another questions if the salaries and other reoccurring expenditures should be there, as they are for maintenance not expansion.

S Melanson

Very good points.


You latest appraisal has again much merit and food for thought.

A precis of my opinions are as follows:-
1/ Venal sociopaths the world over and throughout history have sought to control others with other like minded sociopaths. The Pecking Order of any cabal is subject to change for a mirriad of reasons, and is usually violent. These sociopaths primarily seek power to gain wealth of course, and even the Blood relatives of another family cabal have frequently become enemies. Siblings also have been subject to internecine cabal feuds. For example the bitter war between brother and sister, King Stephen and Empress Matilda in England, 1135.

The US MIC is , in my opinion, just another cabal of venal sociopaths that has developed from the royal figurehead old world model into a more nuanced cabal that pulls the strings of ‘elected ‘ figureheads by peddling the drug of money to the target puppets in order to promote their election. The US MIC is literally feeding on the demise of the USA. The wealth transfer to the MIC from mainstreet USA is a constant flow of ‘looted’ taxpayer cash.
I fully agree with you that the MIC does not want a hot war with a pier that can strike the US mainland. WW1 and WW2 demonstrated the great advantage of huge weapons production lines in the USA, unhindered by bombing in order to supply the British, Russian,French,Australian etc etc armies then and to this day. Britains WW2 Lend Lease debt was only finally paid off in 2006.
Weapons of war are hugely profitable and have a big advantage, in that they are very expensive and are prone to being destroyed by competing weapons ( often from the same manufacturers), and need replacing, lol. ‘Plough shears’ have little profit.

I would argue that there is NO true democracy anywhere in the world, and never has been. All we have are collections of de-facto mafia states controlled by venal cults which have to a great extent replaced yesteryears religious cults in fermenting wars of choice. All nations have used forced conscription to fight wars of choice, when in reality, the general public gain little or nothing from killing and being killed, whatever the outcome.

The Elite tend to hide in their gold lined basements these days and count their money as others die for them.
In the old days the elite did at least have the courage to ride in front of their troops. Even the Empress Matilda rode with her troops!

The US voting system seen today are put to shame by even a Banana Republic. A rival cult to remove the US from its ivory tower will appear from inside the US or from without the US, when I cannot say. Nothing is forever.

The secret of controlling a population is to ‘Not shear the sheeple too short and fleece them completely’. Western leaders seem to be intent of taking the whole fleece in 2020 and beyond. If the US/NATO sheeple die, so do the US MIC profits.


Third and second world countries prefer to use PPP for their own economy and GDP for the US military spending.


Nominal is also very useful indicator in variety of fields, even if to use for the highly developed countries. But when it comes to comparison of economies/militaries between different currency countries, PPP will give more accurate comparison.


I’d say military yes, economy only if you value quantity over quality. Two Tata cars are cheaper than a BMW.


Also BMW made in China costs less than BMW made in Germany, though they are identical in quality.


I highly doubt their quality is identical. I had the same model of Ford with my friend, mine was SH made in Germany, his was new but made in Turkey. The difference was YUGE. His was monthly in service and he sold it very cheap, I gave mine to my father and he’s very happy with it.

Dick Von Dast'Ard

Robots don’t know whether they are building the BMW on German or Chinese soil.

Highly possibility the German assembled BMW quality controller will be a Turk-German immigrant living in Munich.


A Turk under German management will work better than a Turk under Turkish management. Anyways, cars are just an example, if you take anything else, like food, you’ll find more bacterias in Chinese food than in German food, so on..

Dick Von Dast'Ard

So in other words your argument about quality doesn’t stand up and you are shot down in flames.

By the way a Tata car costs the same as a BMW if it has a Jaguar or Range Rover badge. (possibly higher in some instances)


So in other words, you don’t know for sure if the cars in Germany are made by robots or migrants but you insist that all have same quality and you won the argument. That’s why I prefer arguments made in the West over arguments made in the East.

Dick Von Dast'Ard

So in other words, you are not responding to the point made about robots not caring if they are manufacturing (assembling) a BMW in China or Germany.

It does not make a difference.


Even if both cars, from China and Germany would be assambled by the same robots, the materials used can be verry different.

Also the same model of laptop, with the same specs, assambled in China, has different qualities for different categories of countries.

And why do you fmsee my arguments as a tantrum? I just point that different countries have different qualities of things.

Do you disagree with my point?

Dick Von Dast'Ard

I think you are talking out of your back box.
So yes, I disagree with your lack of any point.


So you wrote all these comments just to tell me you disagree with anything I would say. That’s a very strange way to ignore someone.

cechas vodobenikov

utter stupidity


Nope, Western management and work ethics is what makes the difference betwen West and Est quality of life. At least in Europe.


well, we will need proper statistics to agree or disagree on that.

cechas vodobenikov

data measures quality poorly. if the materials are identical and the performance standards the same then the quality is equal

cechas vodobenikov

u doubt but know zero; perhaps the BMV produced in USA r lower quality than Germany


I think yss Germany > USA > China in cars quality standards. But I sense you will put USA at the bottom no matter what the subject is.

cechas vodobenikov

just the reverse—but I agree the trash agricultural products in USA are more expensive and lower quality than in most civilized nations


Why do you think are more expensive? Since thay are the largest agricultural exporter in the world.

cechas vodobenikov

false—economists prefer PPP; it regards actual purchasing capacity


Of course with the same money an Indian can purchase more food than a Japanese but the quality of food is different.

Vox Populi

Vaccines, not spy planes: U.S. misfires in Southeast Asia

Most of world just laughs at US delusions and questions its priorities and hundreds of thousands die on its mean streets without even basic health care, while it spends trillions on wars and global destabilization.

Arman Melkonyan

STILL everyone wants to go there.

Humans are sick in the head. And apparently there is no cure.

A comet or an asteroid maybe?

Vox Populi

Not everyone. Only third world economic refugees. You can google where their main source of immigrants are.

Tommy Jensen

Whoppers and the hola hola hola hoo. Thats why I like it.

Arman Melkonyan

Mexican food.
Big thumbs up.


And you can’t stop laughing or you can’t stop thinking of them?

Vox Populi

To be honest, as long as they don’t involve Europe in their wars, most people don’t care about US. It is a declining power with too many problems and a very violent place. The only people they attract now are third world economic migrants. Even educated Americans are renouncing US citizenship. Many rich ones move to Spain and Portugal now and buy apartments.


Their poor retiring are movin in Indochina for 30 years. They also never attracted people from Western Europe. Only from the poor part, which are still forming lines in front if the US embassies. So things didn’t change that much as some hope to see USA imploding tomorrow. But these wishful predictions were also since Marx and Lenin.

cechas vodobenikov

only lowest most incompetent classes of immigrants from 3rd world nations wish to live in USA—obviously u r too dimwitted to comprehend Marx/Lenin
Johan Galtung predicts the collapse of the decayed empire in less than 10 years, as doe Orlov, Jameson, Hedges, etc


Were those visionaries, contemporary with Marx and Lenin, by any chance? There were plenty of university teachers in 50’s Western Europe who predicted the Soviets will win the cold war. They are still living and apoligized to their students for lying then.

johnny rotten

It surprises me every time I read a recent analysis on military political issues, it seems that Smedley Butler’s lesson has been completely erased from historical memory, yet war is a racket today as it was a century ago and even in previous centuries, starting with from the industrial era, but even regardless of the economic significance of the MIC, the question remains of why Western states continue to be interested in issues that do not concern them, so far from home, the weak excuse of democracy is not enough to hide the true face of colonialist imperialism, in fact the USA have substantially promoted fascism and not democracy, Taiwan is just one of the many cases that demonstrate it, those who know history know it very well, otherwise it would be enough to see who are the best allies, sorry vassals, of Western colonial imperialism, the Saudis or the South American fascist regimes are the sure proof, the Paperclips have proved it beyond any reasonable doubt.
It is therefore not a question of democracy against dictatorships, it is always the same old shit of the rich against the poor, the empire can barely bear a semblance of democracy, but only electoral, at least imagine if it could ever bear something like this a house of others, the only interest towards which is to rob them without mercy.
My question is this, if the US has taken on a divine mandate to contain others, who should take on the task of containing the US? I believe that this question is beginning to be answered by many peoples and nations of the extra-Western world, tired of undergoing the constant harassment of the outlaw US empire and its cowardly vassals.

S Melanson

The MIC entered into a new Cold War superpower rivalry because by doing so, they can justify large military outlays – the MIC has to sacrifice hegemony in the process. The MIC views ideology as an instrument to achieve these goals by gaining public buy-in.

Now consider this counter-intuitive logic. A bipolar superpower rivalry with China is desired by the US military establishment because they believe that this creates an international power equilibrium where the US acts as a Check on China AND China acts as a check on US power. The goal is a stable international system policed by two superpowers in equilibrium to maintain the status quo. What this means is the US purposely attenuates its own power, but only enough to create a bipolar world order – the MIC wants stability and power derived from large budgets – the first Cold War is the template.

The plan is to replicate the 45+ year ‘long peace’ of the First Cold War – a hot war would be catastrophic so the New Cold War aims to keep rivalry to the ideological realm backed up by military deterrence requiring decades of sustained large military expenditures.

The issue is that the transition into a new status quo of the US and China respecting each others respective spheres of interest will face major challenges – Taiwan is the equivalent of West Berlin in the first Cold War, although even more dangerous. I invite comments on this very important world issue. Cheers, Stewart

johnny rotten

I tend to consider that comparisons with the past are always wrong, the times are too different to be able to consider them in the same way, the costs that the MIC has to face as an aggressor are enormous, while the costs that China, but also Russia, they must argue to prevent being attacked are far inferior, this makes the picture completely different from the Cold War, on which many explanations are in my opinion fallacious, it was then possible for the Western bloc to isolate the Soviet bloc, and the petro-dollar weapon today is too tenuous, moreover China in full alliance with the Russian Federation is both richer and more powerful militarily, Russia today no longer has to take on too many small states that were only burdens, the China has no intention of invading anyone and its competition is only commercial, it being understood that Taiwan is China and not one of the vassal countries of the US empire, and will rejoin China when the time is right.
The imperialist question is more of an internal problem within the Western bloc that still cannot free itself from a presumption of superiority based on its colonial past, but that era is coming to an end and the Western bloc is becoming increasingly irrelevant on the global scene, the proposal multipolar embodied by China and Russia is a winner and is considered positively by the overwhelming majority of the world population, even in the western masses imperial dreams are abandoned, therefore they concern only the financial oligarchies and the governments that support them.
The disintegration of Western imperialism is on the agenda, and the issue of reunification between China and Taiwan will increasingly affect China internally and less and less the aspirations of Western global domination.

Porc Halal

“The United States Military-Industrial Complex”…right…Russia has probably only a tiny NGO dealing with spending the 3.9 percent from their GDP…

Dick Von Dast'Ard

All very well. just don’t see how the U.S. is going to maintain spending at anywhere near the level it has been accustomed and used to.

Huge debts, (134% Debt to GDP soon) big deficits and a U.S. govt effectively bankrupt.

More than likely the U.S. currency loses it’s sole reserve status and with it the U.S. MIC will have to lower it’s expectations.


Excellent analysis. As you point out, the US emerged from WWII as the world’s leading military and economic power. Since that time US hegemony has been predicated on: 1) unrivaled military power, 2) control of world’s energy reserves (primarily in the ME), and 3) maintaining the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. All of the pillars supporting US power are now threatened by decades of neoliberal economic policies and spending large sums of public money on bailing out Wall St, the Pentagon and war. So where does the Empire stand in 2020?

1. Despite expending $ trillions of taxpayer money on the Pentagon and war, the US has not ‘won’ a war since 1945. Indeed, the Pentagon confronts astronomically expensive, looming strategic debacles in
Afghanistan (longest war in US history), Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. No amount of jingoistic and bellicose rhetoric changes this reality.
2. In 2008, the US experienced the largest financial crash since the Great Depression which was not resolved; the structural economic problems facing American capitalism have returned with a vengeance
from the Coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment has soared to levels not seen since the Great Depression, with millions of American families facing financial ruin, eviction from their homes, food insecurity and loss of medical insurance. At the same time, the ruling elite/kleptocracy and their functionaries in Government have been ‘extremely efficient in looking after the needs of the billionaires’ by

looting the treasury of $ trillions to keep Wall St. inflated (The FED has transferred circa $10 trillion of taxpayer backed funds to Wall St in 2020). The CBO estimates 2020 Fiscal deficit of $3.1 Trillion, obviously unsustainable. It is difficult to see this ending

cechas vodobenikov

everything US does is bumbling and misdirected. Tariffs, sanctions, self defeating. Military priorities reveal poor judgement, ignorance..Economic, financial comparisons are largely irrelevant; the US routinely spends extravagant sums only to produce trash, whereas Russia and China spend much less to produce superior weapons designed for current conditions…tha tUS debt is increasing, as are wealth/income disparities, poverty etc vs decreasing poverty in Russia China domestic burdens and antagonisms are less than for a failing USA…amerikan myopia predicts a major collapse in the next 5 years, something predicted by many.
The US is now riven with internal and domestic failures that have produced more social antagonisms and economic dislocations. the medium US income, now $34, 000 annually can not sustain a family unless they live in a tent. The US trade balance is negative with nearly all nations; quantitative easing will keep them afloat for a few years only

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