At an increasingly rapid pace, the globe is experiencing the greatest geopolitical shift since the fall of the British empire. The arrangement that the U.S. carved out during the 20th century to fortify its hegemony is falling apart piece by piece, with a thorough collapse of Western imperialism and a new wave of socialist revolutions being increasingly unavoidable outcomes.
Moving towards a breakup for the EU and NATO
Covid-19 is testing the stability of a European Union that’s already been on the decline during the last decade. Brexit has shrunk the EU while economically weakening Britain. The power of the EU has been eclipsed due to the rise of Russia and China. The Trump administration’s defiance of international treaties, along with his decision to start a trade war with China against the advice of Washington’s European allies, have weakened the EU’s connections to America. During Covid-19, these rifts within the EU have been furthered.
Germany and the Netherlands have been wary of giving “corona bonds” to Italy, France, and Spain. This disagreement over how to handle the virus has precipitated a capitalism-fueled breakdown in European solidarity, with EU countries either turning down requests for aid or confiscating each other’s medical supplies when they reach customs. It’s no surprise that Italy joined with China’s New Silk Road Initiative last month against the wishes of its allies. These events have given credence to the Serbian president’s statement from last month: “European solidarity does not exist. That was a fairy tale. The only country that can help us in this hard situation is the People’s Republic of China. For the rest of them, thanks for nothing.”
The shift towards a multi-polar world and the geopolitical effects of the pandemic have caused NATO in general to become less unified and coordinated. The supposed “Russia threat” has become less of a priority amid the urgency of Covid-19, at least for the countries that aren’t the most set on maintaining cold war military buildup.
Some key decisions have come from Germany, a country that’s integral to the effectiveness of NATO due to its location and economic strength. In recent years, Germany has been declining to contribute as much military spending as Washington prefers while turning to Russia for energy and China for technology. Then last month, when Covid-19 created a risk for Germany’s armed forces, it began declining to participate in NATO’s anti-Russian war games. Norway also cancelled military exercises last month, around the same time when the Pentagon cut funds for war games.
As assessed by Iztok Prezelj, the chair of Defence Studies at the University of Ljubljana, this all reflects a trend among the Western powers to prioritize focusing on Covid-19 over great-power conflict: “Security policy simply is about prioritization of threats and responses, it is impossible to focus on e.g. 5 threats at the same time. Russian threat is in fact put on hold, but it remains there in minds of politicians, strategists and planners. Strategic documents and threat assessments on Russia will not change in this phase of crisis management in the West.”
Iraq War architect and former Trump-era war planner John Bolton articulated the empire’s anxieties this week, tweeting: “North Korea launched yet another barrage of missiles, bringing their tests this year to five. While the world is busy fighting off a pandemic [North Korea] is rushing at an unprecedented pace to improve its missile and nuclear programs.” Bolton can also worry about the increasingly good military position that Venezuela, Iran, China, Russia, and the other regime change target countries are in.
Instability and uncertainty among Washington’s vassal states
Washington has been trying to continue its campaign of cold war escalations against the rival superpowers by expanding its military presence in South America to counter Chinese and Russian influence throughout the region. Yet even in what U.S. commander Craig Faller described in a recent testimony as “our hemisphere” and “our neighborhood,” the ground is shifting underneath imperial control.
Brazil, the superpower with a CIA-installed president that Washington has been using as a partner in militarily intimidating Venezuela, faces growing governmental instability. The issue isn’t just that Jair Bolsonaro will likely be impeached for his refusal to address the pandemic. It’s that even if he’s replaced with an equally pro-U.S. government, class conflict in Brazil is sure to keep escalating. Bolsonaro’s presidency has drastically accelerated the collapse of capitalism in the country, bringing extreme mass privatization projects that have destroyed Brazil’s educational system, relentlessly eroded social programs, and made 11 million people unemployed even before any quarantine started.
Now that Bolsonaro has led a death cult of Covid-19 denial and pushed to loosen quarantine restrictions, he’s both being threatened with impeachment over his mismanagement and has made the populace much more ready to rise up against the country’s capitalist class. Seeing the last year’s anti-austerity protests throughout Latin America, Bolsonaro’s government has been authorizing the army to shoot protesters in a terrified preemptive attempt at avoiding similar instability. These measures won’t hold back a revolt for long.
Amid Bolsonaro’s alarmed recent declaration that he’ll suspend the constitution if civil unrest breaks out over Covid-19, columnist Miguel Andrade has concluded that “These conditions can only lead to an explosion of class struggle. Bolsonaro’s ravings are an expression of the desperation of the Brazilian ruling class as it prepares for unprecedented acts of repression.”
A Brazil that’s fighting off an uprising won’t be in a position to assist the U.S. in military adventures. Brazil could become like Ukraine, which has been turning into a failed state since Washington installed a neo-Nazi regime in the country in 2014. Because Ukraine’s government has failed to provide funds for the military-tied Pavlograd Chemical Plant, the Ukrainian arms industry had to suspend productions of new missile systems this week. This will potentially open the country up to more Russian intervention, which would be a welcome alternative to the fascist-led hellscape that Ukraine is becoming.
This is how the collapse of neoliberal capitalism, now exacerbated by the depression that’s sweeping the globe, is weakening the regimes which U.S. imperialism depends on. Israel is no exception in this worldwide trend of hyper-capitalist countries that are unable to manage the pandemic. “The main risk is the country’s collapse,” columnist Meirav Arlosoroff has written about the situation in Israel. “The forecast, which the Finance Ministry has presented to the Knesset Finance Committee, addresses the effects of a full shutdown of the economy — the deficit will shoot up to 15.5% and the national debt will jump to 86.5% of GDP, which will contract by 17%…This is even worse than what happened during the Yom Kippur War.”
A similar fate is on its way for Australia, Britain, South Africa, Colombia, Bolivia, Japan, and all the other U.S.-tied capitalist powers that will be reeling from the effects of the economic collapse that’s begun.
Saudi Arabia is another example of this trend, though the current phase of its decline has more to do with the strategic foreign policy obstacles posed by Covid-19. Journalist Joe Lauria has assessed that “It is in the Saudis’ interests to stop a coronavirus outbreak in Yemen. Riyadh is spending $200 million a day on the war, with oil having fallen to below $30 a barrel. They have allied jihadis, and almost certainly intelligence agents operating inside Yemen, and Yemenis can find their way across the frontier.” For this reason, the Saudis have begun a ceasefire in order to end the Yemen war.
This Saudi retreat is part of a reaction to larger factors that threaten to destabilize the country’s regime. Saudi Arabia has been losing its oil price war with Russia, a war that’s put the country under increasing threat of collapse. If this collapse happens, it will be a long time coming amid years of growing isolation and vulnerability for the regime.
Signs of coming unrest and balkanization in the imperial core
The Trump White House has exploited Covid-19 to push for more war. It’s tightened sanctions on Venezuela and Iran, increased war efforts in Syria and Iraq, pressured U.S. allies into not accepting medical aid from Cuba, and staged provocations in the South China Sea as part of Washington’s hybrid war on China. The anti-China campaign is being especially prioritized, with Trump’s team coordinating with the right-wing media to proliferate the misleading claim that China is to blame for the pandemic. But these are desperate acts of reaction, ones that largely pertain to the empire’s desire to retain internal control during its accelerating external decline.
Helped by online censorship and the repressive measures of the Covid-19 era, the U.S. and the other core imperialist countries will try to keep their own people on their side in the geopolitical conflicts of this next decade. China, Russia, and Iran will continue to be presented as bogeymen that are behind the problems of the West. The media will still feed us stories about fabricated enemy outrages like Venezuelan “narco-terrorism,” Syrian “chemical attacks,” and North Korean “human rights abuses.” All this will do is keep the populace distracted while imperial power keeps shrinking and the corporatocracy keeps losing the profits it depends on.
Like in Brazil, living standards in the U.S. and the other neoliberal countries are going to keep declining until some sort of confrontation point is reached. France is the first core imperialist country to enter into a sustained phase of unrest, no doubt to be followed by protest movements and even riots within places like the U.S. and Britain.
What happens after these raw outbreaks of class outrage will depend on how successful the socialist and anti-colonial movements are at building an alternative political structure. If the Marxist-Leninist parties grow along with the escalation of class struggle, and while incorporating themselves into the general civil disobedience efforts, the tools will exist to overthrow and replace the vulnerable capitalist governments.
In any case, Washington is doomed to oversee a failed state, one which could lead to national balkanization amid ever-increasing class divides. The police state is the only thing the ruling class can turn to for hope of maintaining internal stability. And if the major capitalist powers become destabilized, the rich will have to retreat to the survival compounds that they’ve been building throughout the last decade or so.
Last year, the political writer Dmitry Orlov said: “I think that the American empire is very much over already, but it hasn’t been put to any sort of serious stress test yet, and so nobody realizes that this is the case.” Now that this stress test has come in the form of Covid-19, Washington is experiencing the fractured allyships, weakening military power, and economic decline that are required to enormously speed up the fall of its empire. It will be our job to strike the killing blow to this beast, but the beast is nonetheless growing weaker.
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