THELife got a little more dangerous over the past week. It wasn’t because of the pandemic or the climate crisis. It was entirely the result of the conscious choices of men (and they are almost always men) preparing for war.
It’s denied, of course. Nearsighted politicians, soldiers and diplomats say new nuclear weapons, missiles, ships, submarines and alliances are needed to deter unnamed enemies. They are necessary to strengthen âinternational securityâ.
So why does the world feel a little less secure every day? This paradox is lost for two of these political pygmies, Briton Boris Johnson and Australian Scott Morrison. These two could be twins. Both are deluding themselves about their own importance. They think they are global players. In truth, these are global blunders.
In America’s lost battle to keep China from becoming world number 1, they dance to the menacing tune of Joe Biden. They are like a pair of flabby choristers supporting the main tour. On this point, the two agree: if there is to be another war, they want to enter it.
Australia’s decision last week to build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines as part of Aukus’ new defense pact with the US and UK puts it squarely in Beijing’s sights. It weakens, not improves, its security.
This makes Canberra dependent on Washington’s good graces. He outraged France and other European friends. And the campaign for a nuclear-free Pacific, backed by New Zealand and its regional allies, has sunk below the waterline.
The pact also says a lot about Western hypocrisy over nuclear proliferation. Courtesy of the United States, Australia will acquire sophisticated technology, commercial reactors fueled with enriched uranium and the latest know-how.
This transfer violates international rules and breaks anti-nuclear taboos. This clearly opens the door to an Australian nuclear weapons capability. Beijing will surely find painful ways to retaliate against what President Xi Jinping calls interference in the “internal affairs of this region.”
Western solidarity in the Indo-Pacific against Chinese aggression is also shattered. The EU published a new regional strategy last week. It promotes a “multi-faceted engagement”, not an American-led arms race. What would the United States do – what would Israel do – if Iran, bypassing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, suddenly decided to nuclearize its military capabilities? They would go crazy. The screams would likely be followed by gunfire.
Johnson is the best at shooting himself in the foot. Britain’s non-proliferation credibility was already in tatters. It increases its stock of nuclear warheads by 40%. The government no longer excludes the first nuclear use. Thanks to Johnson’s division, the UK may soon run out of a home for its nuclear submarines based in Scotland. Be careful. He can move them to Adelaide.
Johnson believes his wheezing in Australia reinforces his fantasy of “Global Britain,” confirming his trade lean towards the Indo-Pacific. In truth, his policies increase the UK’s vulnerabilities in a region where it has little influence and less control, for little tangible gain.
As former Prime Minister Theresa May suggests, the UK could be drawn into a China-Taiwan or China-Japan conflict for which it is desperately ill-equipped, militarily and economically.
When he meets Biden in Washington this week, Johnson will describe Britain as a key partner with shared responsibilities in global security. Who is he fooling? This is the embarrassing behavior of a slightly tipsy elderly parent on a fancy night out.
Fear of China guides US policy. Another White House meeting this week is of greater significance – that of the Quad (US, India, Japan and Australia). This renewed alliance is a key part of Biden’s anti-Beijing barricade.
But it is also an escalation. Fear of the United States, coupled with the belief that it can be overtaken, also drives China. Its rapid military build-up is a response. Each year it launches more combat ships than the Royal Navy has in total.
Xi also claims to defend global security. How do you reconcile this with China’s recently discovered construction of hundreds of additional nuclear missile silos?
There are also a lot of hypocrites in Beijing. Chinese diplomats are now pushing to restart denuclearization talks with Kim Jong-un. You don’t have to be a North Korean dictator to marvel at such blatant double standards.
Insecurity Kim is repeatedly reprimanded and punished for developing nuclear weapons. It launched its last cruise and ballistic missiles last week in clumsy protest. Aukus can make him even more paranoid.
Iran, on the other hand, does not have nuclear weapons and insists it does not want them. International talks to ensure he keeps his word are kept alive amid thinly veiled threats of Israeli military action. What will Tehran’s newly installed radical leadership, surrounded by enemies, think of this latest evidence of the West’s contempt for the non-proliferation principles it is supposed to cherish? It certainly won’t help.
The United States and the other great nuclear power in the world, Russia, continue to set a very bad example. Biden and Vladimir Putin agreed in June to relaunch a “strategic security dialogue”. In fact, the two countries are feverishly modernizing and expanding already vast nuclear arsenals.
This re-launched competition encompasses new combat zones such as cyberspace, outer space and the Arctic. Arms control treaties which have lapsed remain null and void. Hypersonic missiles are the last must-have accessory for today’s Strangeloves.
In the past, fear of atomic Armageddon was enough to keep the peace. Only a fool would risk it, said the old cold warriors. General Mark Milley, America’s top commander, feared that Donald Trump, after his electoral defeat, was foolish enough to do it – which sort of proves the point.
Yet as the battle lines of the New Cold War become clearer and the chances of another global conflagration diminish, a growing number of foolish men in positions of power seem foolish enough to risk it.
The danger they represent is increasing day by day.