Economics, not ‘security,’ likely fueling nuclear arms race

The US starting an arms race with China and Russia might be motivated by economics, in that defense industries are a major part of the US economy.

According to the US Department of Commerce, defense industries account for nearly 15% the economy, employ millions of people and are a major revenue generator. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that the United States sold almost US$675 billion worth of weapons to nearly 100 countries between 1950 and 2017. Many times more were sold to the US military.

Under President Donald Trump, the US military budget and the value of arms exports to friends and allies are the biggest in US history and will most likely increase. Warning “allies” around the world of Chinese and Russia “aggression,” he and his senior officials have clinched weapons-sales deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars. The value of the most recent deal with Saudi Arabia alone was said to be more than $100 billion. If India and other potential allies bite, the aerospace and defense industries could drive economic growth in the US.

To make the arms-sales campaign effective, the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization is holding large military exercises and installing weapons systems in Eastern Europe targeting Russia. The US Navy conducts “freedom of navigation operations” in the South China Sea, is recruiting “allies” to “contain” China, and is increasing arms sales to Taiwan.

Unsurprisingly and predictably, China and Russia have responded in kind, giving the US the excuse, supported by if not cheered on by the corporate-owned media, to accuse the two antagonists of being “aggressive,” setting the stage for a dangerous nuclear arms race.

Which side initiated the arms race?

Which country or countries started the race depends on whom one talks to. The US has accused Russia of procuring and installing intermediate-range missiles targeting US allies in Europe for decades, the alleged reason for Trump to withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Agreement (INF) that former Soviet and US presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan signed in 1987. China was pulled into the narrative because it is believed to have thousands of short- and intermediate-range cruise missiles “threatening” US allies and military bases in Asia.

However, history has a different take on the matter. According to John Hopkins University scholar Stephen Cohen, the US reneged on its promise that NATO would not expand to Russia’s “back door” in the 1990s. History also has shown that the US under president George W Bush unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. Around the same period, Washington deployed cruise missiles in Europe that were capable of hitting Russia.

Russia complained that installing intermediate-range missiles in Europe was a clear violation of the INF, but its complaints were ignored, prompting it to produce and install intermediate-range missiles targeting countries that hosted US missiles.

For China’s part, it said it was building more weapons to counter US  provocations and threats – playing the Taiwan card, forming an “Indo-Pacific quad” (to be made up of the US, Australia, India and Japan), and mounting “freedom of navigation operations” in the South China Sea meant to drag China into a conflict with the US and its allies.

It could therefore be argued that it is economics rather than “national security” that led to Trump vowing to increase the US nuclear arsenal until China and Russia “come to their senses.”

Will the US deploy nuclear arms first?

Both the US and China have enough nuclear bombs to kill each other and the world many times over, but that did not stop some US scholars from suggesting that pre-emptive strikes against China were feasible. Georgetown University scholar Caitlin Talmadge wrote in the November-December edition of Foreign Affairs edition that the US could knock out China’s nuclear forces in a pre-emptive strike. Her prediction was at least in part based on the United States’ more than 30-year history of pre-emptive bombing of Vietnam, Serbia, the Middle East and North Africa.

The problem with Talmadge’s assumption is that China is not like any of the countries that the US has bombed in the past. China has short-, intermediate- and intercontinental ballistic missiles that could hit US Asian allies, military bases and the US itself. Indeed, she seemingly admitted as much, urging the US and China to tread carefully to avoid a military conflict in her concluding paragraph.

Adding Russia to the calculations, the numbers of nuclear warheads targeting the US and its allies in Europe and Asia would increase enormously.

History will tell that the US and its allies only bombed countries that could not hit back. Because of the potential loss of huge numbers of American lives, the US public will vehemently protest against a US and China/Russia nuclear war, as they did during the Vietnam War. Besides, the majority of Americans do not seem to share the government’s and neoconservatives’ view of China and Russia as America’s “greatest threats” According to recent US polls, Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Pew, almost 50% viewed China positively and considered it a partner rather than a competitor.

It is also highly unlikely that any leaders of US allies in Europe and Asia would willingly allow US intermediate-range nuclear missiles on their soil. Being the battlegrounds for a US-China/Russia nuclear war, those leaders could suffer the same fate as Benito Mussolini, the World War II Italian fascist leader hanged by the toes and paraded around for siding with Nazi Germany.

Taking the debate to its logical conclusion, Trump or any US president will not likely be allowed to mount a nuclear pre-emptive strike against China/Russia.

Effects on the economy

As revealed by US government statistics, crumbling infrastructures require urgent repair, the number of American living in poverty is on the rise and the trade war against China (and others) is taking a toll as shown by decreasing investment, rising prices and declining economic growth.

China’s economy is slowing, albeit marginally, from 6.8% in the first two quarters to 6.5% in the third quarter, according to the China National Bureau of Statistics. It could use the money otherwise spent on arms to eradicate poverty and enhance economic growth in the less developed regions. The money could also be spent on industries that were hurt by Trump’s trade war.

Russia could use the money to diversify its economic infrastructure, from resource exploitation to industrialization. The country’s Far East needs huge investment to develop. The adverse effects of US sanctions require financial help to erase. What’s more, the last arms race with the US proved disastrous for the  economy, culminating in the Soviet Union’s demise.

The nuclear arms race might be driven by economics rather than “national security” because neither China nor Russia is threatening the US or its allies. The two emerging economies have enough problems at home, precluding them from mounting military adventurism against any country, let alone the world’s mightiest military power.

Weapons are one of if not the biggest exports of the US. Thus selling arms to its own military and that of the allies is a major engine of US economic growth.


The NATO/EU Rape of ‘Complex’ Macedonia


In an interview for the Russia-1 television channel, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov revealed that he had raised the question of egregious Western meddling into Macedonia’s recent (September 30) referendum and parliamentary voting (October 19) to push through changes to the country’s name and constitution in order accelerate its accession to NATO (and, much later, if ever, to the EU) with US National Security Adviser John Bolton during his recent visit to Moscow.

“I told him we were accused of meddling not only in the US, but also in Spain, in Brexit and now also in anything that happens in the Western Balkans… We said we kept silent on Macedonia’s referendum, while its capital of Skopje was visited by NATO chief Stoltenberg, defense minister Mattis, German chancellor Merkel… who publicly and bluntly demanded that Macedonians ‘vote for their future’ and say ‘yes’ in a referendum on their membership in the EU and NATO by ‘only’ changing their country’s name,” recalled Lavrov, further reminding that the referendum had flopped but that, nevertheless, the Macedonian parliament went ahead with a vote to amend the country’s constitution, and secured the necessary two-thirds vote “through bribes and promises not to start criminal persecution,” overseen by the US Ambassador to Macedonia, who was present during the proceedings and “who did not merely sit there.”

Bolton’s response? According to Lavrov, he simply smiled and replied that Macedonia was a “quite complex country.”

So, there you have it. It’s officially open season on all the world’s “complex” countries – and guess who gets to define “complex” – should they ever even contemplate voting the “wrong way,” as interpreted by the West’s arbiters of democracy, even the avowed “non-interventionists” in the White House.

If anything, Lavrov was understating what some observers literally described as a “rape” of Macedonia’s democratic [sic] institutions on the part of the Western deep state establishment hell-bent on dragging the tiny country into NATO (with the highly unrealistic prospect of EU membership merely being used as a carrot to placate domestic and international public opinion), in order to completely encircle the last staunch anti-NATO holdouts in Europe outside of Russia and Belarus – Serbia and the Serbs in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina.

It was bad enough that Western officialdom simply ignored the popular will of the Macedonians and collectively pretended that a 36.91% referendum turnout in fact expressed the “will of the majority,” and that it was sufficiently legitimate to move the matter to Parliament, where a two-thirds vote was required to move forward with the process of amending the constitution. This despite the fact that the West’s hand-picked prime minister, Zoran Zaev, had given assurances before the referendum that “citizens will make the decision,” and that Parliament would vote on the necessary constitutional changes only if the referendum was successful (meaning a 50% + 1 turnout and a majority “yes” vote).

Then, five days before the parliamentary vote, US Vice-President Mike Pence sent a “letter of support” to Zaev, ascertaining that Macedonians had, in fact, approved the name change agreement with Greece after all, because, you see, “90% (or less than a third of all the Macedonian voters – author’s note) of those that voted approved the Prespa Agreement.” Two days later, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Wess Mitchell, fired off a letter to Hristijan Mickoski, the leader of Macedonia’s main opposition party (which opposes the name change agreement with Greece), VMRO-DPMNE, expressing “disappointment” with his party’s negative position vis-à-vis the referendum and the upcoming parliamentary vote and urging him to “create space” for his party’s MPs to vote “free from threats of violence, retribution, or other forms of coercion.”

As it turned out, Mitchell’s just wanted to make sure that “threats of violence, retribution or other forms of coercion” would remain the exclusive domain of Zaev’s puppet government and the US Embassy. And, thus, four days before the parliamentary vote, Zaev put forth an “indecent proposal” for the opposition, i.e. “amnesty for their members who are on trial for unrest at the Assembly that took place on April 27 of last year,” when a former Albanian terrorist guerilla commander was elected as Parliament Speaker under strong US and EU pressure. Or, as Zaev pithily put it: “I know that everything has a price. I am ready to pay it.”

On voting day, October 19, the vote was delayed three times until the necessary two-thirds majority was secured. As to how it was secured was best summarized by a Russian Foreign Ministry statement:

“We consider what happened as a flagrant violation of all norms – both from the point of view of the law and in the moral sense… Eight votes that were necessary to secure a qualified majority were ensured by the means of blackmailing, threats and bribing opposition parliament members. Three of them, purely by chance, were released from arrest on that same day. Two others, who had open cases investigated by special prosecutors, were promised freedom. Others received corrupt financial offers in exchange for ‘the right vote’. Parliament members were locked in their rooms, their cell phones were seized – this is very much in line with the spirit of European democratic practice… The American ambassador was present in the Parliament building until the end of the session, leaving no doubt as to who was leading the process… Such dirty manipulations cannot be considered the expression of will of parliament members….”

That the Russians were not exaggerating was confirmed by, among others, a tweet from Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos: “Who would have thought that in Europe of values and democracy those who do not vote according to instructions are jailed, and those who comply get a 2 million euro bonus in black money.”

Opposition leader Mickoski denounced the parliamentary circus as Macedonia’s “Black Friday” and a case of “classic rape,” and proceeded to expel from the party the seven MPs who changed sides and helped secure the necessary two-thirds vote. Bulgarian daily “Sliven Now” accused the CIA and Greece’s Soros funds of bribing the renegade Macedonian MPs. (Links between US diplomats – specifically the present US Ambassador to Macedonia, Jess Baily – and billionaire interventionist George Soros and their joint work on destabilizing Macedonia using US taxpayer money have been public knowledge for a couple of years.) According to a former adviser to the Macedonian President, Cvetin Chilimanov, the Parliament building was “under siege” on the day of the voting, teeming with politicians, police and officials from the public prosecutor’s office, and opposition leaders claimed that their MPs were offered anywhere from 250.000 to 2 million euros to change their vote.

Naturally, as was the failed referendum, the parliamentary charade was hailed by the usual EU/NATO suspects. EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn gushed that it was “a great day for democracy in Skopje,” adding for good measure his expectation that “the free choice of all MPs is fully respected.” Hahn also issued a supportive joint statement with Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the EU Commission. And NATO’s Gensec Jens Stoltenberg unflinchingly “welcomed” the outcome of the Macedonian parliamentary shenanigans and urged the MPs to “seize this historic opportunity.”

The process is not finished, as two more votes (or “votes”) are pending in what’s left of the Macedonian Parliament – on a draft proposal of the necessary constitutional amendments (needing a simple majority), and on the adoption of the final amendments, for which a two-thirds majority will once again be needed, along with the signature of Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov, who himself boycotted the referendum. If everything goes as planned and/or paid, the scene will then move to the Greek Parliament, which must also vote on the changes. According to the Prespa Agreement, the Macedonian side needs to finish its business by the end of 2018, and it is expected that the Greek Parliament will do its part in early 2019. With a little help from their Western friends, no doubt.


Erdogan a threat to US effort to contain Iran

Washington needs to find a way to tone down the Turkish president’s assault on the Saudis, which could undermine the push to restrict Iran in Syria, Iraq and Yemen

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is ratcheting up the pressure on Saudi Arabia for the now-admitted killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi – a strategy that threatens the US effort to contain Iran.

Instead of letting the United States and Saudi Arabia settle the matter, Erdoğan keeps raising the stakes in the game, unleashing new accusations and leaking purportedly incriminating footage and information.

The latest is to suggest that the decision to kill Khashoggi was taken at the highest level of Saudi Arabia’s leadership.

“Pinning such a case on a handful of security and intelligence members will not satisfy us or the international community,” Erdoğan said in a speech on Tuesday.

Turkey, according to a Saudi source quoted by Middle East Eye, claims to have intercepted 14 phone calls made during the confrontation with Khashoggi inside the consulate, where Saudi Major General Maher Abdulaziz Mutrib – the head of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s personal security and protection detail – allegedly contacted the office of the Crown Prince seven times.

‘Bring me the head of the dog’

On top of that there was an alleged call on Skype from Riyadh to the consulate where Saudi royal aide Saud al-Qahtani confronted an under-duress Khashoggi and hurled insults at him. Khashoggi gave back what he got in the form of insults, leading to reports that at this point al-Qahtani ordered Khashoggi’s elimination, allegedly saying “Bring me the head of the dog.”

Al-Qahtani has since been fired as a Royal Court adviser. On Saturday, October 20, the day he was dismissed, al-Qahtani tweeted that he would always be a “loyal servant to my country at all times.”

There are unconfirmed reports that some of the body parts belonging to Khashoggi have been found in the garden of the Consul General.

Earlier, President Trump had called King Salman on Monday, October 15. He reported on Twitter: “Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened ‘to our Saudi Arabian citizen’,” a reference to Khashoggi who had a US Green Card (but was not a US citizen). But the President soon learned the King was not honest in his response to Trump’s questions.

Now Trump has dispatched CIA chief Gina Haspel to Turkey to work on the investigation into the Khashoggi murder. Media reports on the Haspel visit say that Turkey has shared “all evidence” with the CIA including audio tapes and CCTV footage. It could be that Washington already had some of the intercepts through its own surveillance capabilities, but no information on US intelligence gathering on “friendly targets” is available and even if Washington had them it would not say so both for security and policy reasons.

Policy problem for the US

From the perspective of US policy, the Khashoggi affair has created a massive policy problem. 

US policy is currently aimed at containing Iran, and Saudi Arabia is a key ally in this effort. Iran has been building up its military capabilities, especially in ballistic missiles and is using its Revolutionary Guards to promote Iranian aims in Iraq and Syria. Iran is also backing the Houthis in Yemen, supplying weapons including ballistic missiles the Houthis have been firing into Saudi Arabia and anti-ship missiles that have hit at least two coalition warships. The Houthis, meanwhile, are holding onto the port of Hodeida in Yemen, a key to controlling the Bab el Mandeb (Gate of Tears) Strait. Approximately 4.8 million barrels a day of crude and petroleum products flow through the strait, with about 2.8 million going north toward Europe, and another 2 million moving in the opposite direction.  The strait is also important in the flow of goods between the Mediterranean and Asia.  

The United States has been restructuring its policy toward Iran and has begun to oppose Iran in Syria (with Saudi help in terms of financing and arms purchases) and in Iraq. US policy explicitly has called for removing Iranian forces from Syria. The US also is supporting the Saudi led Coalition (with Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait and the UAE) to defeat the Houthis in Yemen, supplying arms and support, including real-time tactical intelligence. US ships in the Red Sea, when fired upon by the Houthis, have also responded by destroying Houthi missile sites.

Even more significantly, the Trump administration has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal and is putting pressure on other governments and businesses to stop projects in Iran while reimposing sanctions on Iran. “Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States,” the President has said. The ploy is working and some European companies have pulled out of transactions in Iran.

Turkish stance

Turkey, however, has been in pursuit of a different policy. While not exactly a friend of Iran, Turkey has a loose form of alliance with Iran and Russia, which gives Turkey a voice in operations in Syria that affects Turkey’s borders and Turkey’s ongoing struggle against the Kurds, who live on both sides of the Turkish-Syrian and Turkish Iraqi border. In fact, Turkey has been willing to take risks with its US alliance in buying some of Russia’s latest weapons, especially the S-400 air defense system, an acquisition that has caused distress in Washington.

Nevertheless, Turkey remains a big customer for US weapons, especially the stealthy F-35 fighter. Turkey plans to buy up to 100 of the high-cost aircraft. Washington sees the F-35 as a key way to keep Turkey as a formidable player in the NATO alliance. But NATO members worry that Russia, with its S-400 in Turkey, could have a backdoor into Turkey’s airspace and even into its command and control systems, that form the southern anchor of the NATO alliance and exert key leverage over the Dardanelles and Russia’s access from the Black Sea to the Aegean and Mediterranean.

But the most immediate question is why is Erdoğan stirring up trouble with Saudi Arabia, especially after the Saudis admitted responsibility for Khashoggi’s death? Erdoğan certainly knows that doing so undermines US regional policy and potentially threatens to lead to an upheaval in Saudi Arabia should the matter spiral out of control.

The consequences of a revolution in Saudi Arabia could lead to the rise of a more radical regime, perhaps one that Erdoğan would find more to his liking, since he and his political allies are often seen linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. President Assad of Syria, no friend of Erdoğan says that Erdoğan has close ties to the Brotherhood. The Saudis see the Muslim Brotherhood as a major threat to the regime and believe that Turkey and Qatar are aligned in support of the Brotherhood. Khashoggi himself was regarded by Saudi leaders as a member of the Brotherhood and a threat to the regime, and even pro-Khashoggi apologists in Washington admit to his ties to the Brotherhood.

Washington needs to find a way to tone down Erdoğan’s assault on Saudi Arabia and the constant drumbeat he is managing against Saudi Arabia’s leaders. But Washington has diminished leverage with Turkey and Erdoğan. In sending his CIA head to Turkey, Washington is sending an important message, and it is not about the investigation. Whether Erdoğan can be calmed down and stop his agitating remains an open question.