• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

We are inching along, but not as quickly as we (or you) would like. If you have already donated, thank you so much. If you haven’t had a chance, consider skipping the coffee this week and drop CounterPunch $5 or more. We provide our content for free, but it costs us a lot to do so. Every dollar counts.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Superpowers Are Violent Powers

If asked to identify the world’s superpowers today, most people would name the United States, Russia, and China.  Although many citizens of these countries maintain that this status is based on the superiority of their national way of life, the reality is that it rests upon their nations’ enormous capacity for violence.

Certainly none has a peaceful past.  The United States, Russia, and China have a long history of expansion at the expense of neighboring countries and territories, often through military conquest.  Those nations on their borders today, including some that have wrenched themselves free from their imperial control, continue to fear and distrust them.  Just ask Latin Americans, East Europeans, or Asians what they think of their powerful neighbors.

Nor has there been any significant reduction of their military might in recent years.  Despite their professions of peaceful intentions, all three nations maintain vast armed forces and a clear willingness to use them when it suits their rulers.  According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, in 2014 the United States had 2.3 million active duty military, reserve military, and paramilitary personnel, Russia had 3.4 million, and China 3.5 million.  These figures do not include many other people they kept fully armed, such as China’s 3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army militia.  In 2015, the combined military expenditures of the three superpowers constituted more than half the world total, with 36 percent ($596 billion) spent by the United States, 13 percent ($215 billion) by China, and 4 percent ($64 billion) by Russia.

Lest anyone think that Russia’s low military expenditures―at least compared to those of the United States and China―indicate a collapse of its capacity for mass violence, it should be kept in mind that Russia continues to possess more nuclear weapons than any other nation.   With an estimated 7,290 nuclear weapons in its arsenals, Russia is a formidable military power, indeed.  The United States, a close runner-up, has some 7,000, giving these two superpowers possession of roughly 93 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons―more than enough to annihilate life on earth.  China, by contrast, lags far behind as a nuclear power, with a mere 260.  Even so, these Chinese weapons, if carefully directed, could kill about 52 million people and cause nuclear winter climate catastrophe, killing millions more.

As might be expected of countries that view themselves as the light of the world, each is dissatisfied with the nuclear status quo and is busy ramping up its nuclear arsenal at enormous cost.  In the United States, a program is underway to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to build new nuclear weapons factories, new nuclear warheads, and upgraded delivery systems for the warheads via land-based missiles, submarines, and planes.  Meanwhile, both Russia and China are building their own new generations of nuclear weapons.  According to a recent New York Times report, Russia is developing “big missiles topped by miniaturized warheads,” while “the Russian Navy is developing an undersea drone meant to loft a cloud of radioactive contamination from an underwater explosion that would make target cities uninhabitable.”  For its part, the Chinese military is flight testing a “hypersonic glide vehicle” that is fired into space “on a traditional long-range missile but then maneuvers through the atmosphere, twisting and careening at more than a mile a second,” thus rendering missile defenses “all but useless.”  Americans can take heart, though, for the Obama administration “is flight-testing its own hypersonic weapon.”

Nuclear weapons, of course, have not been used except as threat since 1945.  But there is nothing to prevent their employment in the future, particularly as the superpowers continue to use their military power recklessly.  China, though not currently at war, is alarming its neighbors by building islands in disputed offshore waters and establishing military facilities on them.  Russia is absorbing the Ukrainian territory it recently seized by military force and heavily bombing portions of Syria.  And the United States is continuing its lengthy wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, while launching covert military operations in numerous other countries from its 662 military basesaround the globe.

Not surprisingly, these are also violent societies at home.  Although most nations of the world have abolished capital punishment, both the United States and China still put large numbers of people to death.  Indeed, China is the world’s most active executioner.

This state-organized violence is often accompanied by citizen violence.  In 2015, the use of firearms in the United States resulted in the deaths of 13,286 people and the wounding of another 26,819.  These figures include 372 mass shootings, but not the many suicides (21,175 in 2011, says CDC data).  In 2012―the latest year with comparative statistics―the number of gun murders per capita in the United States was nearly 30 times that in Britain.

Murder rates are also high in the three superpowers―though considerably lower in China than in the United States and Russia.  When ranked by the lowest murder rates among the nations of the world, China was #28, the United States #96, and Russia #128.

Overall, then, the three superpowers are unusually violent powers.  An extensive study by the Institute for Economics & Peace, released recently, ranked 163 independent nations and territories according to their level of peacefulness.  Examining 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators linked to domestic or international conflict, the degree of militarization, and the level of safety and security in society, the study concluded that, when it came to peacefulness, the United States ranked #103, China #120, and Russia #151.

Is this really the best that these large, economically productive, educationally advanced, and technologically sophisticated nations can do?  If so, the world is in big trouble.

More articles by:

Dr. Lawrence Wittner is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press.)

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 22, 2019
Gary Leupp
The Kurds as U.S. Sacrificial Lambs
Robert Fisk
Trump and the Retreat of the American Empire
John Feffer
Trump’s Endless Wars
Marshall Auerback
Will the GOP Become the Party of Blue-Collar Conservatism?
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Trump’s Fake Withdrawal From Endless War
Dean Baker
Trump Declares Victory in China Trade War
Patrick Bond
Bretton Woods Institutions’ Neoliberal Over-Reach Leaves Global Governance in the Gutter
Robert Hunziker
XR Co-Founder Discusses Climate Emergency
John W. Whitehead
Terrorized, Traumatized and Killed: The Police State’s Deadly Toll on America’s Children
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A World Partnership for Ecopolitical Health and Security
Binoy Kampmark
The Decent Protester: a Down Under Creation
Frances Madeson
Pro-Democracy Movement in Haiti Swells Despite Police Violence
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Challenges Logging and Burning Project in Methow Valley
Chelli Stanley
Change the Nation You Live In
Elliot Sperber
Humane War 
October 21, 2019
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Wolf at the Door: Adventures in Fundraising With Cockburn
Rev. William Alberts
Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Sheldon Richman
Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain
Horace G. Campbell
Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?
Jim Kavanagh
The Empire Steps Back
Ralph Nader
Where are the Influentials Who Find Trump Despicable?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Poll Projection: Left-Leaning Jagmeet Singh to Share Power with Trudeau in Canada
Thomas Knapp
Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates
Brian Terrell
The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”
Paul Bentley
A Plea for More Cynicism, Not Less: Election Day in Canada
Walter Clemens
No Limits to Evil?
Robert Koehler
The Collusion of Church and State
Kathy Kelly
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Charlie Simmons
How the Tax System Rewards Polluters
Chuck Collins
Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
Paul Street
Bernie in the Deep Shit: Dismal Dem Debate Reflections
Andrew Levine
What’s So Awful About Foreign Interference?
T.J. Coles
Boris Johnson’s Brexit “Betrayal”: Elect a Clown, Expect a Pie in Your Face
Joseph Natoli
Trump on the March
Ashley Smith
Stop the Normalization of Concentration Camps
Pete Dolack
The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup at Pacifica Has Only Begun
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Russophobia at Democratic Party Debate
Chris Gilbert
Forward! A Week of Protest in Catalonia
Daniel Beaumont
Pressing Done Here: Syria, Iraq and “Informed Discussion”
Daniel Warner
Greta the Disturber
M. G. Piety
“Grim Positivism” vs. Truthiness in Biography
John Kendall Hawkins
Journey to the Unknown Interior of (You)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail