Events are unfolding at a quickening pace. Facing an alarming escalation in tensions around the world, we are looking to our most respected and renowned thought leaders for an honest assessment of both U.S. foreign and military policy to offer their most current thoughts and insights. We know they have some ideas for improving the prospects for peace.
Larry Wilkerson is a renowned defense analyst and a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government & Public policy at the College of William and Mary. He is a retired United States Army colonel and was the former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. We are extremely honored that he took the time to talk to us and share his views. His responses below are exactly as he provided.
The questions here are not philosophical or abstract. They focus on the realities of the international power struggle unfolding in real time. They directly address the role of the U.S. in the escalating tensions and its capacity to reduce them. We also probe the role of everyday citizens in affecting the relationship the U.S. now has and will have with the rest of the world community.
Here is what Colonel Wilkerson had to say.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has recently put the hands of the doomsday clock to 100 seconds before midnight. Midnight means all out war, probably nuclear holocaust. This is the closest it has every been. Do you agree with this dire assessment?
I do. I do because we — and the Russians — have allowed nuclear arms control to collapse. With the exception, thank goodness, of NEW START, all else is gone — the ABM Treaty, the INF Treaty, and most of all, the spirit that undergird them and nuclear weapons arms control in general. Replacing it is an angry, take-no-prisoners return to the 1950s when certain people thought nuclear war was a winnable prospect. The Russians have even published military doctrine outlining how, should their territory be invaded [by NATO forces], they will respond with tactical nuclear weapons. In further response, the U.S. has announced it will build a small, nuclear-tipped cruise missile to be placed on submarines. This is as dangerous as it gets short of an actual nuclear exchange.
The U.S. always portrays itself as the greatest force on the planet for peace, justice, human rights, racial equality, etc. Polls tell us that most other nations actually regard the U.S. as the greatest threat to stability. What in your view is the truth here?
The colossal and basically military-built empire the U.S. has become since WWII, does in fact threaten the peace of much of the world and undermines stability in that world.
Here’s a chicken-or-egg question: The U.S. accuses both Russia and China of rapidly expanding their military capabilities, claiming its own posturing and increase in weaponry is a response to its hostile adversaries, Russia and China. Both Russia and China claim they are merely responding to intimidation and military threats posed by the U.S. What’s your view? Do Russia and China have imperial ambitions or are they just trying to defend themselves against what they see as an increasingly aggressive U.S. military?
Russia and China are two distinctly different countries.China’s strategic aims are fundamentally economic; Russia’s strategic aims are to dismember NATO; to cause the collapse of the EU; and to sever the trans-Atlantic link between Europe and America. China has vast power reserves; Russia is an economic and social basketcase, with Moscow a capital city sitting on multiple gas stations as it’s only real asset, other than its substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons and its eleven times zones of territory. Thus, China is a formidable and highly capable opponent; Russia is so only because of its nuclear weaponry and its leadership’s ability to capitalize on U.S. strategic errors, like NATO expansion and U.S. interference in Syria. There is, however, on the part of both countries, the likelihood of a certain tit-for-tat response — i.e., they respond to U.S. aggressive moves with their own. Superb diplomatic efforts are the answer to such activities — efforts aimed at defusing tensions, easing military build-ups, and working toward peaceful competition — not war.
The U.S. always denies that it has imperial ambitions. Most unbiased experts say that by any objective standards, the U.S. is an empire — indeed the most powerful, sprawling empire in history. Does the U.S. have to be an empire to be successful in the world and effectively protect and serve its citizenry?
The U.S. is indeed an empire, and today a badly led and poorly managed one that is now so far in debt that it will eventually bankrupt itself.The U.S. needs to fashion an off-ramp from its empire — to a state that will not seek hegemony everywhere but instead will seek ways to peacefully coexist with others. The instruments of national power necessary to effect such a transition are diplomacy, economics, intelligence, information, culture, and political skill — not military might.
The highest ranking commanders of the U.S. military recently sounded the alarm. They have concluded that the U.S. — widely regarded as the most formidable military power in history — can’t defeat either Russia or China in a war. These military commanders are saying we need to dramatically increase our military capabilities. What do you make of this claim and the resulting demand for more DOD spending?
The claim that we are looking at defeat — by any state or non-state actor — is a very valid one.All empires living by the sword alone are defeated eventually by others’ swords. More money for more swords is therefore utter nonsense and a certain path to disaster — through the wars it conjures or through bankruptcy, or both.
In 2009, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton announced a reset with Russia, heralding greater cooperation and understanding. By 2014, Obama had made a sharp reversal. A sweeping regime of sanctions has since been imposed on Russia to cripple its economy. Hillary Clinton and the Democrats now relentlessly demonize Russia and Putin, blaming them for every imaginable ill. Both in the media and from official pronouncements by government officials, Russia has become the favorite whipping boy for both the U.S. and its “special friend”, Great Britain. Why? What happened?
Eternal hostility became the mantra of the Cold War, roughly 1955 through 1992. As President Eisenhower, in his 1953 “Cross of Iron” speech and his 1961 Farewell Address pointed out, such eternal hostility bred a military-industrial complex inimical to the interests and security of a liberal democracy. We are now living with the results Eisenhower foresaw. The terrorist attacks in September of 2001 accelerrated and deepened the complex’s hold on our empire. To feed that complex we need endless wars. Congress either remains silent about or approves the wars because the complex fills its coffers and helps it get re-elected. To an extent, our allies — like the United Kingdom — are drinking from the same trough, one the Empire fashioned and maintains for them.
The number of spy missions, nuclear-armed bomber flights, and war games near Russia’s borders have vastly increased over the past year. Same with China. Is all of this just business-as-usual geopolitical posturing? Or does it represent a dangerous escalation and a new ominous direction in U.S. strategic positioning? What is the justification for what Russia and China see as provocations and aggressiveness, if not actual preparation for a war?
These are the actions of Empire, an Empire determined to maintain a status quo that is not maintainable.As with empires of the past, eventually the rest of the world will tire of America’s efforts and move to balance us. That will signal the definitive end of our Empire — largely dead at our own hand.
Between the FONOPS in the South China Sea and the recently expressed enthusiasm for Taiwan’s independence, the risk of military conflict with China keeps increasing. Where is this headed? If People’s Republic of China decides to use military force for full reunification of Taiwan, do you see the U.S. going to war in an attempt to prevent it?
No. The American people (and their leaders) will wake up from their somnolence, realize that such a conflict can only resolve itself with an exchange of nuclear weapons, and they will move to stop it — finally.If not, we will have a nuclear exchange and that might well be the end of all of us. Every military wargame in which I have participated based on the “Taiwan scenario” (more than a dozen) has ended when both parties — China and the U.S. — are considering the use of nuclear weapons because neither can win using conventional assets.
The U.S. against the clear objections of the government in Syria is occupying valuable land, stealing the country’s oil, and preventing access to the most agriculturally productive region, effectively starving the population. The world sees this for what it is, a cruel game sacrificing innocent people for some perceived geopolitical advantage. Is this the kind of reputation the U.S. wants? Or does it simply no longer care what the rest of the world community thinks?
We are violating international law simply by our presence, uninvited by the GOS, in Syria.Yes, the world watches. Remember what I said about its moving to balance us and to rid the world of our hegemonic actions.
In a democracy, at least in theory citizens have a say in all matters of public policy. Yet, in the end none of the recent military campaigns and undeclared wars seem to achieve much popular favor or support. What is and what should be the role of everyday citizens in determining the foreign policy and military priorities of the country? Or are such matters better left to the “experts”?
Our democracy, in the words used by the Founders, features one branch of government closest to the people — the Congress.That is why the Founders gave the warpower to that body. Today, that body has abandoned its responsibilities in that regard. James Madison declared that the warpower solely in the hands of the Executive is the true nurse of Executive aggrandizement.
Related to that, the citizenry and most of Congress are kept in the dark with respect to special missions, proxy funding, CIA operations, and swaths of unknown unknowns constituting psyops, cyber ops, and regime change ops, all done in our name as U.S. citizens. The funds to support this sprawling “dark world” of sabotage and terror being inflicted on the rest of the planet, is also a secret. Now there’s pervasive spying on U.S. citizens right here at home. What place does any of this have in “the land of the free”? Does this mean government of the people, by the people, for the people is just a sham?
To a real extent, yes, it is a sham.Empires do not want to consult their people, only their perceived interests in maintaining the empire. Said another way, we are in grave danger of being the hand of our own demise — as with all empires in human history.
Recently we’ve seen some token but precedent-setting direct payments to citizens in the form of Covid relief. There is also the ongoing discussion about reparations to descendants of slaves. If it could be unequivocally established that the government has abused DOD funding, misused and squandered vast sums of money to promote unjustified wars, purchase unneeded equipment, unnecessarily expand U.S. military presence across the globe, and regularly lied to the American public to manufacture consent for these misadventures and fraudulent activities, practical and political considerations aside, do you see any constitutional or other legal barriers to the public identifying, expecting, or even demanding proper compensation? A cash refund or citizen reparations for massive, authenticated abuse of power?
No. However, what might be practical, politically and otherwise, is a revenue-neutral carbon tax — one whose proceeds, in the multiple trillions of dollars, would be returned to the people, much the way Alaskans receive thousands of dollars annually because of Alaska’s oil. Such direct refunds to ALL American taxpayers could be a balancing of sorts and one that would go a long way to confronting climate change as well as correcting the profound maldistribution of wealth America is currently experiencing.