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.
Finian Cunningham has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. He is also a musician and songwriter. For nearly 20 years, he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organisations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Second-time recipient of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromising Integrity in Journalism (December 2020). His prolific output of excellent political analysis and commentary can be accessed at Strategic Culture Foundation, Sputnik News, and
RT. 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 Finian Cunningham had to say.
The Bulletin of the 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?
Yes, I am not sure about the precise position of the clock hands, but definitely I think it is appropriate that there is such grave concern about the danger of a war breaking out between the United States and either Russia or China or both. In numerous official policy papers and statements by successive administrations, Washington has provocatively designated both Russia and China as “national security threats”. The basis for such a bellicose designation is flimsy and often unsubstantiated. That means the United States is gratuitously inflaming tensions with two nuclear powers. Note how this aggressive stance by the US is a continuation of Cold War hostility even though the Cold War was supposed to have ended 30 years ago. Both Russia and China have repeatedly urged Washington to desist from holding a Cold War mentality, but Washington is incorrigible. It craves Cold War hostility and demarcation of the world into “allies and enemies” because such polarization of international relations is fundamental to how US global power operates. It needs conflict, tensions, even though that risks ultimately war, in order to satisfy its war-driven capitalist economy. Now look at the practical relations: the US is stoking tensions with China over Taiwan and with Russia over Ukraine. The common denominator is US aggravation in the vital national security areas of China and Russia. Russia and China are not patrolling near US territory. The US is arming to the teeth Taiwan separatists even though Washington claims disingenuously to maintain a One China Policy. The US is arming to the teeth a reactionary, Russophobic regime in Ukraine. One miscalculation, one provocation too far could ignite a war. The risk of war is very real and high. And that is a damning shame on US foreign policy and the nature of its hegemonic power ambitions. The self-declared US hegemon is pushing the world towards the abyss of war, no-one else is.
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?
There’s no doubt, contrary to the vainglorious image-projection, that the US is a lawless rogue state that wages wars whenever and where-ever it deems necessary for pursuit of its imperialist capitalist interests. No other nation since World War II comes near to the warmongering record of the United States. Not even close. How many nations have been violated? How many millions of lives have been destroyed by the US presumption to launch wars or “interventions”, as it euphemistically calls them, often under utterly mendacious pretexts of “fighting terrorism” or “protecting human rights”? If a person finds this a strange point of view then perhaps they should question the information they have been consuming. Really, it is absurd for the US to designate Russia, China or any other nation a threat to international security when we objectively consider its own heinous history of criminal destruction.
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?
The United States is the party that has unilaterally abandoned arms control treaties with Russia. The ABM in 2003, the INF treaty in 2019 and the Open Skies Treaty in 2020. Abandoning these treaties has undermined the architecture for nuclear arms controls and is inducing a new arms race. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the scrapping of the ABM by the GW Bush administration was the factor in why his nation was compelled to develop hypersonic missiles which, the Russians have calculated, would restore strategic balance. As far as China is concerned, it has a nuclear arsenal that is about 5 percent of the United States’ stockpile of warheads. Russia and China’s security doctrines are based on defensive reasoning. Not so that of the United States. Its military power is projected in terms of fighting perceived or designated enemies, “protecting allies” and all sorts of other fantasies. The US – the only nation to have used atomic weapons in war and against a civilian population – is an aggressor power owing to its imperial motives. Therefore, it is understandable and indeed necessary for other targeted nations to always ensure that the US never contemplates a preemptive strike. Russia and China have a no-first strike policy. They have declared this. The US does not. It retains the right to use nuclear weapons preemptively. It is quite clear the egg in this situation is US militarism. The onus is therefore on the US to lead the way to global disarmament by scaling back its nuclear arsenal and giving pledges to other nations seeking peace. Designating others gratuitously as enemies is inciting or trying to incite arms races and tensions. Because, as noted above, US corporate capitalism and its military-industrial complex are totally dependent on a world of insecurity and hostility. Even to the point of risking all-out war. The US as currently ruled is like an addicted junkie. It needs a fix of war periodically.
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 United States has approximately 800 military bases around the world in over 100 countries. It spends about $750 billion per year on the military which dwarfs Biden’s impending infrastructure bill. The US has destroyed nations across Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa – and that’s only in the past two decades, never mind seven decades since World War II. The US has sabotaged elections in dozens of countries, overthrown elected governments, fomented dirty civil wars and carried out assassinations of political enemies. Is that all for promoting peace, democracy and “rules-based global order? Or for imperial interests and objectives. The answer is obvious.
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?
It is the usual alarmist, scaremongering to fuel the military-industrial complex. The weapons corporations are among the biggest lobbyists in Congress. Politicians are bought by their largesse and vote accordingly. Military pundits depend on the largesse too. This is a racket going back to Marine General Smedley Butler in the early 1900s, and again with the alleged “missile gap” that the Soviet Union was supposed to have in the 1950s and 60s which turned out to be a heap of lies. But it served the purpose of pumping public money into US militarism instead of serving real human, democratic needs. No wonder the United States is falling apart from social decay, poverty and crumbling infrastructure when so much money – trillions and trillions of dollars – have been wasted decade after decade on propping up a useless, destabilizing and dangerous war economy that is the main factor for why the Doomsday Clock is approaching midnight.
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?
The United States, for imperative reasons stated above stemming from its capitalist-imperialist system, continually and relentlessly needs conflict and war. If it wasn’t Russia or China, US rulers would have to invent some other bogeyman nation. Specifically, regarding Russia’s Putin, the US and its lackeys like Britain have found him particularly objectionable because he is not a Yes Man. Same for China’s President Xi Jinping. They have both a strong and principled position of defending their national interests and are not willing to comply with Washington’s dictate. That makes them intolerable in Washington’s view. Hence the relentless propaganda campaign via “news media” to demonize both Putin and Xi. If Putin opened up Russia for American capitalist exploitation as Yeltsin did during the 1990s, then we can be sure Putin would all of a sudden become acceptable and praiseworthy to Washington and the dutiful corporate media.
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?
President Biden says he does not want confrontation with Russia or China. But look at the practice under his administration. This practice is a continuation of the previous Trump administration and that of Obama too. The US practical policy is one of aggression and tension-stoking. It cannot be anything else because of the inherent nature of its power. There is no legal justification for US policy. It is aggression, which is a crime under international law and in violation of the UN Charter. The US attempts to justify its policy with false claims. For example, it accuses Russia of invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea. Where’s the evidence? The US and NATO powers instigated a coup d’état in Ukraine ousting an elected government in February 2014. That coup threatened ethnic Russian people in Crimea who voted in a referendum in March 2014 to join the Russian Federation with which it had centuries of shared culture. Anyway, it is the US that has funded the Kiev regime with billions of dollars of lethal weaponry. It is the US and NATO who are mounting more military forces and infrastructure on Russia’s borders. It is absolutely reckless warmongering by the US. But such conduct is reflexive for an imperial power. It is irrational for most moral people who desire peace. But the US is a war machine under its prevailing capitalist system. [Editor’s Note: Finian Cunningham just published an article which expands on this answer. Please enjoy further insights offered in Is There Much Point in Putin or Xi Talking with Biden?]
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?
I think if Taiwan declares independence due to the relentless goading by the United States under its revealingly named “strategic ambiguity” policy, then China will exert its control over the province by military force. It has the legal right to do so because the world, including the US, recognize China’s territorial sovereignty over Taiwan. A full-on war is a danger, but I think the US will back down because it knows the cost of such a confrontation would be too great for its own economic survival. In other words, China could call Uncle Sam’s bluff to find he has a lousy hand with raised stakes beyond what can be afforded.
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?
This specific country case of Syria and the evident egregious violations by the United States can be taken as proof of the imperialist conduct of the US as argued above. We can argue for ages in the abstract about whether the US is a benign or baleful entity. But Syria shatters any illusions of “benign power” and “exceptional virtue” that US leaders and media have harped on for decades. The myth of mighty noble America is a chimera as its illegal conduct in Syria demonstrates.
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”?
It may seem naive but foreign policy and conduct should be held accountable to the citizens if democracy was real. The US has been at war in every decade of its 246 years in existence as a modern state. Most of its 46 presidents have presided over wars, invasions, and imperial intrigues of all sort. Since World War II, probably every one of them could be prosecuted as a war criminal. That suggests that up to now the people have had no say nor influence. The powers-that-be, the establishment, the oligarchy, the plutocracy, the deep state – whatever is more fitting – set the policy of war. Presidents are figure heads – albeit complicit and answerable – on the bow of a ship of state that is charted for war. If the US actually constituted a democracy then that inflexible course of war would change. John F Kennedy tried to rein in wars and the Cold War, and ended up being assassinated by the deep state. Decisions of war as in all other vital decisions such as economic policy should reflect the will of the people. That is democracy. But as we know the US is an oligarchy that has presidential elections every four years. Ask yourself, why is that Obama, Trump and now Biden are consistent in pushing aggression towards Russia and China? Where’s the democratic will of the people? It doesn’t exist under the prevailing system of oligarchic power and corporate capitalism. That may change in the future, however, and why not? But it’s going to take an enormous mobilization of ordinary working Americans to transform the status quo into democratic governance. The same also applies to European so-called democracies.
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?
I think you have implicitly answered the question. Of course, the prevailing system is corrupt and anti-democratic and that’s why there is a pervasive illegal effort to survey society and persecute whistleblowers like John Kiriakou, Daniel Hale, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and many other honorable truth-tellers. The powers-that-be know they have much to fear from public accountability and so they strive strenuously to suppress public protest and conceal their systematic criminality. Fundamentally, the US power is not just a violation of foreign nations. It is a violation against its own people who suffer from deprived and deformed society as an immensely anti-democratic result. But that is going to change as working people begin to organize and demand their long-overdue rights and indeed eventually compose the governing structures. That may take decades to eventuate, but history is on the side of the struggle for justice and peace.
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?
The best manifestation of democratic justice would be for the majority of working people in the United States to finally create a government that works for their class interests. Litigate, so to speak, against the entire system by a mass movement of politically conscious workers and their families. Getting rid of the warmongering, oligarchic capitalist system and replacing it with a worker-directed socialist government that shares genuine internationalism with all other nations would be the most effective form of compensation for the many cruel decades of injustice.