RIMPAC: thoughts for senior officers participating in RIMPAC

RNZN - RIMPAC 2016

On the 14th May 2020, the contents of this blog were sent to Ron Mark, NZ’s Minister of Defence. Neither the article nor the covering letter that argued for a reconsideration of NZ’s commitment to the US alliance received an acknowledgement. Today, it is open to the public.

Blog No. 191.

I was recently asked to comment on the future deployment of Western navies in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Though the immediate effect of the virus was to briefly render crews of several major players hors de combat, there will be more substantial and longer-lasting consequences.

RIMPAC is a biennial, naval exercise organised by the US Navy’s Pacific Command. Twenty-five nations participated in RIMPAC 2018. This year, despite Covid-19, it is anticipated that twenty-eight national navies will participate.  The Russian navy, though ostensibly invited, has refused to participate ever since the unsuccessful US attempt to dispel it from its Black Seas base in the Crimea.  The Chinese navy has been ‘disinvited’ because of China’s claims over and occupation of previously uninhabited islands in the South China Sea.

RIMPAC presents a microcosm of the current competition between rival blocs that has been a persistent blight on a system of global governance based on the seventeenth century, doctrine of state sovereignty. Under the flimsy shelter of an unreformed UN, great powers still feel free to act in their own short-term national interest at the expense of the long-term interests of all humanity. World leaders still follow the adage of Douglas Bader, a famous British WWII air ace, “Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.” International law cannot function unless it is treated with more respect than that appropriate to dog-fighting.  

Though the world was given plenty of warning of the inevitability of a pandemic such as that currently inconveniencing it, its present system of governance proved incapable of taking precautions to confront it.  The same is true of the global response to the far more serious twin threats of accidental nuclear war and of the Earth becoming unfit for human habitation because of nations’ continued maintenance of economic systems that induce rapid climate change.

Of course, we would like to avoid these existential threats, of all three of which we are fully aware. However, neither our current mind-sets, nor the systems of governance that we allow to control our lives, appear to be fit for the purpose of countering them.  We have been warned: we know the threats are real and dire but we continue about our business as normal. While Rome is on the point of bursting into flames, the nations of the world are involved in exercises such as RIMPAC.  

Most of the participating nations have committed themselves to the western side in the conflict. Some, members of the non-aligned movement, such as India and Indonesia, remain uncommitted to formal alliance. They participate as an opportunity to keep up-to-date with the latest technical developments in their profession and/or to derive whatever inducements might be on offer from either side in the hope that waverers might commit.

We happily refer to such operations as ‘War-Games.’ Though it is open to question whether we should refer with such flippancy to this latter-day cold war. Russia (like India and Turkey) has nine allied countries, in which it maintains overseas bases:  China has five such allies. In this beat-up of a cold war, and as justification for displays such as RIMPAC, these two nations are seen as threatening aggression towards the likes of the UK, with its military bases on the soil of seventeen foreign countries and the USA, with multiple military bases hosted by thirty-nine such submissive allies or conquests. To refer to such lethal manifestations of human stupidity as a ‘game,’ when the whole of life on Earth is threatened by its possible nuclear outcome, displays a reckless frivolity.

It seems inevitable that crises will multiply in the coming decades. Social systems that are most able to surmount such crises will be viewed in an ever more favourable light. One of the most obvious features of the current pandemic is the contrast between the seeming competence of the major eastern powers and the bumbled incompetence of the USA and its western allies in coping with Covid-19. In this respect, the technocratic and to varying degrees, egalitarian and authoritarian, communalist cultures and their systems of government, will have demonstrated their superiority over cultures and systems  ostensibly based on  liberal ideas of individual freedom, with all the conflicts, inefficiencies and inequalities that seem to result.

Perceived competence in handling this and future crises is going to be one of the deciding factors in the current power struggle between East and West. Ever since its disastrous instigation of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and more recently in Libya and Syria, the USA’s and Europe’s dominance in the global balance of power has been decreasing. Post Covid-19 and with the pending post-Covid global recession, this trend will accelerate. The balance will ultimately shift decisively towards the East – the sole caveat being that the American leadership retains its sanity and doesn’t, by accident or intention, instigate a nuclear exchange that neither party will survive.   

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.  The world today bears an uncanny resemblance to the situation that prevailed immediately prior to the Great War.  Great Britain was losing its scientific, technological, commercial and maritime pre-eminence to an upstart Germany.  In Britain, the cause of global dominance for English-speaking nations was preached by Cecil Rhodes and Alfred Milner through the secret ‘Society of the Elect’ that they founded and Nathan Rothschild funded.  Rhodes, being a diamond and gold man, and at that time the richest man on Earth, and Rothschild a particularly avaricious banker, had very much in mind the control of other nations’ natural resources.

Together, they and their multiple disciples placed in the upper-most tiers of the British establishment, worked to maintain their imperialist ambition. To contain the growing threat posed by Germany’s growing economic and technological strength and its robust network of allies and colonies, the Society worked hard to surround Germany by making alliances with Russia and France. With members owning and controlling the British media, they were able to groom the unsuspecting British public in preparation for the jingoistic fervour that was to be required of them. The result was WWI, which in turn, resulted in WWII.

Today we have the USA, whose deep state’s ideological ancestry and its Neo-cons’ meme of global dominance can be directly traced back, through institutions such as the Council on Foreign Relations and the RUSI, to Cecil Rhodes and his imperialist vision. Like Rhodes, his transatlantic successors appear to have retained the driving ambition to control other nations’ natural resources.

As did the UK v. Germany, in the lead-up to WWI and  as is evidenced by RIMPAC, the USA is working hard to form alliances to contain upstart China’s challenge. While the USA retains the illusion that its position as the world’s exceptional nation can be maintained, those other nations bobbing along in its wake, had best urgently prepare for the war that such an ambition is likely to provoke. That war will be fought against an alliance of China and Russia, firmly cemented together by the USA’s policy of NATO expansion and its open hostility to China.

Were we discussing the strategic situation prior to the recent revolution in military affairs, the geographical advantage would be entirely with the Russia-China bloc. It has firmly within its control Halford Mackinder’s ‘Heartland,’ while western predators are reduced to attempts to take bites from the periphery.  However, we are now talking about a ‘Real Revolution in Military Affairs’ that has occurred in the past two decades. Modern technological advances have done nothing but reinforce the Chinese-Russian alliance’s pre-exiting geographical advantage. 

Russia has taken due note of the refusal of the USA to indulge in any meaningful arms control measures. As further evidence of the West’s hostile intent, there is the campaign of virulent, anti-Russian and anti-Chinese propaganda and false-flags instigated by institutions such as MI6, the CIA and Britain’s Integrity Institute. These are relayed to western publics by such as the USA’s Fox News and other organs of a mass-media, deeply penetrated by the intelligence and psy-ops agencies of the NATO alliance.

To defend itself (a high priority in a country that lost nearly thirty million dead the last time it was invaded from the West) Russia has moved rapidly ahead in terms of missile technology. Anyone doubting this, or failing to understand how it was possible, should read Andrei Martyanov’s two books on the subject.  These developments render even Mackinder’s proposed strategic advantage to the occupiers of the Heartland, largely superfluous.

As a consequence of these developments in missile speed, accuracy and target acquisition, the conduct of war is no longer bound by the constraints of distance and terrain that used to determine conflict outcomes. Developments in technology have now moved the balance of power firmly to the advantage of the defence. Projecting power through the aggressive deployment of large surface vessels is no longer feasible. By close of 2022, Britain will have commissioned two new aircraft carriers. Sadly, it has missed the opportunity to name them Prince of Wales and Repulse in honour of the dead crews of the ships that likewise fell victim to their Admiralty’s failure to fully appreciate the implications of developments in technology.

There are only two possible outcomes of the current struggle and impending conflict.  In the worst case scenario, with the already evident reduction of the USA’s soft power accentuated by the incompetence of its reaction to the Covid-19 crisis, the USA will become ever more desperate. Working on intelligence based more on what it wants to believe than on reality and with a populace whipped to a Sino- and Russophobic frenzy by the deep state’s manipulated media, it risks all, and intentionally, or by accident initiates a pre-emptive first strike. No matter how high its hopes or the outcome of its one-eyed modelling, it will not escape a riposte.  

The second possible outcome is that at the end of the coming and inevitable deep post-Covid recession and the global public’s gradual realisation that the USA’s hard-pushed and demonstrably racist neo-liberalism has no clothes, the economic pull of Asia and Eurasia gradually becomes irresistible. America’s allies, including NATO members, will melt away.  Perhaps the Non-aligned Nations Movement, which already embraces more than 50% of humanity, reinforced by the acquisition of new members from the developed world, will come into its own. Western regimes will face demands for a very different and more equitable, socialist-inclined, more environmentally conscious society. These societies will initially and perhaps permanently, be less-prosperous than they were before the pandemic and will find it increasingly difficult to justify the financial and political cost of preparing for war.

Faced with these two alternative scenarios, it will be up to future governments of today’s participants in RIMPAC, to make their own decisions as to which way they wish to go. The choice will be to heroically go down with their ships with all guns blazing, or a more pragmatic and less violent option. As History will be written by the winning side, there will be few kudos to be gained with posterity for vain heroism in the present situation. 

During this time of impending life and death decision making, top ranking military officers should bear in mind the important lesson to be learnt from the wars fought by the USA and Britain in the Middle East and Afghanistan.  Their oath is to their countries, not to the government of the day. It is the duty of senior military personnel to put aside personal considerations of career prospects and/or loyalty to a service and speak truth to political power.

To talk truth to power they first need to know truth. How do senior military personnel learn the truth in a world riddled with legend and disinformation to which, both military and the vast majority of political leaders are equally exposed? The writer’s tutor in Russian studies at the RMA Sandhurst (an émigré, who, as an officer cadet had defended the Winter Palace against the Bolsheviks) was adamant that in military affairs, nothing was more important than to try and see the reality through the eyes of those you view as your opponent. It should be the duty of those seeking high rank in the American and allied navies to study and try to see events and developments as seen through Russian and Chinese eyes.

How does NATO’s expansion and the subversion of ‘democracy’ in Ukraine look to a Russia that throughout its history has been subject to repeated and cruelly damaging western invasions? Why do the western powers seek to subvert a secular Syria and encourage militant Islam in Russia’s southern and China’s western territories? What ambition drove NATO to bomb Serbia, or overthrow existing, secular regimes in Iraq and Libya? A good starting point for such an understanding of the NATO/Russia conflict would be the works of two, impartial, western academics, Stephen Cohen and Richard Sakwa. For the rise of Asia, there are multiple works – a starting point would be Peter Frankopan’s ‘The New Silk Roads’ or Parag Khanna’s ‘The future is Asian.’

After the American Empire has moved into sunset mode, be it through natural atrophy or a violent convulsion that somehow or other, humanity manages to survive, we might then be faced with a relatively peaceable, multi-polar world, in which no single nation is bidding for dominion over the others. Covid and global warming lead naturally to a common realisation that we are all passengers on the same frail planetary boat. If this viewpoint prevails over short-term greed, the world will demand more cooperation and less competition between the nearly two hundred states of which it is composed.

It seems probable that if they get this far,  the nations of the world will see it as being to their advantage to make use of a reformed UN, or a similar, made-to-purpose institution,  that can take the lead in global governance and that works to the benefit of all. Whatever the format of the central institution and however its powers are limited, such a system would have to be self-financing.  Perhaps this could be achieved through a Tobin tax, or through charging fees for the use (or misuse) of the commons of ocean and atmosphere. It would be free of manipulations by the wealthy and would not only develop and make international law in pre-determined directions, but would also need the power, in unusual cases, to enforce it. 

That power of enforcement, as would the provision of assistance to those countries struck by the increasing number of ‘natural’ disasters that will befall, would have to be provided by the nations that make up such a global community of nations. The role of today’s navies would be to come to the aid of nations struck by natural disasters and to participate in international law enforcement operations should the need arise.

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