There is a saying that generals always fight the last war. They plan for future wars based on the tactics of the previous wars. Only when war commences and changes in technology etc. become evident are tactics adjusted to take account of the new situation.
That saying came to mind when I read an article by the former Fine Gael TD and pro-war Business Post columnist Lucinda Creighton. In her article she assailed Joe Biden for championing the interests of US capitalism.* She decried what she saw as an assault on free trade and economic co-operation between US and EU capitalism. Unlike a general who, recognising that change responds accordingly, Creighton is stuck in the past, seemingly unaware that the world is changing.
While US imperialism still dominates most of the world, its position is being challenged. China has emerged as its greatest economic threat; however, the United States also faces competition from the EU and in particular from German capitalism. US imperialism seeks to maintain its hegemony at the expense of its “allies,” or rivals.
There has always been competition between the imperialist centres; however, since they all accepted US hegemony, conflicts that arose between them were dealt with using the “rules-based international order,” drawn up by the United States to underpin its dominant position.
As US economic dominance is being eroded, inter-imperialist rivalry has increased. The United States has long been a critic of Germany’s policy of importing cheap energy from Russia; and even before the proxy war in Ukraine began Biden had pledged to stop the Nord Stream project. As far back as 2014 in Ukraine a US government official, Victoria Nuland, crudely articulated the US attitude to the EU with her “Fuck the EU” comment as the United States put its own candidate in power as president of Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine has helped the United States to achieve a number of strategic goals. It has forced German industry to forgo cheap and abundant Russian energy, weakening the German economy and, by making it dependent on American energy, making it more susceptible to US pressure. To make sure there would be no backsliding, for good measure the United States sabotaged Nord Stream, just as Biden had promised. It has strengthened NATO, whose raison d’être is American control over Europe.
In Ireland the Government and media have attacked Irish neutrality, in defence of “democracy.” Russia has been put beyond the pale, economically, politically, and culturally. The United States also hopes to defeat it militarily, thus removing another rival.
For the moment there is unity between the United States, the EU and Britain as they prosecute their proxy war against Russia. It must be noted that most of the world has refused to be dragooned into NATO’s proxy war, in a sign of waning US dominance.
The longer the war continues, the greater the pressure on European economies. If the war escalates, it is not the United States or Britain that will be the war zone but Continental Europe. European capitalism does not want a zone of instability on the borders of the EU. However, at the moment the United States and Britain refuse to allow any negotiations short of a Russian surrender. It is likely that the anti-war protests that (despite being ignored by RTE and the Irish media) are taking place in a growing number of European cities will continue to increase. The question is, How long is European capitalism prepared to suffer in order to preserve US hegemony?
Even if NATO is successful, the wartime unity will not last. Inter-imperialist rivalry is a feature of capitalism, and US imperialism is in decline. How will the Irish ruling class react to these changed circumstances? As the CPI pointed out, the Irish state is dependent on and subservient to the triple lock of imperialism: Britain, the European Union, and the United States. Its institutions, such as the courts, uphold the laws generated at the EU level; they uphold the rights of transnational corporations in relation to their tax contributions and their labour contracts, and they abide by British policy in the North of Ireland.
The Irish ruling class is dependent on relatively stable relations between the three imperialist centres. That is why Creighton wishes to put the genie of inter-imperialist rivalry back into the bottle. If Creighton is articulating the thinking of the Irish ruling class, then they are ill prepared for the future. No amount of burying one’s head in the sand will change reality.
Late in 2022 Ursula von der Leyen said that the present economic policy of the United States is a threat to European capitalism. If the intensified rivalry becomes a trade war, the Irish ruling class will be forced into taking sides against at least one pillar of its support. Its position will be weakened.
As the contradictions between the three imperialist centres mature, opportunities for advancing the cause of the working class and raising the standard of socialism and national liberation will increase.
*Lucinda Creighton, “Joe Biden has embraced the worst of Trump’s economic policies,” Business Post, 10 February 2023.