A Return to Containment: Kennan and the Responsible Use of Power – Part 5

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A Return to Containment: Kennan and the Responsible Use of Power - Part 5


Written by Stewart J. Melanson PhD exclusively for SouthFront


The New Cold War – No Going Back

Introduction: The Coming Second American Civil War

President Trump’s first term in office witnessed a growing divide in American society between Trump supporters and ‘never-Trumpers’, thanks in large part to hyper-partisan media reporting.  Main stream media’s (MSM) blatantly biased reporting has had such a deeply polarising effect that civil unrest has burst out into the open.  The 2020 election was expected to be contentious enough but media reporting has added fuel to the fire by repeatedly claiming Trump planned to stay in office even if Biden won the election – and thus, requiring military intervention to remove him from office.  There were also circulating rumors that Trump could declare martial law to stay in office:

Throughout 2020, America has faced a global pandemic, civil unrest after the death of George Floyd and a contentious election. As a result, an influx of fear about the possibility of the invocation of martial law or unchecked military intervention is circulating around the internet among scholars and civilians alike. LINK

Now in the aftermath of one of the most contentious elections in history, the MSM have rushed to coronate Joe Biden as the President-elect despite on-going court challenges.  Trump’s claims of widespread electoral fraud and refusal to concede to Biden is being portrayed as evidence he will not leave office.  Basically, the MSM are making the case that Trump planned before the election to claim electoral fraud as an excuse to stay in power.

What this has done is convince Biden supporters that Trump is trying to steal the election while Trump supporters see media reporting as fake news and it is Biden that stole the election.  The two sides are so polarized in their views that it raises the spectre of civil war.  In response, there is a growing movement to remedy the tainted election through a federal re-vote under martial law in order to pre-empt a civil war.  Those advocating this route are people of significant stature and the MSM needs to take this very seriously regardless of political affiliation – the break-up of the Republic is at stake.

Unfortunately, bias in MSM reporting continues as before, labeling as ‘conspiracy theorist’ anyone that challenges the integrity of the election.  For example, former air force pilot Scott O’Grady:

President Donald Trump’s nominee [Scott O’Grady] to become a senior Pentagon official spread debunked conspiracies on Twitter that called Trump’s election loss to Joe Biden a “coup” attempt and shared tweets that suggest Trump should declare martial law. LINK

As Trump’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of Defense of International Security Affairs, O’Grady would in that position have oversight of US nuclear forces, missile defense and cybersecurity for the Pentagon. Then there is Trump’s former national security advisor General Michael Flynn:

With a fresh presidential pardon still warm, former national security advisor Michael Flynn has called on Donald Trump to suspend the constitution and declare martial law for the military to run a new election… A day after Mr Flynn tweeted out the calls for martial law, Mr Trump published a 46-minute video to Facebook calling on the Supreme Court to overturn the results in the key swing states that delivered the projected victory to the Democrats. He also suggested a “re-vote” be held, as had been suggested in the ad on Tuesday that called for the military to run the re-lection. LINK

Trump’s Presidential pardon of General Flynn coincided with major changes at the Pentagon that replaced key positions with Trump loyalists – if Trump is seriously entertaining declaring martial law, this would be a necessary step:

The shake-up at the Pentagon continues after President Trump “terminated” Defense Secretary Mark Esper, replacing him with his counterterrorism chief, Christopher Miller…  Three other top Pentagon officials have been replaced with Trump loyalists who have pushed conspiracy theories or who are hawkish on Iran. LINK

Retired 3-star General McInerney called for President Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, declare martial law and set up military tribunals to try those suspected of treason.  Further, McInerney proposed re-doing the election under military supervision due to his belief that rampant cyberwarfare by foreign powers overturned the election in favor of Biden. LINK General McInerny’s claims of cyberwarfare to overturn the election speaks to the designation of election systems as critical infrastructure and the Pentagon’s establishing a Cyber-command to counter foreign cyber-attacks:

January 2017 decision by the outgoing Obama administration to designate the election systems as “critical infrastructure” on par with nuclear reactors, banks and the electrical grid. The Department of Homeland Security and its cybersecurity agency have since worked to build relationships with election officials, giving top state election officials security clearances so they can quickly receive sensitive threat intelligence. LINK

Importantly, Trump signed a 2018 executive order declaring a national emergency and sanctions for foreign entities interfering in US elections. LINK This is still in place and would bolster Trump’s case for declaring martial law.  Cyber warfare has also become prioritized by the Pentagon as technological advances have transformed the battlespace in modern warfare.  As US elections are now critical infrastructure, the Pentagon and other agencies have been planning in advance to defend elections from foreign cyber attacks that could give enemies political advantage:

The 2018 Defense Department cyber strategy prioritizes the challenge of great-power competition and recognizes that DOD must defend forward to counter U.S. competitors’ long-term, coordinated campaigns of malicious activity to gain political, economic and military advantage… ”Defending elections is an enduring mission of DOD … at the forefront of Cyber Command… elections, readiness …My top priority is a safe and secure election… free from foreign influence. We’re ready [and] I have great confidence … it is a mission-ready force.” LINK

If the 2020 election was indeed compromised by foreign directed cyber interference, how was this possible if they were “mission-ready” to deter such an attack?  Let us examine the primary focus of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and statements by its former Director Chris Krebs:

Chris Krebs, the cybersecurity director who Donald Trump terminated over claims the 2020 election was the most secure on record, has said recent allegations made by the president and his allies were “farcical” … “There’s no evidence that any machine that I’m aware of has been manipulated by a foreign power,” Mr Krebs told CBS… “The American people should have 100 per cent confidence in their vote.”  LINK

As head of Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), to declare the election as “the most secure on record” is an over-the-top claim that directly contradicts President Trump – his ultimate boss.  Krebs also states “The American people should have 100 per cent confidence in their vote.”  I doubt that dismissing Trump’s claims as ‘farcical’ will somehow give the more than 70 million Americans who voted for Trump ‘100%’ confidence in their vote.  However, Krebs hyperbolic statements are consistent with CISA information provided on their website LINK:

#Protect2020 Rumor Vs. Reality: Mis- and disinformation can undermine public confidence in the electoral process, as well as in our democracy… This resource is designed to debunk common misinformation and disinformation narratives and themes that relate broadly to the security of election infrastructure and related processes LINK

Resilience Series Graphic Novels: Disinformation is an existential threat to the United States, our democratic way of life, and the critical infrastructure and functions on which it relies. CISA’s Resilience Series (…Real Fake is its first graphic novel) communicates the dangers and risks associated with dis- and misinformation through fictional storiesLINK

I found little in the way of preventing direct interference in the election itself, as the focus seems solely about countering disinformation in order to maintain public trust in elections.  This is even the explicit intent of CISA’s Countering Foreign Influence Task Force:

Countering Foreign Influence Task Force… CISA released Real Fake—a graphic novel that communicates the dangers and risks associated with dis- and misinformation campaigns. The plot shows how threat actors capitalize on political and social issues (especially around election cycles) to plant doubt in the minds of targeted audiencesLINK

This is similar to efforts to censure debate over election integrity in the MSM and on social media:

YouTube Starting Wednesday will remove videos uploaded to its site that claim that widespread voter fraud or other irregularities occurred in the 2020 election and influenced the outcome of the race.  The new policy, which comes roughly a month after Joe Biden was projected the winner of the election, goes beyond the actions taken by Facebook and Twitter, which have both used labels to mark posts including misinformation about the election but have generally not removed them. LINK

Arguably, the net result has been the opposite, an erosion of public trust in fair elections.  Given the appearance of a concerted effort to stifle election debate in the rush to crown Joe Biden as President, is it not reasonable some might deem this to be conspiracy?  Further, reports of ties between high level officials and China, such as the Biden family, have fueled questions about foreign interference – after all, did not the Russian’s overturn the 2016 election in favor of Trump?

If Trump, based on fabricated evidence, can be accused of being a Russian agent which is treason, it is not unreasonable the Biden family be accused of treason given credible evidence of ties to China and the CCP.  In a departure from the near media blackout on Biden family ties to China, NBC News ran an opinion piece November 2, 2020 titled “Joe Biden must clear the air on Hunter Biden and his China business dealings — win or lose”. LINK Indeed, as Hunter Biden is now the subject of a criminal investigation for his ties to the CCP. LINK

It is worth noting that retired General McInerney called for military tribunals to try those suspected of treason and he is not alone – on Dec. 1, 2020, the Tea Party based “We The People Convention” took out a full-page ad in the Washington Times:


We the People must not and WILL NOT cede our exclusive Constitutional right to elect our Representatives… Therefore, We the People MUST demand a NEW and fair national vote, a vote that all Americans can trust and live by regardless of the winner!

Without a fair vote, we fear, with good reason, the threat of a shooting civil war is imminent. …Mr. President you must … immediately declare a limited form of Martial Law, and temporarily suspend the Constitution and civilian control of these federal elections, for the sole purpose of having the military oversee a national re-vote… Failure to do so could result in massive violence and destruction on a level not seen since the Civil War. Limited Martial Law is clearly a better option than Civil War!

…It is time to honor your oath, Mr. President. It is time for you to boldly act to save our nation as Lincoln did… We will also have no other choice but to take matters into our own hands, and defend our rights on our own, if you do not act within your powers to defend us. LINK

The sections that follow discuss the Trump-Biden rivalry in the context of MIC interests and whether it makes a difference to the MIC who emerges victorious from a policy perspective.  My analysis assumes that even if a Trump or Biden victory precipitates mass civil unrest, eventually a winner will emerge – a future analysis will discuss other possible scenarios and their implications.

Biden and Trump: A Tale of Two Justice Systems

The Trump campaign warned that due to shady dealings with China, Biden is compromised when it comes to China policy.  In other words, Biden is an agent of Beijing – the China version of Russia-gate where Trump is an ‘agent of the Kremlin’. LINK Of interest is that no evidence was found to support the accusations of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump.  In a March 2019 NBC news report:

Special counsel Robert Mueller found no proof that President Donald Trump criminally colluded with Russia… The report makes it clear that Trump was not exonerated in his behavior, but simply found insufficient criminal evidence to prosecute. LINK

This was after a nearly two-year investigation that dragged on in the belief that eventually evidence will be found.  In other words, guilty until proven guilty. The basis for initiating the investigation was the ‘Steele Dossier’.  It did not seem to bother anyone that the Dossier was “funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee [and its claims] could not be corroborated”. LINK

The main stream media reported the claims in the Dossier as facts and that Mueller had overwhelming evidence of Trump’s guilt.  ‘Russia-gate’ rendered foreign policy efforts to repair US relations with Russia politically unviable.  Even when the report on Mueller’s investigation found “no proof”, NBC’s fallback was to point out that the “report makes it clear that Trump was not exonerated.”  From the point of view of the MSM, Trump is guilty and therefore, the problem is that Mueller was not given enough time to find the evidence – which must be somewhere…  This moves the goal post to ‘guilty until proven innocent’ – all that was necessary was to make the accusation.

This legal ’logic’ mirrors the Soviet criminal code, for example, the crime of ‘unproven espionage’ which did not require any evidence, since the mere fact you have been charged with a crime means you must have done something wrong.  The proof is delivered by the act of laying charges.  China’s CCP, not to be outdone, have their harmony laws where you can be charged with the crime of disrupting harmony in the society – and for the CCP, ‘disruptive’ behavior is anything they don’t like. LINK

In the West, arbitrary arrest and detention does occur but it is those least able to defend themselves that are disproportionately targeted.  However, Trump is a billionaire real estate developer coming from New York City and the world of gambling casinos – you got to be tough in such environments, so, Trump can fight back.  This has made for some spectacular theatre over the years and the most recent, and most serious drama playing out, is the controversy following the November 3 election.  This latest drama shares a common theme with all the past drama which is how Trump is treated differently than his opponents.

In contrast to Trump, Biden has been shielded from any serious repercussions for his past behaviour – perhaps the most egregious involving his son Hunter and his laptop.  This laptop was handed over to the FBI and contained a treasure trove of damaging revelations including potential illegal activities, and yet no action has been taken, as if it never existed.  Further, the main stream media coddled Biden during the 2020 presidential election campaign while being uniformly hostile to Trump.

The different treatment was easy to see by objective observers but one side is convinced any means to deny Trump a second term is justified.  Trump supporters see it as showing media bias against Trump in favor of Biden.  This bias extended to social media giants Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, in Google’s search algorithms and questionable polling results in the weeks leading up to the election.

Although Biden has been shielded to a large extent from the damaging revelations found in Hunter Biden’s laptop, will this remain so if he goes against the interests of the US military-industrial complex (MIC)?  Even if Biden remained shielded from any investigations, a Biden administration would be inheriting Trump’s New Cold War legacy where policy planning and implementation are already well advanced.  Before discussing the prospects of a Biden administration reset of relations with China, I provide a brief overview of why the US MIC wants a New Cold War with China – this is discussed at length in Part 1 of this series. LINK

Brief Summary of Part 1: Intentional Destruction of US Hegemony

The New Cold War has justified expansion of the military budget to contain perceived CCP and Russian aspirations to achieve regional hegemony and for China, to ultimately supplant the US as global hegemon. This New Cold War superpower rivalry serves MIC interests far better than a US global hegemonic world order.

According to Hegemonic Stability Theory, the US as hegemon will leverage its global supremacy to reshape the international system to its liking.  It can be argued that the MIC will use its influence in an attempt to direct US policy to reshape the international system to its own liking, which is a return to Cold War superpower rivalry – the most fundamental reason is that stability of the international system under US hegemony will lead to general global disarmament which is not in the interests of the MIC.  Below are the steps to achieve a New Cold War:

  • Use the First Cold War as a template to guide actions and policy – a known quantity that worked
  • Use its influence to formulate US policies that will undermine its own hegemony to purposely attenuate US power enough to accommodate a near-peer rival
  • A potential rival must not be thwarted from achieving near-peer status with the US
  • Once a rival achieves near-peer status, initiate a New Cold War with that rival

Does the MIC possess sufficient influence over US foreign policy to reshape the international system according to its will?  There is good reason to believe it does.  Part 4 discusses how the 1947 National Security Act institutionalized direct involvement of the MIC in executive branch decision-making which facilitated drafting of NSC-68 – adopted by the Truman administration in 1950, the defence budget was nearly tripled.  To keep pace with the Soviet Union, defence spending remained very high until the end of the Cold War.  The military-related economic activity in Congressional districts that resulted served to entrench MIC influence over Congress – reduced military spending following the end of the Cold War put MIC influence over Congress at risk, hence the need to return to the good old days of Cold War.

Implementation of the disastrous post 9-11 Bush Doctrine was widely criticized for extraordinary poor planning and incompetence.  Basically, we are to believe the military establishment are staffed by idiots. But my premise suggests the intent was to accelerate the demise of hegemony by designing the most disastrous foreign policy doctrine imaginable.  Given they had an A-Team to get the job done, this was remarkably successful.

This also explains why China was allowed to rise unimpeded to be the primary threat.  While the US military planned for strategic competition with China, official US policy was to seek cooperation which permitted China’s nearly unfettered rise to near-peer status.  By 2017, China reached the point of posing a credible threat and the US military conceded loss of hegemony, recognizing China’s rise to near-peer status as a supreme threat to US national security.

Trump who initially campaigned using isolationist rhetoric such as ‘America First’ has become the New Cold War warrior leading the charge with Cold War messaging such as ‘peace through strength’ – the military might of the US preserved the peace during the Cold War as a deterrent to Soviet aggression.  Will this also prove to be the case for this New Cold War?  The New Cold War may serve the interests of more than just the MIC. In Kenneth Waltz’s view, a bipolar superpower rivalry is more stable than either unipolar hegemony or multi-polar great power rivalry:

With the relative decline of US, China and America can enter into bipolar relationship much like the US and the USSR during the Cold War… [Kenneth Waltz, architect of Defensive Realism] posits bipolarity as the most stable of international configurations… balancing between the US and China brings the international distribution of power into an equilibrium and averts the risk of war. LINK

That a bipolar rivalry is the more desirable international system draws from the experience of the first Cold War where global war was averted for decades and is often referred to as the ‘long peace’:

The successes of containment had clearly outweighed its failures. There was no war with the Soviet Union… There was no appeasement either, as there had been… between the two world wars. Whatever the miscalculations, whatever the costs, the [U.S.] and its allies sustained a strategy that was far more consistent, effective, and morally justifiable than anything their adversaries were able to manage. LINK

However, for there to be another ‘long peace’, US foreign policy must stay true to the principle of preventing war that was at the core of Kennan’s Policy of Containment – this is also in the best interests of the MIC.  What steps might be taken to bring US foreign policy to be more in line with principles to prevent war is the topic of a future article. LINK

There is substantial evidence of Biden having ties to the CCP, which has raised questions of his being compromised enough to pose a national security risk.  So far, this has not impeded Biden’s bid for the White House but this could change and may be used by the MIC as leverage over a Biden administration.  For example, the MSM has protected Biden thus far, but the MIC has demonstrated its influence over the media to whip up public support for desired policies, such as invading Iraq:

more than 75 retired officers have been coached by government and military officials to ‘spin’ the news about Iraq—or simply lie—on countless network and cable channel news programs and talk shows over the course of the past five years or more. Fox News has led the way in presenting these individuals to the public, but NBC, CNN, CBS and ABC have followed suit…

The military analysts’ program was put in place prior to the invasion of Iraq. Indeed, as the Times makes clear, “even before Sept.11,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke had “built a system within the Pentagon to recruit ‘key influentials,’” who might be called on to “generate support” for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s policies. [General McInerney was one of the 75 officers recruited] LINK

Of interest is that the “military analysts’ program was put in place prior to the invasion of Iraq. Indeed, as the Times makes clear, even before Sept.11”.  The MIC anticipated the difficult sell to the public for invading Iraq, and so, the MIC planned in advance how it would influence the mass media to achieve aims – which was successful.

The Obstacle Course Awaiting a Biden Administration Reset of US-China Relations

The ability of the MIC to exert influence over the MSM should be enough to give Biden pause not to mention the formidable hurdles Biden faces in any attempt to reset US-China relations.  Biden as President inherits a major military program to rebuild and modernize the armed forces focused on containing a rising China in a New Cold War.  Since MIC influence correlates with military spending, the MIC will strongly oppose any effort to change the status of China as primary threat, as this would undermine efforts to sustain increased military spending.  Further, the New Cold War has gained broad public support:

According to the survey, 73 percent of Americans hold an unfavorable view of China, up from 47 percent just two years ago… the new survey suggests that American public attitudes toward China have hardened for good, which indicates that the Trump administration’s aggressive approach could become the new norm, burying nearly 50 years of engagement kicked off with President Richard Nixon’s famous visit to Beijing in 1972 …

That could hem in any effort by a… Joe Biden administration to chart a more moderate course toward China… “Trump… has ramped up his… Sinophobic rhetoric … and accused his rival of being soft on Beijing… As he is doing with the culture war, Trump is forcing Biden to respond to his lead… LINK

It is quite striking how public attitudes towards China changed so quickly and dramatically in support of a hardline foreign policy towards China.  The MSM played a critical role by spearheading the China-bashing narrative, having honed their skills bashing Russia, now it was China’s turn:

Western public media are replete with China bashing.  But such rants are—or were– rarely authored by US scholars who claim to be objective analysts.   However, some are now joining this club of dubious distinction. This is a sign of the times we live in.  Like during the US-Soviet Union Cold-War, the US government has launched a massive public diplomacy campaign that demonizes China and encourages and enables such biased analyses and commentary. LINK

With respect to Congress, if Biden was looking for support for a reset of US-China relations from fellow Congressional Democrats, this is unlikely to materialise – even Democrats supported Trump’s proposed military budgets to contain the China threat.  In 2017, testimony to Congress argued that the US military was very capable in managing any single threat, but lacked capability to face multiple simultaneous threats; i.e. coordinated hostile actions of Russia and China.  There was a need for major investment in the military to modernize the armed forces and improve combat readiness.  Lawmakers responded favourably with bipartisan support:

The NDS received a lot of support in Congress and the broader national security community... The large DOD budget increase proposed in 2020 (4.9 percent over 2019), coming after several previous years of increases, would (if enacted) allow the services to rebuild readiness, institute a robust modernization program, and grow force structure… [The US] will “prevail in conflict and preserve peace through strength.” There is no hint that the United States will accept a decline in status or even a multipolar world. LINK

And to prevail, the US can count on likeminded allies in the Indo-Pacific region to present a united front to contain China and of course, purchase US military hardware. LINK According to the Deputy Secretary of State, strategy is to “formalize closer… defense relations with India, Japan and Australia … into a NATO-like alliance”: LINK

With the signing of the defense pact, Australia becomes the second closest country with Japan in the military and security partnership… with China being targeted, both countries support Washington’s Indo-Pacific Strategy. “It is not an exaggeration to say that the Japan-lead Quad is budding into an ‘Indo-Pacific NATO,'”…  LINK

The New Cold War means greater military related economic activity in many Congressional districts which garners the loyal support of a significant group of lawmakers that will in concert oppose any reset with China.  This in addition to growing public hostility towards China should secure Congress as MIC friendly for some time to come.

The Obstacle Course Awaiting a Biden Administration: Open Skies and the INF Treaty

Open Skies allowed the US and Russia to fly reconnaissance missions over each others territory as part of treaty verification.  With US withdrawal from Open Skies, Trump ordered the complete destruction of the two highly specialized surveillance aircraft that were devoted to the program – crippling any Biden attempt to resume Open Skies. LINK The primary reason stems from China not being a party to the treaty and thus, no reconnaissance missions over China’s territory are permitted. Further:

China and Russia aim to strengthen bilateral ties in multiple fields. On June 29, the Chinese Defense Ministry confirmed that China and Russia has signed a roadmap on military cooperation for 2017-2020. LINK

Given China’s refusal to join Open Skies and lack of CCP transparency, China’s deployment and numerical strength of nuclear forces can only be estimated.  At the same time, there is the risk that Russian-Sino military cooperation could extend to sharing military intelligence such that China gains access to Russian intel collected through its participation in Open Skies.  A reasonable concern given Russia has similar concerns NATO members still part of Open Skies will share intel with the US:

Russian Foreign Ministry Website

“Now that it has left the Treaty on Open Skies, the United States expects its allies to prevent Russia from carrying out observation flights over US military sites in Europe, while also sharing with Washington their aerial footage of the Russian territory,” the ministry said in the statement, making clear that the situation is unacceptable for Russia.

Make no mistake: this is unacceptable for Russia. We will seek firm guarantees of compliance by other state parties with their obligations under the Treaty on Open Skies. First, they will have to enable observation over their entire territories. Second, they will have to refrain from transferring observation data to third parties that are not members of the Treaty on Open Skies. LINK

Also telling has been China’s highly negative response to US withdrawal from Open Skies

China … lashed out at Washington over its withdrawal from the “Open Skies Treaty” with Russia, saying the move undermined military trust and transparency and imperiled future attempts at arms control… Critics complain that Beijing has urged other major countries to reach arms control agreements while refusing to take part in any such arrangements…

Meanwhile, it has taken advantage of limitations set by Russia and the U.S. on each other to keep itself safe and engage in unrestricted development of weapons such as intermediate-range ballistic missiles, bolstering its military’s capabilities in the event of a conflict over Taiwan, the Indian border, the South China Sea…

The INF Treaty “acted as a security guarantee for China: Beijing successfully made use of the mutual limitations imposed by the treaty on Russia and the United States to minimize the military threat to itself”, Russian consultant Andrey Baklitskiy wrote in a commentary for the Carnegie Moscow Center… LINK

China taking advantage of not being a party to arms control treaties was the primary reason for US withdrawal from the INF Treaty:

Donald Trump was right to leave it… The 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia, to which China is not a signatory, has prohibited for over three decades the United States from developing comparable land-based, medium-range missiles (three-hundred to three-thousand-four-hundred miles).

… The treaty’s prohibition on intermediate land missiles was made global, principally to remove, as well, the threat of Russian missile attack against Japan in the Pacific. China, a considerably weaker military power at the time, was not a factor in the INF treaty-making process, and no thought was given to including it as a treaty participant…

The Cold War era scenario that underpinned the INF for thirty-one years has disappeared. Today the United States and its Pacific allies face a Chinese peer military power that has been free for decades to develop a mid-range missile capability on air, sea and land… Having been frozen out of developing such capabilities for over thirty years, the U.S. military has a lot of catching up to do. LINK

The author claims the US has a “lot of catching up to do.” But this is not entirely the case.  I argued in Parts 1 to 4 that the Pentagon had in place advanced planning in anticipation of strategic competition with China, and consistent with that was the anticipatory development of new intermediate range missiles, even while the INF treaty was still in force:

The officials acknowledged that the still-under-development American missile would, if deployed, also violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.  The decision is just one of the policy changes laid out in the Nuclear Posture Review ordered up by Donald Trump in one of his first actions as president…

 So will the U.S. military deploy the new missile?  … we won’t cross the line in violating INF without making a decision to withdraw, but it’s not our intent to withdraw. We have concluded that it’s in our interest to stay in the INF treaty as long as Russia is complying.” LINK

Once the new intermediate missile development program neared the stage for initial deployment, Russia was deemed no longer compliant and the US withdrew from the INF treaty.  And predictably, the main threat to be countered was not Russia, it was China:

the new missiles are unlikely to be deployed to counter the treaty’s other nuclear power, Russia, which the United States has said for years was in violation of the accord. Instead, the first deployments are likely to be intended to counter China, which has amassed an imposing missile arsenal and is now seen as a much more formidable long-term strategic rival than Russia. LINK

And signals have been sent to Russia that European nations will not station intermediate range missiles on their soil, if Russia deploys their intermediate missile forces out of range of Europe – this is in Russia’s interests as the missiles can be deployed to counter China instead:

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said now the US has pulled out of the (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) INF Treaty, “Because just as the Russian rockets are a threat to Europe, so are the Chinese for Russia… Russia’s new 9M729 missiles should be moved to the “other side of the Ural Mountains so that they cannot reach Europe”.  Heiko Maas, Germany’s Foreign Minister, said “the country would strongly oppose new medium-range missiles in Europe should the INF treaty crumble”. LINK

These developments are highly consistent with Trump’s 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) that ended Obama’s cooperative approach with China.  China was now the primary threat, reducing Russia to secondary threat.  The 2018 National Defence Strategy (NDS) provides the blue-print for a New Cold War to contain China that is three years into its implementation and unlikely to be reversed:

the priority that drives and underlies many of our efforts today – is to focus the Department [of Defence] on China… senior leadership team meetings held regularly to drive integrated action on China first, then Russia… Our future leaders must understand how China thinks about war… and how they fight – the way our past leaders… were once required to understand Soviet systems and doctrine…  LINK [pp 1-2]

Apparently, CCP’s attempts to subvert Trump’s hardline China policy were unsuccessful and now are pinning their hopes on a possible Biden administration according to a Tucker Carlson expose titled – America’s elites’ collusion with China is real and widespread; LINK

It seems the ‘conspiracy theories’ of China subverting the US political system have some truth to them.  However, if the CCP is counting on a reset in relations under Biden, they need to think again, if Biden’s cabinet picks are any indication.

Biden Cabinet Picks Suggest Continuation of Trump’s Hardline China Policies

While it seems Biden would face a daunting task trying to go up against MIC interests, would Biden still make the attempt to return to some form of Obama style engagement?  Initially, Biden statements early in his campaign suggested he might do so.  However, according to a Nov. 19, 2020 article in the Economist, Biden required some reprogramming on China:

Early in his campaign for the presidency, Joe Biden rejected the notion that China was much of a worry… “China’s going to eat our lunch? Come on, man,” Mr Biden scoffed. “I mean, you know, they’re not bad folks… They’re not competition for us.” He was speaking in May 2019… Mr Biden’s political rivals attacked his remarks… accusing him of being naive about China. Even some of his own advisers were troubled. At the time, Mr Biden was still bragging about the many hours he had spent with Xi Jinping when he served as vice-president under Barack Obama…

During the campaign Mr Biden had to be “reprogrammed” on China, says an adviser. LINK

So how well did the reprogramming work out for the MIC?  Quite well it would seem.  Just one week after the Economist article, Biden cabinet picks, assuming he takes office in January, reveals a likely ‘rebranded’ continuation of Trump’s China policy:

Biden has selected key national security officials who are relatively hard-line on China within the Democratic Party… Biden’s announcement he plans to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state and Jake Sullivan as national security adviser shows he is making a break from the Obama… engagement-focused China policy. Blinken promised to rally allies toward the mission of pushing back on China’s various bad behaviors. LINK

Biden has not yet named his Defence secretary although he is under pressure to appoint Michèle Flournoy to “become the first woman to run the Pentagon”.  While Flournoy has received a great deal of support for nomination as defence secretary, there is some pushback among progressive Democrats:

Flournoy has faced headwinds from the left, as Biden came under pressure over Flournoy’s defense industry ties and relatively hawkish views. Flournoy joined Booz Allen Hamilton’s board and co-founded defense consulting firm WestExec Advisors in 2018

“The people that work in an industry shouldn’t then be nominated to regulate that industry. We need to set the standard of not perpetuating the revolving door.”  [i.e. ‘The Iron Triangle’ which I discuss in Part 3] LINK

If Flournoy is nominated and does become defence secretary, Beijing may regret a Biden Presidency given Flournoy’s recent statements:

the US must … escalate US troop deployment to the South China Sea area: Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, and step up roving war games in Asia to show China the US has the modern technology, might and will to deter Chinese aggression.

 “For example, if the US military had the capability to credibly threaten to sink all of China’s military vessels, submarines, and merchant ships in the South China Sea within 72 hours, Chinese leaders might think twice before, say, launching a blockade or invasion of Taiwan; they would have to wonder whether it was worth putting their entire fleet at risk,” Flournoy said.

 Defence and diplomatic observers said that realising that idea would come at huge cost but appointing its advocate would signal that the US would keep piling military pressure on China.

“Irrespective of who’s in the White House, the ability to sustain credible deterrence and if necessary, defeat [People’s Liberation Army] aggression against Taiwan in line with the Taiwan Relations Act… seen as a given,” LINK

Flournoy even outdoes the Trump administration on ‘China bad’ rhetoric.  But given complaints Biden’s cabinet picks lack black representation, another candidate is Jeh Johnson. If Biden nominates Johnson, he would be the first black defence secretary if confirmed, but he also has ties to the defence industry:

Lockheed Martin, Jeh C. Johnson, Director since January 2018… Previously, Mr. Johnson served as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security from December 2013 to January 2017; as General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Defense from 2009 to 2012; as General Counsel of the U.S. Department of the Air Force from 1998 to 2001. LINK

At the time of publishing this article, Biden was reported to be considering retired General Lloyd Austin. If Austin is nominated, like the other two candidates, Biden’s pick perpetuates the ‘Iron Triangle’:

[Lloyd Austin after retiring from the military in 2016] joined the board of directors of Raytheon Technologies, one of the largest Pentagon contractors and a potential sticking point among progressive lawmakers, who have raised concerns over appointing a Defense secretary who has ties with industry. LINK

Regardless of who becomes President, any return to Obama engagement with China is very unlikely.  Thus, for the MIC, it may not matter all that much who occupies the oval office, MIC influence can decisively stay the present course – the New Cold War is here to stay with years of budget-busting defence spending.  And any hesitation to support the MIC by a President Biden, well, just drop the hint that a certain laptop might become the topic of a CNN special titled ‘All in the Family”.

For many, it is perplexing that Biden could become President given the concerns he is compromised such that he could be controlled by threats of exposing his misdeeds.  On second thought, maybe it is because he is compromised that he makes such a good candidate for President.

Stewart J. Melanson PhD

Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Email: sjm@melansonwire.com


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