From the West’s wars to the new silk roads of Eurasia

Pacific Ecologist magazine
28 min readDec 5, 2015

The Third Edward Goldsmith Lecture, Victoria University of Wellington, for the Pacific Institute of Resource Management, 29 October 2015, by James O’Neill, Barrister at Law, Brisbane, Australia.


In geopolitical terms the post-World War II period can be divided into three broad categories. The limits are not arbitrary and inevitably there is a measure of overlap. From 1945 to around 1990 the dominant power groups were the Soviet Union and the US-led block of western nations. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet empire shortly after, the US reigned supreme as the sole superpower. Little noticed in the early post-1990 period was the beginning of the rapid rise of China, in economic, political and military influence.

The third period has a less definite starting date, but we can say that from at least 2009 following the implosions caused by the 2008–09 financial crisis in the capitalist economies, several influences began to converge that cumulatively marked the end of the post-World War II era and the beginnings of a radical shift in the centre of geopolitical influence.

The general failure of the western nations to recognise the scale of this shift is in turn a reflection of more widespread failures in formulating appropriate responses to a changing geopolitical landscape. This paper examines some of those broader themes and suggests that if the world is not going to plunge into another catastrophic war then a more subtle and informed response from the west’s political leaders is a prerequisite of foreign policy changes.

The Period 1945–1990

The decades following the end of WW2 could not be described as years of peace. The US flexed its geopolitical muscles in a variety of arenas. Two aspects stand out. The first of these was the pursuit of policies directed at ensuring the survival of regimes friendly to US corporate and military interests (which were frequently indistinguishable).

Conversely, when those regimes became unfriendly to US interests, there was no hesitation in interfering in an attempt to restore what was, from the US point of view, a more desirable status quo. There are simply too many examples to discuss in the framework of this paper. The interested scholar would gain much insight from the writings of William Blum’s Killing Hope (1) or Noam Chomsky and Andre Vltchek’s On Western Terrorism (2) on the sheer scale and ruthlessness of these interventions.

Some are well known and well documented. They include the entry into the Korean War, which for many years was almost invariably portrayed as countering Russian backed North Korean aggression. More recent histories show a more complex interplay of events. (3)

Other examples are the overthrow of the elected government of Guatemala’s Arbenz government on behalf of the United Fruit Company; the overthrow of the Mossadeq government in Iran on behalf of the Anglo-American Oil Company (now BP) the repercussions of which reverberate to this day; the overthrow of the Chilean government of Salvadore Allende on behalf of Anaconda Copper Company; and many, many more.

Chomsky and Vltchek document more than 70 such interventions. A frequently recurring characteristic of the overthrown governments, or those that were unsuccessfully attacked such as Cuba, was their nationalistic and/or socialistic nature. Such deviations from the Washington Consensus were not to be tolerated.

The longest running, most expensive, and most devastating in terms of human lives lost or destroyed, and environmental catastrophe wrought upon the people and their environment was Vietnam.

Direct American involvement in that war began in 1954 with the insertion of US military “advisers” and “trainers” (a common euphemism) into South Vietnam. The unstated objective was to prop up the dictatorship of Diem and as a subsidiary but related objective, frustrate the implementation of the 1954 Geneva Peace Accords. Those Accords brought to an end French colonial occupation of Indo-China. They provided, inter alia, for elections to be held throughout the whole of Vietnam. Had they been held as provided for in the peace settlement, there is little doubt that Ho Chi Minh would have won. The result would have been the unification of Vietnam.

Instead, in the war that ensued, from 1954 to 1975, more than two million Vietnamese died. Their environment was devastated by the use of Agent Orange and other pesticides. The toxicity of these pesticides had profound consequences for the Vietnamese people. Genetic mutations are still occurring more than two generations after the end of the war.

Other wars were less than well known, at least at the time. The so-called ‘secret war’ waged by Johnson, and later Nixon and Kissinger on Laos and Cambodia again wrought environmental devastation. In the course of the Vietnam (American) War the US dropped 270 million cluster bombs on Laos alone, making it, on a per capita basis, the most bombed country in the world. Cluster bombs open up in mid air and release hundreds of smaller bombs, about the size of a cricket ball, which then saturate an area the size of several football fields. The National Regulatory Authority in Laos estimates that 30% of these failed to detonate at the time, leaving about 80 million live unexploded bombs scattered across the landscape.

Forty years after the war ended, Laotian children are still being killed and maimed on a weekly basis from contact with this unexploded ordnance. It is another human tragedy of enormous proportions. The war also gave rise to the Khmer Rouge, who between 1975 and 1979 was responsible for the deaths of about two million Cambodians, nearly a quarter of the country’s then population. It was finally removed from power by, ironically, the Vietnamese.

Laos was also a key component of the Southeast Asia heroin traffic. Air America, a CIA airline, flew heroin to its worldwide markets, as Peter Dale Scott4 and Alfred McCoy (5) have amply demonstrated. Heroin was also an important component to the Afghan War that I will return to.

The Period 1989–1991

Epochal changes occurred in very rapid succession in a relatively short time period. The Berlin Wall came down at the end of 1989. Germany’s two parts were reunited. And the Soviet Union had collapsed by the end of 1991. Too little credit for the peaceful nature of this transition has been accorded to the Soviet Secretary General of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev assured US President George Bush Senior that there would be no Soviet intervention as had disastrously occurred in the GDR in 1953, in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

The quid pro quo was a promise by Bush that NATO would expand “not one inch” to the east. Perhaps Bush believed it when he said it. It is not what happened. Perhaps Gorbachev was naïve to accept Bush’s assurances. The Russians saw the east European members of the Warsaw Pact as a buffer against western militarism. They had good reason to be fearful. Russia lost between 25 and 30 million of its citizens fighting Germany and its allies in World War II.

Only China, which lost between 20 and 30 million fighting the Japanese between 1931 and 1945, had comparable losses. The scale of these losses is scarcely acknowledged by the western media. Yet an understanding of that experience is crucial to an understanding of both Chinese and Russian perspectives.

People of my generation were raised on a diet of books and films that almost completely ignored the Russian and Chinese experience. Total French casualties for the entire war were about 600,000, about one third of the Russian casualties in the siege of Leningrad. Total US and British casualties combined were about 800,000, about two thirds of Russian casualties at the Battle of Stalingrad.

In China, three battles, Shanghai (1937), Wuhan (1938) and Zhejiang (1942) had more Chinese casualties, civilian and military, than the US did for its entire war, or the combined total of all British Empire troops and civilian casualties. The Nanjing Massacre resulted in up to 300,000 dead alone over a six week period in 1937–38. (6)

Another reason for the Russians to be fearful of western intentions was Operation Unthinkable. This was a Churchill inspired plan formulated in May 1945 to attack Russia after the defeat of Germany. The forces for this attack were to include soldiers from the recently defeated German Army. The British War Cabinet decided not to embark on this campaign, not because of any moral or ethical objections to attacking their greatest ally, but because the numerical superiority and fighting prowess of the Soviet forces would make such a campaign long and costly with little chance of success. (7)


Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 Boris Yeltsin came to power as the first President of the Russian Federation. Yeltsin was lauded by the western media as a democrat who jumped on tanks, and defied the communist old guard. In fact he presided over the fire sale of Soviet era assets, greatly enriching a select group of Russian oligarchs and western corporations. It was a disastrous period of Russian history.

Significantly for the purposes of this presentation NATO broke the promise given to Gorbachev. In 1999 Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined NATO, followed in short order by seven more nations from Latvia in the north to Bulgaria in the south of Europe. In 2009 Albania and Croatia joined and in 2011 four further nations were recognized as aspirant members. If Ukraine joins, as it would like to, the European encirclement of Russia would be complete. Russia has made it clear that this is one provocation too far. (8)

Vladimir Putin succeeded Yeltsin as President of Russia in 1999, who, apart from a four year break as Medvedev’s Prime Minister has been President of Russia ever since. Under Putin’s leadership Russia is undergoing an enormous transformation, ironically given impetus by western sanctions imposed as a result of Russian “aggression” in Ukraine.

Western name calling of Russia and Mr Putin in particular are a classic illustration of what the psychologists call “projection” where one’s own conduct is attributed to others. The success of Russia’s ongoing transformation rests on a number of bases. First, Putin enjoys strong domestic support with approval ratings from the Russian population consistently scoring in the 80%+ range.

Secondly, he has learnt from bitter experience that his western “partners” simply cannot be trusted. The source of this mistrust predates Putin’s presidencies. The Yeltsin experience and NATO’s eastward expansion were obvious examples. But there were earlier signs.

Two particularly illustrative examples demonstrate the disjuncture between western rhetoric about democracy and freedom and the reality as it is practiced. I will use one each from Europe and South Asia.

Following World War II the Americans set up a program known as Operation Gladio. This was a network of so-called stay behind armies. Ostensibly, they were to be the centre of resistance in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. In fact, they became a principal means of resisting the coming to power of any government in western and southern Europe whose policies might indicate a less than enthusiastic embrace of American hegemony. To this end they carried out a campaign of false flag terror attacks, assassinations, kidnappings and the general undermining of the democratic structures of the target countries, which ranged from Norway to Turkey. (9)

In south Asia, the Americans established Mujihideen training camps in Pakistan in the 1970s. Finance for the camps came partly from official budget sources, partly from the Saudis, and partly from CIA funds sourced from the heroin traffic that has long been a major source of off the books funding of clandestine operations.10

The Saudis also supplied many of the Mujihideen trained in the camps, including its most famous participant, Osama bin Laden, or Colonel Tim Osman as he was known during his frequent trips to the US. This was the origin of al Qaeda, which is simply Arabic for “the List” or “the Base”, i.e. a list of fighters who could be relied upon to carry out operations on behalf of their masters. Al Qaeda was, and remains to this day, an instrument of US clandestine policy. (11)

The initial object of the Pakistan trained fighters was to infiltrate terrorists into Afghanistan to undermine the secular socialist government that had replaced the King, and whose only real friend at that time was the Soviet Union. The Afghan government was pursuing policies such as universal education regardless of gender, health care and labour rights. Clearly dangerous!

According to Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book The Grand Chessboard, one of the principal objectives was to lure the Soviet Union into sending troops to support its Afghan ally. Brzezinski hoped that Afghanistan would maintain its reputation as “the graveyard of empires” (14) drawing in Soviet troops thereby giving “the Soviet Union its own Vietnam.” (15)

What is less well known is that the Pakistan-based project, dubbed Operation Cyclone, extended well beyond Afghanistan into the predominantly Muslim republics of the Soviet Union north and north west of Afghanistan to the strategically important Caspian Basin, one of the largest known oil and gas reserves in the world.16 It is an area of intense focus as the various powers seek a strategic foothold in an area also critical to the infrastructure plans of President Xi discussed below. The infiltration of jihadis went further, northeast into the Muslim region of China’s Xinjiang province, a process that continues to the present day.

The parallels between the use of clandestine terror groups in Europe and jihadi terrorist groups in South, South West and South East Asia have lead some commentators to dub this strategy “Gladio 2.” (17)

The use of radical terrorist groups to foster unrest, destabilization and regime change is thus a recurring theme in US geopolitical strategy. Its most obvious current manifestation is in the Middle East (South West Asia) where the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 has destabilized the region on a massive scale. (18 )ISIS/IS/ISIL/Daesh is nothing less than a vehicle for US geopolitical strategy. (19) Hence the turmoil in Western political circles when President Putin, acting entirely within international law (unlike the US, UK, France, Australia and others), responded to President al Assad’s invitation and actually began attacking and destroying ISIS positions. The Russians did more damage to ISIS in the first 72 hours than the US had achieved in the previous 12 months.

The blatant hypocrisy of western policy was graphically laid bare by the Russian actions. Mr Putin was criticized for Russian forces attacking so-called “moderate rebels’. There are no such creatures as the comments of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov made clear. Regardless of the labels they wear, they all have certain features in common, chief among them being that they are vehicles for US and Israeli geopolitical strategy for the region.

Those strategies have been in place for many years, for example as set out in the Yinon Plan that was formulated in 1982. (20) The prominent American journalist Seymour Hersh in an article he wrote for the New Yorker magazine in 2007 set out the US strategy. (21) The policy direction was summarized thus:

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shi’ite, the Bush administration decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the administration has cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shi’ite organization backed by Iran.

The US has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant version of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to al Qaeda.

I would disagree with Hersh’s interpretation that the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups has been a “by-product.” To the contrary, the evidence is now overwhelming, including from admissions made by official US sources such as the NSA, CIA, DIA and Pentagon that the bolstering of extremist groups is deliberate US policy. It is in effect, Gladio B, aimed at replicating what the Italians called the “years of lead” (anni di piombo) that plagued that nation from the 1960s to the 1980s. It goes by different names, with colour revolutions, the Arab Spring, the umbrella revolution and so on being among the better known. They are all illustrations of the Gladio B policy in action.

The policy does not rely solely on radicalized Muslims. US Special Operations Forces now number at least 70,000 operating clandestinely in at least 135 countries around the world. (22) They are the private army of the US President, assigned to carry out assassinations, counter-terrorist raids, sabotage, special reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, psychological operations and other activities as directed by the President. The nearest historical parallel where one finds the political leadership having a private army to carry out and advance geopolitical goals is Himmler’s Waffen SS. (23) It hardly needs to be noted that these clandestine operations fall outside any known parameters of international law.

It is perhaps inevitable that when any nation sees itself as “exceptional” it is not going to feel constrained by notions of national sovereignty or democratic procedures or international law as others with more modest ambitions might be. What is the policy objective that underlies these programs? The answer I think falls into two broad categories: control of resources and the countries that produce them; and the exercise of what a Pentagon position paper described as “full spectrum dominance.” (24_ Peter Dale Scott describes this policy as “arguably insane”. (25)

The first category is self-explanatory, and we see it played out in the consistent pattern of interventions in the affairs of sovereign nations over recent decades. (26) I referred to this at the outset of my talk and the references are given in the text.

The second element is to ensure, by control of land, sea, air and space, that no challenge to American hegemony can be allowed to rise. That takes many forms, including but not limited to the aforementioned Special Forces, the graduated pressures applied to recalcitrant governments described in John Perkins’ writing,26 and the presence of more than 1000 military bases as a not very subtle hint of the availability of raw power.

The various elements are of course related. The enduring preoccupation with the Middle East by the French and British Empires, and now the US Empire, is its central role as one of the great centres of oil and gas production. If Iraq had been the world capital of broccoli, then it may be a reasonably safe assumption that Saddam Hussein or one of his sons would still be in power.

The willful blindness of the western powers to the appalling Saudi regime for example, is because of their huge oil reserves, and following a secret agreement with Henry Kissinger in the 1970s, (27) a principal reason for the role of the US dollar as the sole reserve currency from 1972 to the early 2010s. Under the terms of Kissinger’s agreement with the Saudis all international oil transactions were to be in US dollars. It was part of a series of secret arrangements entered into that were designed to maintain American control of energy and finance. It is only now that these arrangements are being broken down.

Iraq and Iran are examples of how US affections can fluctuate. From 1953 following the overthrow of the Mossadeq government in Iran on behalf of the Anglo-American Oil Company until 1979 Iran was an ally of the US. Mossadeq’s replacement was the brutal Shah, guarded by the US trained Savak Secret Police.

The 1979 Islamic Revolution that deposed the Shah and refused to comply with US demands was instantly transformed into an enemy that had to be demonized, isolated, sanctioned and undermined. Despite two unanimous reports from all 16 US intelligence agencies that Iran did not in fact have a “nuclear weapons program” the propaganda machine led from Washington and Tel Aviv has consistently ignored that evidence.

Iran has had a nuclear energy program, commenced under the Shah. That history is missing from the western narrative on Iran’s “nuclear program.” In the eight-year Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s the Americans supported Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a country they were to turn on only three years later when Saddam announced he was no longer going to use the dollar as the sole currency in oil transactions.

Political leaders and scientists in Iran were prime targets for assassination, mainly carried out by US trained, financed and armed Mujihideen el Khalq (MEK), a proscribed terrorist organization. But there are clearly terrorists and there are terrorists, and the MEK, like the mythical “moderate” Syrian terrorists clearly lead a charmed life under US protection. (28) We see similar scenarios being played out in Syria, with the bizarre spectacle of the US, France, and the UK criticizing Russia because the Russians are bombing, on behalf of the legitimate Syrian government, all terrorist groups and not just ISIS that the Americans pretended to bomb over the past year.

Syria is not a major producer of oil and gas. So why did it attain demon status under the reign of Bush the Lesser as Arundhati Roy memorably called him. Syria had been a favoured nation that carried out torture of “rendered” persons as part of American out-sourcing. Morocco and Poland offered similar services, among others. The answer again is resources. In this case, it is Syria’s critical location on the proposed pipeline for the transmission of Qatari gas to Europe. The American strategic objective is to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian gas, which it does not control, and replace it with Qatari gas over which, courtesy of its huge naval presence in the area, it does have more influence.

The most feasible route for Qatari gas is via Iraq and Syria. Hence the strategic importance of Iraq and Syria. The Americans thought they had secured the Iraqi portion of the proposed pipeline, but Iraq is predominantly Shi’ite, and its natural allies are Iran and the Allawite controlled Syria. The alliance between these three nations in the fight against ISIS has become noticeably stronger in recent weeks.

The Iraqi Prime Minister said on TV in early October after the Russian campaign began in Syria that his government was considering asking for Russian help in defeating ISIS on Iraq’s territory. That must have sent a tremor through Washington. The Americans immediately dispatched a General to dissuade them from that course of action. In addition, the elite Iranian Quds force that had been operating in Iraq has now committed troops to Syria, again at the invitation of the Syrian government.

The military strategy at the time of writing appears to be to use the Russian Air Force and cruise missiles from Russian navy ships in the Black Sea to destroy ISIS facilities and flush them out where they can then be attacked by Syrian National Army, Iranian and Hezbollah (Lebanon) forces.

The Turks have been warned off operating in Northern Syria and their allies such as France and Australia will be forced to cease their bombing operations to avoid confrontations with Russian aircraft. This so-called US led coalition bombing operation in Syria was in any case clearly illegal under international law.

One country can only attack another under strictly limited circumstances: in self defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter, which clearly does not apply to the Americans and their “coalition” in Syria; pursuant to a resolution of the UN Security Council which manifestly does not exist; or by invitation from the country concerned. That the Americans and their “coalition” disregard these strictures in attacking Syria both from the air and by having Special Forces on the ground, is further evidence of a contemptuous disregard for international law that characterizes so much of western military interventions.

A potentially very dangerous escalation will occur if the Americans carry through with their declared intention to continue arming the opposition to Assad, particularly if those armaments include surface to air missiles. They have a precedent. The Americans armed the Mujihideen in the 1980s Afghan War to enable the shooting down of Russian aircraft. Didn’t that turn out well.

We see a similar mix of energy related and geopolitical considerations in the shooting down of MH17 over Eastern Ukraine in July 2014. The western media, in the complete absence of actual evidence, were quick to blame Russian supported separatists in general and Mr Putin in particular. (29)

The attacks on Mr Putin were among the most virulent of any world leader in recent history. The unlamented former Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, went so far as to threaten to “shirt front” Mr Putin at last November’s G20 meeting. In Australian football parlance “shirt front” means to assault. Fortunately for Australia’s already tattered international reputation under Abbott’s leadership, Abbott did not carry through with his threat, perhaps mindful of Mr Putin’s judo prowess.

At the same time that Australia was loudly proclaiming its evidence- free allegations about Russian culpability, it was busy concealing information that was relevant. For example, on 8 August 2014 Australia, Belgium, Netherlands and Ukraine (later joined by Malaysia in December 2014) signed a secret agreement that the result of the investigation into the crash would not be published unless all the countries agreed. That gave the prime suspect, Ukraine, an effective veto. FOI requests for the agreement’s terms have been refused. The Australian msm refuses to even disclose the existence of the agreement, let alone discuss its implications.

A second example in this context is the autopsy report by Professor Alan Ranson on the Australian victims of MH17. Some details have been leaked that seem to suggest that the damage to the bodies is inconsistent with fragments from a BUK missile. If true, that would completely destroy the official Australian government version, which may of course be a reason why it has been suppressed. The problem the government has is that Ranson’s report has been summarized in the Journal of the Victorian Legal Institute, and Ranson himself gave a summary of his findings to a pathology conference in Melbourne in December 2014. Perhaps I need hardly add that none of this has been reported in the msm.

Ukraine is not only the major route for Russian gas destined for Europe, it also shares a border with Russia. It would complete the European part of the encirclement of Russia for the Americans to have Ukrainian bases, with the added bonus of being able to block Russian gas destined for Europe.

A further major objective behind the American organized and financed coup of February 2014 in Ukraine was to close Russian access to the naval base at Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula. That plan was thwarted by the Crimeans voting overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine (to whom they had been gifted by Khrushchev in 1954) and rejoin the Russian Federation. This exercise in national self-determination (which the West had enthusiastically supported in Kosovo’s case) was immediately portrayed as an example of Russian “aggression” and Mr Putin’s desire to recreate the Soviet empire.

It is very much in this context of what Pepe Escobar refers to as “Pipelinestan” (30) that one understands so much of the geo-political machinations of the US. Afghanistan may also be understood in this context. Afghanistan enjoys a similarly strategic position viz a viz the transporting of Caspian basin gas to a warm water port via a pipeline.

The main competitors to build the pipeline were Bridas, an Argentine company, on one side and American oil interests on the other. Those American companies included Amoco (with Zbigniew Brzezinski as a consultant); Unocal (with Condoleezza Rica as a Director and Henry Kissinger as a consultant) and Halliburton (whose CEO was Dick Cheney).

Bush the Lesser, who had close links with the oil and gas industry, was negotiating with the Taliban government of Afghanistan throughout 2001. The Taliban government consistently refused the US government’s proposed terms. The last such meeting was in August 2001 when the US Central Asian Affairs representative Christina Rocca told the Taliban ambassador, “accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs.”

Bush then informed the governments of Pakistan and India that the US would launch a military mission against Afghanistan before the end of October 2001. (31) Note the timing. This occurred before the events of 11 September 2001 that were the ostensible reason for the attack on Afghanistan. (32)

Bridas was subsequently awarded $500 million as compensation for the contract broken by the Americans immediately after the invasion of Afghanistan. The US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal upheld that decision and the Supreme Court declined to hear the matter. Fourteen long years later that strategy to control Caspian oil and gas is also collapsing among the ruins of the failed intervention in Afghanistan.

The New Silk Roads

Mr Putin and Mr Xi are far from oblivious about what is going on. They have refused thus far to respond militarily to the constant provocations on their borders, and in the case of China, within their borders. Their response instead, has been to embark upon the greatest infrastructure project in the history of the world. It is taking a variety of forms. One aspect has been the development of three separate blocs, with some overlapping membership: the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) spearheaded by Russia; BRICS, a union of five nations which accounts for approximately 40% of the world’s population alone; and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which in July 2015 added India and Pakistan as full members, making a total of eight nations. (33)

Iran, Belarus, Mongolia and Afghanistan are observer members. I would expect Iran to become a full member within the next twelve months. There are a further six “dialogue” partners, of whom the economically most important is Turkey.

These three groups are coordinating development policies. At the same time major financial instruments are being put in place. The most important of these are the BRICS development bank, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which has 57 members including Germany, France, the UK, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Significantly, neither Japan nor the US are members, and even more significantly the Europeans and Australia joined despite strong US opposition. (34)

One of the most fascinating developments to watch over the next twelve months will be the extent to which major European nations such as Germany increasingly distance themselves from American influence and reorient eastward.

During Mr Xi’s recent State visit to the UK it was notable that not only were a number of large trade deals signed, but the British were openly pleading for an extension to the New Silk Roads to London. Mr Xi also announced that the Bank of China would begin operating in London, the significance of which has been largely missed by financial commentators.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has made several trips to Beijing in the past two years. The Germans have also, significantly, distanced themselves from the US policy in Ukraine, combining with Holland and Putin to negotiate the Minsk agreements. The more Ukraine violates those agreements (about 80:20 Ukraine versus the separatists on Stephen Cohen’s estimate) with US support, the more concerned Germany becomes.

An alternative system of international payments has also been established, aimed at replacing the SWIFT system, which allowed itself to be manipulated for political purposes. There is also evidence that SWIFT was a vehicle for NSA spying. 35 Trading between these countries and their major external trading partners is increasingly being done in their own currencies, rather than being denominated solely in US dollars. (36)

Some analysts are predicting the end of the dollar’s role as the world’s sole reserve currency within the next twelve months. (37)

The implications of this for the US hegemonic ambitions are huge. The US has been able to defy economic logic and the consequences of huge trade deficits and military expenditures because it has been able to print dollars that nations such as China purchased through Treasury bonds. Not only has the buying of dollars stopped, China has sold at least $106 billion since early August 2015.

Barrons asked recently if this marked the beginning of the end and noted that there was now an $800 billion gap between the $1.1 trillion the US Treasury was borrowing to cover the budget gap and the $300 billion overseas investors were buying. (Randall Forsyth September 2015)

One of the principal objectives of the new banking system is to reduce or eliminate the role of the IMF and the World Bank. Both organisations have been a major means by which western control has been exercised on development alternatives. The Chinese government initially sought reform of the IMF, but the US Congress blocked this. (38)

The infrastructure investments are enormous in scope. They include for example, the development of high-speed rail links from Vladivostok to Berlin, on three separate lines, with branches extending southwest to Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast, and south to Singapore.39 Freight will be deliverable from East Asia to Europe in 48 hours; compared to the four to five weeks it currently takes, through waters patrolled by the American fleets.40

Obama’s so-called “pivot to Asia” and the recently concluded TPP negotiations are really, from a geopolitical standpoint, nothing more than an attempt to slow or forestall this major shift in the world’s economic and political centre of gravity.

The TTP and its European equivalent the TAIP, are not trade deals at all, much less free trade. Only 7 of the 29 chapters in the TPP actually deal with trade. The bulk of the remaining provisions are more about extending and entrenching the privileges and benefits of American corporations. The Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions are a direct assault upon the national sovereignty of the member states and the ability of national governments to legislate for the benefit of their own citizens.

A European trade agreement that excludes Russia and an Asian-Pacific trade deal that excludes China speaks volumes about its true purpose. I suggest that purpose is the blocking and “containment” of the two great Eurasian powers. Notwithstanding this maneuvering by the US and its allies, major development deals within BRICS, the SCO and the EEU are being concluded on a regular basis. Two gas contracts alone signed by Russia and China in recent months are equivalent in value to nearly 60% of Australia’s GDP. Russia has recently agreed to lease a 115,000 hectare area of Siberian land to China for agricultural development. With Chinese money and Russian and Chinese technical expertise the hitherto relatively untapped mineral resources of Eurasia are being developed. (41)

This of course has significant implications for a country such as Australia whose unpararelled prosperity over the past twenty years has been largely due to supplying raw materials to China. It is part of the peculiar Australian mind set to believe that they can on the one hand ally themselves with the US in threatening and attempting to “contain” China, and at the same time expect to continue favoured treatment from China on trade and related issues. (42)

What we are witnessing is the coming to fruition of what Halford Mackinder in his 1904 lecture to the Geographical Society of London called the “heartland” of the “world island”, or Euro-Asia in his terminology, as the centre of the world’s economic, political and cultural power. (43) His seminal 1904 lecture was updated in his 1919 book (44). His final writing on the subject was in the July 1943 issue of Foreign Affairs, in an article titled “The Round World and the Winning of the Peace.”

As Alfred McCoy brilliantly examined in his two-part essay published this year, Mackinder’s analysis has stood the test of time. (45) There were of course elements that were understated in Mackinder’s analysis, including the extraordinary role of the US in the post 1945 period. That may be seen in retrospect as an aberration, notwithstanding that country’s continued reiteration of itself as the “indispensible” nation, entitled to act unilaterally in pursuit of its perceived interests, regardless of international law or the sensibilities of other nations who do not share that view. (46)

That was most recently apparent in President Obama’s UN General Assembly speech of 28 September 2015 which highlighted the contradictions in the US’s professed ideals on the one hand and the stark reality of its actions on the other. It was significant that Obama did not acknowledge the contradictions. His speech simply assumed that the US was entitled to proceed. This is perfectly encapsulated in his statement:

I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.

A more perceptive analysis came from the Russian President speaking on the same day at the same forum. Referring to North Africa and the Middle East Mr Putin said:

Aggressive external intervention has led to the fact that instead of the reform of public institutions, the very way of life was unceremoniously destroyed. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress there is violence, poverty, social disaster and the destruction of human rights. One would like to ask those who created this situation: do you at least understand what you have done?

I suspect that they fully understand, but whether they care enough to change is a wholly separate question. As these great Eurasian developments come to fruition they offer the opportunity for a different world than that of the past 70 years, marked as they have been by imperial hubris, greed and the desire for western dominance.

The challenge for countries such as Australia and New Zealand is whether they choose to be part of an exciting, peaceful and challenging new world, or whether they remained mired in the old certainties of a world which no longer exists, but whose residual thrashing about poses a danger to us all.


  1. W. Blum Z Magazine June 1999; W. Blum Killing Hope (updated ed) Common Courage Press (2008).
  2. N. Chomsky & A. Vltchek On Western Terrorism Pluto Press (2013)
  3. D. Rees Korea: The Limited War (1964); Kathryn Weathersby Soviet aims in Korea and the Origins of the Korean War 1945–1950. Cold War International History Project. Working Paper No. 8 November 1993. Haruki Wada The Korean War: An International History Rowan and Littlefield (2013).
  4. Peter Dale Scott Drugs, Oil and War. Rowan and Littlefield (2003); American War Machine Rowan and Littlefield (2014).
  5. A. McCoy The Politics of Heroin rev. ed. Chicago Review Press (2003)
  6.;; Rana Mitter Forgotten Ally: China’s War with Japan 1937–1945 (rev. ed) Mariner Books (2014); P. Harmsen Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze Casemate (2013); Iris Chang The Rape of Nanking, Basic Books (1997).
  7. Yuri Rubtsov Operation Unthinkable: Churchill’s Planned Invasion of the Soviet Union July 1945. Strategic Culture Foundation 25 May 2015.
  8. Tyler Durden Russia Warns NATO Zero Hedge 2 March 2015; Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin reported by Press TV 7 March 2015.
  9. D. Ganser NATO’s Secret Armies Routledge (2005); R. Cottrell Gladio: NATOs Dagger at the Heart of Europe Progressive Press (2012).
  10. A. McCoy op cit; P.D. Scott The Road to 9/11 University of California Press (2007).
  11. Scott ibid; Steve Coll Ghost Wars Penguin (2004)
  12. Coll ibid; E. Gould & P. Fitzgerald Crossing Zero City Lights Books (2011); Gould & Fitzgerald Afghanistan’s Untold History City Lights Books (2009).
  13. Z. Brzezinski The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Strategic Imperatives. Basic Books (2007)
  14. A term probably first used in the Afghanistan context by Milton Bearde Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires. Foreign Affairs Journal November/December 2000
  15. Brzezinski op cit.
  16. P. Kubicek Energy Politics and Geopolitical Competition in the Caspian Basin Journal of Eurasian Studies vol 4(2) July 2013 171–180.
  17. T. Secker Gladio B: The Origins of NATOs Secret Islamic Terrorist Proxies 11 March 2013.
  18. C. Cinatti The Middle East or a Geopolitics of Chaos 19 August 2015
  19. T. Durden Secret Pentagon Report Reveals US Created ISIS as a Tool to Overthrow Syria’s President Assad. Zero Hedge 24 May 2015.
  20. G. Atzmon The Jewish Plan for the Middle East and Beyond 13 June 2014
  21. S. Hersh The Redirection The New Yorker 5 March 2007
  22. N. Turse A Secret War in 135 Countries 24 September 2015
  23. A. Beevor The Second World War Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2012); T. Ripley The Waffen SS At War: Hitler’s Praetorians 1925–1945 Zenith Press (2004); also valuable in this context is N. Turse Kill Anything that Moves Metropolitan Books (2013).
  24. Department of Defence (US) Joint Vision 2020 (2000)
  25. Scott The Road to 9/11 op cit.
  26. J. Perkins Confessions of an Economic Hit Man Berrett-Koehler (2004); The Secret History of the American Empire, Plume (2007); The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, Berrett-Koehler (forthcoming February 2016).
  27. W. Engdahl A Century of War: Anglo American Oil Politics and the New World Order (rev. ed) Progressive Press (2012).
  28. V. Krashenninnikova Director General of the Institute for Foreign Policy Research & Initiatives in Moscow. Russia Today (English) 26 October 2012; T. Cartalucci Syria: US Success would only be the end of the beginning. 10 October 2015
  29. P. Henningsen MH17 One Year On: What Really Happened and Why 17 July 2015
  30. P. Escobar Welcome to Pipelinestan 24 March 2009; Escobar Pipelinestan: Everything you need to know about gas, oil, Russia, China, Iran, Afghanistan and Obama. 12 May 2009; Escobar Reshuffling Eurasia’s Energy Deck 4 August 2015.
  31. L. Chin Unocal and the Afghan Pipeline. 6 March 2002; J.C. Brisard & G. Dasquie Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth, Nation Books (2002)
  32. Scott, Road to 9/11 op cit.
  33. China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan.
  34. A rare display of independence from the US.
  35. 19 December 2013.
  36. P. Koenig Russia and China: the Dawning of a New Monetary System. 9 January 2015; P. Escobar The BRICS and SCO Sow Panic in Exceptionalistan EM Equity 15 July 2015.
  37. J. Wiley 8 September 2015.
  38. 14 January 2015; R. Wade & J. Vestergard Impasse at the IMF 31 March 2015.
  39. P. Escobar Year of the Sheep, Century of the Dragon 22 February 2015.
  40. Ibid.
  41. Ibid
  42. The forthcoming Australian Defence White Paper, like its predecessors, is expected to identify China as the major “threat” to Australia, despite a complete absence of any plausible evidence to justify that stance. It is probably more accurately identified as a down payment on the American alliance insurance premium.
  43. Brilliantly brought up to date by Alfred McCoy The Geopolitics of American Global Decline 7 June 2015
  44. H. Mackinder Democratic Ideals and Reality (reprint) Forgotten Books (2012).
  45. McCoy op cit n43. Part 2 is Grandmaster of the Great Game 15 September 2015.
  46. Most recently in President Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly 28 September 2015.