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Editorial The new anti-China pact combines imperial hubris with reckless brinkmanship

BRITAIN’S involvement in an Indo-Pacific pact with the United States and Australia marks a dangerous escalation of the new cold war.

It is an act of imperial hubris that further entangles British forces in aggressive US designs in the Far East.

Cross-party support for this folly shows how little the Westminster set have learned from humiliation in Afghanistan last month, when a 20-year US-led occupation crumbled into dust before the very same militia we had first invaded to remove. 

Once again, Tories and Labour are united in placing British troops at the disposal of the United States in a futile gesture of loyalty. 

Armchair warriors will rejoice that the “special relationship” is alive after all the angst of August, when MPs lamented the US’s unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan and President Joe Biden’s obvious complete indifference to any embarrassment it might cause his allies. The reality is that this recklessness neither increases our influence with the US nor acts as a “deterrent” to supposedly hostile powers.

The stakes could not be higher. As an op-ed in the New York Times asked earlier this month: “What comes after the war on terrorism? The war on China?”

Bloodied and bruised in Afghanistan, where it had been struggling to extricate itself with dignity from a war it could not win since Barack Obama’s presidency, the US decided to cut and run however galling the headlines (and however grim the consequences for its local partners).

But not because it has recognised limits to its right to assert its global domination by force, but because the huge cost of the war was a drag on efforts to dragoon its allies into a new, wider and potentially even more catastrophic conflict.

How successful it will be is uncertain. US economic power is on the wane and its control over subordinate nations through Nato and other alliances is fraying.

France’s furious outburst about being “stabbed in the back” by Washington, London and Canberra is on the face of it about the loss of its own lucrative arms deals with Australia. 

But Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s pointed references to the Afghan debacle and assertion that this all makes “the need for European strategic autonomy loud and clear” are in line with announcements from European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and foreign policy supremo Josep Borrell on the need to build an EU army delivered over the last week.

France, whose armed forces are less dependent on the US’s than Britain’s, is already seeking an expanded imperialist role in north Africa and the Middle East as the Pentagon’s focus moves elsewhere. 

It has demonstrated the ability to lead an extended military mission independently of the US over the last eight years in north Africa, though the results – heavy civilian casualties, regional destabilisation, the growth in power and influence of extreme jihadist groups – are not notably different from those of the US’s wars. More recently, it has squared up against another increasingly mutinous US satrap, Turkey, in Libya, the eastern Mediterranean and Iraq, where President Macron hosted a summit of regional powers in Baghdad and made barely veiled references to France replacing the US as local top dog.

All these developments are fragmenting US global “leadership.” But Washington’s weakening grip does not make it any less dangerous.

It is weaving new alliances, enrolling Japan, India and Australia into an anti-China “quad” to focus its immense military might directly on “containing” the peaceful rise of its main economic competitor – a process fraught with all the risks of sudden, unexpected and apocalyptic conflict that the original cold war was.

The “Aukus” pact ties Britain into this brinkmanship. Building the peace movement here – and working with the peace movements of the US and Australia to oppose militarism and war – is the only socialist response.

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