Guest lecture at Beijing-University: A multipolar world in the making
If the economic war waged by the US and the EU against Russia is extended to China, this this would be the beginning of a de-globalization initiated by the West, warns Sevim Dagdelen, Member of the German Bundestag, in her guest lecture on May 30, 2023 at Beijing-University.
“The new world is being born, out of hunger, misery, the deepest hardship.” This is a song lyric by the German Spanish civil war fighter and Communist author Ludwig Renn. Today, we’re confronted with a multipolar world in the making in opposition to the powers of the US and the “Cape of Asia”, as the French writer Paul Valéry once so aptly described Europe, full of doubt as to whether the continent could ever be more than a geographical designation, a continent that now seeks its salvation to a great extent in swearing unconditional allegiance to Washington.
In an antithetical relationship, two events seem to be of crucial importance for the birth of the multipolar world in May 2023. First and foremost, we have the G7 Summit in Japan. The G7, whose legitimacy is derived from having once been the seven economically strongest countries on earth and which have devoted themselves entirely to a liberal-capitalist way of life, with the US at the helm, is no longer a reflection of the global balance of power. Not only because countries such as China, India and South Korea are now among the ten strongest economies, but also because another grouping, consisting of the BRICS countries, has since overtaken the G7 economically.
At any rate, the G7 Leaders’ Communiqué of 20 May 2023 reads like a declaration of war from the old world to the new. The Hiroshima Leaders’ Communiqué emphasises that the G7 leaders are “more united than ever” in their determination “to meet the global challenges of this moment and set the course for a better future”. While the Communiqué does mention respect for the United Nations Charter, it also calls for a radical economic war against Russia and postulates that “diplomatic, financial, humanitarian and military support for Ukraine” should be intensified. At the same time, the Indo-Pacific is identified as a sphere of interest in its own right, as an implicit declaration of war on China, without mentioning the People’s Republic specifically.
Secondly, it should be noted that, within the EU, the debate surrounding the expansion of the economic war against Russia reached a new climax in May 2023. According to the European Commission, the discussion among EU member states now revolves around an 11th package of sanctions that places the extraterritorial expansion of the sanctions regime centre-stage. The plan now is to sanction companies from Turkey, Armenia, the United Arab Emirates and China – arguing that the intention behind this is to prevent EU sanctions against Russia from being circumvented. The German Government’s argument that this isn’t a question of extraterritoriality, but is merely about export bans for the companies in question, is just not very strong. Just imagine a similar measure imposed by China against German companies looking to export their goods produced in China. It goes without saying that an export ban from the EU might also be an extraterritorial sanction. And the decision of the Hungarian and the Greek government to block the 11th package of sanction might just buy some time and postpone the new sanctions. Still there might be a war out for the German government and the EU as a whole, but it would afford a lot of efforts.
This decision would be, if you will, the termination of self-initiated globalisation, the beginning of de-globalisation, a process initiated by the West. This is greatly exacerbating the economic war waged by the US, which the EU has a hand in. It’s true that the European External Action Service is trying to brush aside concerns by claiming that this is only intended to prevent exports by the respective Chinese companies from the EU to Russia. The expansion of the combat zone looms large, however, with incalculable impacts for the global economy, and, above all, for the populations of the EU member states. Instead of “ruining Russia”, as the German Foreign Minister had stated, the economy in Germany and the EU is stagnating. Skyrocketing prices, especially for food and energy, as a result of the sanctions on Russia are affecting millions of people in Europe and radically calling into question Europe’s model of prosperity to date. This is also because production costs for companies in Europe have increased dramatically on the back of rising energy prices. In 2022, employees in Germany had already suffered a real wage loss of four percent, the biggest decline since the Second World War. Further real wage losses are also forecast for 2023 and 2024. Many workers will fall into a poverty trap as they will no longer be able to pay rising food prices, which went up by over 20 percent in 2022. More than two million people in Germany are now dependent on private food donations. Their number increased by 50 percent in 2022, the first year of the economic war.
If the EU’s secondary sanctions against China would be adopted, and all the signs currently suggest that this will happen, the economic war of the US and the EU against Russia would be extended to include China. Everything points to a scenario similar to the one following the introduction of Western sanctions against Russia in 2014 in the wake of the disputes over Crimea and the Donbass and US support for the coup in Kyiv. Everything points to the fact that the Western economic war aims to fracture the sovereignty of the Global South and dictate to countries such as China and India who they can and cannot trade with.
If you want to pinpoint the beginning of this global economic war, it is May 2023. This has long since ceased to be a question of destroying Russia under the pretext of insisting on upholding international law, but about defending global hegemony in an increasingly hopeless situation.
Thankfully, there’s a growing awareness around the world of what the sanctions are really seeking to achieve. The United Nations Human Rights Council, for example, has spoken out against these unilateral sanctions with a large majority. Among the naysayers were the US, the United Kingdom, member states of the European Union, Georgia and Ukraine. Thirty-three member states voted in favour and 13 against the “Resolution on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights” on 3 April 2023, which calls on all countries to “stop adopting, maintaining, implementing or complying with unilateral coercive measures”. The German Government has unfortunately already declared that it will not abide by this resolution. I would see it as a missed chance so far.
Unbeknownst to many – in addition to NATO’s rearmament and its expansionist character – the EU has acquired a toolbox of measures for imposing its will on other countries around the world, emulating the sanctions policy of the US developed during the economic war against Iraq in the 1990s. Double standards on human rights and international law are part of this toolbox. Economic warfare is, of course, only waged against countries that the US and the EU consider to be insubordinate. Allies that violate international law or even members of their own club are not threatened with punishment.
In this respect, this toolbox is similar to the unequal treaties from colonial times used to impose one country’s will on others under moral pretexts for its own advantage.
What distinguishes economic warfare from war is merely the use of civilian means, although these also have military objectives in mind. The destructive impacts of these civilian measures can be far more devastating than the use of weapons.
“War is the continuation of policy by other means” is the famous dictum of the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. It goes without saying that this also applies to economic warfare. Both the West’s military support for Ukraine and the sanctions are aimed at ensuring Russia’s ruin. The extension of the sanctions to include China should also be viewed in this vein. The announcement of sanctions against Chinese companies is the beginning of an economic war by the West seeking to bring down the Global South and impose its will on China in particular. This is the continuation of a policy aimed at global hegemony through the use of economic and military force.
“Divide et impera”, divide and rule, was the hallmark of the Roman Empire. The political philosopher Niccolò Macchiavelli explained this recipe for governance in his book “The Prince”, which was published in 1532. And this was not least the recipe for governance employed by British and US imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries. But “divide and rule” is also the hallmark of the multiple new sanctions packages adopted by the US and the EU. The aim is to deter countries from maintaining trading relations with states that have been declared to be “outlaws”. By driving them apart, they are seeking to cement their own rule.
However, the international solidarity displayed by 80 percent of the world’s countries, which aren’t involved in these sanctions, blows a hole in this strategy. As a result, the international sanctions are aimed at dissenters. The German poet Hölderlin once wrote the following: “But where the danger is, also grows the saving power.” So the potential expansion of BRICS could be important step towards smashing the neo-colonial principle of “divide et impera”. And maybe it could make the western governments including the German government to overthink the policies of the present with the risk an self-isolation.
The remarkable thing, however, is that the economic war waged by the US and the EU, which flagrantly impinges on the question of democratic sovereignty, is not only aimed at vassalising third parties, but also at achieving the vassalisation of Europe. Let’s take a brief look at history now. British India was administered by a few thousand British colonial officials. Some 500 princely states that were part of the British colonial empire also helped to consolidate its rule. London guaranteed their rule, and in return they swore allegiance to London and were part of the oppressive colonial system.
Why do we need to mention Europe’s vassalisation in relation to the economic war against Russia? It’s striking that Germany in particular, as the EU member state with the strongest economy and the biggest contributor to the EU budget, imposed these economic sanctions against Russia, although, unlike in the US, damage to its own economy and its own population on a massive scale was to be expected. This is where the principle of “taking the fall” comes into its own. Critics would say: The reward for the German Government then seems akin to that enjoyed by a vassal, namely being able to share in the glory enjoyed by the hegemon. But is this really the main reason or do we just have to deal with a policy which is heading to a dead end? And we’re observing this notion of taking the fall not only with the original sanctions against Russia, but also with the delivery of German battle tanks and the financing of US F16 fighter planes, which are to be deployed against Russia. And this can also be seen when it comes to, metaphorically speaking, firing the first shot in the economic war against China. And concerning China we still can observe some hesitation of the German government to be put in the line of fire,
China continues to be Germany’s largest trading partner. Anyone who risks waging an economic war against the People’s Republic, as some are pushing the German Government to do so, is putting the prosperity of a large part of the population in Germany, and also in Europe, at risk. Europe would become a “Cape of Asia” that, without political autonomy, would seek its salvation merely in an increasingly self-destructive vassal-like relationship with the US. Europe’s political self-sacrifice being set in motion by a comprador bourgeoisie that brings to mind Latin America of the 1970s. A bourgeoisie for whom serving the interests of US corporations and the geopolitical stipulations made by Washington are the top priority. The EU and its authorities could appear here as a mere transmission belt not of the interests of the populations of the member states, but for an imagined transatlantic community bent on war and hegemony. The aim is to pave the way for a global oligarch capitalism on the part of the US and the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many.
The latest strategy paper on China by High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell is in keeping with this. The paper states that cooperation, competition and rivalry will remain at the heart of the EU’s policy on China “even if the weighting between these different elements may vary according to China’s behaviour”. In the media, this has been linked to a confrontational shift in the EU’s policy on China. Borrell emphasises that coordination “remains essential” for the “recalibration” of the policy on China. Recalibration sounds like a call for a fundamental change. One of the reasons cited for setting this recalibration of the EU’s policy on China in motion is the intensification of the competition between the US and China. Borrell claims that this paper and the basic approach that it sets out have met with consensus among the member states.
And here, unfortunately, we can see the foundations for a confrontational European foreign policy being laid as if in slow motion. This may appear all the more surprising since the EU has emphasised time and again that this isn’t a question of “de-coupling”. But only a fool would want to deny that this is precisely the path that is now being trodden. And all the terms like de-risking are not really convincing that there would be another road ahead.
After all, sanctions will lead to countermeasures, which, in turn, will be used as a justification for new sanctions and the tightening of measures. Pandora’s box is being opened knowingly. After all, based on the dynamics of previous economic wars, each and every conscientious person will have to admit that this is precisely how, with very small steps, the path to economic warfare has begun.
But is this really the case? We must ask ourselves whether this is perhaps an exaggerated picture and subject our arguments to careful scrutiny.
For example, how is the statement by French President Emmanuel Macron, who is calling for a “Third Pole” in the form of Europe between China and the US and for a sovereign European foreign policy, in keeping with this?
“The worse thing would be to think that we Europeans must become followers on this topic and take our cue from the US agenda and a Chinese overreaction.” This is what Macron said at the beginning of this year, along with the consensus of EU member states on the new confrontational strategy vis-à-vis China and their avowed allegiance to the US.
And if this is the case, then why is there such a glaring contradiction between desire and reality, between talk and action, here?
Everything points to the fact that Macron’s declaration about a sovereign European foreign policy isn’t meant seriously. After all, who would be so foolhardy as to start their own economic war, one in which they also allow themselves to be sent into battle first by Washington in order to bolster the US? No, Macron’s notion of sovereignty is only understandable in the light of the population’s profound dissatisfaction with the representation of their interests by the political class. So Macron was speaking here primarily in his capacity as a domestic politician in an attempt to calm people’s nerves at home and insinuate something that isn’t happening in reality. Macron’s “sovereign European foreign policy” seems to be nothing more than a buzzword.
Macron is probably not even aware of this, but the fairy tale of a sovereign European foreign policy is likely to have a similarly devastating effect on the global stage as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s admission that the Minsk agreements of 2014 merely gave Ukraine time to rearm. We must remember here, to invoke Immanuel Kant, that no peace agreement is worthy of the name if it was undertaken solely to secretly plan or create the conditions for a new war. That’s what the great philosopher wrote in his work “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch”, and the same can also be said of Angela Merkel’s doctrine.
In short, what we have here is the irreversible erosion of the credibility of European foreign policy: treaties seeking to contain a conflict in order to buy time to rearm and engage in a new armed conflict. And assurances of independent and non-confrontational foreign policy, all the while launching an economic war. Europe, it appears, has taken a wrong turn at the crossroads and is choosing the path of confrontation.
But Germany is also going down the wrong path. In response to the start of the war in Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz proclaimed a “watershed” and called for a major increase in German defence spending. Germany is heading for the third military global power worldwide. Many people are asking in Germany: What for? Is the war in Ukraine really the reason for this biggest military build-up since the second world war?
What is more, Germany is fuelling NATO’s proxy war in the country with its gifts of weapons to Ukraine and is subsidising Ukraine on a massive scale with German taxpayers’ money to enable Kyiv to continue to fight the war, despite the massive slump in economic growth. Germany is at war, a war being waged as a proxy war and economic war. And as for the pre-history to Russia’s attack, even someone like Henry Kissinger recently stated the following: “I don’t think that all the blame lies with Putin.”
There is a high risk that Germany will become a country bent on rearmament, ein Rüstungsland, with everything that this entails. While education and infrastructure are crumbling, the German Government is building up its military capacity and is waging a self-destructive economic attack against Russia. With hubris, it now sees fit, together with the US, to tell China what to do. This is a fatal situation. In the last eight years alone, the German defence budget has increased from 32.44 billion euros in 2014 to 50.33 billion euros. In 2023, the official arms budget of 50.1 billion euros will be supplemented by 8.5 billion drawn from the “special fund” of 100 billion euros for rearmament adopted in 2022. In other words, Germany’s arms budget will reach a new record high of 58.6 billion euros this year. And in accordance with NATO criteria, up to five billion euros will be added on top of this.
If two percent of gross domestic product (GDP) is to be spent on defence in future, i.e. 81 billion euros, the German Ministry of Defence will have about as much money at its disposal as the budget allocated to health (24.48 billion euros), education (21.46 billion euros), climate action (14.57 billion euros), development (12.15 billion euros) and foreign affairs (7.47 billion euros) combined.
To this we must add the investments made in NATO’s proxy war in Ukraine. Germany is at the forefront here with 7.4 billion euros in military aid to date, and 16.8 billion euros in aid overall. If you add up the total costs of Germany’s war policy so far, each household in Germany has had to fork out a staggering 14,000 euros.
At the same time, Germany’s infrastructure is deteriorating dramatically. On 16 March 2023, Deutsche Bahn announced that “26 percent of all points are currently in poor, defective or inadequate condition, as are 11 percent of all bridges, 22 percent of overhead lines, 23 percent of tracks, 42 percent of all level crossings and 48 percent of all signal boxes”. The railway network is being left in a deplorable state. Massive delays are the order of the day. The condition of roads and bridges is similarly catastrophic.
In addition to this, education in Germany is in a dire state. According to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Igloo) presented in Berlin on 16 May 2023, 25 percent of children in this school year have not reached the minimum level of reading comprehension considered necessary to advance to the next school year. According to the previous Igloo survey, which was published at the end of 2017, this figure stood at 19 percent.
In a nutshell, a country that invests in a proxy war and defence instead of investing first and foremost in education, health and the well-being of its citizens is in deep crisis. Putting trade relations with our largest trading partner, China, at risk – and by extension the very existence of the German car industry, which employs over 850,000 people in Germany – is threatening to exacerbate this situation.
The creation of a strong Europe that must achieve “strategic autonomy” also vis-à-vis the US is often touted as a solution to this crisis. A study by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) is symptomatic of this. It correctly establishes that there has been an increasing level of vassalisation in the relationship with the US since the beginning of the Ukraine war and states that the EU has fallen behind the US in many respects over the past 15 years. Whereas the EU’s economic output of 16.2 trillion US dollars in 2008 was still significantly bigger than that of the United States to the tune of 14.7 trillion US dollars, in 2022, the year in which the war began, the US already had more than 25 trillion US dollars, whereas the EU plus the UK only had 19.8 trillion US dollars. At the same time, the ECHR recommends the old remedy that has helped to change the situation so much in recent years, namely greater defence spending and the increased elimination of sovereign rights on the part of EU member states, especially in foreign and security policy. The role model then is the US, which increased its military budget from 656 billion US dollars in 2008 to 801 billion US dollars in 2021, while the EU and the UK, which had a budget of 303 billion US dollars in 2008, still spends “only” 325 billion US dollars on military and defence. The problem, however, is that both greater defence spending and the elimination of the sovereign rights of EU member states in favour of EU institutions that merely serve as transmission belts for enforcing US interests produce precisely the opposite result. They reinforce this obedience still further and make political autonomy a distant prospect. It is vital that the US orientation towards global hegemony with military interventionism and economic warfare is not challenged, even though it has a self-destructive impact on the European vassals and is likely to further reinforce the economic decline of Europe as described by the ECFR.
In this context, the example of the Ukraine war shows how important the political autonomy of Europe with a peaceful orientation would be. In the Bundestag’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, I myself was unfortunate enough to witness in the run-up to the war that Russia’s initiatives to conclude mutual security treaties in Europe weren’t taken seriously by the German Government. All concerns regarding NATO expansion and the stationing of missiles in Ukraine were brushed aside. And this dilemma continues, as the European Commission and the German Government, standing at the side of the US, refuse real diplomatic solutions so far. Like the G7, they present Russia unilaterally giving in as a “solution” along with what they hope will be a military victory for Ukraine, for which NATO is providing ever more and increasingly heavy weapons. This is tantamount to a denial of reality that also risks provoking world war three or, at any rate, in keeping with the logic of escalation, seeks to expand the war more and more and, what is more, to knowingly take this risk.
In my view, the immeasurable destruction, the senseless deaths and the suffering of the civilian population justify an immediate ceasefire to the war in Ukraine that Russia started on 24 February 2022.
But let me offer you another argument as to why it is of global interest to end this war by diplomatic means. And it’s worth noting here that it was reprehensible of the US and the UK to frustrate negotiations for a diplomatic solution a little over a year ago.
We have seen in the war in Syria how the West supported Islamist terrorist fighters in the mistaken belief that this could lead to the fall of Assad. With ISIS, a veritable Frankenstein was created that committed terrible crimes against the people of Syria and Iraq.
In Ukraine, we’re now facing the risk of a new Frankenstein being created by the West, which could become a global threat to security and peace. What do I mean by this? Allow me to give you just two examples from the past few days. On 24 May, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence posted a photo of a German Leopard 2 battle tank that had been delivered to Ukraine. The black and red flag of the fascist organisation UPA was hoisted atop this tank. The UPA, with its figurehead Stephan Bandera, who is revered by the state in today’s Ukraine, is in line with the tradition of those who collaborated with the Nazis in the Second World War, also killing thousands of Jews and Poles themselves. These people apparently now occupy important positions in Ukraine. You can’t bear to imagine what they might be capable of once the war comes to an end.
Secondly, I’d like to mention the attack on Russian villages by the so-called Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps a few days ago. These attacks were spearheaded by pro-Ukrainian neo-Nazis, some of whom also have links with Germany. These volunteer corps are now believed to include thousands of terror fighters. Combatant names such as “White Rex” among leading members are indicative of a racist ideology of the superiority of an imagined white superior race. The threat of a “snow ISIS” is rightly on people’s lips. These attacks would be inconceivable without the logistical support of Ukraine, and the same goes for the training of thousands of terrorist fighters.
These two examples show that, in NATO’s proxy war in Ukraine, the West is sowing a bad seed that could sprout quite differently than some may have imagined and whose growth threatens to put peace and security around the world at risk. An immediate end to the war is all the more urgent, if only to prevent a “white ISIS” from emerging.
The great challenges facing humanity call for common solutions. A new world can emerge from the current predicament, a world in which the Global South is no longer a theatre for military expeditions and neo-colonial exploitation, in which the capitalist exploitation of humankind by humankind, the destruction of the climate and nature, are pushed back. Eighty percent of the world’s countries aren’t involved in this economic warfare against Russia and stand for diplomacy as opposed to supplying more and more weapons. Mutual economic cooperation and exchange for mutual benefit are the guiding principles of global humanism.
Germany, on the other hand, is paying a high price for following the lead of the US and refusing really cooperate with the new world.
On 25 May 2023, the Federal Statistical Office reported that the German economy had fallen into recession during the winter. GDP shrank by 0.3 percent in the first quarter compared to the previous quarter. After economic output had already declined by 0.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022, the criteria for a recession have been met. The outlook for this year is more than bleak. In the EU as a whole, the economy is limping along as well.
We must do everything in our power to ensure that the “Cape of Asia” is spared a new and terrible wave of poverty that shakes the political foundations of our continent to their very core. My firm belief is that this can only be achieved by emancipating ourselves from the US and by pursuing a policy that isn’t bent on defence spending, sabre-rattling and the fulfilment of US oligarchs’ profit interests, but which rejects the temptations of the promises of sanctions.
Thank you very much.
Sevim Dagdelen is the coordinator for the Left Party parliamentary group on the Bundestag’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and Spokeswoman for International Politics.