The 2023 War – ‘Setting the Theatre’
The China-Russia axis are lighting the fires of a structural insurrection against the West across much of the Rest of World. Its fires are aimed at ‘boiling the frog slowly’
A top US Marine General, James Bierman, in a recent interview with the Financial Times, explained in a moment of candour how the US is “setting the theatre” for possible war with China, whilst casually admitting as an aside, how US defence planners had been busy inside Ukraine years ago, “earnestly preparing” for war with Russia — even down to the “pre-positioning of supplies”, identifying sites from which the US might operate support, and sustain operations. Simply put, they were there,readying the battle space for years.
No surprise really, as such military responses flow directly from the core US strategic decision to actuate the 1992 ‘WolfowitzDoctrine’ that the US must plan and preemptively act, to disable any potential Great Power — well before it reaches the point at which it can rival or impair US hegemony.
NATO today has progressed to war with Russia in a battlespace, which in 2023, may or may not stay limited to Ukraine. Simply put the point is that the shift to ‘War’ (whether incremental or not) marks a fundamental transition from which there is no going back to ab initio — ‘war economies’ in essence, are structurally different to the ‘normal’ from which the West began, and to which it has grown accustomed over recent decades. A war society — even if only partly mobilised — thinks and acts structurally differently from peacetime society.
War is not about gentlemanly conduct… either. Empathy for others is its first casualty — the latter being a requirement for sustaining a fighting spirit.
Yet, the carefully curated fiction in Europe and the US continues that nothing really has, or will ‘change’: we are in a temporary ‘blip’. That’s all.
Zoltan Pozsar, the influential finance ‘oracle’ at Credit Suisse, has already made the point in his latest War and Peace essay (subscription only) that War is well underway – by simply listing the events of 2022:
- The G7’s financial blockade of Russia (The West setting the battle space)
- Russia’s energy blockade of the EU (Russia begins setting its theatre)
- The U.S.’s technology blockade of China (America pre-positioning of sites to sustain operations)
- China’s naval blockade of Taiwan, (China demonstrating preparedness)
- The U.S.’s “blockade” of the EU’s EV sector with the Inflation Reduction Act. (The US defence planners preparing for future ‘supply-lines)
- China’s “pincer movement” around all of OPEC+ with the growing trend of invoicing oil and gas sales in renminbi. (The Russia-China ‘Commodity Battlespace’).
This list amounts to one major geo-political ‘upset’ occurring, on average, every two months — moving the world decisively away from the so-called ‘normal’ (for which so many in the Consuming Class ardently yearn) to an intermediate state of War.
Pozsar’s list shows that the tectonic plates of geo-politics are seriously ‘on the move’ — shifts, which are accelerating and becoming ever more intertwined, yet that still remain far from arriving at any settled place. ‘War’ will likely be a major disruptor (at the very least), until some equilibrium is established. And that may take some years.
Ultimately, ‘War’ does make its impact on the conventional public mindset — albeit slowly. It seems to be fear of the impact on an unprepared mindset that is behind the decision to prolong Ukraine’s suffering, and thus trigger the War of 2023: An admission of failure in Ukraine is seen to risk spooking volatile western markets (i.e. higher interest rates for longer). And frank-talking represents a hard option for a western world — used to ‘easy decisions’, and ‘can kicking’ — to take.
Pozsar, being a finance guru, understandably is focussed in his essay on finance. But conceivably, the reference to Kindleberger’s Manias, Panics and Crashes is therefore not whimsical, but included as a hint to the possible ‘hit’ to the conventional psyche.
In any event, Pozsar leaves us four key economic takeaways (with brief comments added):
- War is history’s principle driver of inflation, and the bankruptcy for states. (Comment: war-driven inflation and Quantitative Tightening (QT) enacted to fight inflation, are policies working in radical opposition to each other. Central Banks’ role attenuates to supporting war needs — at the expense of other variables – in wartime.
- War implies an effective and expandable industrial capacity for producing weapons (rapidly), which, in itself, requires secure supply-lines to feed that capacity. (A quality which the West no longer possesses, and which is costly to recreate);
- Commodities which often serve as collateral to loans become scarce – and with that scarcity, show up as commodity ‘inflation’;
- And finally, War cuts new financial channels i.e. “the m-CBDC Bridge project” (see here).
The point needs underlining again: War creates different financial dynamics and shapes a different psyche. More importantly, ‘War’ is not a stable phenomenon. It can start with petty tit-for-tat strikes on a rival’s infrastructure and then — with every incremental ‘mission creep’ — slip along the curve towards full war. NATO is not just mission creeping in its war on Russia, it is mission jogging — fearing a Ukraine humiliation in the wake of the earlier Afghanistan débacle.
The EU hopes to halt that slide well short of full war. It is nonetheless a very slippery slope. The point of War is to inflict pain and attrit your enemy. To this extent it is open to mutation. Formal sanctions and caps on energy quickly metamorphose into the sabotage of pipelines or the seizure of tankers.
Russia and China however, are certainly not naïve, and have been busy setting their own theatre, ahead of a potential wider clash with NATO.
China and Russia can now claim to have built a strategic relationship, not only with OPEC+, but with Iran and key gas producers.
Russia, Iran, and Venezuela account for about 40% of the world’s proven oil reserves, and each of them are currently selling oil to China for renminbi at a steep discount. GCC countries account for another 40% of proven oil reserves — and are being courted by China to accept renminbi for their oil — in exchange for transformative investments.
This is a significant new battlespace being readied — ending Dollar hegemony through boiling the frog slowly.
The contesting party made the initial strike, sanctioning half of OPEC with those 40% of the world’s oil reserves. That thrust failed: the Russian economy survived — and unsurprisingly — the sanctions ‘lost’ those states to Europe, ‘handing them’ over instead to China.
China meanwhile is courting the other half of OPEC with an offer that is hard to refuse: “Over the next “three to five years”, China will not only pay for more oil in renminbi – but more significantly, ‘will pay’ with new investments in downstream petrochemical industries in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the GCC more broadly. It will, in other words, build out the successor generation economy” for these fossil fuel exporters whose energy sell-by date approaches.
The key point here is that in the future, much more ‘value-added’ (in the course of production) will be captured locally — at the expense of industries in the West. Pozsar cheekily calls this: “Our commodity, your problem… Our commodity, our emancipation”. Or, in other words, the China-Russia axis are lighting the fires of a structural insurrection against the West across much of the Rest of World.
Its fires are aimed at ‘boiling the frog slowly’ — not just that of the dollar hegemony, but also that of a now uncompetitive western economy.
Emancipation? Yes! Here is the crux: China is receiving Russian, Iranian and Venezuelan energy at a big 30% discount.Meanwhile, Europe still gets energy for its industry — but only at a big mark-up. In short, more, and occasionally all, product added-value will be captured by cheap-energy ‘friendly’ states, at the expense of the uncompetitive ‘unfriendlies’.
“China – the nemesis – paradoxically has been a big exporter of high mark-up Russian LNG to Europe, and India a big exporter of high mark-up Russian oil and refined products such as diesel – to Europe. We should expect more [of this in the future] across more products – and invoiced not just in euros and dollars, but also renminbi, dirhams, and rupees’ ‘, Poszar suggests.
It may not look so obvious, but it is a financial war. If the EU is content to take the ‘easy way’ out of its fall into uncompetitiveness (via subsidies to allow for high-mark-up imports), then as Napoleon once remarked when observing an enemy making a mistake: Observe silence!
For Europe, this means much less domestic production – and more inflation — as price inflating alternatives are imported from the East. The West taking the ‘easy decision’ (since its renewable strategy has not been well thought through), likely will find the arrangement to be at the expense of growth in the West — a course prefiguring a weaker West, in the near future.
The EU will be particularly hard-hit. It has elected to become dependent on US LNG, just at the moment that production from US shale fields has peaked, with what output there is likely ear-marked to the US domestic market.
Thus, as general Bierman outlined how the US prepared the battlespace in Ukraine, Russia and China and the BRICS planners have been busy setting their own ‘theater’.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be like it ‘is’: Europe’s stumble towards calamity reflects an embedded psychology of the Western ruling élite. There is no strategic reasoning, nor ‘hard-decisions’ being taken in the West at all. It is all narcissistic Merkelism (hard decisions postponed, and then ‘fudged’ through subsidy handouts). Merkelism is so called after Angela Merkel’s reign at the EU, where fundamental reform was invariably postponed.
There is no need for thinking-things-through, or for hard decisions, when leaders are held by the unshakable conviction that the West IS the centre of the Universe. It is sufficient to postpone, awaiting the inexorable to unfold itself.
The recent history of US-led forever-wars is further evidence of this western lacuna: These zombie wars drag on for years with no plausible justification, only to be unceremoniously dropped. The strategic dynamics were easier suppressed and forgotten however, when fighting insurgency wars — as opposed to fighting two well-armed, peer competitor-states.
The same dysfunctionality has been apparent in many slow-rolling western crises: Nevertheless, we persist… because protecting the fragile psychology of our leaders — and an influential sector of the public — takes precedence. The inability to countenance losing drives our élites to prefer sacrifice by their own people, rather than see their delusions exposed.
Hence, reality has to be abjured. So, we live a nebulous between-times — so much happening, but so little movement. Only when the outbreak of crisis can no longer be ignored — by even the MSM and Tech censors — might some real effort be made to address root causes.
This conundrum however, places a huge burden on the shoulders of Moscow and Beijing to manage the War escalation in a careful fashion — in face of a West for whom losing is intolerable.