Has the third world war already started?

April 18, 2024  BY ANDREW MURRAY AND JOHN WOJCIK

Has the third world war already started?

Missiles fly over destroyed buildings in the skies of Gaza, Oct. 19, 2023. | Mohammed Dahman / AP

The following is an abridged and edited version of an article that appeared in Morning Star, the daily socialist newspaper in the U.K. It has been supplemented with further analysis and information.

Has World War III already begun? U.S. imperialism and its allies deny it, but their actions do not match up with those denials. The Biden administration says it is for peace and wants to avoid “escalation” of the many wars in which it is involved. Nevertheless, it continues, with its close European allies, to bomb Yemen, shield Israel from the consequences of its aggressions, and struggles to keep the war in Ukraine bubbling along. It reminds one of the robber, during his getaway, shouting “Stop thief!”

Just as the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1932 and the Spanish Civil War from 1936 marked the real onset of World War II, conventionally dated only from September 1939, history may record that the third great conflagration is already underway.

The aggressors who back Israel’s genocidal policies don’t want to be seen, however, as owning their deadly work. The trepidation of Biden, Sunak and Cameron in the U.K., and Macron in France when it comes to taking responsibility for the horrific results of their maneuvering is actually quite understandable and should come as no surprise.

The “world order” of Biden and the leaders of the U.K. and France depends on military force for its very survival. At the same time, however, if that force is used too heavily, the imperialist system they prop up could rapidly begin to collapse.

In the U.S., the dilemma is faced by leaders of both political parties. Republican Speaker Mike Johnson said Thursday morning that lawmakers have a “duty” to provide the $60 billion in arms that Biden has requested for Ukraine if the U.S. is to preserve its position as the world’s “indispensable” nation.

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware echoed that position by saying provisions of that military aid for Ukraine and “the defeat of Vladimir Putin of Russia is a necessity” if the U.S. is to remain “the strongest nation on earth.”

So, they don’t want a third world war but seem to be willing to risk one in order to preserve the “top dog” position of the U.S.

In order to achieve their goals, they sustain and prolong violence from Kharkiv to Khan Younis, while, at the same time, desperately urging their Israeli client to avoid further provocations, and they hypocritically order Ukraine to refrain from military actions against Russia. Why? Because their precious energy markets might be troubled if Ukraine attacks Russia directly.

A recent article in the Financial Times put their dilemma this way: “The Washington consensus—which expected emerging nations to fall in line with free-market rules written by the West—and the post-war Pax Americana are over.” So they reach, more and more, for the guns. It’s not to the benefit of the fight for democracy or the working classes of the world, of course, but rather to hold onto power they see slipping away.

Imperialist and U.S. hegemony in the Middle East has become unhinged, and a regional war has moved from possibility to likelihood following Israel’s attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus and the inevitable Iranian response.

Meanwhile, the extensive and expensive effort to keep Ukraine in the field against Russia is faltering, with some form of victory for Moscow looking more possible than hitherto, although not without more misery and destruction. And China continues to grow in economic strength and global influence, despite U.S.-led efforts at military encirclement. Funds on top of more funds on top of more are needed to sustain all these conflicts, again at the expense of programs for workers.

There are the other financial weapons being deployed as well; new rounds of economic sanctions imposed by Biden against China and other countries have been announced. “Don’t attack Iran,” he tells Israel, even as his Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, announces that new sanctions against that country can come in a matter of days. The administration continues and even steps up the weaponization of the dollar as an instrument of imperialism, aggravating the international situation even further.

Yet the U.S. and its closest European allies, above all, are invested to the death in preserving the present world order from which their banks and businesses profit so mightily. They have no Plan B, no more than the German Kaiser and the Tsar did in Europe in 1914. Determined to keep Russia diminished, the Biden administration has kept the Ukraine war going when peace is at least possible.

U.S.  support for continuing Israeli supremacy in the Middle East is behind the devastation and suffering spread by the multiple wars launched across the region this century and is key to the genocide in Gaza presently being green-lit by Washington. Much of that dirty deed has already been done. Gaza is almost completely destroyed, and a majority of the population left alive is starving.

And now there is the economic and political rise of China, which the G7 elite really do not know what to do about at all. The danger is that when they come to a solution it will involve bombers and warships. They are already building up those weapons in the area and ramping up war talk about “defending” Taiwan from China. It does not matter to them that Taiwan itself is a part of China. The latter and Russia are at least, to some extent, diplomatically and militarily connected, offering mutual support in standing up to the pressure from the U.S.

And as in the 1930s, the international “haves,” the U.S. and its European allies, maneuver to avoid their many conflicts from becoming a wider and general one because their position can hardly be improved by a major world war. Yet, neither can they dial down their militarism and interference, since without these props the imperialist order would collapse completely.

The contradiction is worked out in the simultaneous firing of missiles or the provision of the missiles to be fired by proxies while, at the same time, like the Biden administration, issuing of homilies about “restraint.”

While there has been progress by workers’ organizations in the West in calling into question some of this militarism, particularly in the calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, there is a long way to go in increasing the labor movement’s connection of war spending militarism with the fight for economic justice on the home front.

Failure to rein in the war mongers will be paid for through cuts to social spending, slashing of public services, higher taxes on workers, and many other things.

Demands to end the war policy must be put forward by the peace movement, the labor movement, and all their allies. The U.S. has no business bombing Yemen, arming and defending Israel’s genocidal policies, working to prolong the Ukraine-Russia conflict, or sailing aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines all around the Asia Pacific region. Those policies must ALL be fought because they hurt working people and increase the danger of World War III developing.

Biden administration policy in the Middle East is not acting on behalf of international law, nor from humanitarian considerations. It is defending the systemic privilege of U.S. finance capital—expending blood for oil and money, ultimately.

Peace is of course is the essential first and main demand, including an end to all U.S., British, and French military adventurism in the Middle East and around the world.

The big problem faced by the people of the world is not Iran, nor Russia, nor China. It is the imperialist powers that will stop at nothing to support more and more war overseas as part of its intensification of exploitation of the majority in their home countries.

The growing peace movement gives hope that we can stop them in their tracks.