A few days ago there was yet another demonstration in Prague against the proposed installation of a US radar station within the framework of the American missile defense system being set up in Central Europe, allegedly in order to protect US (and Europe) against a hypothetical nuclear missile launch from Iran. As the BBC article comments, the Czech people are overwhelmingly against the building of the station, for both health and security reasons. The current ruling party does not have an absolute majority in parliament, and it seems that the opposition forces are against the move (whether on principle or to capitalize on its unpopularity) meaning that Mr Topolanek might not be able to fulfill his promise to Dubya. Without meaning to sound like a new leftie movementist, I believe it is good to see some sort of political activism - even if it doesn't have an explicitly working class character - in a country of the former Eastern Bloc. It indicates that the people are gradually overcoming the atomization caused by Stalinism, as well as challenging the hegemony of liberal ideology and building an oppositional political culture. Should the radar proposal fall, it is likely that the Czech people will be heartened enough to start mobilizing over other issues as well. Demonstrations have already been organized for Bush's visit tomorrow; hopefully, they will be sizable. [I started writing this post a couple of days ago. Bush's visit has since been completed; if you have any idea as to how successful the planned protests where, please let me know]
As the title implies however, this post is not about the level of class struggle and political consciousness in the Czech republic but rather, the international context and implications of the US drive to establish missile installations in that very troubled part of the world.
The implications are, I believe, rather evident. Russia is getting pissed off at having American missile systems in her backyard. It is rather obvious to anyone with basic knowledge of geography that said complexes are more useful against Russia than Iran. There is absolutely no reason for an Iranian missile headed to the US to fly over anywhere near Poland or the Czech Republic, unless of course the hypothetical missile decided to do zigzag maneuvers on the way. If the US were really worried about an Iranian attack, they would be better off building their radars and whatnot on the north coast of Africa. Indeed, the only way that a projectile from Iran would go over Poland or the Czech Republic was if it was headed to... Greenland. Unless my memory is failing, I believe that Iran does not have any grudges against the Inuit people.
Vladimir Putin has been quite vocal in expressing his dissatisfaction with what he referred to in Munich as the US overstepping its national borders. A well schooled security bureaucrat, Putin is understandably worried at what he sees as a preemptive measure against the imperialist aspirations of Russian capitalism.
Putin's response to America's increasingly antagonistic foreign policy is almost Bismarckian in the extent to which it dovetails with Russia's general strategic interests. The Judo practitioner, in his speech to parliament on April the 26th, declared a moratorium on Russia's commitment to the Treaty on Conventional Weapons. The treaty, first signed in 1990, aimed to reduce the number of conventional military forces scattered around Europe within the context of the Cold War. It was amended in 1999 to take note of geopolitical changes affected by the dissolution of the USSR, however, the US and other NATO members have refused to ratify it before Russia withdraws her troops from Georgia and Moldova. Russia of course is not going to have any of this crap, hence Putin arguing that Russian presence in the former SSRs is a matter without relevance to the treaty and declaring it void until the NATO members ratify it. This is hardly surprising. The Treaty was originally signed when the Soviet Union was on its death bed and amended when Russia was in the middle of the devastating crisis that followed the dissolution. Now, the Russian state has to an extent pulled itself together, balancing itself on the wave of rising energy prices and is gradually stabilizing the almost shattered Russian society.
What is even more indicative of Russia's willingness to pursue a confrontational foreign policy is Putin's hint - during his speech at the Munich Conference - that Russia was not happy with the restrictions imposed on her by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty within the current global political framework. This was followed by further, more intense
Only one thing is sure. The interests of Russian and American imperialism are on a collision trajectory, for various reasons. Not only is Russia threatening to break global US hegemony if she does indeed manage to harness her internal chaos, but she is also obviously interested in (and capable of) regaining dominance in hertraditional spheres of influence which have been usurped by the US. The War on Terror is not helping Kremlin-White House relations much either, as it fuels Islamic radicalism which in turns fuels Chechnyan separatism.
The extent and magnitude of the conflict between American and Russian interests depends on how much the two states are prepared to and can sustain their politics of confrontation.
It seems to me that the US is in a far more difficult position as far as political sustainability is concerned. The foreign and internal politics of the US (on which I'll admit I am no expert) are marked by irreconcilable contradictions. The soon to end Bush administration is based on an alliance of the intensely ideological Christian Right groups, corporate interests and whathaveyou. The War in Iraq and occupation of Afghanistan is a huge drain on state funds which are already being depleted by far going tax cuts. As the Cedar Lounge Revolution puts it:
And of course the point is that the Bush administration is intensely ideological. But in a weirdly splintered way, with competing interests, commercial, sociopolitical/religious and foreign policy having spent the last seven years vying for pole position and the Presidents ear. These interests are by no means mutually compatible.
I could argue that Bush represents the triumph of the oligarchies, or perhaps the triumph of oligarchies who have cynically utilised the right religious vote. But perhaps that would be to attribute to Bush more guile, or even project management, than he deserves. Perhaps the project was simply about being in power. And perhaps that tells us why the project has failed. If one has no instinctive interest in affairs of state, indeed an antipathy to the very concept of the state or perhaps more particularly the public welfare (in it’s broadest sense), it tends to lead to - at the very least - a sense of dislocation. And that’s all fine, except the state functions in a very real way only due to the collective affirmation by citizens and the input of taxation from citizens. In other words other peoples money.
Said War is to the interests of only some sections of American capital, hence the opposition to the War by certain interest groups. Then there are also disagreements on methods to tackle climate change, with the energy lobby vehemently fighting any marginally progressive proposals while bourgeois leaders like Al Gore have painted themselves green, realising that there are green votes to be won, as well as understanding the bourgeoisie is not immune to environmental destruction. And of course, there's the repoliticisation of the American public itself as a result of both the war and the influx of immigrants from Latin America who are gradually starting to become class conscious.
Bush himself seems to be unsure as to what approach to Russia is best. First, he tries to reassure the Bear by vowing that the installations are of no danger to her, even going as far as to invite Russian officials over. Then, he goes on to criticise the Putin administrationon rolling back "freedoms". With such a degree of policy instability, it is impossible to predict how the US will behave in dealings with Russia after the election next year.
As regards Russia, matters are far simpler. Even though Putin cannot run for reelection again in 2008, there is little evidence to suggest that any of the potential future Russian presidents will follow a different political trajectory. The only challenge faced by Russia is, as I said earlier, her internal socio-economic chaos byusing high energy prices to expand the economic base of the country and invest in programmes of social development. None of the opposition parties can hope to defeat Edinaya Rossya and even if they did, there would be no change with respect to the structure and functioning of the state which is entirely dominated by (both state and private) corporate interests in a manner rather different than in other capitalist states. As Tony Wood argues, business and state have become almost fused, with businesses recruiting from state ministries and vice versa:
It is obvious thus that the political trajectory of Russia will be far more stable in the long run than that of the US, as long as she avoids another economic crisis like that of the 90s.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev is also chairman of Gazprom; Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Igor Sechin, is also chairman of Rosneft. Taking the Presidential Administration as a whole, ‘11 members chaired 6 state companies and had 12 further state directorships; 15 senior government officials held 6 chairmanships and 24 other board seats.’ Many members of the government are also rumoured to have significant, undisclosed business interests—such as the Communications Minister, Leonid Reiman, who allegedly still holds a stake in the phone company he co-founded, Telekominvest
With Iran and China also rising to global prominence, it is certain that we live in interesting -and dangerous- times. I am only hoping that the dormant (for different reasons) working classes of Russia and the US will soon reestablish themselves as powerful enough political actors to put a break to their national bourgeoisies' mortal pissing contest.