Recent remarks by Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called China’s testing of a hypersonic missile designed to evade U.S. nuclear defenses “very close” to a “Sputnik moment” for the United States. These comments are indicative of a continuing pattern by the U.S. government, corporate media structure, that reinforces and instigates deadly preexisting geopolitical conflicts with China. A rhetorical theme unnecessarily produced and supported by a Sinophobic Bipartisan U.S. Political elite.
Richard Falk, international relations scholar and author, gives an overview of Sputnik’s history and summarizes U.S. interest in promoting fear culture with China. Falk also describes how the prospects of a new Cold War might eventually subside because of increased attention to the climate emergency and COVID. This makes geopolitics less relevant. It is both fortunate as well as unfortunate for its own reasons.
Daniel Falcone: On Bloomberg Television, Gen. Mark Milley referred to China’s hypersonic weapons test as close to a “Sputnik moment” that has our attention. Can you comment on this language and give historical context?
Richard Falk: I interpret General Milley’s remark as primarily intended to raise security concerns relating to the deepening geopolitical rivalryChina, or perhaps as a reflection thereof. To call the hypersonic weapons test by China “close to a Sputnik moment” was suggesting that it was posing a systemic threat to American technological supremacy directly relevant to national security and the relative military capabilities of the two countries. Sputnik was used to refer to an incident when the geopolitical rival of that day, which was in 1957The Soviet Union was, of course, taken by surprise by the U.S. and made the first sovereign state to send a satellite in space with the ability to orbit the Earth. It could also be the one that will eventually dominate the political life on the planet.
This was not a threat in and of itself, but it was taken to indicate that the Soviet Union was technologically more advanced than was understood by the public and even U.S intelligence. It was used to encourage increased investment in space technology. It led to a triumphant moment in the United States’ history when Neil Armstrong landed in the moon. 1969The U.S. can regain the lead in the space dimension of this. Cold War rivalryand to indirectly regain confidence in its military prowess. Retrospectively, the Sputnik moment’s actual relevance was in the realm of symbolic geopolitics and had no real relevance to the outcome or course of the Cold War.
The Chinese test is supposed to help develop a new language. supersonic missilecapable of encircling Earth with a spatial orbit, and a flexible return capability. This perception is that it can evade radars and other defense systems currently in place to intercept incoming missiles. In that sense, Milley’s pronouncement in the course of the BloombergInterview can best be described as an intensification and escalation of the slide towards geopolitical confrontation against China. A set of circumstances that already possess many features of a Second Cold War, but which occurred under completely different historical circumstances than the rivalry between the Soviet Union and China.
It will likely be the beginning of agitation, and a campaign for increasing the bloated defense budgetIt is still possible that it will find a receptive, gullible bipartisan audience within the U.S. Congress. Milley’s recent statement, which was not criticalally highlighted by mainstream media, is the best by a chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff.
It was surprising to me, but in keeping with the mobilization for anti-China public opinion, that Milley and the commentary failed to suggest a different interpretation of this news. It could have been presented as a dangerous technological threshold that requires mutual restraint, and possibly agreements limiting further developments. President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony BlinkenCould have used the opportunity to declare that the world cannot afford such risky and costly distractions as an all-out war in space.
It seems that the Sputnik moment could have been used by an imaginative military leader to create a path for peace, rather than a threat of war in the future. It might have been a great moment to start a path towards reconciliation with China that would benefit the two countries as well as humanity in general. However, this would have been viciously attacked by both the militarists of each party as weakness instead if it was strength. Remember the derision heaped on President Barack Obama for daring “to lead from behind” in the 2011 North Atlantic Treaty Organization intervention in Libya. Given the mess resulting from that military operation, there is reason to view Obama’s reluctance as a show of strategic wisdom as well as prudence.
Is this possible? political statementYou estimate it, or a sobering comment by a high-ranking official?
I do consider Milley’s statement, made without qualifications and accompanying comments, as providing the basis for two possible lines of response: a geopolitical reflex of alarm and heightened tensions in keeping with the confrontational character of recent American foreign policy, or a measured reaction that urged mutual restraint and a search for a cooperative framework with respect to the militarization of spaceFor the sake of world peace, but also in consideration of the need to avoid expensive and highly uncertain extensions to arms competition.
The fact this “road not taken” was not even mentioned by Milley as an alternative is deeply disappointing, although in keeping with the prevailing mood in Washington. The feverish media coverage of Milley’s provocative sounding of Sputnik alarm bellsIf the issue is China, it suggests that public policy discussion is taking place in an atmosphere where ideological closure is common. This should be alarming.
Recent participation of President Biden in a CNN “town hall” and again instigated China. China doesn’t seem to be intimidatedUnited States. Could you explain how this reality affects heads of states overall?
We are witnessing once again a superpower interaction that threatens to dominate international politics — this time in a global settingStill trying to recover from COVID’s pandemic, and facing dire warnings from climate experts that if not more is done to address climate change urgently, then catastrophic harm will occur. If rationality prevails in this new global configuration of social, political, and ecological forces, geopoliticsThey will be moved to the sidelines to concentrate on issues that cannot be ignored anymore. It is sad that the U.S. political will is primarily focused on addressing traditional security threats resulting from conflict and nothing else in foreign policy.
Some advocates for peace are worried that a failed or stalled infrastructure legislative package will force liberal Democrats into more hawkish positions in order to show “resolve.” Can you comment on the validity of this concern?
One persistent shadow over American politics is the sobering realization there seems to be no downside to hawkishness by politicians when it comes down to embracing the warped logics geopolitical rivalry and military spending. It is unclear whether this will have an effect on the bargaining component of Congress’ search for sufficient support to fund a domestic infrastructure program. However, it should not surprise. Many liberals DemocratsIf the issues are defense, Israel, and China, you should not stray from the bipartisan mainstream, especially if a favorite domestic program is in danger.
NPR has reported on how “Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on countries to support Taiwan’s participation in the United Nations. The self-governed island has not been a member of the body since October 1971, when the U.N. gave Beijing a seat at the table and removed Taiwan.” What are the regional implications of the Taiwan factor regarding Biden’s and Milley’s remarks? What is the relevance of this and what is happening?
It was a very unfortunate departure from the Shanghai Communique of 1972 establishing relations between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to speak in favor of giving Taiwan a more active role in the UN system. First, it seemed to be contrary to what was agreed on with Taiwan in 1972. This included Washington’s acceptance. “One China” policy. As Henry Kissinger has argued, the language used deliberately avoided endorsing the PRC view of “One China,” leaving open the interpretation followed by Washington that Beijing could only extend its territorial sovereignty to Taiwan by way of a diplomatic agreement with Taiwan (formerly, the Republic of China, which had lost the right to represent China at the UN).
Despite efforts by Taiwan to gain diplomatic recognition as a separate political entity, it has only managed to secure a favorable response from 15 countries, and not one “important” country among them, with even the United States refraining. Although Taiwan attempted to become a UN member at one time, the United States strongly rejected the attempt. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, relying upon UN General Assembly Resolution 2756, which set the terms of Chinese representation in 1971, relegating Taiwan (what had been represented by China at the UN until that time as the Republic of China) as “the province of Taiwan” within the larger reality of China. The United States made a strenuous effort in 1971 to keep the Republic of China as a participant at UN activities. This resulted in the PRC being the sole representative of China.
What makes the BlinkenIt is doubly infuriating that this occurred amid increasing tensions between the U.S. and China, with a growing focus of Taiwan’s security. Blinken’s choice to support Taiwan’s increased independence at this time is either misguided, or clearly meant to provoke. China has been apparently testing Taiwan’s nerves and the resolve of America by a naval buildup. Further amplifying such irresponsible talk were the United States Naval Buildup and Air Intrusions. Biden’sThe implications are that the U.S. would protect Taiwan if it was attacked, rather than calling to hold a conference to reduce tensions. Then comes General Milley’s “Sputnik moment” remark, as if the Chinese security challenge has crossed a threshold of strategic threat to the United States that it dares not ignore. Further signals of hostility were sent through activating the QUADinformal alliance (U.S. Japan, India, Australia) formed a few months ago. More recently, the AUKUS alliance was established, which included Australian development and production of nuclear-powered submarines.
Two lines of structural threat seem to be creating an atmosphere for pre-crisis confrontation. First, the so-called Thucydides TrapMilley’s reaction and comment must be seen in this light. Secondly, the belligerent assertion by Milley that Taiwan is at risk is part of a larger ideological struggle in the region and the world between authoritarian and democratic governments. Tsai Ingwen, Taiwan’s president, speaks in a recent articleIn Foreign AffairsThis theme was articulated with great force. Taiwan’s independence and safety were at stake.
From a longer temporal perspective, the right-wing of the political class in Washington has never gotten over the trauma of “losing China” as if it were the U.S.’s to lose! The persistence of this geopolitical hubris has brought Taiwan tensions closer towards an armed encounter with true losers on both ends. Another reason to support diplomatic de-escalation is the realization that the U.S. cannot match China’s South China Sea defenses with conventional weapons, and can only win by using nuclear weaponry. This is not alarmism. It has been openly declared in the Pentagon by prominent voices.
This geopolitical context shouldn’t lead the world or region to ignore the well-being 23.5 million Taiwanese citizens. Given what is at stake, the best approach would be to restore the “constructive ambiguity” that was deliberately written into the Shanghai Communique, and work for an atmosphere where Taiwan and the PRC can negotiate their futures on the basis of common interests. Even though this is a dangerous path, Hong Kong’s recent experience suggests otherwise.
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.