The Animal Feed Industry’s Impact On The Planet

Vicky Bond – Photo: The Humane League

01-30-2024 ~ The diet of factory-farmed animals is linked to environmental destruction around the globe.

In some parts of the continental United States, you might drive through a nearly unchanging landscape for hours. Stretching for miles and miles, vast swaths of soil are dedicated to growing crops—corn, grains, fruits, and vegetables that make up the foundation of our food system.

The process seems highly efficient, producing enormous quantities of food every year. But only a small percentage of these crops will go toward feeding humans. According to a 2013 study conducted by researchers at the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota and published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, a mere 27 percent of crop calorie production in the United States actually feeds humans. So what happens to the rest?

Some crops are used for the production of ethanol and other biofuels. But the vast majority—more than 67 percent of crop calories grown in the U.S.—are used to feed animals raised for human consumption.

Rather than feeding people, these crops feed the billions of chickens, cows, pigs, and other animals who live and die on factory farms. And that’s a problem.

The issue is that feeding humans indirectly—essentially, making animals the caloric middlemen—is a highly inefficient use of food. “For every 100 calories of grain we feed animals, we get only about 40 new calories of milk, 22 calories of eggs, 12 of chicken, 10 of pork, or 3 of beef,” writes Jonathan Foley, PhD, executive director of the nonprofit Project Drawdown, for National Geographic. “Finding more efficient ways to grow meat and shifting to less meat-intensive diets… could free up substantial amounts of food across the world.”

This shift in growing and consuming food more sustainably has become especially important, with up to 783 million people facing hunger in 2022, according to the United Nations. Research indicates that if we grew crops exclusively for humans to consume directly we could feed an additional 4 billion people worldwide.

Farming has always loomed large in American politics, history, and identity. But the idyllic farming we may imagine—rich piles of compost, seedlings poking through the soil, and flourishing gardens of diverse fruits and vegetables—has transformed into factory farming, a highly industrialized system far removed from earth and soil. Animal feed is essential for the sustenance of this industry—supplying the cattle feedlots, broiler chicken sheds, and egg factories that increasingly make up the foundation of our food system.

What Factory-Farmed Animals Eat
Take a moment to picture a farm animal enjoying dinner. Are you imagining a cow grazing on grass or perhaps a chicken pecking at the ground, foraging for seeds and insects? In today’s factory farming system, the “feed” these animals eat is far removed from their natural diets. Rather than munching on grass or insects, most animals on factory farms eat some type of animal feed—a cost-effective mixture of grains, proteins, and often the addition of antibiotics designed to make them grow as quickly as possible.

The ingredients in animal feed don’t just matter to the animals’ health. They also impact human health—especially since the average American consumes 25 land animals yearly. Researchers have noted that animal feed ingredients are “fundamentally important” to human health impacts. As author and journalist Michael Pollan puts it: “We are what we eat, it is often said, but of course that’s only part of the story. We are what what we eat eats too.”

So, what are the main ingredients used in animal feed today?

Corn and Other Grains

In 2019, farmers planted 91.7 million acres of corn in the U.S. This equals 69 million football fields of corn. How can so much land be devoted to a single crop—especially something many people only eat on occasion?

The answer is that corn is in almost everything Americans eat today. It’s just there indirectly—in the form of animal feed, corn-based sweeteners, or starches. The U.S. is the world’s largest producer, consumer, and exporter of corn. And a large percentage of all that corn is used for animal feed, supplying factory farms across the country.

While “cereal grains”—such as barley, sorghum, and oats—are also used for animal feed, corn is by far the number one feed grain used in the U.S., accounting for more than 96 percent of total feed grain production. Corn supplies the carbohydrates in animal feed, offering a rich energy source to increase animals’ growth.

Unfortunately, what this system offers in efficiency it lacks in resilience. Numerous researchers have expressed concern about the vulnerability of the food supply that is so reliant on a single crop. “Under these conditions, a single disaster, disease, pest, or economic downturn could cause a major disturbance in the corn system,” notes Jonathan Foley in another article for Scientific American. “The monolithic nature of corn production presents a systemic risk to America’s agriculture.”

Soybeans

When you think about soybeans, you might imagine plant-based foods like tofu and tempeh. However, the vast majority of soybeans are used for animal feed. Animal agriculture uses 97 percent of all soybean meal produced in the United States.

While corn is rich in carbohydrates, soybeans are the world’s largest source of animal protein feed. Similar to corn, Americans might not eat a lot of soybeans in the form of tofu, tempeh, and soy milk—in fact, 77 percent of soy grown globally is used to feed livestock, and only 7 percent of it is used directly for human consumption, states a 2021 Our World in Data article—but they do consume soy indirectly through animal products like meat and dairy.

Soy production comes at a high cost to the environment. It is heavily linked to deforestation, driving the destruction of forests, savannahs, and grasslands—as these natural ecosystems are converted to unnatural farmland—and “putting traditional, local livelihoods at risk.” Critical habitats, like the Cerrado savannah in Brazil, are being razed to clear space for soybean production to meet the global demand for animal feed. More than half of the Cerrado’s 100 million hectares of native landscape has already been lost, with livestock and soybean farming being major contributors to this destruction.

“Most soybean-driven land conversions in Brazil have happened in the Cerrado,” said Karla Canavan, vice president for commodity trade and finance at World Wildlife Fund, in 2022. “The corridor [Cerrado] is like an inverted forest that has enormous roots and is a very important carbon sink. … Unfortunately, more than 50 percent of the Cerrado has been already converted into soybean farmlands.”

It’s a common misconception that plant-based soy products like tofu drive global deforestation. In reality, the vast majority of soy is used for animal feed. To fight this tragic habitat destruction, it’s far more effective to replace meat with soy-based alternatives.

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PVV Blog 3 ~ A Leopard Cannot Change Its Spots, Can’t He?

On the previous episode of the Dutch version of my blog about the election victory of the Party for Freedom in the Dutch parliamentary elections of November 22 last year, reader Guus Martens responded (in Dutch):

Dear editors,
I would not have expected that from Nieuwwij: railing against Mr. Wilders based on his book from 2012. Wilders is getting older and we could show more understanding and sympathy for his current views, which at least seem to have changed in the meantime.

I found the use of the verb ‘to rail’ remarkable because I believe that I approach the subject of the Party for Freedom ’s ideas and its potential effects on the Dutch Muslim community with the necessary distance. But more interesting is of course the second part of the response. Party leader Wilders has gotten older, his views seem to have changed and so we could show more understanding and sympathy.

I’d like to address the last point in this episode of the series. A leopard cannot change its spots, isn’t it? Or does the proverb not apply at all to Geert Wilders and is he indeed the man who softens his views with age and power in hand?

Withdrawing bills
It appears that Geert Wilders is indeed softening his views. At the moment of the publication of this blog, he is still negotiating with three other political parties to form a coalition government. As a gesture to the other forming parties, he has withdrawn three bills (in Dutch).
The first proposal was a ban on owning Qurans, visiting mosques and going to an Islamic school. The second concerns a ban on people having two nationalities (in most cases it concerns ‘Turks’ and ‘Moroccans’ living in the Netherlands). The third proposal concerned a so-called ‘administrative detention’ for jihad suspects who could be detained without the intervention of a judge.

The Dutch Council of State rejected the first and third proposals in a response, because they go against the ‘essential principles of the democratic constitutional state’.
I consider myself a Party for Freedom watcher, but I am ashamed to admit that I did not know that the party had proposed these bills. Naturally, they had no chance in the House because a majority would never be found for it.

But the proposals clearly show what the Party for Freedom stands for and it would indeed be a constitutional disaster if such proposals were adopted and turned into law.

Now that the Party for Freedom is closer than ever to the center of power, the question is of course whether the party and its leader have actually become ‘softer’ as expressed in the reader’s response.

Forming a new government
Politically speaking, the Party for Freedom is currently playing the game of give and take in the formation of a new government and it is the new political movement NSC (New Social Contract) of Pieter Omtzigt, being one of the future coalition partners, that has expressed itself in a letter (in Dutch) very critical and concerned about the unconstitutional points in the election manifesto of the Party for Freedom (‘Dutch back on 1!’ (in Dutch)). It could be that the NSC only wants to do business with the Party for Freedom if the latter’s commitments to actually respect the constitution are clear and ready. But if the Party for Freedom does that, how does the party justify this shift to its voters? There are voters who voted for the Party for Freedom in the hope that the ongoing Islamization of the Netherlands will finally come to an end; there are those who want an immediate end to the arrival of (Muslim) refugees in our country. And there are those who simply want a Netherlands without Islam. Will the Party for Freedom lower its swords?

Compromises
I think that the Party for Freedom will indeed commit to the demands of the NSC in particular. Didn’t Mr. Wilders constantly shout during the campaign that it was now the Party for Freedom ‘s turn to govern and didn’t he also state once he won the elections, that give and take is part of the game?

But what will we notice of the Party for Freedom influence in the new government? Readers may probably remember that Wilders went along without a fight to the demand of the then (2010) cabinet, tolerated by the Party for Freedom, to increase the retirement age, even though the party was previously rabidly against this. And just this week, Party for Freedom MP Fleur Agema had to go to great lengths not to vote for an SP (Socialist Party) proposal to abolish the compulsory personal contribution to medical insurances as quickly as possible, simply because two coalition forming parties are against it. And that while its abolishment is a major point in the Party for Freedom election manifesto.

If the four parties succeed in forming a coalition, the three other parties may well keep the Party for Freedom in check when it comes to making unconstitutional proposals. The Party for Freedom as such would therefore be neutralized. Being in power, in collaboration with others, is indeed different from shouting extreme things down the line for years.
So Geert Wilders is not a leopard that basically cannot change its spots? Or is he not a leopard at all?

A leopard? He is a wolf!
I am not sure. I have read too much from and about Geert Wilders and Party ideologue Martin Bosma that I can hardly imagine them behaving like ‘good populists’ and the danger to democracy having passed.

If we look in the broader European context, we see the same picture as in the Netherlands.
A party like the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Germany is doing increasingly better in the polls. Marine Le Pen’s populist Rassemblement National looks set to become the largest in France in the European Parliament elections later this year. In any case, it is expected (English) that the extreme right or populist parties will see their share in that parliament significantly increased. In Slovakia, a coalition government with a right-wing extremist party took office last year. In Hungary, the autocratic government of Victor Orbán is firmly in power. Italy is governed by Prime Minister Meloni’s populist party Fratelli d’Italia. Populist forces of all kinds are seeing their share in the various parliaments in Europe increasing. And in my opinion, a populist party, with often unconstitutional election programs in the various centers of power, can never do anything good for democracy in any country.

As strange as it sounds, democracy is also the cradle of totalitarianism. Parties can destroy democracy through democratic means and that might just happen at the same time in
various European power centers. Victorious populist parties that have dutifully promised to adhere to the democratic rules of the game will not be able to restrain themselves from translating their unconstitutional convictions into legislation, once in power. It is their nature to do just that.

So my response to the reader’s suggestion above is that I think that not only are we dealing with a leopard that simply cannot change its spots, but that Geert Wilders also resembles a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing.

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An Assassination Scandal Threatens India’s Relations With The Five Eyes

John P. Ruehl – Photo: Independent Media Institute

01-26-2024 ~ A burgeoning relationship between India and a select group of English-speaking allies has been held back by various disagreements and historical realities. It will be further tested by assassination scandals that have emerged in recent months.

Since mid-2023, a series of assassination plots have strained India’s relations with Canada and the U.S. In June 2023, a Sikh separatist activist living in Canada was reportedly killed on orders from Indian security services. Subsequently, in November, it came to light that U.S. authorities were investigating an assassination attempt against another Sikh separatist figure on U.S. soil. While India vehemently denied the accusations from Canada, it later committed to conducting an investigation following the accusations by U.S. authorities.

The U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Cohen, confirmed that the information that led Canada to accuse India of the assassination was facilitated by the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, consisting of the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Originating from intelligence collaboration during World War II, the intelligence-sharing agreement operated in such secrecy that Australian prime ministers remained unaware of its existence until 1971 and it was publicly revealed only in 1999. The Five Eyes later gained wider public awareness following the 2013 Snowden Leaks.

In addition to extensive data and intelligence sharing, the Five Eyes share substantial military, technology, and cultural ties. With largely cohesive foreign policies, the Five Eyes have become a significant force in international affairs. India values diplomatic relations with all five countries, but its strategic focus is on the U.S., Australia, Canada, and the UK due to their geopolitical significance. India’s complex history with these countries has resulted in varying levels of cooperation and apprehension.

There has been significant tension between the U.S. and India since the latter’s independence from the UK in 1947. This included U.S. support for Pakistan during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War and U.S. military maneuvers against India during the war. Sanctions were placed on both India and Pakistan following their nuclear tests in 1998, while India grew wary after the U.S. increased its support for Pakistan to aid the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan from 2001 onward.

Nonetheless, almost all U.S. sanctions against India were lifted in 1999, and its relations with the U.S., as well as Australia, have significantly strengthened in the 21st century. The U.S. has been India’s largest trading partner since 2022, and in late 2023 India agreed to most of the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economy Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) policies to deepen regional economic ties.

India also stands as Australia’s fourth-largest export destination, marked by the signing of the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (AI-ECTA) in 2022. Growing numbers of Indian emigrants and students increasingly travel to both the U.S. and Australia.

Washington continues to pursue closer collaboration with India in space, AI, defense agreements, and mineral supply chains. Yet the primary reason behind enhanced relations among India and all Five Eye countries is the shared concern over China. Their common anxiety has led to closer military ties among India, the U.S., Australia, and the strong U.S. ally Japan in the Indo-Pacific. In 2007, the first Quadrilateral Dialogue was held, with all four countries’ navies later taking part in the Malabar exercises to increase interoperability.

Closer military integration typically languished because of India, until the India-China clash in 2017 prompted New Delhi to revive the Quad. Following another clash with China in 2020, India extended an invitation to Australia to rejoin the Malabar exercises, and India currently conducts more joint military exercises with the U.S. than it does with any other country.

Nonetheless, India’s history as a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War has continued to influence its foreign policy. Three weeks before the 2023 Malabar exercises, India declined to participate in the Australia-U.S. Talisman Sabre military exercises, underscoring India’s aversion to military alliances in pursuit of its own course for increasing power and influence.

India’s ascendance as a major power has added complexity to Washington’s strategy of preserving the U.S.-led global order. China’s assertive foreign policy challenges the established norms and influence of the U.S., while Russia’s is characterized by disruptions to that order. But India’s accommodating yet somewhat nonchalant foreign policy as a major power doesn’t quite fit with the formal alliance-based approach that the U.S. has historically used to develop ties with allies and isolate adversaries.

Despite ongoing concerns over India’s positive relations with Russia and Iran, hopes were high for an increasingly collaborative foreign policy alignment between the world’s two largest democracies. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi received a warm welcome when he visited in 2019 and 2023, despite reservations from progressive Democrats about India’s democratic backsliding. That was until the assassination attempt in the U.S. revealed in November derailed U.S.-India relations and resulted in significant criticism from U.S. officials.

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The Entry Of A New German Left Party Shakes Up The Country

In October 2023, 10 members of the German parliament (Bundestag) left Die Linke (the Left) and declared their intention to form their own party. With their departure, Die Linke’s parliamentary group fell to 28 out of the 736 members of the Bundestag, compared to the 78 members of the far-right Alliance for Germany (AfD). One of the reasons for the departure of these 10 MPs is that they believe that Die Linke has lost touch with its working-class base, whose decomposition over issues of war and inflation has moved many of them into the arms of the AfD. The new formation is led by Sahra Wagenknecht (born 1969), one of the most dynamic politicians of her generation in Germany and a former star in Die Linke, and Amira Mohamed Ali. It is called the Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance for Reason and Justice (Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht, BSW) and it launched in early January 2024.

Wagenknecht’s former comrades in Die Linke accuse her of “conservatism” because of her views on immigration in particular. As we will see, though, Wagenknecht contests this description of her approach. The description of “left-wing conservatism” (articulated by Dutch professor Cas Mudde) is frequently deployed, although not elaborated upon by her critics. I spoke to Wagenknecht and her close ally—Sevim Dağdelen—about their new party and their hopes to move a progressive agenda in Germany.

Anti-War
The heart of our conversation rested on the deep divide in Germany between a government—led by the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz—eager to continue the war in Ukraine, and a population that wants this war to end and for their government to tackle the severe crisis of inflation. The heart of the matter, said Wagenknecht and Dağdelen, is the attitude to the war. Die Linke, they argue, simply did not come out strongly against the Western backing of the war in Ukraine and did not articulate the despair in the population. “If you argue for the self-destructive economic warfare against Russia that is pushing millions of people in Germany into penury and causing an upward redistribution of wealth, then you cannot credibly stand up for social justice and social security,” Wagenknecht told me. “If you argue for irrational energy policies like bringing in Russian energy more expensively via India or Belgium, while campaigning not to reopen the pipelines with Russia for cheap energy, then people simply will not believe that you would stand up for the millions of employees whose jobs are in jeopardy as a result of the collapse of whole industries brought about by the rise in energy prices.”

Scholz’s approval rating is now at 17 percent, and unless his government is able to solve the pressing problems engendered by the Ukraine war, it is unlikely that he will be able to reverse this image. Rather than try to push for a ceasefire and negotiations in Ukraine, Scholz’s coalition of the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Free Democrats, say Dağdelen, “is trying to commit the people of Germany to a global war alongside the United States on at least three fronts: in Ukraine, in East Asia with Taiwan, and in the Middle East at the side of Israel. It speaks volumes that Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock even prevented a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza at the Cairo summit” in October 2023.

Indeed, in 2022, Thuringia’s prime minister and a Die Linke leader, Bodo Ramelow, told Süddeutsche Zeitung that the German federal government must send tanks to Ukraine. When Wagenknecht called Gaza an “open-air prison” in October 2023, the Die Linke parliamentary group leader Dietmar Bartsch said that he “strongly distanced” himself from her (the phrase “open-air prison” to describe Gaza is used widely, including by Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967). “We have to point out what is happening here,” Dağdelen tells me, “It is our duty to organize resistance to this collapse of Die Linke’s anti-war stance. We reject Germany’s involvement in the U.S. and NATO proxy wars in Ukraine, East Asia, and the Middle East.”

Controversies
On February 25, 2023, Wagenknecht and her followers organized an anti-war protest at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin that drew 30,000 people. The protest followed the publication of a “peace manifesto,” written by Wagenknecht and the feminist writer Alice Schwarzer, which has now attracted over a million signatures. The Washington Post reported on this rally with an article headlined, “Kremlin tries to build antiwar coalition in Germany.” Dağdelen tells me that the bulk of those who attended the rally and those who signed the manifesto are from the “centrist, liberal, and left-wing camps.” A well-known extreme right-wing journalist, Jürgen Elsässer tried to take part in the demonstration, but Dağdelen—as video footage shows—argued with him and told him to leave. Everyone but the right-wing, she says, was welcome at the rally. However, both Dağdelen and Wagenknecht say their former party—Die Linke—tried to obstruct the rally and demonized them for holding it. “The defamation is intended to construct an enemy within,” Dağdelen told me. “Vilifying peace protests is intended to put people off and simultaneously mobilize support for repugnant government policies, such as arms supply to Ukraine.”

Part of the controversy around Wagenknecht is about her views on immigration. Wagenknecht says that she supports the right to political asylum and says that people fleeing war must be afforded protection. But, she argues, the problem of global poverty cannot be solved by migration, but by sound economic policies and an end to the sanctions on countries like Syria. A genuine left-wing, she says, must attend to the alarm call from communities who call for an end to immigration and move to the far-right AfD. “Unlike the leadership of Die Linke,” Wagenknecht told me, “we do not intend to write off AfD voters and simply watch as the right-wing threat in Germany continues to grow. We want to win back those AfD voters who have gone to that party out of frustration and in protest at the lack of a real opposition that speaks for communities.”

The point of her politics, Wagenknecht said, is not anti-immigration as much as it is to attack the AfD’s anti-immigrant stand at the same time as her party will work with the communities to understand why they are frustrated and how their frustration against immigrants is often a wider frustration with cuts in social welfare, cuts in education and health funding, and in a cavalier policy toward economic migration. “It is revealing,” she said, “that the harshest attacks on us come from the far-right wing.” They do not want, she points out, the new party to shift the argument away from a narrow anti-immigrant focus to pro-working-class politics.

Polls show that the new party could win 14 percent of the vote, which would be three times the Die Linke share and would make BSW the third-largest party in the Bundestag.

By Vijay Prashad

Author Bio: This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

Source: Globetrotter

 

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Houthis Emerge As Latest Threat To U.S. Control Over Global Shipping

Red Sea – Map: en.wikipedia.org

01-25-2024. ~ A powerful symbol of the U.S.-led global security order is increasingly under threat by the Yemeni rebel group. The lack of a robust international response has laid bare vulnerabilities as the U.S. attempts to shore up the world’s maritime routes in the aftermath of the COVID-19 disruption to supply chains.

On December 30, 2023, the Singapore-flagged Maersk Hangzhou, owned by Danish company Maersk Line, came under missile and subsequent boat attacks by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea. The U.S. Navy responded by using helicopters to destroy three of the four ships used in the assault. Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, immediately announced it was suspending operations in the sea indefinitely, rejoining major Western shipping firms and energy companies in redirecting shipping away from the region.

Houthi attacks have occurred regularly since October 2023 after the group declared it would target ships associated with Israel. In response, Washington announced a task force on December 18—Operation Prosperity Guardian—to combat the attacks, and imposed sanctions on Houthi funding networks, mainly linked to Iran. But the difficulty in securing the Red Sea’s narrow waters and the bottleneck at the Suez Canal have laid bare the fragility of global shipping, with an estimated 20 percent decline in ship traffic through the Red Sea in December 2023. Daily container vessel traffic through the Suez Canal had meanwhile halved by early January 2024, compared to a year before.

The repercussions of redirecting shipping are being felt globally, with ocean cargo rates skyrocketing since the attacks began. By early January, the logistics company Freightos reported that rates for Asia-to-North Europe shipping had more than doubled to above $4,000 per 40-foot container. By mid-January, the cost of sending a 24-foot shipping container from India to Europe and the U.S. East Coast had risen from $600 to $1,500. Adding to the financial burden, surcharges ranging from $500 to $2,700 per container are anticipated, and rates for shipments from Asia to North America have also experienced significant hikes.

For those daring to navigate the Red Sea, insurance premiums have more than tripled from 0.2 percent to 0.7 percent of a vessel’s value per journey. Though consumers haven’t yet felt the brunt of rising prices, the specter of inflation looms in the coming weeks. The anticipated domino effects recall the aftermath of the 2021 Ever Given disaster, when a ship ran aground in the Suez Canal for six days, leaving a lasting impact that reverberated for months.

The imperative for the U.S. in controlling and stabilizing threats to shipping is underscored by its commitment to global economic stability, dollar-dominated international trade, and the leverage it gains over allies and adversaries. Being able to ensure or compromise the safe movement of other countries’ goods and military vessels complements Washington’s ability to enforce blockades and economic sanctions, as well as to respond quickly to global crises and combat terrorism and organized crime.

Despite the challenges in maintaining its influence, the U.S. has successfully dealt with threats to global shipping before. Multilateral safeguards like the Combined Maritime Forces, consisting of dozens of countries under U.S. command, monitor the Middle East, and task forces such as the Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151), created in 2009, have successfully tackled specific threats such as Somali piracy.

Since 2015, the Houthis have intermittently targeted ships in the Red Sea, but their sustained campaign since October 2023 has raised significant doubts about the U.S. military’s capacity to safeguard shipping. Operating out of Yemen, the Houthis employ a mix of missiles, radars, helicopters, small boats, and inexpensive drones, presenting a challenge as they lack substantial infrastructure susceptible to targeting. The use by the U.S. Navy of $2 million missiles to intercept $2,000 drones adds to concerns about the cost-effectiveness of its response.

Benefitting from Iranian logistical aid and driven by their steadfast commitment to the Palestinian cause, the Houthis have encountered minimal resistance from regional countries hesitant to escalate tensions. Following its eight-year campaign in Yemen, neighboring Saudi Arabia withdrew from the country and entered peace talks with the Houthis in 2022. Apart from tiny Bahrain, local partners of the U.S. have refrained from joining Operation Prosperity Guardian out of fear of being accused of supporting Israel. Even Egypt, which is witnessing substantial losses in transit revenue through the Suez Canal, has opted to stay on the sidelines.

The inability of the Saudi military, bolstered by modern Western weapons, to overcome Houthi forces over the last decade by relying on air raids and drone strikes implies that a ground intervention may be necessary to effectively defeat the Houthis. Yet Washington lacks the resolve and influence to undertake such an effort. Notably, NATO allies, including France, Italy, and Spain, withdrew from Operation Prosperity Guardian to avoid being under U.S. command, leaving only a few core allies like the UK and Australia—the latter of which has sent 11 military personnel to the region but no ships.

Meanwhile, other major powers have sought to conduct their own independent operations in the region. After declining Washington’s invitationto join Operation Prosperity Guardian, the Indian Navy began its own operations in the region. China also declined the opportunity to join the multilateral coalition, and has also distanced itself from U.S. messaging on the crisis as it deploys its own military vessels to the region.

Failing to deter the Houthis will inspire others to test Washington’s willingness to defend open shipping lanes. After declining significantly in recent years, Somali piracy since increased in 2023. Southeast Asia has also seen a steady rise in piracy over the last few years, and there are fears incidents could continue to rise with the U.S. distracted in the Middle East. Additionally, Iran has seized Western ships sailing through the region before and was accused by the Pentagon in December 2023 of using a drone to attack a chemical tanker in the Indian Ocean.

The attacks and blowback from the conflict have reverberations beyond regional trade. In December 2023, Malaysia closed its ports to Israeli ships, while Russian actions in the Black Sea have further disrupted international shipping. Moreover, the situation could impact freedom of navigation exercises globally. Heightening tensions and China’s escalatory movements in the South China Sea and Taiwan have stirred unease in the U.S., prompting two-day talks between defense officials from Washington and Beijing in early January ahead of Taiwan’s recent election.

Russia, China, and Iran welcome the U.S.’s struggle to maintain control over sea lanes due to the Houthi threat, seeing it as an opportunity to exploit Washington’s global standing. However, particularly in the case of China, they have also benefited from the stability that this system has provided to global trade, and viable alternative routes for overseas trade remain undeveloped and untested.

Amid the chaos, the Panama Canal, another crucial juncture for international shipping, faces disruptions from severe drought lowering water levels. As only a limited number of ships can navigate through, Washington’s oversight in ensuring the uninterrupted flow of global sea lanes appears more precarious than it has been in decades. While options like continued military convoys and the rise of private maritime security companies are on the table, the Suez Canal’s eight-year closure after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War remains an ominous reminder of what is at stake.

As Washington attempts to balance control with the risk of escalation, the Houthis have underscored the resilient influence of non-state actors in 21st-century geopolitics amid the resurgence of great power competition. The situation has become the latest litmus test for Washington’s commitment to preserving access to global sea lanes, even as it pivots toward friendshoring and reshoring economic policies encouraging overland trade and manufacturing in North America.

As the 2024 election season unfolds and the enduring impact of Trump’s “America First” policies persists, safeguarding global sea lanes may emerge as a pivotal topic in the upcoming election. Coupled with the unique challenges posed by the Houthis, mounting an effective and decisive response against the maritime threat has so far proven elusive for the Biden Administration. Ongoing U.S. and UK airstrikes against the Houthis have not prevented further attacks on shipping. The longer it takes to respond effectively, the greater the threat to the future of the current state of global supply chains and U.S. dominance of the world’s waterways.

By John P. Ruehl

Author Bio: This article was produced by Globetrotter.

John P. Ruehl is an Australian-American journalist living in Washington, D.C., and a world affairs correspondent for the Independent Media Institute. He is a contributing editor to Strategic Policy and a contributor to several other foreign affairs publications. His book, Budget Superpower: How Russia Challenges the West With an Economy Smaller Than Texas’, was published in December 2022.

Source: Globetrotter

 

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The New Cold War And The Risk Of Nuclear Annihilation

01-24-2024 ~ We are closer to nuclear disaster than ever before.

The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 is etched into the minds of anyone old enough to experience the terror it triggered. For the first time, our leaders had ordered and succeeded in creating a military system that could destroy us all—and where there was and remains no possible way to survive the inevitable conflict. The reasons for the pursuit of nuclear weapons are different than those publicly described and have little to do with deterring strikes from other countries. Instead, the nuclear program reflects a mad willingness to pursue global profit and power with force, even at the risk of extinction of all life on the planet.

This mad system remains today. It is even more dangerous now than during the Cold War. At the time of the Cuban missile crisis, nuclear weapons posed a threat to extinction that would likely destroy all life on the planet, today, prospects of general nuclear war are out of the headlines and largely out of our minds—even with the dangerous escalation of this threat focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Until Russia invaded Ukraine, recent wars seemed to many as less likely to become global nuclear wars and more limited or survivable conflicts—whether they were battles with smaller “jihadist” groups, trade wars, immigration battles, and culture wars internal to nations. With terrorism rather than a nuclear Soviet empire at the core of the Western security narrative, the argument has been that current threats—while very dangerous—can likely be managed without a massive nuclear conflagration.

This is a form of denialism by inattention and repressed fear, as well as elite-managed propaganda to help keep the public calm. It ignores the dangers posed by Western and non-Western development of nuclear arsenals, the breakdown of conventional and nuclear arms control treaties, perpetual U.S. wars to protect global power and profit, and the rise of a New Cold War era centered around direct or proxy conflicts with Russia and China, which can escalate over time into nuclear wars.

Pointing to the need to focus anew on the extinction threat of nuclear war, famed Vietnam war whistleblower and high-level nuclear planner, the late Daniel Ellsberg, made clear in his 2017 work, The Doomsday Machine, that extinction by nuclear war is as great and probable a threat as during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union when the world was much more focused on it:

“The hidden reality… is that for over 50 years, all-out thermonuclear war—an irreversible, unprecedented, and almost unimaginable calamity for civilization and most life on earth… [was and remains] a catastrophe waiting to happen.

No policies in human history have more deserved to be recognized as immoral. Or insane. The story of how this calamitous predicament came about and how and why it has persisted for over half a century is a chronicle of human madness.”

The madness Ellsberg describes has not ended. Two extinction threats arising from war exist and are growing today—and both are subject to continued denial. This is, in itself, madness, since denying the threats undercuts the ability to respond to them.

The first major threat is the view that the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 have dramatically reduced the chance of a global nuclear war destroying life on the planet. This is an illusion partly because the Cold War has not completely ceased. The rivalry and tensions between the United States and Russia are evolving into a New Cold War, arguably more dangerous than the old one. Indeed, the growing competition and hostility between the United States and China is seen by several observers as eerily parallel to the Cold War between the United States and Russia.

The New Cold War can be seen in geopolitical rivalries and the breakdown or weakening of nuclear arms agreements that could quickly escalate political and military tensions in U.S.-Russia relations and, potentially, between the United States and China. The U.S. media and national security apparatus focus increasingly on the “China threat,” a major security theme of the Trump and Biden administrations.

This could bring the United States into conflict with Russia and China around East Asian and global economic and military security matters. In 2021, the Biden administration hit both Russia and China with sanctions for cyber hacking that signaled a hardening of conflicts with these nuclear rivals, both of which could escalate into extremely perilous military conflicts.

A multitude of other conflicts pit the United States against other Russian allies that could inflame the U.S.-Russian relationship, including conflicts in Iran, Venezuela, Crimea, Cuba, and Syria.

Moreover, border disputes between Eastern European and Baltic nations and Russia, disputes over the existence and purpose of NATO, and conflict over international trade are all dangerous issues that pit Russia and the United States against each other. These issues could escalate into a more severe crisis and war.

The depth of the New Cold War thinking became evident, ironically, when the Democratic Party and many liberal media elites, including progressive MSNBC hosts such as Rachel Maddow, attacked former President Donald Trump for “going soft” on Russia. The larger hidden story told by even more liberal news outlets is that Russia is a hostile, aggressive, and expansionary enemy of the United States and the “free world.” Defining Russia this way appeared to be how anti-Trumpists of all partisan persuasions felt they could gain legitimacy because it was the foreign policy bedrock view of the national security apparatus and the public.

The extinction threat invisibly grows as both political parties in the United States embrace the story of Russia’s antagonism and dangerousness. Nuclear crises could escalate in the South China Sea and East Asia, where China and Russia tend to be allied in opposing U.S. military and economic dominance. But the dangers of escalation and war with Russia could quickly emerge in places like Iran, where Russia (and nuclear China) both support Tehran. They may try to resist military provocations by the United States.

Perhaps an even more significant nuclear threat lies on the Russia border, where Cold War tensions and NATO expansion have always been fuel for a significant firestorm between the United States and Russia. This began with the U.S. breaking its 1990 promise to the former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev not to advance NATO “one inch closer” to the Russian border.

This pledge was made in return for Gorbachev’s acceptance of a unified Germany aligned with the United States and Western Europe. The nuclear extinction threat is particularly dangerous and growing, as the U.S. seeks to deploy new nuclear and anti-ballistic weapons near the Russian border, partly in the name of a growing threat of border expansion by the Kremlin in Ukraine.

Between 2016 and 2019, the Trump administration essentially tore up the major nuclear arms agreements that appeared to be stabilizing the Russian-American nuclear relationship. President Joe Biden upped the ante by approving and funding further new “small” tactical or battlefield nukes, most likely to trigger a nuclear exchange on the Russian border.

President Biden has taken a far more adversarial stance toward Russia than Trump did, especially on issues ranging from Russian expansion of its borders to the suspected U.S. cyberattack on the Russian gas pipeline to Russia’s trade deals with the Europeans.

In 1962, the Cuban missile crisis made the specter of nuclear war an immediate threat. Anyone old enough to remember this also remembers the folly of “duck and cover” drills that falsely promised protection from a nuclear Holocaust. It was only because of diplomacy and a robust anti-nuclear movement that that threat receded for decades. Today, rampant militarism and leaders willing to take a chance on the fate of the world for economic advantage have, once again, ramped up the risk of nuclear annihilation.

As of January 23, 2024, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has set the Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been to a nuclear disaster. Our leaders now play a cynical game of “duck and cover” with the truth.

By Charles Derber and Suren Moodliar

Charles Derber is a professor of sociology at Boston College and has written 26 books. Most recently, he coauthored Dying for Capitalism: How Big Money Fuels Extinction and What We Can Do About It (Routledge, 2023). He is a contributor to the Observatory.

Suren Moodliar is the editor of the journal Socialism and Democracy and coordinator of encuentro5, a movement-building space in downtown Boston. He is the coauthor of Dying for Capitalism: How Big Money Fuels Extinction and What We Can Do About It (Routledge, 2023). He is a contributor to the Observatory.

Source: Independent Media Institute

Credit Line: This excerpt is adapted from Dying for Capitalism: How Big Money Fuels Extinction and What We Can Do About It, by Charles Derber and Suren Moodliar (Routledge, 2023), and produced for the web by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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