Counterposing the Utopia of Peace to the Reality of War

This is an article written by Comrade Nils Andersson, the leader of the Swiss Maoist movement in the 1960s and a leading writer and activist of the Swiss anti-imperialist movement today. Supporters of our website have translated this article from the French original for a wider audience. The French original can be found at his page on the website of Attac France here.

Our Editorial Board disagrees with the assertion in the article that the main contradiction in the world today is the inter-imperialist contradiction among the imperialist superpowers and powers. In our opinion, the main contradiction in the world will remain the contradiction between imperialism and the oppressed nations until the system of globalized monopoly capitalism has been eradicated in the whole world, except during periods of imperialist world war, when the main contradiction temporarily becomes the inter-imperialist one.

Nonetheless, we appreciate Comrade Andersson's article and recommend that our readers study it for a better understanding of the particular characteristics of the tense international situation today, especially now, as an imperialist Third World War is approaching, which will define whether the US, the Chinese, the Russian, or the soon-to-be-federalizing European superpower will become the predominant imperialism in the coming decades.


#Nils Andersson
#16th of December, 2022

In 1918, after the war to end all wars, the colonial powers emerged weakened, the United States became the biggest superpower, Japan was granted a place in the sun, and the Majoritarian Revolution set the social forces in motion. In 1945, with the Axis Powers defeated in the bloc-on-bloc struggle, an irreconcilable confrontation between two camps ─ Western and Soviet ─ emerged, and the Third World stood up. In 1990, the Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Union of Socialist Council Republics [USCR], and the United States became more hegemonic than any other power has ever been in history. Whether due to the balance of forces between the powers or the economic and ideological contradictions that permeate them, the worlds of 1919, '45, and '90 are in no way comparable, but each one emerged from the one that preceded it.

The world of today is also in no way comparable to the world of 1990. Has it emerged from the one that preceded it? The fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Communist world led the United States and the Allies to conclude «the end of history», that the world has become a «world of rights and peace», and that nothing should restrain or hinder the introduction of Liberal democracy and the free-market economy. «We will actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world.»1 But the reality was different. The post-Cold War period ─ a very brief one from a historical perspective ─ was one of military interventions2 and wars in the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, the Sahel, and more.

While Neo-Liberal economic and financial globalization is now a reality across most of the globe, the two pillars of the United States' national-security strategy (State-building ─ shaping States and societies along US lines; and containment theory ─ preventing the emergence of powers that might challenge its hegemony) have failed. Since 1991, the wars waged by the United States and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] by manipulating the United Nations, violating the laws of war, devastating countries, and killing hundreds of thousands of people3 have all been military victories. But Kabul symbolizes that the Western powers were incapable of enforcing the peace of the conqueror ─ without which there is no victory ─ anywhere at all. Disorder and anarchy prevail in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, the Sahel, and so on, while there are also tensions and conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Syria, among other places. While economic and social exploitation can be imposed by force of arms, «State-building», the social formation, cannot.

The containment policy has equally failed. As the post-Cold War period drew to a close, the hegemony of the United States, and, more broadly, that of the Western world, was challenged, to the point where political and military circles are pondering the «de-Westernization of the world». This question arises from the emergence of China at the turn of the 21st century, challenging the hegemony of the United States. Whether this hegemony ─ the doctrine of the US ruling classes asserted in the Project for a New American Century ─ can prevail is the question of a major inter-imperialist contradiction, one that can only be resolved by means of war.


In the wake of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact called NATO's reason to exist into question. Europe is an essential piece of the US hegemonic puzzle, of which NATO is the military instrument. For Washington, the stakes were high; it was a question of whether they could maintain the presence of military bases, nuclear warheads, and surveillance centres on the European continent. Secretary of State James Baker proposed a «Euro-Atlantic community», with the goal of eliminating any temptation of a European defence. This was ratified in November 1991 with the Rome Declaration of the North Atlantic Council, which stressed the «continuing validity» of NATO. It also ratified a strategic concept for the post-Cold War period that defined new tasks: crisis management on the European continent (this was justified by the destabilization of former Yugoslavia and paved the way for US intervention in the Bosnian and Kosovo wars) and the expansion of NATO to interventions outside the Euro-Atlantic area, turning it into the armed wing of the Western world. This assured US control of «European security» and made NATO the world gendarme.

Europe's borders were another component of the United States' hegemonic policy. With Russia's transition to a market economy, Gorbacev's project was «to join the house of Europe». To achieve this, he made numerous concessions to Ronald Reagan on the nuclear question, to Helmut Kohl on the reunification of Germany, to James Baker on the enlargement of NATO, and to George Bush Sr. by signing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. European governments and even Ronald Reagan himself were open to this project, but the «Neo-Conservatives» gained influence as Bush Sr. became President and opposed the idea of a «common house». Jeffrey Sachs,4 then economic advisor to governments in Eastern Europe and Russia, gave an eye-opening account of this. In response to his proposal to create a stabilization fund and cancel part of the debt in order to alleviate Poland's economic and financial crisis during the transition to a market economy, Washington responded positively within eight hours. After these measures proved effective, Jeffrey Sachs proposed the same measures for Russia, which was also facing a deep economic crisis,5 to contain severe social destabilization. These were immediately rejected. He was taken aback by this, but his State Department contact replied: «No matter whether I agree with you or not, this won't happen.» To the US administration, a «House of Europe», which included Russia, posed a long-term risk to the emancipation of the continent; Russia had to be brought to its knees, humiliated, and Eltsin was to serve as a trophy-wife.

Moreover, the expansion of NATO served to pursue the containment policy against the former USCR. While the process of German reunification was underway, Gorbacev and James Baker met on the 9th of February, 1990 and talked about the issue. To Gorbacev's assertion that «it goes without saying that a widening of the NATO zone is not acceptable», Baker replied: «We agree with that.»6 Yet, that same February 1990, George H.W. Bush asked the government of the Federal Republic «about the role and position of NATO, for example, ‹by extending [its] territorial area to Eastern Europe›». Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the chief negotiator for the German reunification, took Gorbacev's declarations at face value and rejected an expansion of NATO, as it was an unacceptable demand for the still existing Council Union and as a result of which the reunification process would have been blocked.

The agreement on the reunification of Germany was signed on the 3rd of October, 1990. On the 11th of October, George H.W. Bush asked NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner for his opinion «on the admission of the Baltic States» into NATO. Wörner, with German reunification in the bag, agreed. From then on, the United States dictated NATO enlargement to Europe, integrating 14 Eastern European countries, whose integration was always a prelude to their joining the European Union (except for the States of former Yugoslavia).


For Russia, an expansion to Ukraine and Georgia meant a NATO presence along its western border, the crossing of a red line, but the latter did not take this into account in any way. The facts are well known, but the media blackout justifies that we remember them. In 1991, Ukraine became a member of the NATO Cooperation Council. In 1997, it signed the Charter on Special Partnership with NATO, and, since 2007, the NATO-Ukraine Commission has been overseeing its integration process. In 2017, the Ukrainian parliament voted in favour of a law declaring NATO membership a strategic goal. This amendment was enshrined in the Ukrainian Constitution.

Dimitri Minic, researcher at the French Institute of International Relations, points to the increase in tensions in 2021:

In May 2021, there was a military exercise called Defender Europe 21, organized by the United States and 26 European countries. There were arms deliveries to Ukraine by the United States and appointment to important posts of individuals whom Moscow considers «Nazi fanatics». Javelin missiles and a Bayraktar drone were deployed by Ukraine in the Don Basin between October and November 2021. The US command ship Mount Whitney was present in the Black Sea, F-16 fighter-bombers and F-22 fighters were deployed near Kamcatka between spring and October, and two groups of F-15E fighter-bombers were deployed in Romania and Bulgaria. The presence of US chemical and biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine with the alleged purpose of preparing biological warfare against Russia was discovered at least several weeks before the start of the «Special Military Operation».7

In response to this spiral of events, Vladimir Putin demanded a guarantee, on the 1st January, 2021, that Ukraine would not be admitted to NATO. Jens Stoltenberg, General Secretary of NATO, made it clear that there would be no concessions on this issue. On the 14th of December, 2021, Russia submitted a draft European security agreement, which included the demand that Ukraine and Georgia would not be admitted to NATO and that the United States would not establish military bases in the former Soviet countries. Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union, declared: «These demarcations of spheres of influence have no place in 2022.» Denying Ukraine and Georgia NATO membership is a policy corresponding to spheres of influence, but admitting these two countries into NATO is not...

Just as the Soviet missiles in Cuba crossed a red line for the United States, the presence of NATO on Russia's borders was for Russia. The only difference was that, in the Cuban Missile Crisis, when faced with the choice between war or negotiation, the latter was chosen ─ that is, seeking and finding a compromise depending on the balance of power. Kennedy committed himself in writing to the United States not invading Cuba, the USCR would withdraw its missiles from Cuba, and ─ by secret agreement ─ the US missiles in Turkey and Italy would also be withdrawn in the following months. In the current crisis, the path chosen is that of confrontation.8 On the 11th of January, 2022, at a NATO-Russia Council meeting, the following was reported: «Russia is insisting that Ukraine be denied NATO membership and that the deployment of alliance troops and equipment in Eastern Europe be rolled back to 1997 levels. Those demands have been rejected entirely by the Alliance.»9 Jens Stoltenberg then declared that «the threat of a new war in Europe is very real».

Power politics in the face of power politics and an irrational spiral have been set in motion to the point of irreversibility. By invading Ukraine, Russia bears the responsibility. «Yes, it has to be said again and again, the aggression in Ukraine by Russia is to be condemned as an imperialist war. Yes, the people are the first victims of the horrors of war. Yes, there is no war without atrocities and war crimes. Yes, it is legitimate to resist an aggressor, yes... Having affirmed and reaffirmed this, and knowing that the vileness of the war is worse than we can imagine, beyond the media flood, we still need to know everything about its reality, right where it takes place; we still need to analyse everything, from its global stakes to the geopolitical interests that interfere; we still need to understand everything about the reasons and justifications for the intervention or the inconsideration that decided on war.»10


In the post-Cold War world, the main contradiction is that of the struggle for global hegemony between the United States and China. The rise of China represents a geo-strategic upheaval that no one could have imagined 40 years ago.11 Of course, China was the world's leading power and economy for centuries. In 1820, it accounted for 33% of world trade, but we didn't have a globalized capitalist world yet back then. In the 19th century, perceived in China as the «century of humiliation», the colonial expansionism of the European powers, the United States, and Imperial Japan subjected China to gunboat diplomacy and imposed unequal treaties. Today, China as the world's leading power is an unacceptable prospect for the dominant power.

Does the war in Ukraine change the nature of the main contradiction? Since the 1990s, the Atlantic Powers have been engaged in a succession of wars (from the Gulf War to Libya), and, in the past decade, have multiplied their aggressive declarations against China, seen as a «systemic rival», and Russia, seen as a threat to the «international Liberal order». They have been the main culprits behind the policies of tension, militarization, and overarmament that have led to war. The war in Ukraine does not change the nature of the main contradiction, but it does make Russia an aggressor, a warmonger, legitimizing NATO as the «defensive and interventionist force» of the Western world, as well as preparing public opinion for war.

Let it be understood that the war in Ukraine is determined by the contradiction between the United States and China. Joe Biden's statement on the 21st of March, 2022 speaks for itself: «I think that [the war in Ukraine] presents us with some significant opportunities to make some real changes. [...] As one of the top military people said to me in a secure meeting the other day, 60'000'000 people died between 1900 and '46. And, since then, we've established a Liberal world order, and that hadn't happened in a long while. A lot of people dying, but nowhere near the chaos. And now is a time when things are shifting. We're going to — there's going to be a new world order out there, and we've got to lead it. And we've got to unite the rest of the free world in doing it.»12 Another 60'000'000 dead! And the governments of the NATO member countries are willing to make their peoples and the peoples of the world pay this price in order to establish a new world order that ensures the continued hegemony of the United States?!


The contradiction between the United States and China is fundamentally different from the previous ones. The United Kingdom, hegemonic in the 19th century, found itself challenged by other powers, but these were European; inter-European contradictions led to two world wars. By 1945, with Europe very weakened and national-liberation struggles putting an end to the empires of the colonial powers, the United States became the dominant power. The implosion of the Council Union made it the hegemonic power, but Europe is «the source of culture from which all influences on America emanated».13 Today's contradiction differs, not only in that the world is globalized, but also in that the power struggle for global hegemony is between a Western nation and a non-Western nation; it is a contradiction between modes of thought, value systems, cultures, civilizations (from China, the Indus River Valley, Mesopotamia, and the Mediterranean).

This requires an understanding of others, of the tears of history, of the memory of peoples and of the resentments caused by humiliations. Josep Borrell, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, deliberately ignored this when he declared: «Europe is a garden. We have built a garden. Aggregate works are the best combination of political freedom, economic prosperity, and social cohesion that humankind has been able to build. There are three things together, and here bridges may be the representation of the beautiful things intellectual life and well-being. The rest of the world is not exactly a garden. Most of the rest of the world is a jungle, and the jungle could invade the garden.»14 All this confounding rhetoric of hierarchy of systems and values has been relativized by the course of history so far. Five centuries of conquest and colonial exploitation, two world wars, a world in which the North has exploited and plundered the South, do not make it an «exemplary garden». Is this logic of a «clash of civilizations» ─ a war on land, sea, and even in the outer atmosphere, involving populations numbering in the hundreds of millions, with an irremediable ecological crisis on top of all the victims, destruction and horrors ─ is that sustainable?

If you want a date to mark the beginning of this logic of inter-State warfare, 2014 is the place to start. It was the year when, in the face of the Afghan impasse, NATO's intervention (under the guise of the International Security Assistance Force) in Afghanistan came to an end. The year in which the Islamic State was proclaimed, marking the failure of war policies against Salafist fundamentalism. The year when ─ following the Obama administration's adoption in 2012 of the Asian-Pacific Region as the pivot of its «new military strategy» ─ Washington's neutrality on China's sovereignty in the China Sea came to an end. It was also the year of the wars in the Don Basin and Crimea.

It was a turning point marking the end of «asymmetric warfare» and a return to high-intensity warfare, introducing the adoption of hybrid warfare by NATO or «unlimited war» by China, «which aims to dislocate, destroy, and transform targets to one's advantage, weakening the opposing party by conducting non-military and military actions, overt and covert, combining political, diplomatic, economic, informational [...] that can become a high-intensity armed conflict».15 All spheres, whether political, economic, diplomatic, social, cultural, scientific, or technological, are theatres of confrontation with the aim of winning the war «before the war» and through war.16 General Thierry Burkhard, the Chief of the French Armed Forces General Staff, defined hybridity like this: «In the past, conflicts followed the ‹peace/crisis/war› pattern. From now on, it is more of a triptych of ‹competition/confrontation/conflict›.» He further specified: «There are no longer phases of peace, but only phases of competition.»17

There are no longer any phases of peace, which justifies the policy of overarmament. Worldwide military spending, 89,9% higher in 2021 than in 1996, exploded in 2022, raising the question: «Will the arms giants be able to meet the avalanche of orders?»18 In Europe, according to a State Watch report, the 2021-27 budget lines for the European Defence Fund have increased by 1'256%.19

In addition to the multiplication of the capacity to kill and destroy, a policy of indoctrination of public opinion has been added, with a reactivation of Cold War arguments (Communism being replaced by totalitarian regimes, and the free world by collective security) manifested in a media conditioning of opinions more intense than the tensest phases of the Cold War. This information war «involves classic manoeuvres of influence, to distill or hammer home controlled or oriented information, and, like advertising or lobbying, to target a type of population, a social category».20 The indoctrination is accompanied by measures, ranging from the Universal National Service, to the enlistment of young people, to the resilience of the population to the consequences of war. «Are citizens ready to accept a level of loss we haven't seen since the Second World War?»21 To answer this question, the Armed Forces General Staff has set up, under the name «Hypothesis of Major Engagement», ten groups to prepare for a high-intensity war, one of whose missions is to strengthen resilience to death.


Robert Castel once said: «We are always concerned with the fate of our country, when we should be concerned with the fate of the world.» The war in Ukraine is a case in point. Never before, even during the wars of decolonization, has Western egocentricity been so openly and brutally asserted in France and the rest of the Western world, as is demonstrated by the (fully justified) hospitality for Ukrainian refugees, compared to the welcome given to refugees who are victims of our own wars, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Sahel; compared to the welcome given to refugees from the poverty and starvation caused by colonial exploitation and unequal North-South trade, for which we are primarily responsible. The odious controversy surrounding the Ocean Viking reveals the permanence of our colonial alienation.

As a consequence of this segregationism and double standards, the peoples of Asia, Africa, and South America are not aligning themselves with Atlanticist unanimity on the war in Ukraine. To be surprised by this is to refuse to hear that, for them, imperialism, the imperialism they have suffered, is our imperialism and not Russian imperialism, that genocides on their continents were committed by Western powers, that, of all forms of racism, white colonial racism has been the most brutal and alienating. The surprise turned into astonishment for the chancelleries when this divide manifested itself on a governmental level, even with some governments closely linked to the West. An early demonstration of this was the United Nations vote to condemn Russia's armed intervention in Ukraine. The resolution could only be adopted because it did not «condemn», but «deplored», Russia's intervention, and limited itself to calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops.22

Astonishment turned into concern when all the African countries; Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East; all Asian countries, except for Japan; and all Latin American countries, except for Columbia, Paraguay, and Ecuador - when all these countries either rejected or didn't implement the sanctions imposed on Russia. It further turned into uncertainty when Argentina, Algeria, and Iran applied to join BRICS, and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria, and other countries began considering joining an organization that challenges the economic dominance of the West and undermines the Dollar. This reveals a resurgence of a Third World that is no longer the bearer of decolonization, claiming to be a third force between East and West and demanding more equitable economic relations, but rather that of a Third World aware that capitalist globalization has altered the balance of power between North and South.

This rift at the governmental level revealed by the war in Ukraine ─ which is even more pronounced at grassroots level ─ shows a world in which the United States no longer dictates policy, and an aligned Europe, without autonomy, which has accepted its dependence. In this post-Cold War world, the worst reaction is that of the fortress, of fear of the other, into which we are being drawn by the Atlanticists of NATO (the extremists of war), and the racist and xenophobic rhetoric. Between States with divergent interests, whose peoples and cultures differ, and whose history has often been antagonistic, is there any other way to resist war than that of listening, of agreement, of accepting heterogeneity, of a different kind of sharing, of a multilateralism that has remained an illusion for the United Nations?


The uncontrollable nature of the war in Ukraine could turn it into the Sarajevo or the Gdansk of the Third World War, if the political will to negotiate and compromise does not prevail, as it did in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Yes, Russia is weakened, because of an intervention in Ukraine that failed to have a shock effect, because of faulty intelligence, whether it be, apart from those in the Don Basin, an underappreciation of the feelings of the Ukrainian people or an underestimation of the Ukrainian army. Although it collapsed in 2014, since then, intensively trained and equipped by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada,23 it was considered in 2021 to be the 21st-strongest army in the world, on par with those of Poland and Spain.24 The failure to see that the war in Ukraine would lead to the reconstitution of NATO was also brain-dead. Moreover, there are the questions of the rigidity of the Russian army's chain of command (concerning logistics, for example), the need for Iranian or Turkish drones, and the underestimation of the extent to which Russia remains identified with Communism, right down to the permanence of anti-Slavic racist sentiments, those «sub-human barbarians» according to Aryanist theories.25

Does this mean that it is possible to turn this failure into a defeat for Russia? Admiral Charles Richard, head of the Pentagon's Strategic Command, put it this way: «This Ukraine crisis that we're in right now, this is just the warm-up... the big one is coming.»26 This statement was echoed by Emmanuel Macron as well as Xi Jinping, with the former saying the «challenges of the future» include «a possible return to high-intensity inter-State conflict» and «the great strategic confrontation of tomorrow»,27 and the latter saying that China's security situation is increasingly «unstable and uncertain», that the army must «focus all its energy on fighting» and «comprehensively strengthen military training in preparation for war».28

The war in Ukraine is a real-life exercise in the testing and use of weapons, in tactical and strategic analysis, and in the resilience of armies and peoples.

This is not an apocalyptic world, but a world like the previous ones, marked by inter-imperialist contradictions that are resolved by war, a capitalist world that «herald war like a cloud heralds a storm». If the main contradiction for supremacy between the Western world and the emerging powers is resolved according to this logic, the human consequences are hard to imagine, and the ecological consequences irreversible. The threat is real, and the balance between the forces of war and the forces of peace is highly unfavourable in terms of mobilization and resources. But history is never written in advance, and reversing the trajectory on which the world has embarked requires that we counterpose the utopia of peace to the reality of war.

  1. National Security Strategy of the United States (September 2022) 

  2. Since 1991, the United States has carried out more than 100 foreign military interventions. 

  3. Neta C. Crawford: Human Cost of the Post-9/11 Wars: Lethality and the Need for Transparency (November 2018) 

  4. Currently, a special consultant to the General Secretary of the United Nations. 

  5. Between 1989 and '97, Russia saw a 50% fall in GDP and a 45% drop in wages. In the six years from 1988 to '94, life expectancy fell by five years (from 69,5 to 64,5).  

  6. See the English and Russian proceedings of the meeting. 

  7. Dimitri Minic: Russia's Invasion of Ukraine: A Political-Strategic Break? (March 2022) 

  8. The Times revealed the delivery of hundreds of Javelin anti-tank missile launcher systems by NATO and of 2'000 NLAW missiles by the United Kingdom from autumn 2021. 

  9. Murray Brewster, CBC News: As Talks With Russia Stall, NATO Chief Warns of a New War in Europe (12th of January, 2022) 

  10. Nils Andersson in the UITC Webinar: New Forms of Conflict: The Evolution of War Violence in a Globalized World (4th of July, 2022) 

  11. In 1990, China's GDP was 6,7% of that of the United States; in 2020, it was 71,1%, and has become the world's leading commercial power. 

  12. Remarks by President Biden Before Business Roundtable's CEO Quarterly Meeting (21st of March, 2022) 

  13. Stephen Spender and others: The European Soul (1946) 

  14. Josep Borell: Inauguration of the European Diplomatic Academy (13th of October, 2022) 

  15. Dr. Guillaume Lasconjarias, researcher at the NATO Defence College. 

  16. Nils Andersson: Talking About War (26th of October, 2022) 

  17. Thierry Burkhard: Strategic Vision Adopted by the Government and Presented to the Press (4th of October, 2021) 

  18. Ken Moriyasu, Nikkei Asia: Taiwan Tensions a Boon for Defence Industry, But Supply Clogs Loom (9th of August, 2022) 

  19. Chris Jones, Jane Kilpatrick, Yasha Maccanico: At What Cost? Funding the EU's Security, Defence, and Border Policies, 2021–2027 (April 2022) 

  20. Defence Club of the Economic Warfare School: High-Intensity Management of Public Opinion (21st of March, 2022) 

  21. Current Values: French Army Steps Up Preparation for High-Intensity Conflict (25th of June, 2021) 

  22. Despite the «non-condemnation», 25 African, 18 Asian, and 5 South American States did not back the resolution. 

  23. 10'000 men are trained every year at the 390-km² Jaroviv military base, which is used for joint military exercises between Ukrainian and NATO forces. 

  24. Global Firepower Index 2022 

  25. «There's no room for Slavs, those sub-humans and barbarians.» Alain Policar: Science and Democracy: Celestin Bougie and the Metaphysics of Heredity (1999) 

  26. Charles A. Richard: Speech at the Naval Submarine League 2022 Annual Symposium and Industry Update (November 2022) 

  27. Emmanuel Macron: Presentation Speech of the National Strategic Review (9th of November, 2022) 

  28. Xi Jinping speaking at a People's Liberation Army Central Military Command joint operations command centre inspection (8th of November, 2022).