Is the West ready for World War 3?
Even as geopolitical tensions rise, Western elites are still sabotaging our industries and energy security.
In case you missed the memo, we are apparently entering the first phases of World War 3. Or, if you count the Cold War, World War 4. All of these previous struggles were won not only thanks to good political and military leadership, but also by the sheer force of industrial power and ample natural resources. Does the West have what it takes to win out again today?
A 21st-century world war would pit the West and its Asian allies – notably Japan, South Korea and India – against a modern-day version of the 1940s ‘pact of steel’. This time, however, the alliance is between China, Russia and Iran. In facing this threat, military preparedness is essential. But so too is boosting the West’s economic power, and rapidly.
To counter China, Russia, Iran and their accessories, the West needs not a ‘Green New Deal’ (parts of which Joe Biden has slipped into his poorly named Inflation Reduction Act), but something closer to the original New Deal of the 1930s – a programme which, as Robert Gordon has pointed out, enhanced infrastructure, energy generation and industrial productivity. These policies laid the basis for allowing America and its allies to transform themselves into what Franklin D Roosevelt labelled an ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ – turning the US into an industrial hub to support the fight against fascism.
Of course, any attempt to re-industrialise will face opposition from much of the American establishment. This includes financial firms like BlackRock, whose largely unprofitable ‘Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance’ (ESG) policies seek to promote investments in firms that purport to meet their Net Zero obsessions. In practice, these policies perpetuate China’s industrial hegemony by hamstringing Western industry. Meanwhile, BlackRock happily expands its business in China, the world’s dominant polluter and autocracy par excellence.
Free-market dogmatists have played a part in the deindustrialisation of the West as well. Consultants and investors pushed businesses to look offshore for virtually every critical production input. Between 2004 and 2017, the US share of world manufacturing shrank from 15 per cent to 10 per cent. Our reliance on Chinese inputs doubled. The trade deficit with China, according to the Economic Policy Institute, has cost as many as 3.7million American jobs since 2000. Overall, the US and the EU have seen their share of value-added manufacturing drop from 65 per cent in the 1960s to barely half that today.
Our enemies are not likely to make the same mistakes. They are attacking on several fronts – the Russians pushing against Ukraine, the Arabs against the West’s Israeli outpost, while China prepares to take over Taiwan. The West is pitifully ill-equipped to meet these challenges. A recent study by Cynthia Cook of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies found that even before the Hamas attack, the need to supply Ukraine with weapons ‘triggered concerns as to whether there are sufficient residual inventories for training and to execute war plans’.
The US’s military shortfalls are made worse by the unravelling of the industrial base. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the US was forced to lean on its leading geopolitical rival, China, to address a health emergency that originated there.
The claim that the US can make up for import dependence due to our technological brilliance is a cruel obfuscation. The US net deficit in high-tech trade was $242 billion last year, and it seems to be following a similar track this year.
Remarkably, this includes critical components for military goods, many of which are now produced in China. This dependence could worsen if China, seeing the disarray of the West, chooses to invade Taiwan, a country many American industries count on for key components. One Taiwanese company, TSMC, is particularly critical. It supplies Apple, Intel, Qualcomm, AMD and Nvidia, among other Big Tech companies. It also produces the semiconductors used in F-35 fighter jets. Imagine what would happen if China managed to seize these assets.
As the capitalist elite undermines our economic security, the powerful climate lobby’s obsession with renewable energy only aids China’s dominance of green industries. China maintains effective control of both the requisite rare-earth metals, as well as the technology for processing them. As a result, China has a virtual monopoly over the solar-energy industry, and now produces twice as many electric vehicles (EVs) as the US and the EU combined. China’s leading EV maker, BYD, is now the world’s largest. Eco-obsessives like California governor Gavin Newsom cheer on China’s domination of the EV market as a step towards Net Zero, even as China goes on a coal-plant building spree and emits more greenhouse gases than all developed countries put together.
While China gets essentially a free pass for polluting, current green policies are weakening the West. Newsom’s California in particular, desperate to get rid of both fossil fuels and nuclear power, now suffers one of the highest electricity prices in the country. As a result, many companies, including tech firms, are finding it increasingly challenging to stay in the state. This is bad news for California, which has lost one-third of its manufacturing jobs since 1990, well above the national average. As of last year, the state was left with only 1.3million factory positions. In Europe, the picture is similar. Germany, the lone economic superpower in Europe, is also rapidly deindustrialising, largely due to its extreme green policies.
Yet the battle is not yet lost. One welcome development is the recovery of the US as a dominant fuel producer. During the Yom Kippur War 50 years ago, domestic oil production was faltering and the US was becoming more reliant on oil from the Middle East. Now, thanks to the fracking revolution, the US exports about four million barrels of crude oil per day, as well as record amounts of natural gas (about 20 billion cubic feet per day). Today the US is the world’s biggest exporter of liquified natural gas.
This expansion hasn’t even come at the cost of the environment. In fact, the US is leading the world in energy efficiency and CO2 reductions. According to the latest Statistical Review of World Energy, per-capita energy consumption in the US fell by about 20 per cent between 1973 and 2022. In addition, US CO2 emissions have dropped by about 915million tonnes since 2000, the biggest reduction of any country on the planet.
This progress – and the promise of energy that is free of Middle Eastern domination – faces opposition from what analyst Robert Bryce identifies as the ‘anti-industry industry’, or the $4.5 billion-per-year NGO-corporate-industrial-climate complex. This interconnected network of activist groups is raking in hundreds of millions of dollars from oligarchs like Michael Bloomberg, Laurene Powell Jobs, Jeff Bezos and John Doerr to promote renewables and halt the traditional energy sector.
Simply put, no significant industrial resurgence could occur under an all-renewable agenda. High energy costs threaten whole industries, like car manufacturing, while an ageing electric grid is made weaker still by dependence on variable solar and wind power. The West must wake up to the reality that industrial prowess and energy self-reliance are critical to security.
The self-destructive aspect of current environmental policies is also evident in their rejection of nuclear power, arguably the most effective carbon-free energy source. This is a lesson the French are belatedly relearning. Unfortunately green opposition to nuclear power in the West has helped Russia become the world’s biggest enricher of uranium, with 46 per cent of the world’s enrichment capacity.
Instead of unilaterally disarming our economies, the West needs a serious wake-up call. Fortunately, opposition to these misguided policies seems to be emerging. Across Europe, some leaders – such as French president Emmanuel Macron and Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez – have recognised the need to re-industrialise the continent. And in the US, notes Gallup, climate change and the environment is the top priority of less than five per cent of the population. Even the Biden administration has adopted more robust efforts to meet China’s mounting challenge in science and technology.
Yet military power remains a blindspot for most Western nations. The US military has prioritised developing ‘climate strategies’, while munitions stockpiles are dwindling and the quality of its fighting force has severely declined. Things are similar in Europe, with armies turning their attention to climate change, and its security services prioritising ‘LGBT+ rights’ over developing strong deterrents.
Ultimately, the West can no longer ignore the threat posed by the emerging hegemony of the authoritarians. It now seems more likely that China will achieve its stated aim to dominate the supply chains and become the leading global superpower by 2050, than Western governments’ will realise their vague dreams of ‘building back better’ or imposing the anti-growth ‘great reset’.
As we enter a very dangerous period, the West must prioritise bolstering its military, industrial and energy resources. Right now, it’s hard to see our elites rising to the challenge. But as previous global conflicts have demonstrated, this was once possible. The question now is do we have the time, and the will, to make it happen again?
Joel Kotkin is a spiked columnist, the presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His latest book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is out now. Follow him on Twitter: @joelkotkin
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