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shelling in Ukraine

A man who lost family members in Russian shelling stands by his destroyed house on March 5, 2022 in Markhalivka, Ukraine. (Photo Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images)

What Happens After the Russia-Ukraine Conflict?

Whatever remains of the actual left will have ample opportunity to help connect all the dots and participate in the radical changes that must follow.

Gary Olson

Offering predictions about what will follow the Russia-Ukraine conflict is probably a foolhardy exercise, but here are a few thoughts that might engender further speculation and discussion.

First, after the Ukraine crisis is resolved we’re likely to see a self-congratulatory period in Washington over its temporarily forcing Western European nations into a closer integration with U.S. imperialism, guaranteeing more European purchases of U.S. weapons and giving an immediate boost to Pentagon spending. The United States will portray the Russian Bear as intent on gobbling up more European countries and every effort will be made to ignite Cold War, Phase 2. These efforts will fail, and much to the consternation of the American oligarchy, the dissolution of a unipolar world will continue apace.

In fits and starts, perhaps for 2-3 years, Europe will gradually move away from the United States as mutually beneficial relations with Russia, and especially with China, prove irresistible. European big business is not inclined toward class suicide and as international relations analyst Michael Hudson has asserted, there’s a limit to how long they will forego the immense opportunity costs — the costs of lost opportunities — of trading with Russia as the price for their continued obedience and vassalage to U.S. geo-strategic ambitions. Meanwhile, Washington will step up its frantic push to militarily encircle China, its primary foe.

Second, acclaimed scholar Alfred McCoy predicts that the United States as the world's sole superpower will be eclipsed by China by around 2030. This projection is confirmed by several hard-headed, objective analysts, including the accounting firm PxC (also cited by McCoy), which now calculate that the Chinese economy will be 60% larger than the United States' by 2030. The period leading up to this rough demarcation line will be exceedingly dangerous because, as opposed to some past empires, it’s far from certain that the United States will make a graceful exit from center stage. There is the possibility that in its death throes, the American empire, like the thrashing, violent extinction of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, will take down much of the world with it.

Third, those living in the belly of the beast are likely to witness their rulers attempting to employ surrogates as boots on the ground to resist changes in the existing world order, perhaps commencing when Russia and China began trying to expel U.S. bases near Taiwan and in the South China Sea. These tactics will not succeed in stopping China from attaining, at least, parity with the United States. Barring the unthinkable introduction of advanced weapons systems, the call may go out again for U.S. troops to be dispatched to faraway places. Should that happen, one hopes that a strong, rekindled anti-war movement arises with the prominent organizing slogan, “No More Deaths for Nothing.”

Finally, and closely connected, is the fact that except for weapons stocks and a few others, the diminution of U.S. global power will cause an ever falling profit margin for big capital, including potential financial losses for the wealthiest, most powerful segments of society. This will, in turn, require an attempt to impose savage austerity measures that will fall largely on the working class. Private economic interests and their bilateral enablers in government will try to conceal that the roots of the economic crisis lie in neoliberal capitalism and specifically, its need to maintain the U.S. empire. In service to this escalating and corrosive logic of austerity, elites will reach into their seemingly bottomless trick bag and pull out racist dog whistles and appeals to fiscal discipline and personal sacrifice, while castigating the “entitlement mentality.” Flag-waving nationalism aimed at Russia and especially “The Chinese Threat,” will assume a high profile.

We know that austerity politics is class politics and here they will be inextricably woven into the politics of an empire in free fall. Much depends on whether ordinary citizens of the country finally come to realize that the welfare of the well-being of the capitalist class is inimical to their own well-being. And whatever remains of the actual left will have ample opportunity to help connect all the dots and participate in the radical changes that must follow.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Gary Olson

Gary Olson

Gary Olson is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. His most recent book is "Empathy Imperiled: Capitalism, Culture and the Brain" (NY: Springer, 2013.) Contact: olsong@moravian.edu

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