Europe and Japan: A call for independent imperialism – On an interesting article by a former editor of 'The Economist'
Several events in the past few years have provoked profound instability in relations between the imperialist Great Powers. To mention these briefly, we refer to the Global Trade War, the Great Depression of the capitalist world economy, the disruptions in the global supply chain, the Ukraine War and the Taiwan Strait Crisis. As we elaborated in a number of documents, these developments have resulted in a dramatic acceleration of inter-imperialist rivalry between the Great Powers (U.S., China, Russia, Western Europe and Japan).
It is therefore not surprising that ideologists and strategic thinkers of the ruling class are working hard to elaborate analyses and perspectives on how their respective Great Power can best respond to the challenges of the current period. Here, we want to deal with a highly interesting article which has been published recently by Bill Emmott. In it, the author discusses a viable strategy for European and Japanese imperialism in the coming years.
The article is of interest not only because of the subject with which it deals but also because of its author. Emmott is a former editor of The Economist – one of the most influential journals of the Anglo-Saxon monopoly bourgeoisie – as well as the author of a number of books. He writes columns in big-business newspapers like La Stampa in Italy and Nikkei Business in Japan. He is chair of several bourgeois institutions including the International Institute for Strategic Studies – a highly influential British think tank. Hence, Emmott is an intelligent writer with close links to the inner circles of the ruling class in Western imperialist countries. By this, he distinguishes himself from other bourgeois journalists of the type of Thomas Friedman – a licensed fool who tortures the readers of the New York Times with his dumb propaganda columns, usually commissioned works by people in power.
Dependency on ‘authoritarian powers’
The starting point of Emmott’s analysis is the idea that Europe and Japan suffer from dependency on hostile autocracies. He summarizes this idea – which has become an axiom in Western imperialist thinking since the beginning of the new Cold War and, in particular since the 24 February – as follows.
Many of us who live in liberal democracies used to believe in something we called “engagement” with authoritarian powers such as China and Russia. (…) Now, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and amid increasing fear of Chinese military intentions toward Taiwan, the prevailing belief is that dependency on potentially hostile suppliers or markets can be dangerous. National strategies, both on security and for energy or industrial policy, are being redrawn so as to avoid the risk of dependency. What we don’t yet know is how far this avoidance of dependency can go.
As an example, he takes “the dependency (…) on the Chinese market and of all European manufacturers of electric batteries on Chinese supplies of critical commodities. The effort to assess and manage dependencies on China promises to be a major preoccupation in the next few years.”
He points to alternative sources for critical commodities like lithium, cobalt and nickel which, however, are also located far away (e.g. Democratic Republic of Congo for cobalt; Australia and Chile for lithium; and Indonesia, the Philippines and Russia for nickel).
As mentioned above, these worries are not original as they have become mainstream in the discourse of Western imperialist thinking in the past eight months. Former US president Donald Trump was the first statesperson to make such a concept the basis of foreign policy when he started the Global Trade War in 2018. At that time, other Western leaders ridiculed this idea – today they follow in his steps.
But dependency on the US too
However, then Emmott points to another, related problem and this is where his article becomes really interesting:
But there is an irony in all this new focus on dependency. It is that the war in Ukraine has also exposed, and deepened, another sort of dependency, one which Japan shares with Europe: reliance on the United States for the supply of advanced weapons and military-related technology. European governments, led by Germany, all say that they plan to raise their annual defense budgets to at least 2% of GDP, which is the NATO standard. So does Japan. That is welcome if it enables Europe and Japan both to take on more of the burden of their own security. Yet where are Europe and Japan likely to be able to buy whatever extra military hardware or technology that they want, in order to fulfill those promises? The main answer is the United States.
Of course, this is not a sensational insight in itself. Europe and Japan have been dependent on the US for military hardware for decades. In fact, this has been a cornerstone of the Western imperialist system of alliances since World War II – most importantly NATO and Nichi-Bei Dōmei (the U.S.-Japan Alliance).
However, Emmott calls this dependency on the US as a major problem for Europe and Japan:
The effort by Europe and Japan to contribute more to defense and security in their regions and more to protect themselves will lead all those countries to become more dependent on the United States. Yet is the United States necessarily a dependable partner, looking ahead to the next few years and the rest of this decade? The political polarization of the US means that we cannot be confident that America’s democracy will survive and thrive as “the leader of the free world” that it has long claimed to be. Nor can we be sure it will be friendly – democratic or not. Already, under president Donald Trump, the US aimed tariffs at its European and Japanese allies on imports from them of steel and aluminum on supposed national security grounds, tariffs which have not yet been formally repealed.
Such a statement is striking in itself but it is particularly remarkable as it comes from a former editor of The Economist and the chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies – both institutions which have been well-known over decades for their pro-Atlanticist commitment, i.e. for their support for keeping a close alliance of Europe and Japan with the US.
However, the deep convulsions of the imperialist world order undermine and eventually destroy long-term taboos. In a clear break with such traditional Western foreign policy, Emmott calls for a strategic reorientation for Europe and Japan – to become independent Great Powers which are no longer dominated by Washington:
This, then, is Europe’s task, one which Japan is already emulating. It must play its proper role in defense even as it is reducing its dependency on Russian gas or oil dramatically. It must seek to separate itself from China in any field in which dependency looks like a potential geopolitical and security risk. But also it must look for ways to reduce its dependency on the United States for defense technology by strengthening its own defense industries, perhaps in partnership with Japan. This dependency-based strategy is going to dominate policy for years to come. And it will be devilishly difficult.
Disputes about new orientation
Such a call for a strategic reorientation of the most important Western allies of US imperialism is highly remarkable – even more as it comes from a preeminent bourgeois thinker of the Anglo-Saxon world. It reflects the deep crisis of the imperialist world order taking place in the midst of a period of capitalist decay. In such a period, it is inevitable that the ruling class of each Great Power is forced to rethink its past strategies.
This is even more the case as such periods of convulsion and reorientation usually go hand in hand with sharp conflicts between different factions of the monopoly bourgeoisie. For example, a number of big corporations in Europe, Japan, even in the US, gain large profits from the Chinese market. This is also true, albeit to a much lesser degree, for the Russian market. These capitalists have no interest in Washington’s strategy of full-scale Cold War against the Eastern rivals.  These differences reflect, to a certain degree, the conflict of interest between the individual capitalists and the “ideal total capitalist” – as Engels called it.
Another important issue of differences within the ruling class of Western imperialism is the question to which power they should orientate. The traditional view of bourgeois thinkers in Brussels and Tokyo was to build on the alliance with the US. However, as the article of Emmott exemplifies, this conception has been massively undermined since Trump started the Global Trade War – even more so as Biden continues such policy to a certain degree.
To a certain degree, the Western alliance has been bolstered by Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the Western war of economic sanctions against Moscow. However, not all sectors of the ruling class are convinced of such a Cold War against Russia and China. It is indicative that German Chancellor Scholz just visited Beijing and that Japan refuses to join the anti-Russian sanctions in the gas sector. A small minority among Europe’s bourgeoisie supports a Eurasian conception, i.e. an alliance with Russia against Washington. A larger and growing sector supports Emmotts’s strategy of building Europe and Japan as independent imperialist powers – independent of Washington’s tutelage.
Militarism and bonapartism
We shall conclude our article by pointing to some issues which are necessarily implied in the strategic reorientation proposed by Emmott, but which he prefers not to mention (or maybe he is not fully aware of these).
The author closes his article by stating, without going into detail, that implementing such a new foreign policy “will be devilishly difficult.“ Well, why will it be “devilishly difficult?” Because it makes a number of dramatic ruptures necessary – both in foreign as well as in domestic policy. First, the pro-Atlanticist forces are still very powerful – both in Brussels and London, as well as in Tokyo. These forces will strongly resist such a strategic reorientation towards independence from Washington.
Secondly, such a reorientation requires, as Emmott’s indicates, extraordinary massive and long-term investments in the arms industry and in expanding the military forces. Where shall the money for this come from – even more so in a period of economic depression? It can only come from higher taxes and shifting funds from other sectors of the national budget – social security, health, pensions, education, etc. In other words, such a long-term program of imperialist militarization requires massive attacks of social gains of the working class in these countries. These would have to be historic attacks not seen since 1945. There is no doubt that such a counterrevolutionary offensive would provoke equally historic class struggles.
Related to this, it is difficult to imagine that such a counterrevolutionary offensive would be compatible with the current regime of bourgeois democracy. Given the opposition of the popular masses, given the divisions within the bourgeoisie, it is likely that such a process would go hand-in-hand with the creation of a bonapartist regime and with a substantial reduction of democratic rights.
Furthermore, as indicated above, most strategic raw materials that are essential for modern transport and high-tech industry are located outside the Western countries, i.e. either in Russia and China or in the Global South. Therefore, Europe and Japan can only reduce their dependency if they can guarantee secure access to these raw materials, i.e. access to these countries. Since one can exclude the possibility that Brussels, London or Tokyo can subjugate Russia or China in the foreseeable future – as these are imperialist Great Powers – it means that Europe and Japan must find the foreign policy instruments and military means to bring such semi-colonial countries under their domination.
This, in turn, means that Europe and Japan must become Great Powers that can send their military to Africa, Asia or Latin America to impose their spheres of influence. Of course, this will inevitably provoke resistance from these countries as well as from Washington, Beijing and Moscow. These problems must not be underestimated. Just look at Mali, which recently dealt the French occupiers a harsh lesson and sent them running.
As we have dealt with these issues somewhere else, we limit ourselves to these brief remarks at this place. However, what is clear is that we are living in times of unprecedented convulsions and crisis of global politics.
Michael Pröbsting is a socialist activist and writer. For some of his publications on imperialism and Great Power rivalry see: https://www.michael-proebsting.net/publications/bibliography/. He is the editor of the website http://www.thecommunists.net/
 The author of these lines has published a number of documents on the Global Trade War which are compiled here: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/collection-of-articles-on-the-global-trade-war/.
 The author of these lines has published a number of documents on the current crisis of the world economy which are compiled here: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/collection-of-articles-on-great-depression/.
 The author of these lines has published a number of documents on the Ukraine War which are compiled here: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/compilation-of-documents-on-nato-russia-conflict/.
 See on this e.g. the pamphlet by Michael Pröbsting: China: An Imperialist Power … Or Not Yet? 22 January 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/china-imperialist-power-or-not-yet/;
 For our analysis of the relation of forces between the Great Powers since the beginning of the Ukraine War see e.g. Michael Pröbsting: “The G-7 Oil Price Cap: A New Stage in the Great Power Rivalry. The Cold War between the Western powers and their Eastern rivals points towards escalation”, 7 September 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/the-g-7-oil-price-cap-a-new-stage-in-the-great-power-rivalry/
 Bill Emmott: “Learning lessons from dependency on a hostile power”, Asia Times, November 6, 2022 https://asiatimes.com/2022/11/learning-lessons-from-dependency-on-a-hostile-power/. This article was originally published on The Mainichi news site and in the Japanese Mainichi Shimbun newspaper (https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20221028/p2a/00m/0op/024000c). All quotes are from this article if not indicated otherwise.
 See Emmott’s website: http://billemmott.com/
 See on this e.g. Takashi Inoguchi, G. John Ikenberry and Yoichiro Sato (Editors): The U.S.-Japan Security Alliance. Regional Multilateralism, Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2011; G. John Ikenberry and Takashi Inoguchi (Editors): Reinventing the Alliance: U.S.–Japan Security Partnership in an Era of Change, Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2003
 See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: “Western Boycott of Western Sanctions? A new report reveals that Western exports to Russia have increased in the past months despite the official policy of boycott”, 20 August 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/western-boycott-of-western-sanctions/
 The author of these lines has published a number of works on China as an imperialist power. See e.g. “Chinese Imperialism and the World Economy”, an essay published in the second edition of The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism (edited by Immanuel Ness and Zak Cope), Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2020, https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-3-319-91206-6_179-1. On Russia as an imperialist power see e.g. by the same author: “Russia: An Imperialist Power or a ‘Non-Hegemonic Empire in Gestation’? (Reply to Claudio Katz)”, New Politics, https://newpol.org/russia-an-imperialist-power-or-a-non-hegemonic-empire-in-gestation-a-reply-to-the-argentinean-economist-claudio-katz-an-essay-with-8-tables/; “Russian Imperialism and Its Monopolies”, in: New Politics Vol. XVIII No. 4, Whole Number 72, Winter 2022, https://newpol.org/issue_post/russian-imperialism-and-its-monopolies/
 See e.g. the book by Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/anti-imperialism-in-the-age-of-great-power-rivalry