Consider this: our advanced robotic creatures, those drone aircraft grimly named Predators and Reapers, are still blowing away human beings from Yemen to Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is now testing out a 14,000-pound drone advanced enough to take off and land on its own on the deck of an aircraft carrier -- no human pilot involved. (As it happens, it's only a "demonstrator" and, at a cost of $1.4 billion, can't do much else.) While we're talking about the skies, who could forget that the U.S. military is committed to buying 2,400 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, already dubbed, amid cost overruns of every sort, "the most expensive weapons system in history." The bill for them: nearly $400 billion or twice what it cost to put a man on the moon.
In similar fashion, the U.S. Navy, with 10 aircraft carriers afloat on a planet on which no other nation has more than two, is now building a new class of "supercarriers." The first of them, the USS Gerald R. Ford, is due for delivery in 2016 at an estimated cost of more than $12 billion. It, too, is experiencing the sort of cost overruns and performance problems that now seem to accompany all new U.S. weapons systems. In the meantime, Washington has dispatched one of its littoral combat ships (a troubled $34 billion weapons system) to Singapore; is flying manned aircraft and drones over the Nigerian bush; and as for building national security state infrastructure of just about any sort, seldom has a problem getting Congress to pony up -- as in the $69 million now in the 2015 defense budget for the latest prison being constructed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, meant to house just 15 "high-value" prisoners. Similarly, when it comes to the infrastructure needed to listen in on the world, the sky's the limit, including an almost $2 billion data center built for the National Security Agency in Bluffdale, Utah. In such "infrastructural" realms, the U.S. is today without serious competition.
On the other hand, if we're talking about purely civilian infrastructure, just consider that, at this very moment, Congress is dilly-dallying while the crucial Highway Trust Fund that keeps American roads and interstates in shape is "heading for a cliff" and projected to go bankrupt in August. This from the country that once turned the car into a poetic symbol of freedom. Meanwhile, the nation's overall infrastructure, from levees and dams to wastewater and aviation, now regularly gets a grade of D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
As a rising power in the nineteenth century, the U.S. moved toward global status on the basis of an ambitious program of canal building and then of government-sponsored transcontinental railroads. Jump a century and a half and the country that, until recently, was being called the planet's "sole superpower" has yet to build a single mile of high-speed rail. Not one. Even a prospective line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, which looked like it might be constructed, is now blocked coming and going.
If, however, you happen to be looking for a twenty-first century rising power that has put its money on the American (rail)road to success, check out China. When Chinese state expenditures are discussed in the U.S., the American concern is always military spending (definitely on the rise), but China's domestic spending on high-speed rail is staggering. As of 2012, the country already had a 10,000-kilometer network, including the longest line in the world, and it's expected to hit 15,000 kilometers by the end of 2015, not to speak of -- as Pepe Escobar notes today -- high-speed "silk roads" that could, in the end, reach across Eurasia. Someday, if Chinese engineering dreamers are to be believed, there might even be a two-day 8,000-mile line from Beijing via the longest underwater tunnel ever built through Canada to the United States.
If you want a measure of rise and decline, look no further than this comparison between U.S. and Chinese infrastructural build-ups, between, that is, Washington's global military-first strategy and Beijing's civilian-first one meant to create a transport and communications system that could economically tie significant parts of the world to that country for decades to come. Rising... falling... Perhaps as TomDispatch regular Escobar, that peripatetic traveler across the realms he likes to call Pipelineistan, suggests, we really are heading for a new Eurasian Century. Tom
The Birth of a Eurasian Century
Russia and China Do Pipelineistan
By Pepe Escobar
HONG KONG -- A specter is haunting Washington, an unnerving vision of a Sino-Russian alliance wedded to an expansive symbiosis of trade and commerce across much of the Eurasian land mass -- at the expense of the United States.
And no wonder Washington is anxious. That alliance is already a done deal in a variety of ways: through the BRICS group of emerging powers (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa); at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asian counterweight to NATO; inside the G20; and via the 120-member-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Trade and commerce are just part of the future bargain. Synergies in the development of new military technologies beckon as well. After Russia's Star Wars-style, ultra-sophisticated S-500 air defense anti-missile system comes online in 2018, Beijing is sure to want a version of it. Meanwhile, Russia is about to sell dozens of state-of-the-art Sukhoi Su-35 jet fighters to the Chinese as Beijing and Moscow move to seal an aviation-industrial partnership.
This week should provide the first real fireworks in the celebration of a new Eurasian century-in-the-making when Russian President Vladimir Putin drops in on Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. You remember "Pipelineistan," all those crucial oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing Eurasia that make up the true circulatory system for the life of the region. Now, it looks like the ultimate Pipelineistan deal, worth $1 trillion and 10 years in the making, will be inked as well. In it, the giant, state-controlled Russian energy giant Gazprom will agree to supply the giant state-controlled China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) with 3.75 billion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas a day for no less than 30 years, starting in 2018. That's the equivalent of a quarter of Russia's massive gas exports to all of Europe. China's current daily gas demand is around 16 billion cubic feet a day, and imports account for 31.6% of total consumption.
Gazprom may still collect the bulk of its profits from Europe, but Asia could turn out to be its Everest. The company will use this mega-deal to boost investment in Eastern Siberia and the whole region will be reconfigured as a privileged gas hub for Japan and South Korea as well. If you want to know why no key country in Asia has been willing to "isolate" Russia in the midst of the Ukrainian crisis -- and in defiance of the Obama administration -- look no further than Pipelineistan.
Exit the Petrodollar, Enter the Gas-o-Yuan
And then, talking about anxiety in Washington, there's the fate of the petrodollar to consider, or rather the "thermonuclear" possibility that Moscow and Beijing will agree on payment for the Gazprom-CNPC deal not in petrodollars but in Chinese yuan. One can hardly imagine a more tectonic shift, with Pipelineistan intersecting with a growing Sino-Russian political-economic-energy partnership. Along with it goes the future possibility of a push, led again by China and Russia, toward a new international reserve currency -- actually a basket of currencies -- that would supersede the dollar (at least in the optimistic dreams of BRICS members).
Right after the potentially game-changing Sino-Russian summit comes a BRICS summit in Brazil in July. That's when a $100 billion BRICS development bank, announced in 2012, will officially be born as a potential alternative to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank as a source of project financing for the developing world.
More BRICS cooperation meant to bypass the dollar is reflected in the "Gas-o-yuan," as in natural gas bought and paid for in Chinese currency. Gazprom is even considering marketing bonds in yuan as part of the financial planning for its expansion. Yuan-backed bonds are already trading in Hong Kong, Singapore, London, and most recently Frankfurt.