Socialist Worker

Cracks in the World Order

Issue No. 1688

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Cracks in the World Order

By Alex Callinicos

LAST YEAR'S Balkan War was meant to mark the new expanded NATO's emergence as a united alliance capable of intervening wherever it was necessary to restore order and human rights. According to the Guardian's Richard Norton - Taylor, however, "The legacy of the Kosovo conflict...has left the allies fractious, with mutual suspicion threatening to open up deep cracks across the Atlantic." He suggests that the story of a spy in NATO headquarters during the war was leaked by the Pentagon in an effort to discredit the US's European allies. Behind these divisions is the fundamental issue of US power in the world today.

The end of the Cold War left the United States with overwhelming military superiority over all other states. This does not mean that we live in any simple sense under what many commentators on both left and right like to call US "hegemony". The situation is much more complicated.

The Texas - based intelligence consultants Stratfor recently described world power politics as "a three - player game between the United States, China and Russia". It is precisely the fear of US hegemony that is driving together China and Russia, who were bitter opponents during the latter phase of the Cold War. From this point of view the Balkan War was a turning point. Chinese leaders' announcement last December that they would provide Serbia with financial aid was a sign that China intends to act as a world power.

China was operating even in a zone-Europe-that the US regards as its own. Stratfor argues that "a more vigorous strategic partnership between Russia and China...is beginning to take shape". Preparations are under way for a major summit for Yeltsin's successor, Vladimir Putin, and the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin. Against this background, US moves to develop new anti - missile defences take on a threatening aspect. China is interpreting US proposals to install a Theatre Defence System in East Asia as a direct challenge to its rapidly modernising armed forces.

More dangerous still, pressure is mounting in Washington to develop an Anti - Ballistic Missile (ABM) system to protect the continental US itself. This would violate the 1972 superpower treaty banning such a system. The ban was a rational step. The relative stability of the world during the Cold War depended on the fact that both the US and the Soviet Union had enough ballistic missiles to wipe each other out many times over, even after suffering a nuclear strike.

So neither side had an interest in starting a war that it was sure to lose. But an ABM system would have changed these calculations. Whichever superpower developed it would be tempted to launch a first strike, gambling that the ABM system could deal with whatever of the other side's missiles survived this attack. Russia and China might therefore react to an American ABM system as an attempt by the US to develop a first - strike capability against them. The result would be a much more dangerous world. The US's European allies are also worried about the moves to develop an ABM system. But there are other tensions as well. The US is in two minds about the plans, approved at NATO's summit last April, for the European Union to create its own distinct European Security and Defence Identity.

On the one hand, the Pentagon in particular is fed up with having to deploy its own forces to sort out what it regards as European problems, particularly since NATO - occupied Kosovo looks set to become a Balkan quagmire. On the other hand, the US does not want to see Europe become an independent military power. The US Senate resolved last October that the EU should take on "autonomous" operations "only after NATO had declined to take on that mission". There is not much chance of a European superpower emerging in the short term. EU governments are not willing to take on the necessary military spending-indeed they are cutting their defence budgets back.

That is another source of conflict between Europe and the US, as is the issue of military contracts. The Pentagon, having presided over a ruthless reorganisation of the US arms industry since the Cold War ended, is determined that Europe should buy American. Last week US defence secretary William Cohen aggressively lobbied the British government to prefer an air - to - air missile made by Ratheon to a European - produced rival.

The Financial Times commented, "Downing Street is sensitive to the fears of the US, its closest military ally, that Europe's armed forces and manufacturers are creating a 'fortress Europe' rather than cooperating under the NATO umbrella." The "cooperation" has, of course, to be on US terms. And that is the problem: the US's efforts to assert its power are causing tensions both inside NATO and on a world scale.


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Sat 18 Mar 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1688
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