History may remember Iraq as the highest point of American global power, but as the starting point of its decline too. It is ironic that Bush, America’s most unilateralist president, promises to be the catalyst for the emergence of a “new” multipolar world order. With his excessive reliance on military force and exaggerated use of threats of its deployment, he has done more than any other leader in America’s history to shatter America’s world dominance and pave the way for a more balanced international order.
The Chinese have much to thank Bush and his administration for. Immersing itself in military conflicts and heavy political involvement within the Middle East region, it has left China to its own devices. With the world’s gatekeeper distracted, China has been able to improve its strategic situation, laying hand on important energy resources in Africa and Asia, winning new markets for its developing industry, and dramatically improving its military capabilities. Not only is China today an economic giant, with an economy expected to be double the size of Germany’s by 2010 and to overtake Japan’s by 2020, it is on its way to being a military superpower.
On March 4, China’s National People’s Congress announced that it would increase the country’s military budget 17.8 percent in 2007 to a total of $45bn, the biggest single annual increase in China’s military spending.
China is assembling a blue-water navy, with a submarine fleet of 29 modern boats, including 13 super-quiet Russian-made Kilo class subs and 14 Chinese-made Song and Yuan class diesel electric submarines that are reportedly improved versions of the Kilos. As it modernises its military forces, focusing on countering American high-tech capabilities (information networks, stealth aircraft, cruise missiles, and precision-guided bombs), China is expected (pdf) to turn into one of America’s most powerful global competitors for military and strategic influence within a decade or even sooner.
Russia did not fare worse. Aware of the scale of America’s crises in Afghanistan and Iraq and weary of its encroachments into its zones of influence in central Asia, the Balkan region and in the wider international arena, assaults on its national security through rings of military bases, and an ever expanding Nato, Putin’s Russia has been launching an unexpected counterattack against the US.
Reviving the cold war climate, Putin has denounced the US’s missile defence plans in Europe, scrapped an agreement with Nato on conventional armed forces, and grabbed a large part of the Arctic. Profiting from a stable oil production estimated at 530 million tons per year, and an annual gas production of 900 billion cubic meters, he is looking to reclaim the USSR’s status as a global military power.
Earlier this year, Putin signed a seven-year $200bn rearmament plan, which will purchase a completely revamped early-warning radar network, new generations of missiles, planes, and perhaps aircraft carriers to rebuild Russia’s arsenal. Russian defence budgets have been soaring in the last few years, jumping by 23% to a post-Soviet high of $32.4bn.
Last week, in a belligerent message of defiance to the US, Russian generals announced that they have tested the “father of all bombs,” which is claimed to be four times more powerful than the American Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb and to have “no match in the world.” Putin’s Russia is a far cry from Yeltsin’s. The Russian bear is back on its feet, shaking off the dust of the 1990s and rapidly moving to regain lost territory.
Speaking at a recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting a bold Putin declared:
“Russia favours strengthening the multipolar international system providing equal security and development potential for all countries. Any attempts to solve global and regional problems unilaterally have no future.”
The truth is that America is no longer the dominant power or sole active player on the global scene today and can no longer do what it pleases as the neocons had envisaged a few years back. A Hegelian cunning of history seems to be at work here. The most unilateralist, most hubris filled of American administrations has propelled the world towards multipolarism. No one has done more to dissipate the neoconservative dream of American world supremacy and bury the New American Century Project than the neocons themselves.
When he vacates the White House on January 2009, Bush will leave behind a world order that bears no resemblance to the one he sought to construct in 2001. For this reason and this reason alone the world is greatly indebted to him. Not only the Russians and Chinese, but all other nations should stand up in gratitude and say: thank you Mr Bush.
First Published in The Guardian, Wednesday 19 September 2007
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