April 26, 2003

Why we need a US victory

Posted in International Economy ·
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As the British Empire collapsed into chaos, one region saw the Muslim population terrorised off its lands.

In 1948 a civil war erupted between the Muslim and non-Muslim peoples of this region. Historically,the smaller non-Muslim group had lived in peace with their majority neighbours, but in 1948 they seized their chance. The newly founded UN, based on an earlier British promise, gave them a new state. As the civil war raged and pogroms ensued, ethnic cleansing on a monumental scale erupted.

The British did what they did best, and partitioned the country. The majority Muslim areas of the protectorate were divided in two – a large Muslim state and a small sliver of over-populated land created, wedged between the mountains and the sea. This small pathetic piece of land is now among the poorest places in the world, characterised by desperation and Islamic fundamentalism.

The bigger Muslim entity was cut off from its hinterland, with only tiny access to the ocean. Beside it, a new, democratic but non-Muslim state emerged, absorbing displaced refugees from far and wide. These two states have been involved in three major wars since 1948. The borders are today the most heavily policed in the world, with two huge standing armies eyeballing each other over disputed territory.

Where am I talking about? No, it’s not Israel and Palestine. It is the far more worrying conflict between India and Pakistan.

Peace between these two huge states, and the attendant economic development in the region (particularly in India), is just one huge positive of the current United States grand plan – which is being sorely tested by the war in Iraq and the subsequent European reaction. It would be wise to recap how positive, in comparison to other historic hegemonies, the American leadership of the world has been.

Since the end of the Cold War, the US’s grand strategy has been to maintain its overwhelming military, political and economic pre-eminence. For that, we should be thankful – not because the strategy has been remotely designed with Ireland’s interests in mind, but because, as a by-product of US dominance, we have flourished economically, intellectually, politically and socially. Until now, the Americans have acquiesced in that grand strategy because the costs appeared to be tolerably low.

Today,with its armies at the gates of Baghdad, its alliances fractured and its popularity plummeting, America stands at a crossroads, and may be close to reassessing the grand strategy. If it does not win this war in Iraq totally and decisively in the next few weeks, it may conclude that its critics in Europe are right and that its very standing is the source of international political resentment.

The US could well begin to abandon its grand strategy and gradually wind down its commitments worldwide. This would be very damaging for Ireland, and for Europe. In our own interests, we should hope the US wins in the Gulf, and wins well. Otherwise, we should consider the alternative to the present status quo.

Great powers have two basic strategic options: they can pursue dominance, or they can try to maintain a rough balance of power between states of relatively equal power, each having its own sphere of influence. America has chosen the former course of action.

By providing security for Britain, France, Germany and Japan, by defending their interests in far-flung places like the Gulf, and by intricately involving them in a system of mutually enhancing alliances, Washington prevented any of the old powers from ploughing their own furrow. This global policy, which is known as “reassurance”, has cost the Americans billions of dollars. It has also facilitated unprecedented levels of economic, political and social cooperation among the states of western Europe with the EU and east Asia

with ASEAN. Make no mistake, without the US security blanket, the EU would never have evolved into the peaceful structure it is now, of which Ireland is a member and from which it benefits greatly.

The collapse of the Soviet Union did not diminish the feeling in Washington that a stable world order depended on the US remaining preeminent. The policy is now referred to as “adult supervision”. As well as ensuring that the US looks after the military interests of Europe and east Asia, it also entails the US safeguarding (in their own minds) our interests, so that we do not feel the need to develop military forces capable of projecting our power.

The war in Iraq is a good example of this. It is clear that the war is about oil – but oil for whom? America derives most of its oil from Alaska, Venezuela, Mexico and Texas; only 25 per cent of its oil comes from the Gulf. By contrast, Europe, Japan and increasingly China get the lion’s share of supplies from the Gulf region.

The American logic is that they will protect our interests in order to prevent us from protecting ourselves. This is especially the case in Asia where, in the coming years, the possibility of an arms race between China and Japan cannot be ruled out.

Underneath this American military umbrella, the economies of Europe and Asia have flourished at unprecedented rates. The system that the US has fostered has led to enormous improvements in the standard of living for most of us. Politically, Ireland has been able to express itself in Europe, feeling like an equal at the top table. Do you think this would have been possible in an EU dominated by the military aspirations of France, Britain, Germany, Italy or Spain? No way, Jose.

Our increase in living standards has been the result of cherry-picking from both the European and American way. By attracting foreign investment on the one hand, and taking advantage of the European pool of savings on the other, we have profited in ways unimaginable only a few years ago.We have moved from a society of emigrants to one of immigrants. Historically, this has always been a good sign. The technology transfer from the US to Ireland has also been unprecedented in the past few years. All this has been possible because of, not in spite of, American hegemony.

We arguably benefit much more from the Pax Americana than the Yanks do themselves. For small countries it is the ultimate free lunch: we get peace without humiliation, for the first time in history. In contrast, the medium-sized old powers have been made to dine on humble pie – and this, in my book, is no bad thing. At the same time, the US leans sufficiently on the likes of Pakistan and India to keep them from pushing the button.

America’s use of the dollar and its economic muscle in buying off allies and foes has been referred to disparagingly as a “global protection racket”. Perhapsitis.Butisitnotpreferableto the alternative of a bullying China or Russia, an expansionist Germany or Japan, or an arrogant, imperialist Britain or France?

The war in Iraq, and Europe’s reaction to it, will influence the US policy over the coming years. There is no doubt that America has blundered about diplomatically,that its incessant propaganda is hard to take, or that its support for Israel undermines its cause.Yet, despite all this, Pax Americana has been very positive for small states such as Ireland. It has emasculated traditional medium-sized aggressors such as France, Germany, Japan and Britain, to the benefit of smaller, weaker nations. If it loses either the war or the peace in the Gulf, America itself might consider isolationism as an alternative to “adult supervision” of the world. This would be a disaster. Given the alternatives, we cannot afford a US/British loss in Baghdad.