Neoconservative pundits have described our present war on terror as World War III, but they are wrong. What we've actually entered is a second Cold War.
A new world order emerged when the Berlin Wall came down. At that point, after a half century of a bi-polar balance of global power, the United States became the world's sole superpower, and remained so for a little over a decade.
The next world order began about the time of the staged toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue. America became embroiled in a Hobbesian internal conflict in Iraq. The cats broke out of the corral, and the real world game of RISK resumed.
The mid-2003 board position contained a multi-layered hierarchy of nations and other political entities. At the top were the "major powers," the worlds three largest economies: the U.S., the European Union, and China. Next came the "balance powers," Russia, Japan and England. Because of their geographic positions and former experience with rule of empires, these nations, through alliances of various kinds, had the greatest influence on the ranking equation among the major powers. "Regional powers" like India and Brazil had the dominant economies in their geographic areas. "Wild cards," who could move in almost any direction, included most of the Middle East and Africa (and to some extent Central and South America) and non-state players like Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. "Others" were stable and prosperous countries like Australia and Canada whose relative status in the world order is unlikely to change significantly.
The game has evolved rapidly since the fall of Saddam. Our Cold War I adversaries, Russia and China, have strengthened partnerships with Iran and Venezuela, two wild cards that are growing toward regional power status. Non-state wild cards--most notably Hamas, Hezbollah and the Islamic Union--have become political parties, and part of the formal governing and diplomatic processes of their respective states. The United States continues to squander resources into a seemingly endless conflict, and doesn't have any real allies. The European Union has largely remained neutral in the competition between the U.S. and the rest of the world, and even our bulldog Britain is reluctant to play with us anymore.
Cold War II is shaping up as a tri-polar enterprise, with an "axis of energy" (China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela etc.) in one corner, the U.S. in another, and Europe sitting on the sidelines.
The Bear's Next Springtime
Russia is coming back out of its cave.
At a conference of the world's top security officials last week, Russia's President Vladimir Putin asserted that America's "almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations" is creating a new arms race.
He's right in a way. In another way, he isn't. The Bush administration's warfare-centric approach to foreign policy has, in fact, destabilized the world. And as we have seen in North Korea, wild card nations have pursued development of nuclear weapons. But the arms race of Cold War II isn't anything like the arms race of Cold War I.
Unlike the arms race of the Soviet era, nobody now is trying to go toe-to-to with America in terms of military power. America now spends as much or more on defense as the rest of the world combined. Even the defense budget of China, the supposed "rising dragon," is less than 20 percent of America's, and China is trying to update some very old systems and hardware, so it's hardly trying to present a symmetrical threat to U.S. military dominance.
The rest of the world has learned from its mistakes. Everybody saw how the Soviet Union spent itself into the dirt trying to keep up with America's military industrial complex. Now they're smirking as they watch us bury ourselves in a sand dune and continue to throw national treasure into a form of power that has proven impotent against adversaries who have no air force, no navy, and nothing that any developed nation would consider a formal army.
In the next world order, the form of national power that counts isn't the kind of power that fights wars. It's the kind of power that that fuels transportation and industry, and keeps the lights on. That's why the game's being played in the Middle East right now. The second Cold Warriors are vying to see who can control the transition from fossil fuel to nuclear energy.
In the history of Cold War II, the nuclear weapons issue will have been, to quote young Mr. Bush, a "semi-colon."
From the Associated Press:
Sen. Joseph Lieberman said Putin's charge that the U.S. ''aspired to get uni-polar power or acted unilaterally is just not borne out by the facts.''
What in the wide world of sports, arts and sciences, Joe? If there was any doubt before that Lieberman has become a Bush administration sex doll, it's vanished like a pie on Aunt Polly's kitchen windowsill.
The facts are that we had uni-polar power and acted unilaterally against Iraq in an effort to gain more power. And we blew it. With "leaders" like Joe Lieberman rolling loose around the gun decks, we're likely to blow it even worse.
It's still possible that we may land in the next world order as a "first among nations," what Big Daddy Bush referred to as "A kinder, gentler nation," and Ronald Reagan described as the "shining city on the hill."
But if we hope to ever climb back to the top of that hill, we'll need to pump the likes of Joe Lieberman over the side with the rest of our bilge.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, responding to Putin's remarks, said, "One Cold War was quite enough."
Not quite, Mr. Secretary. Not quite.
The Next World Order Series
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.