Tue, Apr 01, 2003 - Page 8 News List

From Iraq to the third world war

By Wang Kun-yi 王崑義

War can change a country. It can even change even the entire world. As the US-UK coalition forces are sweeping across Iraq, Washington is not only changing its principles for using force but also creating a brand new warfare system. Amid the "shock and awe" gunfire, a new fight for hegemony over both land and sea has quietly begun, waiting to become the new face of global geostrategy once the US-led war on Iraq ends.

The "land power" ideology has deeply affected the strategic designs of European and Asian countries ever since British geostrategist Halford Mackinder (1861-1947) proposed the concept of a European "heartland" in the 19th Century. Occupying Europe's "heartland" -- Eastern Europe and central Russia -- as well as gradually extending power to the sea, became every country's goals.

In response to the potential threat brought about by the above concept, US strategist Alfred Mahan (1840-1914) proposed the concept of "sea power." Mahan believed that US security would likely be threatened mainly by the land powers in Europe and Asia, and that it was therefore necessary to build a defense line along the rim of Europe and Asia so as to ensure US security.

As a result of the appearance of these two ideologies, the struggles for land and sea supremacy led to two world wars. After World War II, the US also built the strategy of "containment" based on these concepts, which has influenced US principles for using force ever since the Cold War era.

The US adopted the strategy of deterrence as its principle for using force in the Cold War era. This strategy centered on "defense" in the hope of stopping the spread of communism. Nevertheless, the purpose of US military action in that era was to protect democratic countries from being invaded by communist countries. It did not intend to destroy other countries. Nor did it intend to overthrow other regimes.

After the Cold War ended, Washington adopted "the strategy of deterrence and containment" as its core strategy for containing regional conflicts that might spread within certain geographical regions. Thus, the US principle of using force still centered on "defense." It did not send troops overseas unless a foreign country invaded another. This also made it possible for the world's leading powers to be willing to send forces for peacekeeping purposes under the UN mechanism.

However, the US-Iraq war broke out after Washington replaced its traditional deterrence principle with a "pre-emptive strike" strategy. This has deeply threatened those major land powers. After all, a pre-emptive strike is offensive-oriented in nature and is different from conventional defense measures. The definition of an enemy is no longer ideology-oriented. Rather, it depends on the geographic strategic interests or threats of a nation to be attacked. Hence, if the land powers send troops to assist Washington this time, they themselves may also be defined as enemies and become targets after the war is over.

In this strategic situation, the fierce confrontation between the pro- and anti-war camps, caused by the US-Iraq war, shows that each country is basing its decisions on its strategic position -- not merely humanitarian concerns or oil interests. In fact, the US has become a security threat for the land powers after gaining a strategic position in Central Asia after the war in Afghanistan. If the US further obtains a strategic position of Iraq, it can easily control the land powers in the future.

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