Reading the newspapers these days is like reading a Tom Clancy novel in which growing national tensions are ignited into full-scale war by some unforeseen event, such as a natural disaster or a terrorist strike. Of course, that hasn’t happened yet, but even Clancy would have struggled to come up with the web of simmering tensions facing the world today.
In Red Storm Rising, Islamic terrorists destroy a new Soviet oil facility, prompting the USSR and Warsaw Pact nations to attack NATO, which leads to World War III. In The Sum of All Fears, another war is barely avoided between the USSR and the US after Arab terrorists try to use a nuclear weapon against the US. In Debt of Honor, ultra-nationalist Japanese try to start a war with the US. Outdated though these scenarios might be, they all carry an element of what we’ve seen in the past 10 years — war started in an unexpected place by a small group of extremists.
The terrorist attacks on the US in 2001 led directly to more war in Afghanistan and were used to justify a US invasion of Iraq, two wars that are still simmering 10 years later. The atrocities perpetrated by both sides in those wars have fueled anger across the Muslim world, which is now seeing burgeoning revolt against corrupt regimes. Those revolts can’t be connected to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but US actions over the past 10 years can’t have helped the situation of citizens angry with regimes that buddy up to the Stars and Stripes.
These situations you could almost pull right out of a Clancy book, but how about natural disasters and their long-term effect on security? The magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan could not have come at a worse time for the US and its empire of business interests. After losing most of its diplomatic credibility during the years of former US president George W. Bush, wasting resources for years in Middle Eastern wars and trying its best to cope with the effects of a devastating recession, just when the US and its allied powers were starting to creep back into positive economic territory, the world’s third-biggest economy has seen its industrial heartland ravaged by a tsunami and the continuing nuclear reactor crisis.
The US is strained and tired. It is fighting wasteful wars with no end in sight, and it looks set to be drawn into another in Libya. Money is becoming increasingly scarce, and its biggest ally is now down for the count.
In a Clancyesque twist of fate, the time seems ripe for China to take to the stage. China has kept out of military interventions for the past 30 years, while at the same time pouring ever larger sums of money into military spending. Apart from indicating that it can blow US satellites out of space, China now has missiles that could attack US aircraft carriers, attack US military installations on Okinawa or Guam, destroy Taiwan’s air fields or even deliver a nuclear device to US shores (although this seems completely unlikely in an age of so-called limited war.) On top of this, China has pockets deeper than the Grand Canyon, an economy that continues to outstrip all others in the region, and now the perfect opportunity to get what it wants — regional dominance followed by a global role similar to that of the US.
The likelihood of all this is debatable, but the crisis unfolding in Japan has shocked the world. Japan now needs aid and assistance from the US and other countries, and the US should use the opportunity offered by its part in the relief effort to refocus on the strategic importance of East Asia in order to counterbalance China’s growing power.