Fri, Feb 02, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Latest world order review finds US power weakening

NEW THINKING NEEDED The International Institute for Strategic Studies' annual military survey finds a messy `non-polar' world and a rising China


The US is still powerful enough to shape an agenda for international activity but too weak to implement it globally as it faces uncertain prospects in Iraq, an escalating confrontation over Iran's nuclear ambitions and a robust challenge to its military hegemony from an increasingly assertive China, argues a new report, The Military Balance 2007, by a leading UK think tank.

An annual survey of the international military scene produces a picture of a messy "nonpolar" world rather than the "unipolar" or "multipolar" world often described as having emerged since the late 1980s, said John Chipman, director-general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

Others, whether rival states or key "non-state actors," such as Lebanon's Hezbollah, are now "strong enough to resist a US agenda but too weak to shape an internationally attractive alternative or to implement an enduring local agenda free of outside influence," he suggested.

Traditional military thinking needs to adjust further to the "complex battlefield" of the 21st century.

Neither in Iraq nor Afghanistan had there been adequate planning for post-conflict problems or nation-building after the "highly successful" combat phase, the IISS report says. In both cases there had been over-reliance on technology at the expense of vital human intelligence.


The biggest ongoing test of US power is in Iraq, where US President George W. Bush is trying his last-ditch "surge" strategy.

"Simply flooding one area ... in this case Baghdad, with troops, neglects the subtler aspects of counter-insurgency doctrine," Chipman warned of the "clear, hold and build" approach.

For a surge of troops to be sustainable it needs a follow-up process of reconstituting security, building an administrative capacity and establishing the rule of law.

"The Americans are good at clearing but the problem has been in holding, and then allowing through holding to build," said the IISS director of studies, Patrick Cronin, rating the chances of US success in Iraq at just 40 percent.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would have to remove large numbers of ineffective Cabinet ministers to strengthen his own position. But he lacks the political power for such a bold move, Chipman said. The institutions of the state, especially the Iraqi army, are not strong enough.


The IISS estimates that Iran is still two to three years away from being able to produce 25kg of highly enriched uranium, enough for one nuclear weapon. But if it overcomes technical hurdles the military options will increase, though sanctions do appear to be having an impact on Tehran.

"As Iran nears the point at which it masters enrichment and production capability there will be increasing pressure to prevent it from reaching a weapons capability," IISS proliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick said.

"I don't think Washington is giving up on diplomacy but as the year goes on that pressure will increase," Fitzpatrick said.

Israel has also warned that it would not accept a nuclear-armed Iran.

"Iran's sense of its own power has been steadily heightened as US influence in the Middle East is challenged and in response to disunity in the international community on how to deal with Tehran's pursuit of its nuclear ambitions," the report says.


NATO member states face a "stamina" problem in Afghanistan, the IISS said, though there are grounds for optimism despite a resurgent Taliban and difficulties with Pakistan.

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